Nicholas Hilliard, Henry Wriothesely, 3rd Earl of Southampton (1573-1624), wearing white doublet sla
Lot 1
Nicholas Hilliard, Henry Wriothesely, 3rd Earl of Southampton (1573-1624), wearing white doublet slashed and pinked to reveal gold, gold-edged jewelled buttons, starched lace-edged high ruff, blue sash and Order of the Lesser George suspended from his neck, crimson curtain background, gold edge
Sold for £127,650 (US$ 160,583) inc. premium

Lot Details
Nicholas Hilliard (Exeter 1546/7 - London 1618)
Henry Wriothesely, 3rd Earl of Southampton (1573-1624), wearing white doublet slashed and pinked to reveal gold, gold-edged jewelled buttons, starched lace-edged high ruff, blue sash and Order of the Lesser George suspended from his neck, crimson curtain background, gold edge
watercolour on vellum backed with card
, the reverse inscribed in a later hand in ink, Henry Wriothesley/ Earl of Southampton/ by Isaac Oliver, later silver gilt frame, the reverse engraved, Third Earl/ of/ Southampton/ by I Oliver
Oval, 50mm. (1 15/16ins.) high
Provenance: The Collection of E. Peter Jones; Sotheby's, 3 July 1958, lot 66
The Collection of Edward Grosvenor Paine
Exhibited: London, Victoria and Albert Museum, Artists of the Tudor Court, 9 July-6 November 1983
S.N.P.G., 2000-2003
Literature: Exhibition catalogue, Victoria and Albert Museum, Artists of the Tudor Court, 9 July-6 November 1983, no.119
R. Strong, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, I, p.300; II, pl.588 (described as by Hilliard, location unknown)


  • Henry Wriothesley succeeded to his father's earldom in 1581 and was a royal ward under the care of Lord Burghley. Educated at the University of Cambridge and at Gray's Inn, London, he was 17 when he was presented at court, where he was favoured by Queen Elizabeth I and befriended by Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex. Southampton was a generous patron of writers, including Barnabe Barnes, Thomas Nashe, John Florio and Gervase Markham. Although he was painted many times in oil, the present lot appears to be one of less than half a dozen portrait miniatures of him.

    He is best known, however, as the only known patron of William Shakespeare (1564-1616), who dedicated the love poems Venus and Adonis (1593) and The Rape of Lucrece (1594) to him. The dedication of the Rape of Lucrece reads, 'The love I dedicate to your Lordship is without end.' It has been argued that Shakespeare's sonnets were addressed to him (as 'Mr. W. H., the onlie begetter of these ensuing sonnets' - Henry Wriothesley in reverse).
    These sonnets, dedicated to a young man known as the Fair Youth, convey an intensity of feeling that has led some scholars to the conclusion that the two men had an intimate relationship. It is possible that Shakespeare spent some time during the plague years of 1592-94 at Southampton's estate, when he may have written the verses. Finally published in 1609, they were certainly known in 1598, when Francis Meres mentions Shakespeare's, 'sugared Sonnets [circulating] among his private friends, etc.'

    The earlier sonnets, urging marriage, must have been written prior to 1595, before Southampton's intrigue with Elizabeth Vernon, cousin of the Earl of Essex and one of the Queen's waiting women. Vernon became pregnant and the couple hastily married in 1598. A contemporary source states that, 'Mrs. Vernon is from the Court, and lies in Essex house; some say she hath taken a venew under the girdle and swells upon it, yet she complaines not of fowle play, but sayes the Erle of Southampton will justifie it; and it is bruted, underhand, that he was latelie here fowre days [from France] in great secret of purpos to marry her, and effected it accordingly' (Letters of John Chamberlain, Camden Soc., p.18). This incurred the Queen's wrath and they were briefly imprisoned, never regaining Elizabeth's favour.

    In 1596 and 1597 Southampton accompanied Essex on his expeditions to Cádiz and to the Azores. In 1599 he went to Ireland with Essex, but the Queen insisted that Southampton return to London. He was deeply involved in the Essex rebellion (February 1601), on the eve of which he induced players at the Globe Theatre to revive Richard II, a play dealing with the deposition of a king, in order to stir up the populace. He was tried for treason on February 19, 1601; his titles were forfeited and he was condemned to death, but his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment through the intervention of Sir Robert Cecil.

    On the accession of James I, Southampton resumed his place at court. He was made a Knight of the Garter and captain of the Isle of Wight in 1603 and was restored to the peerage by act of Parliament. In 1603 he entertained Queen Anne with a performance of Love's Labour's Lost by Richard Burbage and his company, to which Shakespeare belonged.
    Southampton was an important member of the Virginia and East India companies and was an active promoter of colonizing enterprises, several places in New England being named in his honour. In 1609 he became a member of the Virginia Company's Council and their treasurer in 1620.
    He was a volunteer in support of German Protestants in 1614, and in 1617 proposed an expedition against the Barbary pirates. He became a privy councillor in 1619 but fell into disgrace through his determined opposition to the royal favourite, the Duke of Buckingham. In 1624 he and his elder son volunteered to fight for the United Provinces against Spain, but on landing in the Netherlands they both caught a fever. Southampton died a few days after the death of his son.

    This portrait of Southampton, on account of his costume, can be dated to circa 1610. Hilliard had first portrayed Southampton in 1594, employing the first known use of the crimson folded curtain as background. This portrait (in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, no.3856) portrays Southampton at the age of 20, with his hair flowing over one shoulder, a fashion which was also adopted by other men at court. In the present lot, we see a much more mature man. Aged by his years in the Tower, his hair and beard are worn in a conventional fashion. The portrait's composition closely follows Hilliard's series of portraits of James I, dating from 1604. Indeed, the portrait even emulates James' clothing and his pose and may have been intended as homage to the king who had restored his title and position at court.
    The later frame is identical to a frame housing a portrait of Sir Kenelm Digby by Isaac Oliver (Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge). This miniature was owned by the collector J. Whitehead in the 19th century and it is therefore possible that he also owned the present lot.
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