British Museum blog

Why was a picture like this made?

Shakespeare’s Restless World is currently being broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Today’s episode Life Without Elizabeth: Portrait of the Tudor Dynasty examines the hot topic of who would be next on the throne.

Susan Doran, University of Oxford

In 1571 or 1572 when this painting was made, the question of Queen Elizabeth’s marriage was still alive. There were negotiations for her to marry in the French Royal House; there were the two young princes so candidates for marriage were possible, even though in many ways marriage was unlikely. Of course, Elizabeth could also have married Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. She was young enough still, despite being in her late thirties, to have children and that would have resolved the question of the succession.

At this time there were considerable problems about the succession because there wasn’t only the danger that Elizabeth might die naturally and Mary Queen of Scots, a Catholic, would gain the throne, but that she would actually be assassinated. There had been a Papal bull that called for her deposition and there had been a plot, the Ridolfi plot, which was an international conspiracy designed to supplant Elizabeth and put Mary Queen of Scots on the throne.

A painting by Lucas de Heere,The Family of Henry VII: Allegory of the Tudor Succession, 1571-2.
© National Museum of Wales

Everyone knew that there was an international conspiracy, that there had been a rebellion in 1569 designed to put Mary Queen of Scots on the throne and that Philip II of Spain was behind the Ridolfi plot, so those people looking at the painting would have been aware of the threat to Elizabeth’s own life and therefore the problem with the succession.

In 1571, the Treasons Act was passed which made it treason to discuss the succession, particularly the title of any potential successors to Elizabeth. Another policy was passed in 1581 which reinforced that need for silence on the succession.

The issue of the succession was evident not just in Shakespeare’s plays but in other plays as well, in masques and entertainments. Questions about what kind of succession there should be, whether it should be an elective or hereditary succession are present in Titus Andronicus. They’re there in chronicles, they’re there in plays and they would have been easily read by audiences of Shakespeare’s plays.

Shakespeare’s Restless World is on BBC Radio 4
from 16 April to 11 May, at 13.45 and 19.45 weekdays.

Listen to today’s programme Life Without Elizabeth: Portrait of the Tudor Dynasty

Find out more:
National Museum of Wales
Allegory of the Tudor Succession

Filed under: Shakespeare's Restless World, What's on, ,

One Response - Comments are closed.

  1. katesanch says:

    Interesting! I’ve seen the other version of this painting that doesn’t involve the RIdolfi plot, but I think I’ve only really passed over this one. I’ll definitely try to tune in to the show today.


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Our #Celts exhibition opens today! It brings together the incredible Iron Age, Roman and early medieval collections of the British Museum and @nationalmuseumsscotland.
Roman control of southern Britain broke down around AD 410. New leaders established Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in England, and Roman towns and cities were largely abandoned. Neighbouring communities in Scotland, Ireland and Wales continued to develop their own unique identities. Monasteries in these areas stood out as European centres of art, learning and literacy, perpetuating and reinventing local traditions. Communities here spoke languages that we now call Celtic, and practiced a distinctive form of Christianity.
Striking stone crosses, such as this one found in Monifieth, Scotland, combined ancient Celtic curves with Anglo-Saxon knotwork and interlace designs to express these distinctive Celtic identities in Scotland, Ireland and Wales. This sculpture may have been a personal memorial or grave-slab.
Slab of grey sandstone with a cross on one side. From Monifieth, Angus, Scotland, c. AD 800–900. National Museums Scotland.
Find out more about #Celtic art and history and book tickets at Our #Celts exhibition opens today! It brings together stunning objects from the British and Irish Isles as well spectacular loans from across Europe.
This magnificent cauldron is one of the most important and intriguing finds from ancient Europe. It reveals connections between communities thousands of miles apart. Although it depicts objects used in central and western Europe,
it was found in a bog near Gundestrup in Denmark, beyond the northern edge of the Celtic regions. The style of the designs suggests that it was made further east, in Bulgaria or Romania. The strange animals and cross-legged pose of
the antlered figure hint at even wider influences, from as far afield as Asia. The scenes on the panels give a glimpse into a world of ancient myths, and the stories of gods and heroes whose names are now lost.
The Gundestrup cauldron was probably reserved for important rituals. It is likely that most people would have viewed it from a distance, seeing only the forbidding faces of gods and goddesses on the outer panels. The fantastical scenes on the inside would have been revealed to those allowed to experience the cauldron close up.
Gundestrup cauldron. Iron Age, c. 100 BC–AD 1. Found in Gundestrup, northern Jutland, Denmark. @nationalmuseet, #Denmark.
Find out more about #Celtic art and history and book tickets at Our major new #Celts exhibition is now open! Come on a 2,500-year journey tracing what it means to be Celtic...
The peoples first referred to as Celts lived across much of Europe north of the Alps, in villages or fortified hilltop settlements. Although not a single distinct group, they were interconnected, sharing cultural ideas across the continent. The objects they made for feasting, religious ceremonies, adornment and warfare were both stunning works of art and powerful ways to convey shared values and beliefs. Their unique abstract style set them apart from the classical world, but their technological accomplishments stand on par with the finest achievements of the ancient Greeks and Romans.
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The Battersea shield. Iron Age, c. 350–50 BC. Found in the River Thames, London, England.
Find out more about #Celtic art and history and book tickets at This 7th-century coin may be the earliest known depiction of a Muslim, the Umayyad caliph Abd al-Malik. The Umayyad dynasty were the first Muslim rulers to govern Egypt. This coin shows Abd al-Malik holding a sword and surrounded by the shahada, meaning ‘the testimony’ – a statement of faith in the Oneness of God and the acceptance of Muhammad as God’s Prophet.
Discover how Egypt’s religious and political landscape was transformed over 12 centuries in our #EgyptExhibition, opening 29 October.
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Find out more about Jews in Egypt in our forthcoming #EgyptExhibition

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