The sitter was the eldest son of Sir Heneage Finch (1580-1631), Recorder of London and Speaker of the House of Commons in 1626, and Frances (d.1627), daughter of Sir Edmund Bell, of Beaupre Hall, Outwell, Norfolk. He studied at Westminster and Christ Church, Oxford, before being admitted to the Inner Temple in 1638. He was called to the Bar in 1645 and ran a lucrative practice for the next fifteen years. A dedicated Royalist, Finch abstained from public affairs during the Commonwealth and was made a member of the Convention Parliament of April 1660, being appointed Solicitor General in June that year. Famous for his 'talent of speaking and expression', Finch served King Charles II as Attorney-General, Lord Keeper from 9 November 1673, and Lord Chancellor from 19 December 1675. He was created Baron Finch in 1674 and Earl of Nottingham in 1681.
Finch sat for Lely for this portrait for Lord Clarendon's collection in 1666, which then passed descended in Lord Clarendon's family at Cornbury Park. A hunting lodge in the Royal Forest of Wychwood, Cornbury Park was twice connected with the Court and the Office of Works during the 17th century: firstly remodelled by Nicholas Stone, master mason closely associated with Inigo Jones; and secondly by Hugh May, Controller of the Works at Windsor Castle from 1673. The 1st Earl of Mansfield was appointed by Henry, Lord Hyde (d.1753) to be his Executor. He and his father were the last true descendants of the 1st Earl of Clarendon and it is at this point that the collection was divided.
The present picture is recorded as one of the 'Earl of Nottingham and 1 ditto larger' in the North Drawing Room, Kenwood House in an inventory carried out by William France on 13th October 1796 (Scone Archive). It is also recorded as 'Sir Heneage Finch 1st Earl of Nottingham, died 1682, by Sir P. Lely, in a carved wood gilt frame, size 5ft. x 4ft.' in the Ante Room at Kenwood in an inventory carried out by C.B.King on 19th February 1910 (Vol 1. p.80, item 760; Scone Archive).
It is likely that the picture would have been reframed sometime in the 1760s in a classical 'Adam' frame to compliment the Kenwood interiors that Robert Adam was remodelling at that time.