Today I am looking at this painting again the Peake-style portrait of a lady formerly called Lady Alathea Talbot Countess of Arundel at Ingestre. By comparison with the contemporary portraits by Daniel Mytens (Arundel Castle and NPG) we can agree that it is probably not Lady Arundel, who was according to most sources between two and five years older than our sitter.
Who then is she? From the inscription we know her age – she was 32 in 1619 – and it is likely from the provenance that she was connected with the Talbot family. From her dress she was a courtier. From her pendant I thought that she might be a Catholic, like Lady Arundel, who followed the religion of her mother the fearless convert Mary Cavendish Countess of Shrewsbury. The Victoria and Albert Museum has a diamond and gold enamelled IHS pendant dated 1580 – 1600 that belonged to Lady Arundel’s son and might have belonged to the Countess herself.
However this page on their website suggests that there was also a wider application for the jewellery; that the Holy Name might be worn as a protective amulet as well as a statement of faith. This drawing for an IHS pendant is a design by Arnold Lulls (fl.c1580 – 1642), the fashionable London jeweller who supplied King James I and his wife Queen Anne of Denmark, and their Court.
I wonder. The Jesuit Order use the IHS as their emblem – it appears today in the arms of Pope Francis. In England at this date would it have that association? Or would it, like a character in Shakespeare swearing ‘By the Mass!’, scarcely raise an eyebrow? (I am listening to Radio 4’s brilliant Hamlet every afternoon this week)
Maybe Anne of Denmark’s Court is the key. The Queen had converted to Catholicism in Scotland, and kept a Catholic circle around her when she became Queen of England. Would jewellery like this, which makes a less emphatic statement than the large pendant worn by the Countess of Arundel, have been more of a feature of Anne’s Court? Was it ‘trendy’ for her ladies to wear such jewellery, even Protestants? In her portrait of 1612 by Gheeraerts at Penshurst, Lady Mary Sidney Lady Wroth is wearing a large diamond cross. Heirloom? Expression of personal faith? Or an example of a Catholic aesthetic at Anne’s Court?
More evidence is needed. If the answer to ‘If not Lady Arundel then who?’ might include Protestant as well as Catholic courtiers, it brings me to the reason I was looking at the Talbot portraits in the first place. I have been trying, as I mentioned a month ago, to find evidence to support the identification of this portrait of a young woman, aged 19 in 1607, as Lady Mary Wroth (1587 – 1651/3). It was during my first enquiries into this portrait, incidentally, that I encountered the name Arnold Lulls. The elegantly simple crescent and pearl drop earrings that this sitter is wearing compare almost exactly with a Lulls designs, supporting the argument that our sitter here is a courtier.
Lady Mary played the marriage game very differently to Frances Howard. She married one man while in love with another, and became his mistress after her first husband died. She led a rather Bloomsbury life. She was a writer – which was not unusual because many aristocratic ladies were – but less respectably she was also a published writer, and she engaged in literary duels and controversies with men. All of which might have been acceptable within a marriage, but without a husband, without a surviving legitimate heir and with two illegitimate children she became an isolated figure. The first part of her life was lived at Court; the second was more retired. There are only two accepted portraits of her, the Gheerearts and a John de Critz at Penshurst, and the latter, the famous portrait with an archlute, is sometimes disputed as the sitter appears too young to be a 33-year old woman c.1620. There must have been portraits covering the rest of her life, at least until the death of her lover William Herbert Earl of Pembroke in 1630. Some were no doubt lost when the Wroths’ house Loughton Hall burnt down in 1836, but Lady Mary had a wide circle of friends and relatives who must have owned her portrait. She should be a classic example of the sitter whose identity would be lost, and I was searching the collections of her friends and relatives for unknown and misidentified women of the right age. The Talbots were friends of the Sidneys, and relatives by marriage of the Herberts. Lady Mary Talbot (still a candidate for the Ingestre portrait) who married Lord Pembroke grew up with Lady Mary Sidney. The portrait of a lady formerly called the Countess of Arundel is exactly the same age as Lady Mary Sidney, and the likeness compares well with the Gheerearts. But would she be wearing the IHS? Is blue and silver a colour she is recorded as wearing? Back to the sources.