circle of George Knapton, ? Audrey, Lady Townshend (1732–1781)

Photo courtesy of Tom St Aubyn (All rights reserved)


Country House
Raynham Hall
? Audrey, Lady Townshend (1732–1781)
? c. 1746
The Morning Room
Medium and support
Oil on canvas
Overall height: 124 cm, Overall width: 99 cm
circle of George Knapton
Catalogue Number
  • Inscribed under crucifix in black paint: ‘St Terresa’


The sitter in the present portrait has been identified previously as Ethelreda ‘Audrey’ Townshend née Harrison (1708–1788), daughter of Edward Harrison (1674–1732) and his wife, Frances (d. 1758), of Balls Park, Hertfordshire. However, comparisons with two other known portraits of Etheldreda Harrison at Raynham – RN53 and RN56 – indicate that the present sitter, who has different coloured hair and facial features, cannot be the same person. In addition, the suggested date of the present portrait, indicates a much younger woman. 

The subject wears a tartan bodice and petticoat, decorated with white roses, which signals a clear affiliation to the Jacobite cause. In addition, there is a crucifix and a small painting inscribed with the words ‘St Terresa’ [sic] in the background, a satirical reference presumably to the ‘ecstacy’ of St Theresa, which serves to place the portrait in the context of cosmopolitan masquerade culture. The portrait displays some similarities to the work of George Knapton (1698–1778), although the proportions of the figure in the present portrait are somewhat exaggerated and the painting of the fabric of the dress does not appear to be typical of Knapton’s work.

With regard to the identity of the sitter, it is suggested here that, rather than  Etheldreda, she may in fact be her daughter, Audrey Townshend, who quite probably lived with her mother following her separation from her husband around 1740. While her husband stayed in Norfolk with his mistress, Ethelreda set up her own household in London where she became a renowned society hostess. Following her separation, she had a series of affairs, including an association with William Boyd, 4th Earl of Kilmarnock, during his trial for treason in 1746. It was also at this time, she had a brief conversion to Jacobitism and it is possible that the portrait of her daughter – if it is her – was also painted during this period. In 1766, Audrey Townshend married the former British army officer, Captain Robert Orme, celebrated as a war hero through his portrait by Joshua Reynolds painted ten years earlier. 

After the death of her uncle George Harrison in 1759, Etheldreda  inherited her father's residence, Balls Park, which passed to her grandson, Lord John Townshend. The present picture was quite probably among those works of art latterly transferred from Balls Park to Raynham Hall.

by Emily Knight

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