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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In Victorian England many people were fascinated by their past, and the ancient tribal leader Caratacus (also spelt Caractacus) was adopted as a symbol of national pride and independence. Like Boudica, Caratacus resisted the Roman invasion of Britain. Although he was eventually defeated, he earned a reputation as a noble and worthy foe. The Victorian sculptor J H Foley portrays him here standing triumphant, the embodiment of courageous English spirit. See this incredible #Movember moustache in our #Celts exhibition, until 31 January 2016.
J H Foley (1818–1874), Caractacus. Marble, 1856–1859. On loan from Guildhall Art Gallery/Mansion House, City of London. Some more #Movember inspiration! Here’s the Museum’s security team from 1902 photographed on the front steps. They include officers from the Metropolitan Police, and the London Fire Brigade (identified by their flat caps). We’re celebrating #Movember with Museum moustaches great and small. Here’s a #Movember fact: Peter the Great of Russia introduced a beard tax in 1698 and this token was given as proof of payment! Our unique new partnership with Google's Cultural Institute @googleartproject now allows you to virtually walk through the whole Museum! The British Museum is the largest space ever to be captured on indoor #StreetView, putting the unparalleled world collection at your fingertips. Come and explore!
#MuseumOfTheWorld #Google #ForEveryone Have you explored the Museum on @googleartproject yet? You'll now find over 5,000 objects in the Google Cultural Institute, including virtual exhibits inspired by #Celts and #EgyptExhibition as well as gigapixel imagery and the whole Museum on #StreetView!

Two million years of human history at your fingertips. Today we launched a unique partnership with @googleartproject, creating new ways for audiences everywhere to discover the collection.

You can now virtually walk through the whole Museum! The British Museum is the largest space ever to be captured on indoor #StreetView, putting the unparalleled world collection at your fingertips. Come and explore!

#MuseumOfTheWorld #Google #ForEveryone

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