An unknown noblewoman, possibly Mary Beaumont, Countess of Buckingham (c.1570 - 1632)

Robert Peake
circa 1551 – circa 1619

An unknown noblewoman, possibly Mary Beaumont, Countess of Buckingham (c.1570 - 1632)

Oil on canvas: 81 1/2 x 47 1/16 inches, 207 x 119.5 cm


  • Private collection, France

This stately portrait of an obviously important and very wealthy Jacobean noblewoman, could possibly be identified as Mary Beaumont, Countess of Buckingham (c.1570 – 1632), best known as the mother of the royal favourite George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham. Few surviving images of Mary Beaumont survive, however the proposed identification of our sitter is based on similarities to a later line engraving of Mary Villiers, in turn deriving from a later miniature.[1]

Our portrait can confidently be dated on the basis of costume to circa 1615 – 1618, and Mary Beaumont was created 1st Countess of Buckingham on 1 July 1618.[2] In addition, she sitter wears a coronet of pearls in the style typically only worn by a Duchess 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.

Mary Beaumont was the daughter of Anthony Beaumont and Anne Armstrong. She married, firstly, Sir George Villiers (1550 - 1604/5), after 1587. They had four children; Christopher Villiers, 1st Earl of Anglesey (d. 1630), Susan Villiers 91589 – 1652), John Villiers, 1st Viscount Purbeck (1591 – 1657/8), and George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham (1592 – 1628). Their marriage must have been dissolved for Sir George went on to marry for a third time a Rebecca Roper shortly before he died in 1604/5. Mary herself married secondly, Sir William Rayner on 19 June 1606 at Goadby, Leicestershire, and thirdly, Sir Thomas Compton. She died on 19 April 1632 and was buried two days later at Westminster Abbey.[3]

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.[4]


[1] See the line engraving of Mary Villiers by James Stow, after a miniature, published by George Perfect Harding in 1814, NPG collection Reference: NPG D28432.

[2] Mosley, (ed.), Burke's Peerage and Baronetage, 106th edition, Switzerland 1999, vol. 1, p. 228.

[3] Mosley, op. cit.

[4] Mary Edmond, ‘New light on Jacobean painters’ in Burlington Magazine, vol. 118, 1976, p.78.

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