Re-identified portrait of Catherine of Aragon

March 02 2022 | Castle History

Credit: Ollie Dixon Photography

In 2004, a portrait was unveiled at Hever Castle purporting to depict the sixth of Henry VIII’s queens, Katherine Parr.

Ever since it has hung in the appropriately named ‘Queens’ Chamber’ alongside five contemporary (or near-contemporary) portraits of Henry VIII’s six wives. However, in the years since its arrival at Hever, research on another extant version of this portrait model – held in the collection of the Archbishop of Canterbury – has revealed the portrait to depict not Katherine Parr, but another of Henry VIII’s queens: Catherine of Aragon.

At the time of the portrait’s arrival at Hever, both it and the version found at Lambeth Palace had been labelled, in good faith and for many years, as Katherine Parr. The period of their creation had been tentatively dated to around 1528-30, when Parr would have been just 16-18 years of age. However, after a period of research and conservation by the National Portrait Gallery, the Lambeth portrait has been re-dated to c.1520. The gallery paired the Lambeth version with a contemporary portrait of King Henry VIII that also dates to c.1520. They are strikingly similar not only in terms of date and scale, but most compellingly they share the very same green damask background, which only came to light with the removal of layers of dirt and overpaint.

While the National Portrait Gallery emphasise that these ‘companion’ portraits of Henry and Catherine were not executed as a pair originally, they have concluded that they are ‘likely to be examples of portrait types of the king and queen that would have been produced in multiple versions, some of which would have been paired in this way.’ It is therefore likely that the re-identified picture of Catherine of Aragon at Hever Castle was one such example of these multiple versions of portraits created in the early 1520s.

The revelations about the portrait’s true identity are particularly pertinent to Hever Castle. It can now be displayed as a portrait of Catherine of Aragon as she would have been known to a young Anne Boleyn when she first entered Catherine service. Anne made her dazzling debut at the English court at the ‘Château Vert’ pageant in March 1522, exactly 500 years ago.

The newly re-identified portrait shows Queen Catherine in a bonnet in the English fashion, decorated with rubies, diamonds and clusters of pearls. The frontlet of her hood is painted in a dark shade of crimson over gold leaf, which compliments the cloth of gold lappets, which are trimmed with crimson velvet. Catherine’s dress is also fashioned from the same rich crimson velvet, with sleeves crafted again from cloth of gold. About her neck is shown a string of fine pearls and, at the neckline, can be seen an “ouche” decorated with a large precious stone and pearls.

The portrait will be re-launched at Hever Castle as Catherine of Aragon as part of the quincentennial Becoming Anne: Connections, Culture, Court exhibition (4 March – November 2022).

Opening 500 years to the very day that Anne Boleyn (1501-1536) made her first recorded appearance at the court of King Henry VIII (1491-1547), Hever Castle will host the first of a series of exhibitions detailing the life and times of the ill-starred young woman who would become Queen of England, and the first of the infamous monarch’s wives to suffer a cruel fate.

The show will explore the factors that moulded Anne’s character and also the rise of the Boleyn family. Visitors will also be able to discover more about her early years and what made her into the woman who so caught Henry VIII’s eye on her return to England from France.

Assistant Curator Dr Owen Emmerson says: “It is a wonderful opportunity to be able to present to our visitors the face of Queen Catherine of Aragon, as it would have been known to Anne Boleyn when she returned to England in the early 1520s to serve in Catherine’s train. We all know how fraught relations between these two extraordinary women became when Henry’s attentions turned to Anne. However, it is often overlooked that their relationship began well and that Elizabeth Boleyn, Anne’s mother, had long been in service to Catherine. We hope that re-identifying this portrait as Catherine will shed new light into the happier days of their relationship.”

To accompany the exhibition, Dr Owen Emmerson and Kate McCaffrey have written a book entitled ‘Becoming Anne: Connections, Culture, Court‘. The book is now available for pre-order and each copy will be signed by Owen and Kate.

Dr Owen Emmerson and Kate McCaffrey will alsobe talking more about Anne Boleyn on Wednesday 10 August as part of Hever Festival Theatre’s 2022 programme.

You can see the portrait and experience the exhibition from Friday 4 March 2022.

The Becoming Anne: Connections Culture, Court exhibition is included as part of Castle admission.



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