Amy Robsart (1532-1561) – probably

Amy Robsart married Robert Dudley on 4th June, 1550 at Sheen when she was just three days short of her eighteenth birthday. Ten years later on 8th September 1560 she was found dead at the foot of the stairs at Cunmore Place.  Christopher Skidmore found the coroner’s inquest results in the National Archives, Kew, Surrey under reference KB9/1073 (8mm) parts 1&2.  For the past 456 years there have been intense arguments about her death and what she may have looked like.  Chris Skidmore’s book Death and the Virgin explores the events surrounding Robsart’s death.

Skidmore also includes his theory that a portrait miniature, now in the Yale collection, is of her.  I agree that it is quite probably of Amy. As an art historian while this is very interesting, I am more interested in who painted it.  To date, the name Levina Teerlinc has been suggested.  I believe it was another woman artist, Susannah Horenbout who was responsible for this portrait of Amy.

Amy R
The Yale Miniature.

Susannah Horenbout was most likely the brush behind the important miniatures of the Princess Mary and of Queen Katharine of Aragon.  Previously these portraits have been attributed to her brother Lucas.  These long held attributions were made either in the late 19th century or the early 20th century and are only now being challenged by Susan James and others.  Those making these attributions were not necessarily wrong, but are perhaps biased towards thinking that only men can produce great art.

Until after WW2 there were very few women art historians of note and, as Germain Greer wrote in her 1970 book, The Female Eunuch, women artists have been ignored or villified by male art critics from time immemorial.  Dame Frances Yates and Dr Erna Auerbach paved the way for the study of Tudor art, post WW2.  Sir Roy Strong studied under Dame Frances Yates and Dr Auerbach’s published PhD thesis, Tudor Artists, remains a key piece of research for all students of the period.  Thankfully, the Western attitude towards women has changed considerably. A modern English art history student is taught to consider more than just the image in front of them.  A study of social and political history is vital, as well as understanding the education valued at the period being studied.  Ergo, a serious Renaissance art historian should also study the literature valued by the educated people of the period.

In the catalogue for the Philip Mould Gallery 2007 exhibition Lost Faces: Identity & Discovery in Tudor Royal Portraiture, David Starkey wrote that he believed that this was a portrait of Lady Jane Grey.  Ever since Henry Holland created a series of fictitious portraits of various queens in 1618 for his Baziliologica, or The Booke of Kings historians have argued about portraits of the royal wives.  Holland based his portrait of Jane Grey on one of Catherine Parr.  Starkey points out that Holland’s portrait of Anne Boleyn is based on the Whitehall mural portrayal of Jane Seymour.  From the royal accounts we know that Henry VIII paid for the removal of badges, emblems and images of his first two queens therefore Holland’s publication of 1618 means he had no access to images of the early wives of Henry VIII.  Accuracy of portrayal was not high on Holland’s list of priorities.

When it comes to the Yale miniature I do not think this is a portrait of either the Princesses Mary or Elizabeth, or Jane Grey as has been suggested over the years. Neither that it was painted by Levina Teerlinc. Chris Skidmore has proposed that it is of Amy Robsart, and I agree. First let us consider who may have painted it and why.

Susannah Horenbout is an artist that is only now being identified as the creator of portraits of women at court during the 1520 and 30s.  Before coming to England the Horenbout workshop was based in Bruges. In 1521 Albrecht Dürer visited the premises and was amazed at the quality of the work ‘done by a woman’. Dürer paid one guilder for a Salvator Mundi painted by the nineteen year old Susannah. This was praise indeed from northern Europe’s most eminent artist of the period and his comment demonstrates the male attitudes of the day towards women artists. The Horenbout family arrived in England in the mid 1520s and Susannah married John Parker (d1537) sometime in the late 1520s.  After his death, she married for the second time in 1539, this time to John Gwilim a minor member of the royal household.

Miniature painting requires close observation by the artist and would have required up to four sittings.   There are portraits of Queen Katherine and Princess Mary dating from the 1520s that I believe are wrongly attributed to Susannah’s brother, Lucas.  While it is quite possible that Lucas Horenbout may have painted these royal portraits, and we know from the accounts that he was employed as ‘king’s pictor’, however, some of these portraits have a modern ‘A’ and a reversed N. Others contain an ‘A’ that more reflects the one used in the monogram of Albrecht Dürer and in these the ‘N’ is not reversed. Perhaps those portraits with the modern ‘A’ and the reversed ‘N’ are by her brother, Lucas, and those with the Dürer ‘A’ by his sister Susannah as a statement of Dürer’s recognition of her talent.

Marriage is another one of the reasons it is so difficult to identify works by her. Even in the 20th century most women still change their name when they marry, but unlike during the Tudor period, today they are recognised for their abilities in their own right.  Until the English Matrimonial Causes Act 1974, women were the chattels of their husbands. Women being identified as individuals, with their own right of domicile, came into force on 1st January 1974, therefore, as a chattel of her husband, any payments for work would be made to John Gwilim. We see evidence of the lack of recognition of a woman artist from entries in the royal accounts from 1546 – 1576 where the quarterly payments of £10 due to the other woman artist of the Tudor Court, Levina Teerlinc, were ‘made unto her husband’ George.

Only a matter of a few weeks after Susannah Horenbout’s second marriage to John Gwilim in 1539, both she and her husband were part of the entourage that accompanied Anne of Cleves to England. Susan James has argued that it was because Susannah was a native Flemish speaker and could therefore speak to Anna in her native tongue.   Money was given for Mrs Parker to be appropriately robed as a gentlewoman to the future queen of England – James has identified the sum of £40. This may sound as if it was a kindly gesture on the part of the king.  Sending a woman who could speak Anna’s language and describe life in England to Henry’s prospective bride might be thought it was in order for the Duchess of Cleves to become familiar with the English life at court.   Personally, I do not think this is the main reason. It is far more likely that as a trusted member of the court well versed in discretion, Susannah was there to listen to the conversations of the members of the Cleves court conducted in German and to report the content of these to the English diplomats, who would ultimately report back to both the Duke of Norfolk and of course, Thomas Cromwell.

Susannah did not continue to be a member of Anna’s household after the royal divorce, but remained on good terms with her. It is thought (from the lack of evidence in royal records) that at this point Mrs Gwilim and her husband retired to Richmond where she produced three children. It is after the death of Henry VIII that we find references of them returning to the court of Edward VI and it is at this point that the Yale miniature may have been created.

It is also possible that Susannah sister was part of her brother Lucas’s workshop and painted portraits of the royal family.  There are portraits of Henry VIII that differ in technique, lettering and style. One of which Susan James argues is by Susannah Horenbout because of the initials JH she found hidden in the hat badge. I disagree and believe that this particular portrait of Henry may have been painted by someone in the Horenbout workshop using the patterns contained in the various workbooks. That person may be Lucas’s daughter, Jacomyne. Why else would there be the initials JH? It is probable that Susannah was married to John Parker at this time, so her initials would be SP, or if she used any other surely she would use SH thus linking her name with her brother and her father, Gerard.  Also, a woman artist would be able to create portraits of both the queen, the princess Mary or any other woman without the requirement of a chaperone.

We are told on the portrait  that the age of the sitter in the Yale miniature is eighteen. Likewise the ‘A’ in Anno is similar to the Dürer ‘A’. Our sitter is not luxuriously dressed, but she does have a jewel at her breast that appears to be a carved cameo similar to many found in the Cheapside Hoard. The fact that it is over her heart suggests it may be the front of a locket that contains a similar portrait to this one. A sprig of cowslips and some oak leaves are tucked behind it.

So why should this be Amy Robsart and why may Susannah Horenbout have painted her?

Amy married Robert Dudley on 4th June 1550. They were both young. In fact Amy was to celebrate her eighteenth birthday three days later. The wedding took place at Sheen and Edward VI attended, as did many other members of the court.  James has identified that Susannah Horenbout, now married to John Gwilim, was now living at Richmond, just down the road from Sheen.

Who were the Robsarts? Skidmore tells us that she was the daughter of a Norfolk gentleman farmer, Sir John Robsart of Syderstone. The family was very comfortably off and lived in Norfolk. William Cecil’s comment that this was a ‘carnal marriage’ suggests that he had his doubts about this match from the very start.

The flowers have been suggested as being gillyflowers and as such are said to represent Jane Grey’s husband, Guildford Dudley. However, if you look at these using a high resolution image, these are clearly cowslips therefore clearly not a reference to a husband called Guildford. Cowslips are symbols of grace and beauty and the inclusion of the oak leaves and acorns suggest patience, power, faith and endurance. As a marriage token these symbols could be read as representing a beautiful bride who will bring forth an heir for a dynasty of power? The husband’s image may be hidden in the locket hidden behind the carved cameo lying over her heart. From the evidence of the Cheapside hoard we know cameos were readily available in London and the miniature as a token of love or respect was becoming extremely fashionable.

During the painting of this miniature it is possible that the sitter and the artist discussed what to include. A miniature portrait to be given to the prospective husband would possibly feature local Norfolk traditions or symbols such as cowslips suggesting the sitter’s character and physical beauty. The use of a bear and ragged staff features in gifts given to Elizabeth I by Robert Dudley, which is not surprising since he was commissioning these items.  It is likely that this miniature was probably commissioned as a gift from Amy to her husband shortly after her eighteenth birthday.  In addition, the young lady would not have required a chaperone if the artist were a woman.

Why do I believe this is this not painted by Levina Teerlinc as suggested by Dr David Starkey? Nowhere on any of the works identified to date as being by Teerlinc have this style of writing on them. However, there are those that emanate from the Horenbout workshop that do. Teerlinc arrived in England in the mid 1540s and while she appears in the royal accounts from 1546 onwards until 1549. From then until late 1550, early 1551 she, and her husband, were out of England and did not return until long after the Dudley/Robsart wedding, when Teerlinc again features in the accounts when she is recorded as having painted an image of the Princess Elizabeth.

If this is Amy Robsart it may have been commissioned by her husband, Robert Dudley, or even Amy herself. Susannah and her husband were at court at the time and lived only a few miles from Sheen.  Levina Teerlinc was not even in England.  Therefore if you accept my argument that this is a portrait of Amy Robsart, then the only artist who could have painted her was Susannah Horenbout.

Sources:National Archives:

E323: Court of Augmentations: Treasurer’s Accounts 1536 – 1834;

E403:Exchequer of Receipts, Issue Rolls & Registers c1216 – 1834;

E36: Exchequer: Treasury of Receipts: Miscellaneous Books: Edward I – George II.

E101: King’s Remembrances: Accounts Various 1154-1830.

KB9: Criminal Trials in the Assize Courts 1559-1971

Fraser, M: An examination of the Life & Work of Levina Teerlinc: Limner to the Tudor Court 1546 – 1576. 31st August 2006. Templeman Library, University of Kent, Canterbury. Master of Arts dissertation (awarded under my married name of Fraser)

Skidmore, Chris; Death and the Virgin: Elizabeth, Dudley and her Mysterious Fate of Amy Robsart; first published in 2010 by Weidenfeld & Nicholson; paperback edition published by Photenix, an imprint of Orion Books Ltd., Orion House, 5 Upper St Martin’s Lane, London WC2H 9EA; 2011.

James, Susan E; The Feminine Dynamic in English Art, 1485 – 1603; Ashgate Publishing Ltd, Wey Court East, Union Rd., Farnham Surrey GU9 7PT;

Auerbach, Erna: Tudor Artists; University of London; The Athlone Press, Senate House, London WC1 1954 (out of print)

Strong, Roy: The English Renaissance Miniature; Victoria & Albert Museum; rev ed 1984

Greer, Germaine: The Female EunuchHarper Perennial (relaunch edition) May 2006.

Lost Faces: Identity & Discovery in Tudor Royal Portraiture; Ed: Grosvenor, Bendor; Philip Mould Ltd., 29 Dover Street, London W1. Exhibition held 6-18 March 2007.

Illuminating the Renaissance: The Triumph of Flemish Manuscript Painting in Europe; Eds. Kren, Thomas and Scott McKendrick; Getty Museum & Royal Academy, 2003

Forsyth, Hazel; London’s Lost Jewels: The Cheapside Hoard: Philip Wilson Publishers Ltd 2013Personal Research:

Conference 8-10th December, 2017. Manuscripts in the Making: Art & Science; Department of Chemistry, University of Cambridge; Cambridge CB2 1EW