Can you solve the royal mystery at Lotherton Hall

Published : 05/07/2012 00:00

Can you solve the royal mystery at Lotherton Hall

A portrait painting at the centre of a royal mystery from one of the most dramatic periods in English history is the latest attraction to go on display at Lotherton Hall in Leeds.

The painting of an unknown woman by the Flemish artist Willem Key dated 1559 is now on show at the Leeds City Council-managed visitor attraction near Aberford. The mystery is not only the identity of the lady herself, but also why not one but two kings of England chose to own the painting.

King Charles I was the first to own the painting, which is of the unidentified lady dressed in black with a starched lace cap on her head and a ruff round her neck. Around her waist is a gold chain and on her fingers are five gold rings, one of them set with a black stone.

Proof of the monarch’s possession can be seen on the oak panelling, which features the unmistakeable ‘CR’ brand indicating ownership by Charles I. The king was a renowned collector of Old Master paintings, and following his execution for treason in 1649 after his defeat in the English Civil War the painting like most of the collection was sold.

For the next 11 years England was under republican rule, before the Restoration saw Charles’ son Charles II take the throne as King of England in 1660. The new monarch set about recovering his father’s possessions, which saw the mystery painting returned to royal ownership.

In the 1700s it was purchased by the famous collector and connoisseur Horace Walpole who sold it in 1770 and it was not seen again until the early 1900s when it was bought by Leonard Cunliffe, the brother-in-law of Mrs Gwendolen Gascoigne of Lotherton Hall.

The painting went on to be owned by a private collector in Yorkshire, who has now loaned it back to Lotherton where it is on show until the end of the year.

Curator of collections at Lotherton Hall Adam White said:

“We are delighted to have this portrait on display at Lotherton Hall as it contains a genuine royal mystery which throws up lots of fascinating questions.

“Who was the woman in the painting ? Why did King Charles I claim it for the royal collection ? And why did his son Charles II make sure it was then returned to the crown more than a decade later – was it purely because his father had previously owned it, or was there something more to it in terms of their relationship with her ? We may never find out, but if anyone can shed any light on her identity we’d love to know.”

For more information on Lotherton Hall, visit the website at


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