General Richard Wilford (1754 -1814) was widely regarded as one of the best cavalry officers in Europe and his obituary in the Gentleman's Magazine (20 December 1822) also commented that he 'possessed a highly cultivated mind and was amiable, friendly and benevolent' and that it was 'impossible to have known him, and not to be sincerely attached to him'. His military career was long, varied, and distinguished. He received a Coronetcy in the 2nd Dragoon Guards in 1770 and joined the regiment in December 1770 at Gibraltar, remaining there until December 1775 when he returned to England. By 1771 he had been promoted to a Lieutenancy and in the spring of 1777 he was appointed A.D.C. to General Burgoyne, and joined the British army in America where he was present at several actions later that year, returning to England in May 1778. In 1780 he was on duty in London during the riots and received the thanks of the Lord Mayor for his conduct. Two years later he was again appointed A.D.C. to General Burgoyne, then Commander-in-Chief in Ireland, and was on duty in Ireland as A.D.C until 1789 when he received the Lieutenant Colonelcy of the 8th Light Dragoons. He later joined the Duke of York in Flanders in May 1794 and was present at the Battle of Tournay. He continued on the Continent in command of the 2nd and Light Brigade of cavalry until September 1794 when he was appointed Brigadier General in the West Indies, stationed in St. Domingo, returning to England in 1796. In 1795 he was appointed A.D.C. to the King and Colonel of the York Hussars and in 1797 he was appointed Brigadier on the Irish Staff, where he continued during the rebellion, being promoted to the rank of Major General. He was later to be placed on the Staff of the Western District in 1803 and remained there until being promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General in 1805. In 1814 he was appointed General of the 7th Dragoon Guards.
General Wilford married, in 1802, Anna Crause, née Forbes (d. 1842), whose sister Isabella married Joseph George Brett of Grove House, Old Brompton. Wilford is recorded as having built a fine house for himself at Ranelagh. However, he did not have any children and his house there, and presumably also this picture, were left by his widow to his nephew Rev. Joseph George Brett (1790-1852), Vicar of Lenham in Kent, and incumbent of Hanover Chapel, Regent Street, London. The latter's eldest child was in consequence christened Wilford.
Sir Levett Hanson (1754-1814) was educated at Bury St. Edmunds, and from 1769, at a school at North Walsham in Norfolk where Horatio Nelson, with whom he maintained a lifelong friendship, was a schoolfellow for two years. In 1771 he studied with Dr. Zouch, prebend of Durham at Wycliffe and in October 1773 went to Trinity College Cambridge. But, owing to a brawl of some sort, he moved to Emmanuel College as a fellow-commoner but did not take a degree. In the autumn of 1776 he made his first tour on the Continent in the company of Dr. Michael Lord and he acquired a taste for foreign life and society which led him to live out of England for almost the whole of his life. Between 1776 and his death he only made four brief visits to England (in 1780, 1785, 1786 and 1790). In 1780 Hanson made the acquaintance of Prince Philip of Limbourg, Duke of Holstein, who made him a Councellor and a Knight of his Order of St. Philip. In 1787 he spent some time at the court of Ferdinand, Duke of Parma. He visited Naples in 1789, where he saw the Hamiltons, and in 1791 he took up residence at the court of Ercole III Rinaldo D'Este, Duke of Modena, with the rank of Brigadier-General and Chamberlain. However in 1794 he incurred the suspicion of the Austrian Government and was forced to leave the court of Modena, despite his continued friendship with the duke. On arriving in Innsbruck he was arrested, confined for eleven months, and finally tried in Vienna, but later released. Following his release he travelled in Germany and found favour in various courts most notably at SaxeHildburghausen where he was presented with the family order of the duke, and settled at Erlangen, devoting himself to compiling An Accurate Historical Account of all the Orders of Knighthood at present existing in Europe which was printed at Hamburg and published in London in 1803, with a dedication to Nelson. In 1807 he moved to Stockholm where he was presented to King Gustavus IV by the British minister. In 1811 he moved, for the last time, to Copenhagen where he died in 1814. His correspondence provides an interesting insight into details of the various courts which he visited.
General Wilford and Sir Levett Hanson were contemporaries. They were not, however, at University together and precisely how they knew each other or whether their friendship lasted is unclear. Other portraits of Sir Levett Hanson, a half-length, when a child, by an unknown artist, of c. 1750, and a half-length by Tilly Kettle, of circa 1770, and a three-quarter-length by Joseph Samuel Webster, of circa 1775, are in the collection of the Manor House Museum, Honey Hill, Bury St. Edmunds.
Frames of the same design as that on this picture were supplied in 1773-4 for pictures in the Saloon and elsewhere at Luton Park, Bedfordshire, for the 3rd Earl of Bute, and for two pictures from the Marshall Schulenburg sale at Christie's.