Mary, Lady Vere (1581 – 1671)?

William Larkin
after 1580 – 1619

Mary, Lady Vere (1581 – 1671)?

Painted circa 1615

Oil on canvas: 72 1/16 x 40 3/16 inches, 183 x 102 cm



  • with The Weiss Gallery, 2013
  • National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne


  • R. Strong, The English Icon: Elizabethan and Jacobean Portraiture, 1969, p. 334, no. 362.

This rare and iconographic portrait, one of only a small number of known works by the artist, is the first full-length by William Larkin to ever come on the open market. Compositionally it can be compared to his celebrated series of nine full-length portraits that were formerly in the collection of the Earls of Suffolk, now with English Heritage.[1] As in our portrait, the sitters are framed by stylised silk curtains, a conceit that first saw Larkin’s work ascribed to ‘The Curtain Master’,[2] standing on Turkey carpets beside either a chair or a richly draped table. Here, the sitter’s saffron lace collar and cuffs are particularly finely rendered and her costume is almost identical to that of Larkin’s Anne Sackville, Lady Seymour, c. 1616 – 1618 at Petworth House, (National Trust).

On the basis of costume, our painting can be confidently dated to c. 1615. Identified by an old label as Mary, Lady Vere (1581 – 1671), she would have been around thirty-four. As an older married woman, Mary is soberly dressed in black, though her red underskirt is richly embroidered with gold and silver thread, revealing her wealth. Sporting a fine rope of pearls looped down the centre of her dress, nonetheless her jewels are few, indicating her modest or puritan standing.

Mary, Lady Vere was born in 1581, the youngest daughter of Sir John Tracy of Toddington, Gloucestershire. She married firstly at the age of nineteen William Hoby of Hailes, Gloucestershire (d. 1602), with whom she had two sons, Philip (d. 1617) and William (d. 1623). She was widowed in 1602 but in 1607 married her second husband Sir Horace Vere (1565 – 1635), 1st Baron Vere of Tilbury (1565 – 1635), a first cousin of Henry de Vere, 18th Earl of Oxford (1593 – 1654), whose wife Diana Cecil (c.1603 – 1654) and her sister Anne Cecil (c.1603 – 1676) were both painted by William Larkin. The cousins appear to have been very close for Edward de Vere’s son, Henry de Vere, 18th Earl of Oxford (1593 – 1625), served under Sir Horace Vere in the Palatinate, between June and November 1620. Sir Horace, also Horatio Vere or Horatio de Vere, was a professional soldier, and considered the greatest military commander of his time - fighting in the Netherlands against the Spanish during the Eighty Years' War and the Thirty Years' War. The Earl of Essex was one of his lieutenants, and the Earls of Warwick, Peterborough, and Bedford served under him, as did the royalist soldiers Lords Grandison, Byron, and Goring.

Mary, Lady Vere and Sir Horace appear to have been a devoted couple and for several years Mary accompanied her husband on campaign in the Netherlands. They had five daughters in total, two of whom, Elizabeth and Mary, were born in The Hague and naturalized by act of parliament in 1624. The Veres have been classified among the well-known Puritan families of pre-civil war England,[3] and through the marriages of her daughters, Lady Vere was brought into even closer contact with the puritan opposition to the crown.[4] In 1643 she was briefly entrusted by parliament with the care of two of the king's children and in 1645 parliament granted her £1000 as part of the arrears sum of £2,500 owed to her husband from the state. In January 1649 John Geree addressed the dedication of his ‘Might Overcoming Right’ to Lady Vere and her daughter Anne Fairfax in the hope that they could persuade Sir Thomas Fairfax to save the king.

Mary’s religious views were regarded by some contemporaries as ‘of a Dutch complexion’[5] and it was to this she owed parliament's favour after the civil war. In 1608, in her husband’s absence, she made a donation to Sir Thomas Bodley's Calvinist intellectual project at Oxford University. His wife's strong views, his own family background, his friendship with the princes of Orange (known as defenders of the Reformed church in the Netherlands), his appointment as governor of Utrecht in place of Sir John Ogle and his own patronage of ‘godly’ ministers exiled from England, all indicate that Sir Horace was a puritan and probably a Presbyterian.

Sir Horace Vere's will, dated 10 November 1634, makes no mention of his daughters, but he made a number of conveyances of his property the previous year and left his remaining lands to Mary, ‘my most loving wife’, evidently trusting her to make appropriate dispositions for their children.[6] She continued to live at Clapton until the death of the widow of Lord Vere's eldest brother, John, when she succeeded to Kirby Hall. There she died at the ripe age of ninety on Christmas Eve 1670, outliving her husband by some thirty-six years.[7]

[1] Usually hung at Kenwood House in Hampstead, but currently on display at the Holburne Museum in Bath, 2013.

[2] These formalised swags of silk were a device he commonly employed to frame his subjects. The artist, or his studio, often replicated almost identical folds.

[3] F. Heal & C. Holmes, The Gentry in England and Wales, 1500-1700, London 1994, p366.

[4] Her eldest daughter, Elizabeth (d. 1683), married John Holles in 1626, from 1637 2nd Earl of Clare, while Mary (c.1611 – 1669) married Sir Roger Townshend and then Mildmay Fane, from 1638 2nd Earl of Westmorland. Catharine (b. 1612/13) married, in 1634, Oliver St John of Lidiard Tregose, and then, in 1641, John Poulett, from 1649 Lord Paulet. Anne (1617 – 1655) married, in 1637, Thomas Fairfax (from 1648 Lord Fairfax); and Dorothy married John Wolstenholme.

[5] Jacqueline Eales, ‘Vere, Mary, Lady Vere (1581–1671)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008.

[6] TNA: PRO, PROB 11/168, fol. 7v.

[7] Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (ibid.).

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