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Gregory Cromwell: Two Portrait Miniatures by Hans Holbein the Younger

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 June 2016

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This paper presents a probable identification of not one but two portrait miniatures of Gregory Cromwell, only son of England's only vice-gerent in spirituals, by Hans Holbein the Younger. The historical evidence has hitherto remained unconnected because of misunderstandings about Gregory's age, which are clarified here, and also thanks to the unexpected modern locations of the two relevant miniatures.

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1 Original letters illustrative of English history, ed. H. Ellis, London 1846, i. 338, introducing Ellis's edition of TNA, SP 1/75, fo. 85.

2 LP iv/2, no. 4561, calendaring what was then SP 1/49, fo. 154.

3 W. F. Hook, The lives of the archbishops of Canterbury, London 1861–84, vi. 122.

4 SP 1/49, fo. 154 and LP iv/2, no. 4561 became SP 1/75, fo. 85 and LP vi, no. 337.

5 See Life and letters of Thomas Cromwell, ed. R. B. Merriman, London 1902, i. 11–12, and his particularly crass remarks on Gregory at pp. 53–4. For a detailed reappraisal, which anticipates the findings of this article, see M. Erler, Reading and writing during the Dissolution: monks, friars and nuns, 1530–1558, Cambridge 2013, 88–106.

6 Cf. for instance Gregory Cromwell to Thomas Cromwell, 29 June 1538, holograph, SP 1/133, fo. 231; LP xiii/1, no. 1281.

7 ‘Propter similem etiam dolum aliqui opinantur, regem dedisse Gregorio eiusdem Cromwelli filio, vere fere stulto, domini titulum, multaque sui patris, adhuc in carcere viventis, dominia, ut pater eius tanto citius diceret in hora mortis suae se offendisse regem [our italics]’: Original letters relative to the English Reformation, ed. H. Robinson (Parker Society, 1846), i. 200–15 at p. 203; Epistolae Tigurinae de rebus potissimum ad ecclesiae Anglicanae Reformationem pertinentibus conscriptae, A. D. 1531–1558 (Parker Society, 1848), 133–43 at p. 134 (our italics).

8 See for instance Gregory's first (and holograph) letter to his father from Lewes in April 1538, when he describes his reception from the Sussex nobility and gentry who have ‘both with their preasences and also presentes right frendely enterteigned me and welcomed me’: SP 1/131, fo. 62; LP xiii/1, no. 734.

9 As a rule the boys in nunneries were very young, as it was not considered appropriate for them to stay with the nuns later than their ninth or tenth year. It was acceptable for young boys, up to the age of nine or ten, to be supervised by nuns, but not taught by them, and so they were usually accompanied by a male tutor: E. Power, Medieval English nunneries, c. 1275 to 1535, New York 1988, 263–4, 267. Margaret Vernon went slightly beyond that convention in negotiating supervision of Gregory until the age of twelve.

10 SP 1/65, fo. 37; LP v, no. 17. LP puts this too late, at 1531.

11 A biographical register of the University of Oxford, A. D. 1501 to 1540, ed. A. B. Emden, Oxford 1974, 311. Inglefield's surname has a bewildering variety of spellings.

12 A series of letters from Chekyng to Cromwell terminate in a letter of John Hunt, with a postscript from Chekyng: SP 1/66, fo. 169; LP v, no. 359 (31 July s.a. but probably 1532, since before that Hunt was at Oxford).

13 SP 1/72, fo. 63; LP v, no. 1578 (26 Nov. 1532).

14 What is probably the latest reference to Gregory at Vernon's priory of Little Marlow, in a letter from Henry Lockwood the Master of Christ's College, Cambridge, to Thomas Cromwell, is unfortunately difficult to date: SP 1/73, fo. 120; LP v, no. 1745.

15 SP 1/237, fo. 79; LP Add. i/1, no. 744 (wrongly dated by LP to 1531).

16 SP 1/237, fo. 5; LP Add. i/1, no. 724 (wrongly dated by LP to 1531).

17 Elizabeth's death is likely to have been in February or early March 1529, as Stephen Vaughan refers to money in the custody of Mrs Prior, suggesting that her daughter was dead: Vaughan to Cromwell, 23 Mar. [1529], SP 1/53, fo. 128; LP iv/3, no. 5398. Then two correspondents in April 1529 send Cromwell good wishes for finding a new wife: Eleanor Scrope to Cromwell, 6 Apr. [1529], SP 1/236, fo. 76; LP Add. i/1, no. 639; Edward Lewkenor to Cromwell, 13 Apr. 1529, SP 1/236, fo. 77; SP 1/236, fo. 77, LP Add. i/1, no. 640. Cromwell's daughters were evidently still alive when he made his will in the summer of 1529.

18 Nothing proves that the daughters were younger than Gregory, but there are no known moves to get them married off in the 1520s; if they were in their mid-teens negotiations might well have started in 1528–9. The original text of Cromwell's unused will of 1529 speaks of ‘my little daughter Grace’, but just ‘my son Gregory’, suggesting that she is younger than Gregory, but both girls get the same legacies, not just 100 marks for marriage when they come of lawful age to be married, but also £40 for finding them until then, suggesting that they are not far apart in age: SP 1/54, fos 234–47; LP iv/3, no. 5772.

19 Robert Glover refers to ‘Jane base d. to Thoms Cromwell, Earl of Essex’, who married William Hough, the son of Richard Hough of Leighton and Thornton Hough, and his first wife, Christiana Calveley: The visitation of Cheshire in the year 1580, ed. J. P. Rylands (Harleian Society xviii, 1882), 128. See also George Ormerod, The history of the county palatine and city of Chester, 2nd edn, London 1882, ii. 552. On Jane's recusancy see K. R. Wark, Elizabethan recusancy in Cheshire (Remains, historical and literary, connected with the palatine counties of Lancaster and Chester, 3rd ser. xix, 1971), 153. Wark, however, has been led astray by R. V. H. Burne, The monks of Chester; the history of St. Werburgh's Abbey, London 1962, 167: William Hough was the son of Richard Hough and Christiana Calveley, as Glover indicates.

20 ‘Lady Owthred, by Hen. Dowes, for apparel for Mrs. Jane, 12l. 14s. 6d.’: LP xiv/2, no. 782 (p. 341). Elizabeth Seymour, Gregory's wife, is given her superior courtesy title as widow of Sir Anthony Ughtred.

21 SP 1/87, fo. 129; LP vii, no. 1576.

22 Lee to Cromwell, 21 Aug. [1533]: SP 1/78, fo. 143; LP vi, no. 1011.

23 See two ebullient letters from Gregory to his father from Rycote, 24 Sept., 25 Nov. [1535], SP 1/96, fo. 209; LP ix, no. 422, and BL, Cotton ms Titus B.I, fo. 357; LP vii, no. 1473 (the latter there misdated to 1534). The first letter apologises that his constant hawking, hunting and socialising have postponed his writing – disarming teenage frankness.

24 See Sir Richard Southwell's letter to Thomas Cromwell as he set out for Norfolk with Gregory in March 1536: BL, ms Cotton Cleopatra E.IV, fo. 274; LP x, no. 507. Richard's brother was Robert Southwell, later knighted: History of parliament: the House of Commons, 1509–1558, ed. S. T. Bindoff, London 1982, iii. 354–6.

25 SP 1/92, fo. 104; LP viii, no. 618 (there misdated to 1535). On Dowes see History of parliament: 1509–1558, ii. 54.

26 ‘Mr Gregory, by Mr Richard [Cromwell], “the same day he was married at Mortelacke”’: LP xiv/2, no. 782, p. 330.

27 W. A. Shaw, The knights of England, London 1906, i. 22.

28 John Nichols, The history and antiquities of the county of Leicester, London 1800, iii/1, 325; George S. Syvret and Samuel de Carteret, Chroniques des Iles de Jersey, Guernesey, Auregny et Serk, Guernsey 1832, 60. Evidence of Cromwell's and Ughtred's acquaintance comes from, for example, SP 1/38, fos 147–59; LP iv/2, no. 2193 [1], p. 978. This is an indenture, corrected by Cromwell, dated –––– 18 Henry VIII., between Cardinal Wolsey and Sir Robert, son and heir of Sir Henry Ughtred, of Kexbie, Yorkshire, conveying to the cardinal the manors of Atwele, Sutton, and other lands in Yorkshire. For Ughtred's friendly acquaintance with Cromwell, to whom he was then paying a regular fee, see Sir Anthony Ughtred to Cromwell, 16 June 1533 or 1534, SP 1/77, fo. 46; LP vi, no. 659.

29 LP v, no. 80(14) is a grant in survivorship to Sir Anthony Ughtred and Elizabeth his wife, of the manors of Lepington and Kexby, Yorkshire, 16 January 1531. See also Syvret and de Carteret, Chroniques des Iles de Jersey, 60–1.

30 Gregory and Elizabeth had two ‘little boys’ by December 1539, as witnessed by Gregory's affectionate enquiries about them to his wife: SP 1/155, fo. 101; LP xiv/2, no. 664. Henry was born in 1538 and therefore Edward in 1539, for Henry was twenty-one around 21 May 1559: Calendar of the patent rolls preserved in the Public Record Office: Elizabeth, London 1939, i. 73.

31 D. Dean, ‘Cromwell, Thomas (c.1540–1610/11)’, ODNB.

32 Magna Carta ancestry: a study in colonial and medieval families, ed. D. Richardson and K. G. Everingham, 2nd edn, Salt Lake City 2011, iii. 604–5, 628. Frances may have been named for Richard Cromwell's wife, who died in about 1543.

33 Richard R. Holmes, ‘An unpublished miniature by Holbein in the possession of the Queen of Holland’, Burlington Magazine i (1903), 218–19.

34 Ibid. 218; Arthur B. Chamberlain, Hans Holbein the Younger, New York 1913, ii, plate 31, no. 5, pp. 229–32 at p. 229. On Holbein's technique see P. Ganz, The paintings of Hans Holbein, London 1950, 258, 260, and C. Winter, ‘Holbein's miniatures’, Burlington Magazine lxxxiii (1943), 266–9 at p. 269.

35 R, Strong, The English Renaissance miniature [London] 1983, 50–1.

36 Holmes, ‘An unpublished miniature’, 218; Karen Schaffers-Bodenhausen and Marieke Tiethoff–Spliethoff, The portrait miniatures in the collections of the House of Orange–Nassau, Zwolle 1993, 373. For a detailed discussion of Holbein's Steelyard merchants see Holman, Thomas S., ‘Holbein's portraits of the Steelyard merchants: an investigation’, Metropolitan Museum Journal xiv (1979), 139–58Google Scholar.

37 F. Lugt, Le Portrait-miniature, illustré par la collection de S. M. la Reine de Pays-Bas, Amsterdam 1917, 8–9.

38 Chamberlain, Hans Holbein the Younger, ii, plate 31, no. 5, and pp. 229–32 at p. 230.

39 The artist painted Cromwell's portrait when he held the post of Master of the King's Jewels. See D. Wilson, Hans Holbein: portrait of an unknown man, London 2006, 214.

40 Two miniatures of Thomas Cromwell wearing the Garter collar survive. The first was identified by Lionel Cust in 1911 as the work of Hans Holbein: ‘A newly-discovered miniature of Thomas Cromwell’, Burlington Magazine xx (1911), 5–7, plate a, and Chamberlain, Hans Holbein the Younger, ii, plate 31, no. 6 and pp. 229–32. That miniature, no longer considered to be by the hand of Holbein, belonged at one time to the Pierpont Morgan Collection and was sold with that collection at Christie's in 1932. See P. Ganz, The paintings of Hans Holbein, London 1950, 258; Erika Michael, Hans Holbein the Younger: a guide to research, New York 1997, 493. The second miniature (discussed here), probably from the studio of Hans Holbein, is exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery, London as Thomas Cromwell, earl of Essex, NPG 6311. The miniatures are 13/4 in. (4.4 cm.) in diameter. See Ganz, The paintings of Hans Holbein, 258, plate 190, and John Rowlands, Holbein: the paintings of Hans Holbein the Younger, Oxford 1985, 240, plate 262.

41 Chamberlain, Hans Holbein the Younger, ii. 232; LP xiv/2, no. 782 (p. 333).

42 John of Antwerp (Jan van der Goes) was employed by Thomas Cromwell as a goldsmith and court courier, and was used extensively by him from 1537 to 1539: Lionel Cust, ‘John of Antwerp, goldsmith, and Hans Holbein’, Burlington Magazine viii (1906), 356–60 at p. 359. See also Holman, T. S., ‘Holbein's portraits of the Steelyard merchants: an investigation’, Metropolitan Museum Journal xiv (1979), 142, 144Google Scholar. Cromwell nominated him for the post of King's Goldsmith and he was made a Freeman of the Goldsmiths' Company in 1537 at Cromwell's express command: H. Norris, Tudor costume and fashion, Mineola 1997, 347.

43 SP 1/125, fo.145–6; LP xii/2 no. 881. This letter, a holograph of Lady Ughtred, must be from before the marriage of August 1537; and is slightly misdated, to the autumn, by LP.

44 It would be worth further exploring the possibility that another group of portrait images depicts Elizabeth Seymour, Lady Ughtred and Baroness Cromwell. The original portrait, dated c. 1535–40, is exhibited at the Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio, as Portrait of a lady, probably a member of the Cromwell family (ref. 1926.57). The National Portrait Gallery exhibits a similar painting, Unknown woman, formerly known as Catherine Howard (ref. NPG 1119), which has been dated to the late seventeenth century, without any consensus as to the sitter's identity. A miniature by William Essex, Portrait of a woman called Princess Mary, duchess of Suffolk (1498 – 1533), in the Royal Collection (ref. RCIN 421718), is based on the Holbein portrait at the Toledo Museum of Art. This group of pictures raises interesting problems of identification but they will not be pursued here.

45 G. Habich, ‘Ein Miniature Bildnis von Hans Holbein in Danzig’, Zeitschrift für Bildende Kunst (n.s. xxiv, 1913), 194–6, plate 1.

46 Hans Holbein died between 7 October and 29 November 1543 at the age of forty-five: Wilson, Hans Holbein, 277–8.

47 John Rowlands, Holbein, 152 (m.14) and plate 139. See also Division for Looted Art, The Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, Warsaw, (accessed 7 Nov. 2014). For the current location of this miniature see Agence France-Press, ‘Poland's culture minister Bogdan Zdrojewski seeks return of art seized by Soviet Russia in 1945’,, 16 May 2013, (accessed 16 Nov. 2014), and ‘Poland seeks return of art seized by Soviet Russia’, GlobalPost, 16 May 2013, (accessed 16 Nov. 2014). See also BAT, (PAP), ‘Polska chce od Rosji zwrotu 18 dzieł sztuki [Poland asks for the return of eighteen pieces of art from Russia]’, Nowy Dziennik, Polish Daily News, 17 May 2013, (accessed 16 Nov. 2014).

48 See Division for Looted Art, (accessed 7 Nov 2014); cf. Habich, ‘Ein Miniature Bildnis’, 194–6, plate 1, at p. 194 (tempera on paper); cf. Ganz, The paintings of Hans Holbein, plate 173 and p. 260 (watercolour on cardboard); cf. H. F. Secker, Führer durch die öffentlichen kunstsammlungen in Danzig, Danzig 1913, i. 26–7, plate 6. (parchment).

49 For examples of merchant marks in Holbein's portraits of the Steelyard merchants see Holman, ‘Holbein's portraits of the Steelyard merchants’, 152–8.

50 Habich, ‘Ein Miniature Bildnis’, 195; cf. Secker, Führer durch die öffentlichen kunstsammlungen in Danzig, i. 26–7, plate 6. For Heinrich Schwarzwald (1544–1608) see Freytag, H., ‘Die Beziehungen Danzigs zu Wittenberg in der Zeit der Reformation’, Zeitschrift des Westpreussisches Geschichtsvereins xxxviii (1898), 1137 at p. 112Google Scholar.

51 F. Blomefield, An essay towards a topographical history of the county of Norfolk, London 1808, ix. 486–95 at p. 488. See also W. C. Metcalfe, A book of Knights banneret, Knights of the Bath, and Knights bachelor: made between the fourth year of King Henry VI and the restoration of King Charles II and knights made in Ireland, between the years 1566 and 1698, together with an index of names, London 1885, 87.