The perennial question: who is this portrait? A Gentleman of the Samways family

This morning I am going through upcoming auctions before going off to the day job. This portrait, lot 390 at Gilding’s struck me as curious. ‘Portrait of a bearded gentleman, arms and motto in cruce glorior’ Oil on panel 22 x 17 inches, a standard c.1550 – 1600 panel size.


(c) Gilding’s auctioneers.

In cruce glorior means ‘I glory in the Cross’ and the arms show three crosses pattées (with splayed ends) and between them a fess with three gold martlets on it. Who is he? I wondered, and in ‘Notes and Queries, A Medium of Interdisciplinary Discussion for Literary Men, Artists, Genealogists etc., Saturday August 31st 1850, beneath the journal’s motto

‘When found, make a note of it,’ – Captain Cuttle in Dickens’s Dombey and Son.

after a piece about the creation of Eve from Adam’s rib, queries about the creation of the Norton Baronetcy and the meaning of ‘Harefinder’ in Much Ado About Nothing, and before a question about wife-selling I found this

_Portrait (Unknown)._--A very carefully painted portrait, on an oak
panel, has been in the possession of my family for many years, and I
should be much pleased if any of your correspondents could enable me to
identify the personage.

The figure, which is little more than a head, is nearly the size of
life, and represents an elderly man with grey hair and a long venerable
beard: the dress, which is but little shown, is black. At the upper part
of the panel, on the dexter side, is a shield, bearing these
arms:--Argent on a fess sable between three crosses patees, Or, as many
martlets of the last. Above the shield is written "In cruce glorior." I
have searched in vain for those arms. On the prints published by the
Society of Antiquaries, of the funeral of Abbot Islip, is one nearly
similar,--the field ermine on a fess between three crosses patees, as
many martlets. The colours are not shown by the engraver. A manuscript
ordinary, by Glover, in my possession, contains another, which is
somewhat like that on the picture, being--Argent on a fess engrailed
sable, bearing three crosses patees, Gules, as many martlets on the
field. This is there ascribed to "Canon George." It is very probable
that the gold crosses on the white field was an error of the portrait

The size of the oak panel, which is thick, is seventeen inches wide, and
twenty-two in height. The motto is in a cursive hand, apparently of
about the time of Edward VI.


How I identify with the unknown TW, who asks a age-old question with unidentified portraits. I can answer him partially, thanks to a book plate in the University of Toronto belonging to Peter Samways (1615 – 1693), born at Eltham, son of ‘a person about the Court’, staunch reader of the Book of Common Prayer in the Commonwealth, rewarded with a DD at the Restoration, supporter of King William III, died Bedales in Yorkshire. But the Gilding’s sitter of is too old to be Dr Samways, or his father ‘about the Court’; perhaps the portrait is his great-Grandfather.


But is the heraldry even original to the painting? Or is it a slightly later addition by someone who believed it was a member of the Samways family? Without inspecting it I can’t be sure. The crosses are unusual in outline and colour. Painter’s error? (gold on silver shouldn’t happen; metal on metal is a heraldic no-no, like colours on colours; the same visibility rule as roadsigns, with as few exceptions – the arms of the King of Jerusalem and the sign for ‘No Waiting’; also now I remember, a Knight who fought at Agincourt – King Henry V rewarded him with a coat of arms in heraldically incorrect colour-on-colour, so that people would forever ask him and his descendants about it, and they could tell them).

Samways, incidentally, originally meant ‘half-wise’; sam- is the Old English word for half-, like semi-, so it’s the same name as Samwise in the Lord of the Rings.

I wonder who TW was who owned it in 1850.

And now I must go. There is work to do…

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