May Prinsep was the daughter of Charles Robert Prinsep, Advocate-General of Calcutta. After her parents' death she lived with Mr and Mrs Thoby Prinsep at Little Holland House, where Watts was a permanent guest between 1850-1875. She sat several times for Watts during this period as well as for her cousin Val Prinsep. Watts painted a similar portrait of her c.1867-9, as well as a full -ength portrait of her called 'The Ulster' which is now in the Manchester City Art Gallery.
This portrait was painted in 1875 at the time of her marriage to Andrew Hichens. After his death she married Hallam, 2nd Lord Tennyson in 1918, whom Watts had also painted as a child along with his brother Lionel.