Faces of a Queen

Queen's House Closure

Visitor notice: The Queen's House will be closed to the public from Monday 27 January until Wednesday 12 February, in order to prepare the House for our new exhibitions Faces of a Queen and Woburn Treasures. We apologise for the inconvenience. To hear more about the artworks coming to the Queen's House in 2020, sign up to our newsletter.

Three portraits, one historic exhibition: see the Armada Portraits of Elizabeth I for free at the Queen’s House in Greenwich.

The Armada Portrait of Elizabeth I is one of the most iconic portraits in British history.

Three versions of the painting survive, each offering a subtly different depiction of Queen Elizabeth I at the height of her power.

Now, for the first time in their 430-year history, these three works are going on public display together.

Witness history being made at the Queen’s House in Greenwich.

Visit the Queen's House today

Generously supported by the Deborah Loeb Brice Foundation

Faces of a Queen: the Armada Portraits of Elizabeth I

The Armada Portrait was painted to commemorate the most famous conflict in Elizabeth I’s reign: the failed attempt by the Spanish Armada to invade England in 1588.

This free exhibition brings together the three surviving versions of the historic painting.

Royal Museums Greenwich will showcase its own version of the Armada Portrait alongside the two other works: one from the National Portrait Gallery, the other from the world famous private art collection at Woburn Abbey.

All three versions are believed to have been made shortly after the defeat of the Spanish Armada, each by different artists or studios. While the three paintings share the same essential pattern, each work contains subtle differences that hint at their unique histories.

Faces of a Queen gives visitors a once-in-a-generation chance to see three of the greatest depictions of Elizabeth I together. Visit the exhibition for free from 13 February 2020.

Woburn Abbey and the Queen’s House

2020 also sees an historic collaboration between Royal Museums Greenwich and Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire. A number of works from the private collection of the Duke and Duchess of Bedford will be put on free display at the Queen’s House. 

Find out more about Woburn Treasures

The Armada Portrait at Royal Museums Greenwich

The Armada Portrait of Elizabeth I held by Royal Museums Greenwich (© National Maritime Museum, London)
(© National Maritime Museum, London)

The Royal Museums Greenwich Armada Portrait, which was previously owned by descendants of Sir Francis Drake, was saved for the nation in 2016 as the result of a major public appeal.

Once acquired, the portrait underwent complex conservation work in which several layers of old varnish were removed, more fully revealing the painting’s intricate detail and vibrant colours.


Paint analysis suggested that the seascapes in this version were painted over in the early 18th century, with the original seascapes still underneath sharing similarities to those featured within the Woburn Abbey portrait.

The Armada Portrait at Woburn Abbey

The Armada Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I (© The Woburn Abbey Collection)
(© The Woburn Abbey Collection)

The Woburn Abbey portrait remains the only version of the three that maintains the complete seascapes as they were painted in the 16th century. The portrait is owned by the Duke and Duchess of Bedford, and has been in the family for centuries.

The Armada Portrait at the National Portrait Gallery

Queen Elizabeth I (© National Portrait Gallery, London)
(© National Portrait Gallery, London)

The National Portrait Gallery painting has been in public ownership since 1765. Unlike the two other portraits, this work has been cut down, truncating the seascapes in the background and resulting in a more vertical format. Both the date of when this alteration occurred and the reasons behind it remain a mystery.

Essential information

Event Type: 
Opening times: 
13 February 2020 - 31 August 2020 | Open daily | 10am - 5pm
Queen's House, Queen's Presence Chamber
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