The Life and Times of Sir Henry Unton

Rhona Dick

This article first appeared in MAPE Focus on History Spring 2000

When Sir Henry Unton died in France, at the relatively young age of about 39, his grieving widow commissioned a portrait depicting the memorable events of his life.

The Memorial Portrait

The memorial portrait, which can be seen in the National Portrait Gallery in London, is oil on panel.

The story begins in the bottom right hand corner with Henry's birth at Ascott-under-Wychwood in Oxfordshire. The unknown artist includes within the picture several tantalising clues to Henry's character, his family background, and his public and private life. Clearly space is insufficient to detail every aspect of his life, and so in some instances one image on the picture depicts more than one event. This is true of Henry's embassies in France. He was there on two occasions, ill both times, and yet there is only one representation of this. What does remain an enigma is why there appears to be no visual reference to his happy but childless marriage. It has been mooted that the banquet scene may represent Henry and Dorothy's marriage feast; however one expert disputes this, saying that no Tudor woman would wear black on her wedding day. Perhaps this is another instance of multiple events being represented by a single image.