Thursday, 4 February 2010

Elizabeth Seymour controversy

There's controversy over my book cover! Not about it being my book cover, of course, but over the identity of the sitter.

Victorian scholars identified the portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger as a likeness of Catherine Howard. Historian Antonia Fraser has argued that this image is far more likely to be Elizabeth Seymour, sister of Jane Seymour. The sitter wears widow's apparel. Catherine Howard would have had no reason to be dressed as a widow; but Elizabeth Seymour would, as her first husband had died in 1534 and her sister Queen Jane in 1537. The portrait has long been associated with King Henry's tragic young Queen and various people and places contest it to be a picture of Katherine Howard. The gift shop at the Tower of London depicts the picture as being Katherine Howard on its souvenirs. The National Portrait Gallery, which exhibits the painting at Montacute House in Somerset, remains undecided about the sitter's identity.

I like the picture, and love it as my cover. It was painted in 1541 and my story is set in 1543. Perhaps the garb is a little rich for my heroine, but the style of Alina and her mother's gowns would be modelled on such as this, with wide sleeves, stiff collars and blackwork at the neck and sleeves. Cheaper velvets, perhaps, and not so extravagantly cut and embroidered, but certainly of this style.
Those of you who remember their dates will know that Katherine married Henry in July 1540. By Nov 1541 she was in the Tower on suspicion of immoral conduct. My feeling is that the sitter looks older than Katherine ever got to be, and that if she had been painted as Queen of England there would have been more jewellery etc on show in the picture. Not a great deal is known about Elizabeth, though she was at court for some time. She was lady in waiting to both Anne Boleyn and her sister Jane Seymour, and married to Cromwell's son. There's a brief biography of her on Wikipedia.

4 comments:

Caroline Storer said...

It is a lovely cover though - whoever she is! Question? Did you have to get permission to use the painting for your cover? Or is it ok to use, as the subject and painter, are long dead so there are no copyright issues? Caroline x

Nicola Cornick said...

Fascinating stuff, Jen. I enjoy very much discussions about the identity of sitters in portraits. We have one from the 17th century at Ashdown that is variously described as Lady Craven and as someone else entirely! I came across a mention of Elizabeth Seymour only yesterday when I was reading Wolf Hall. I'd be interested to know more about her. And what a super cover for your book!

Jen Black said...

Thanks, guys. I adore Holbein's work so I was really pleased with the cover. Elizabeth would make a good subject for a novel, don't you think? Caroline, I think you are probably right, but I leave that sort of thing to my publisher. Amazing as it may seem, that's the first time I have used those two words! Oh, my!
Jen

Carla said...

How interesting! I knew the portrait looked familiar - that must be where I'd seen it before. Many thanks for posting the information. I agree with you, she doesn't look kittenish enough for Katherine Howard.