This roundel portrait, formally titled 'Unknown Gentlemen', is one of the earliest roundel portraits to feature an inscription around the frame. The inscription featured on the panel provides us with the age of the mourning subject and date, which helps us in pinning down the attribution suggested here, pointing to one of the first of Elizabeth I’s suitors, the English statesman and 12th earl of Arundel, Henry Fitzalan (1512–80).
The credentials of 144 possible candidates have been examined on the basis that they were forty-five years of age in 1558. Most, like William Parr, Marquess of Northampton, and Sir Nicholas L’Estrange, were ruled out because their known likenesses are incompatible with the Society’s portrait. A serious contender, however, is the diplomat and writer Sir Thomas Smith, of Hill Hall, Essex. However, the inscription hardly appears relevant to Smith’s rising political fortunes in 1558 and the roundel’s eighteenth-century provenance in Norfolk does not provide any obvious links to the Smith family. That leaves Henry Fitzalan, 12th earl of Arundel (1512–80), as the prime candidate.
A survey of his surviving portraits supports this identification. Eldest child and only son of the 11th earl, William Fitzalan, and Anne, daughter of Henry Percy, 4th earl of Northumberland, Henry Fitzalan was a godson of Henry VIII and became the king’s page at the age of fifteen. In 1532 he married Katherine (c 1509–42), daughter of Thomas Grey, 2nd marquess of Dorset. He became Deputy of Calais in 1540 but returned to England to assume the earldom at his father’s death in 1544, when he was also elected a Knight of the Garter. In 1545 he married his second wife, Mary (d 1557), widow of Robert Radcliffe, 1st earl of Sussex. In the summer of the same year he led one of three armies raised by Henry VIII in the face of the threatened French invasion. In December 1546 he was added to Henry’s will as an assistant executor. He went on to serve all three subsequent monarchs, being High Constable at three successive coronations. From 1546 to 1550 he was Lord Chamberlain and a Privy Councillor during the minority of Edward VI. Colluding with Northumberland in Somerset’s downfall, he was later accused of conspiring against Northumberland and imprisoned in the Tower for a year in 1551. In 1553, despite originally supporting the cause of Lady Jane Grey, he helped bring Mary I to the throne.
The portrait could have been completed for Fitzalan’s forty-sixth birthday on 23 April 1558. By that spring he had suffered a series of family misfortunes. He lost in quick succession his only son, the eighteen-year-old Henry Maltravers (1538–56), his younger daughter Mary (1539/40–1557) and his own second wife Mary (d 1557). His other daughter, Jane (Lady Lumley from 1552), had, by the end of 1557, given birth to three offspring, all of whom died at or soon after birth. Even at a time of high infant mortality, Henry Fitzalan had reason to commission a portrait with an inscription intimating recent bad fortune.
The chief obstacle to the identification of the portrait as Fitzalan is the omission of the Garter, which he was awarded in 1544. Although Henry VIII ruled that the badge must always be worn, there are exceptions: in the case of war, sickness or a journey, it may be worn on a silk lace. No doubt it could be worn at such times inside the outer clothing. It is clear, from the many portraits of Henry VIII with a black ribbon round his neck and the pendant hidden beneath his shirt and jacket, that Henry wore it thus himself. It appears from several Elizabethan miniatures in tilting armour or informal clothing, with no external evidence of the Garter, that this came to be a rule more honoured in the breach than in the observance. There was also an older tradition of wearing the Garter that may have a bearing on the Society’s portrait. The portrait of Edward Grimston by Petrus Christus (1440s) shows him with the Garter collar not round his neck but threaded over his hand. In the Society’s roundel there is extensive damage in this area; the jewel which the hand seems to hold projects beyond the circumference of the finger in a way that suggests this may likewise have been a livery collar.