The sitters were the children of Edmund, 7th Earl of Cork, by his first wife, Anne, daughter and eventual co-heiress of Kelland Courtenay of Painsford, Devon, and niece of John, 4th Earl of Sandwich, at whose house in Whitehall the couple were married in 1764. Their first son, Richard, Viscount Dungarvan, died young. The sitters in this picture are believed to be: the Hon. Edmund Boyle, later 8th Earl of Cork (1764-1856), who had a distinguished military career, rising to the rank of General; the Hon. Richard Boyle; the Hon. Courtenay Boyle, later Vice-Admiral Sir Courtenay Boyle (1770-1844); and the Hon. Lucy Isabella Boyle (d.1801) who married the Hon. Rev. George Bridgeman.
Their parents' marriage was dissolved in 1782 and Lord Cork subsequently married the Hon. Mary Monckton (d.1840), daughter of John, 1st Viscount Galway, and widely regarded as one of the most remarkable women of her generation.
Cosway was best known for his miniatures. This is perhaps his most ambitious life-size portrait group. It was to be followed by the smaller William, 3rd Earl of Radnor with his sister Mary Anne of 1785 and by a double portrait at Powderham.