Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Thomas More, family portraits, and The Princes in the Tower

Thomas More and his family, as represented in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.  It's a miniature, isn't it wonderful?

Here it is again, (scroll down to item 3 on the page). With it on this page you can see the sketch, item 2, by Holbein, on which it is based, and a related picture, item 1, which you can see better in my next link.  This version is held at Nostell Priory in Yorkshire (National Trust).

And here is another related picture in the National Portrait Gallery, London.

First off, isn't it wonderful that
(a) these pictures have been handed down through the centuries, and not destroyed, by ignorance, malice or neglect.
(b) public-spirited people, into whose hands they came, bequeathed them to the nation - both the galleries acknowledge the name of the donor. 
(c) they are available for us to look at in public galleries and at the National Trust.
(d) they are available for us to look at online.

Next, all the pictures are linked, by a fascinating conspiracy theory. This was originally aired by one Jack Leslau, (sadly, now deceased).  It has regained currency as a consequence of the revival of interest in Richard III, after the discovery and conclusive proof of identity of his skeleton, followed by his stately reburial in March last year.

Of course, interest in Richard III has never gone away, largely due to the many mysteries surrounding his brief reign.  The greatest is the mystery of what happened to the Princes in the Tower.

It would test your patience to read the full conspiracy theory here; if you wish, you can follow the link to Jack's own lengthy exposition.  To sum up in a sentence, Jack believes that the Princes were kept safe in the home of Thomas More, and that the paintings offer clues to the discerning that prove this to be the case.

It's easy to get confused, but on this wonderful free site, the BBC, no less, shows you both the Lockey paintings right next to each other so that you can see the differences.

In essence, the second of them includes later generations of the More family, who could not all have been alive at the same time.  It seems to be meant as a sort of family tree seen from the perspective of the 1590's.  The first of the two, the painting Jack Leslau uses for his argument, only shows the members of the family as they would have been around the time Holbein made his sketch, ie about 1527. In his view, the young man standing holding a scroll on the far right is Richard, Duke of York, who disappeared aged 10 in 1483.

The young man is identified in the painting as John Harris, secretary to Thomas More.  Leslau, however, believes that he is meant to represent John Clement, who married More's adopted daughter, Margaret Giggs, (the lady standing on the far left of the Nostell portrait) and was hence a member of the family.  Although actually, says Leslau, he really wasn't John Clement at all, but Richard Plantagenet.  So three layers of ambiguity.  What is certain is that he doesn't appear in Holbein's original sketch.  Can't argue with that.  So there is a mystery there, although it may not be what is suggested.

It's all a great testimony to the value of history, of documents and art, and permanence, and display.  And the power of the imagination, to draw out links from tenuous observations, and draw conclusions.

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