171:  I Have My Likeness Taken

After we heard the Queen was dead, I believed the King of Scotland would come straightway to the Tower and loose us.

But no.  I learnt that King was a stranger [foreigner] who lived many ways off.  I heard my lord say we would receive newes of our libertie by the next despatch.

A man with a long, melancholy face, dressed all in white with a dark cloak.
King James.  He sent a letter from Edinburgh on 5 April 1603, and Harry and his lord left the Tower 4 or 5 days later.

While we waited for the despatch, many came to visit us.  All wished to be our friends.

Francis Bacon, who was part of the prosecution team at the trial of the Earls of Essex and Southampton.

My lord even had a letter from one Bacon who’d been a false friend to him.  (I knew this Bacon not, but I well remember our mother telling us kits that his name was savoury, but he was a damnable villain.)

The King writ that we could leave the Tower and dwell quiet in some house in or near the citie.  We slipped out one evening, and went to lodge with my lord’s mother, the old Countess.

Oh, how sweet that dwelling’s scents were to me who was birthed there.  I could not contain my whurring.  Even when my lord’s little she-kit troubled me.

I bethought me of my mother, and wished she were there to greet me and see what a fine cat I was.

There came a fellow to take my likeness.  He was brought to a little chamber in our house.  My lord and his lady Puss [Bess] spake a while with him.  The picture was to mark our emprisonment.

Then away they went, full of happy expectations.  Happy expectations of King James, I mean.  My lord and one of his companions from the Tower had been sent for!

They were to travel north to meet the King, for he was coming slow, stopping along the ways for his hunting.  What cat could not love such a King?

I had happy expectations of my picture.  I took my seat on the window sill (as I did in the Tower) and sat right well so the paynter could take a good likeness of me.  Then he rolled up his paper and away he went.  Full of foolish fancies, as I soon learnt.

My lord was gone before that picture was brought to us.  I hope he forgot to pay for it. 

I was on the sill right enuff, but the window behind me was none too clean.  My lord, seeming none too cleanlie hisself, was standing nigh and pointing to the floor.

As if to tell me to get down where I belong.  Shameful.

I prayed my mother would never see this picture.  She was ever wont to call me fool, and I looked fool indeed.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorPoor Harry!  Portrait-bombed by an earl.  Or, more precisely, someone hoping to have his title and estates restored very soon.

The portrait itself is mysterious, and open to a variety of interpretations.

Southampton is portrayed as someone who has suffered for a cause.  What cause?  That of the Earl of Essex and therefore King James.  James saw Essex as the person bent on ensuring he would succeed Queen Elizabeth. 

The room (presumably Southampton’s apartment in the Tower) looks dismal with its cracked window and dingy wall.  In the top right-hand corner is a small picture of the Tower itself.

Below is the inscription In Vinculis Invictus – In Chains [but] Unconquered, with the dates of the Earl’s incarceration.  That’s from 8 February 1601 (1600 by the Julian Calendar, because the New Year started 25 March) to April 1603.  There’s no specific date given for his release, which implies he was still in the Tower when the portrait was done.  (Harry claims it was later.)  Perhaps that was a follow-up consultation? Or does the absence of a precise date indicate that he’s still waiting for his formal pardon?

Anyway, Southampton looks far from his usual glossy self.  His hair’s not styled, his beard needs a trim, and his cloak forms a sling for his left arm.  He has a string of red beads (coral?) around his left wrist, possibly as some sort of antidote for pain.

Despite his sombre attire, he’s not likely to be wearing mourning for Queen Elizabeth.  King James wasn’t, and made it clear he didn’t expect anyone else to.  So is Southampton in mourning for Essex, and displaying a dark mourning ring on his left hand?

The book in front of Harry seems to be fastened to the window sill.  And it’s the wrong way round.  On its back cover is Southampton’s crest, complete with coronet – except he’s not, right now, an earl.

The most puzzling aspect of the picture is the cat.  We know it’s Harry.  But what might he represent?  A dislike of being shut in?  The ability to play a waiting game, as cats can when they’re watching for prey?  A little joke about Sir Robert Cecil, a master at knowing when to wait and when to pounce?   I’ve even come across doubts about whether or not Southampton ever had a feline cell-mate!  Sacrilege.


16 thoughts on “171:  I Have My Likeness Taken

  1. Timi Townsend April 11, 2019 / 3:49 pm

    I’m so glad they got to leave the Tower at last, and that Harry had his portrait painted, although he didn’t care much for it.

    There are ads appearing now on this post of yours. Is that because of something I myself have done? If so, please let me know how I can undo it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • toutparmoi April 11, 2019 / 3:56 pm

      Sometimes WordPress runs ads on free sites, though I’ve no idea what they are. I never see them. I mean to upgrade to a Premium theme so there’ll be no ads, but I rather like the theme I’ve got.


    • Timi Townsend April 11, 2019 / 6:36 pm

      I’ve never seen the ads on your site before, and luckily they went away!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Rachel McAlpine April 11, 2019 / 4:23 pm

    At last, the famous portrait! I am grateful for your detailed analysis of this fascinating work. I find the gloved right hand a bit spooky and dread to think what it symbolises.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi April 11, 2019 / 4:55 pm

      It is spooky. And the criss-cross black ribbons on the gloves make me wonder, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. April Munday April 11, 2019 / 6:46 pm

    Coral for pain makes sense and would explain why midwives in the Middle Ages thought it would help women going through a difficult birth to have a piece at their neck, presumably in the form of a necklace.

    I hope that Harry has learned sufficient skills to be able to survive on the outside.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi April 12, 2019 / 8:28 am

      It seems to be an enduring tradition. I can remember seeing the occasional little coral necklace in antique jewellery shops. I think they’d been for babies to wear while teething.

      I worry about Harry on the outside, too. He’s been an indoor cat so far.

      Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi April 12, 2019 / 8:30 am

      He does look fierce. The artist didn’t intend him to go unnoticed, that’s for certain – however aggrieved Harry might feel about the end result.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. colonialist April 13, 2019 / 8:42 am

    An portrait of many features, indeed. At least he survived with head intact to have it made.
    Harry certainly does look disgusted at something.

    The ads, btw, are a badge of quality. They are put on posts where they are likely to get noticed. And, methinks, don’t bother nobody nohow.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi April 13, 2019 / 9:41 am

      He was extraordinarily fortunate to keep his head. The picture seems designed to make viewers’ eyes jump from that head to the cat, then the book, and the stylish gloves, so I don’t think Harry has too much to complain of.


  5. Christine Valentor April 19, 2019 / 8:21 pm

    I always liked this portrait. I was once told by a professor that the cat in the picture is supposed to make a statement about being faithful — the faithful cat stayed with Wriothesley in the same way Wriothesley would be a faithful subject of King James… I think Harry looks rather cute!

    The red coral is interesting. Many rocks and shells are thought to have healing properties.

    Liked by 1 person

    • toutparmoi April 20, 2019 / 8:41 am

      That sounds likely. Traditionally dogs are associated with fidelity in English art, but it would be tricky keeping one as a prison companion!

      Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.