Eleanor Wortley was daughter of Sir Richard Wortley (c. 1565 – 1603) of Wortley, Yorks., and Elizabeth Boughton (1568 – 1642), and somewhat remarkably was married four times – firstly to Sir Henry Lee, 1st Bt. (d. 1632), and later Sir Edward Ratclyffe, 6th Earl of Sussex (c. 1559 – 1643); Robert Rich, 2nd Earl of Warwick (1587 – 1658); and lastly, Edward Montagu, 2nd Earl of Manchester (1602 – 1671).
From the collection of Sir Henry Lee, 1st Bt. (d. 1632), of Quarendon, later Ditchley, Oxfordshire;
thence by descent at Ditchley until at least 1732 (as recorded by Vertue, see literature);
Private collection, France.
Lionel Cust, ‘Marcus Gheeraerts’, in Walpole Society, 1914, pl. XXIX.
George Vertue, ‘Vertue Note Books’, vol. II, Walpole Society, vol. XX, 1932, p. 14, no. 9, & p. 76.
However, it seems likely that this identification is incorrect, as the sitter in our portrait is styled as a widow, when Eleanor Wortley still had a good fifteen years left in her first marriage to Sir Henry Lee. Not only can our portrait be confidently dated on the basis of costume to circa 1615, George Vertue in 1730 also records that the painting was dated 1615: ‘a Lady Widow in black falling ruff jewells about her neck kercher in her hand well dispos’d & painted. Hansom. Woman. (1615). It is possible that an inscription with the date has since been removed or obscured, and notably a portrait with the same Ditchley provenance, and called ‘Elizabeth, Lady Tanfield’, by Robert Peake, bears an inscription with that date (now at Tate Britain T03031).
That our portrait is connected to Ditchley, if not through Eleanor Wortley’s marriage to Sir Henry Lee, is clear. An alternative scenario, suggested by Edward Town, is that this painting came to Ditchley by virtue of Elizabeth, daughter and heir of Thomas Pope, 2nd Earl of Downe of Wroxton to Sir Francis Lee, 4th Bt. (1639 – 1667) of Quarrendon, Bucks. and Ditchley, Oxon: the Popes were important patrons to Robert Peake and had a significant number of paintings by him at Wroxton.
The sitter wears a coronet of pearls in the style typically only worn by a Countess of the realm. In consideration of her elevated status, she is presented in one of her grandest formal dresses and an extravagance of jewellery. The black satin dress is decorated with myriad slashing details and enhanced with abundant pearls sewn onto both the bodice and skirt. The skirt, left slightly unbuttoned, reveals a richly embroidered petticoat edged with a silver thread fringe. Long hanging sleeves billow out around the main sleeve, and are then attached and turned back at the elbow to reveal the contrasting white lining silk. In her left hand she carries a white handkerchief bordered with elaborate Flemish lace. Diamond encrusted jewels are pinned to her bodice and skirt and other jewellery includes a bejewelled gold chain inset with pearls and rubies, heavy ropes of pearls around her neck and wrists, while an array of fine jewels adorn her hair.
Robert Peake, who was born into a Lincolnshire family around 1551, first worked as an apprentice to a goldsmith in Cheapside. In 1576, after becoming a Freeman of the Goldsmith’s Company, he went on to work for the Office of the Revels. There he was one of the six Paynters and others responsible for the preparations for the court festivities at Christmas, New Year, Twelfth-night and Candlemas in the winter of that year. Peake continued producing decorative work for the court for several more years until he was well enough established to start his own studio. By 1598, when he was recorded in Francis Mere’s Palladis Tamia, he was regarded as one of the most important painters then practicing in England. In 1607 Peake was jointly appointed with John de Critz as ‘Serjeant Painter’ to James I. His last known dated work is from 1616 and he died in 1619.
 We are grateful to Edward Town, Yale Center for British Art, for pointing this out. He also notes in an email dated 24.12.16: ‘The identification of the sitter [at Tate] as Lady Tanfield seems to be an early twentieth [century] suggestion, and I’d assume that the identification of your sitter…came at around the same time.’
 Mary Edmond, ‘New Light on Jacobean Painters’, in Burlington Magazone, vol. 118, 1976, p. 78.