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Tuesday, February 24, 2004

The Portrait Of A Lady

A rare portrait of Catherine Parr, the woman famous for being the wife who survived Henry VIII, is being unveiled later today at Hever Castle.

Click on the PICTURE GALLERY to view the full portrait.

Dating the portrait

Though the painter of the portrait is unknown, the Tudor historian and broadcaster Dr David Starkey sees in it a distinctive series of clues as to its probable date: the late 1520’s. “The English in the 16th century were craven followers of foreign fashions,” Dr. Starkey told the programme, “and the fabric pulled out into a squashed witches-hat effect is quite a good way of dating her. In the following decade, the 1530’s, ladies get into French dress, and suddenly get into very close-fitting head dresses of a completely different shape.”

Catherine the woman

If this dating is correct, at the time of her life that the portrait was painted Catherine was in her late teens, and married to her first husband: Edward, Lord Borough - the son of a rich northern nobleman. He's not the one who gave her the jewels she's wearing in the picture though. "Those wonderful pearls are a gift from her mother - left in her will, ” said Starkey.

But sitting around a chilly northern castle in her mother’s pearls wasn’t all that Catherine was up to as a young woman. “I’m a northerner myself”, said Starkey, “and I get fed up with the idea that everything is chip-butties and primitivism. 16th century historians write about the North in the same way.” Wrong, Starkey thinks. “Catherine first gets interested in education, first gets interested in radical new movements of religion in the north, in Yorkshire, with her friends up there - so this picture is taking us into a very different picture of Tudor England outside London from the one we commonly have.”

Catherine or Jane?

For all the clues as to the portrait’s date the identity of the sitter has in fact for years been under question. Until recently the picture was thought to be of Jane Seymour - Henry’s third wife: the woman formally betrothed to sweet Henry less than 24 hours after he had chopped off Anne Boleyn’s head. So is it Catherine? “Probably…”, Dr Starkey thinks: “almost certainly. I think it is 90% likely, and that, for a Tudor Portrait, is pretty good.”

See the 'picture gallery' for the larger image and visit the Hever Castle website for details of dates it's open to the public.

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