Unknown woman, possibly Elizabeth Seymour

© National Portrait Gallery, London
Unknown woman
after Hans Holbein the Younger | Late 17th century
Oil on panel | 29 in. x 19 1/2 in.
NPG 1119

This portrait was once identified as Catherine Howard, the fifth wife of Henry VIII.

It is now thought that this is actually a member of the Cromwell family, likely Elizabeth Seymour, wife of Thomas Cromwell’s son Gregory and sister of Jane Seymour, Henry VIII’s third wife.

The writing at the top is in Latin, and reads ‘Etatis Suae 21’, indicating that the sitter is 21 years old.

If this is Elizabeth Seymour, then this portrait captures her in around 1539.

By that time she had been married to Gregory Cromwell, her second husband, for two years. The couple went on to have five children.

Hans Holbein the Younger painted Thomas Cromwell, and perhaps also Gregory as a child. It is easy to imagine Holbein being commissioned to paint Elizabeth after her marriage into the family.

In 1540, the Cromwell family was thrown into disarray when Thomas Cromwell was arrested at a council meeting and sent to the Tower on charges of heresy.

Cromwell wrote to Henry VIII from his cell, asserting his innocence and pleading for mercy towards his son, his daughter-in-law, and their family.

After Cromwell was executed in July 1540, he was buried in an unmarked grave in the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula at the Tower of London.

Elizabeth and Gregory were not implicated in Thomas Cromwell’s crimes, and Elizabeth later became a lady in waiting for Queen Catherine Howard.

Elizabeth was widowed again when Gregory died of sweating sickness in 1551. She remarried her third and final husband three years later.

Elizabeth died in 1568. She had lived under 4 Tudor monarchs, and, as a part of the Seymour and Cromwell families, had been at the centre of some of the most seismic events in 16th-century England.

Explore the Tudor history we tell through this portrait:

Painting the royal court


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