Charles Howard, 1536-1624, 1st Earl of Nottingham

(Updated, March 2014) A full-length portrait to the right wearing Garter robes and a gold-embroidered skull-cap. His right hand rests on the top of his stick. Behind him and to the left is a green velvet curtain. On the right, a corner of a table is covered with a red Turkish rug on which a black hat with a white plume and a circlet of jewels has been placed. Beyond is a representation of the English fleet in action against the Spanish Armada, the campaign on which Howard's fame largely rests and in which he flew his flag in the 'Ark Royal'. This ship is probably included but is now hard to see.

After a steady though unspectacular rise through various court offices under Elizabeth I, Howard was appointed Lord High Admiral in 1585 on the death of the Earl of Lincoln (see BHC2841) and in December 1587 was designated 'lieutenant-general and commander-in-chief of the navy prepared to the seas against Spain'. He proved an effective commander in England's defence against the Spanish Armada despite being unfairly criticized (including by the Queen), especially given that the circumstances were completely unprecedented in the experience of anyone involved: notably, after the event, when Elizabeth showed complete indifference for the care of the seamen who had fought and been injured in it, many of whom were left starving from lack of official provisions, Howard used his own money to feed and clothe them without any expectation of ever recovering it. In practice, he reaped much greater personal reward for his part in the English raid on Cadiz in 1596 to head off further Spanish aggression, after which he was created 1st Earl of Nottingham in 1597. This portrait was painted shortly after he had retired from active service in 1618 and it is a fine example of the style of formal full-length portraiture for which the artist, a Netherlandish painter working in England, became renowned.

Mytens, a member of a dynasty of painters, introduced a new elegance and grandeur to English portraiture, especially in full-lengths. An inscription was probably added after the sitter's death. The picture has been enlarged on the top and right-hand sides, probably during the 17th century. The portrait was originally in the collection of Charles I and was presented to Greenwich Hospital in 1825 by George IV. At that time it was suggested to be by Federico Zucchero (1539-1609) but had lost that attribution by the time it was lent to the National Portrait Exhibition at South Kensington in 1866. Authorship remained uncertain until reascribed to Mytens in the 20th century (see NMM 'Preliminary Catalogue of Portraits, 1961) though exactly when is uncertain. It bears a Latin inscription in the bottom left corner, perhaps added later in the 17th century: 'Carolus Baro. Howard de Effingham, Comes Nottingham, summus Angliae Admirallus - Ductor Classium 1588 -. Obijt anno 1624. Aetat. 88' (Charles, Baron Howard of Effingham, Earl of Nottingham, High Admiral of England, leader of the fleet in 1588. He died in 1624, aged 88).

Object Details

ID: BHC2786
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Studio of Daniel Mytens the Elder
Date made: circa 1620
Exhibition: Art for the Nation; Greenwich Hospital Collection
People: Howard, Charles; King George IV Greenwich Hospital Collection
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Greenwich Hospital Collection
Measurements: Painting: 2085 x 1395 mm; Frame: 2825 mm x 1740 mm x 150 mm

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