Cornelius Johnson, Lady Townshend, née Mary Vere (1608–1669)

Photo courtesy of Tom St Aubyn (All rights reserved)


Country House
Raynham Hall
Lady Townshend, née Mary Vere (1608–1669)
The Old Billiard Room
Medium and support
Oil on panel
Overall height: 94 cm, Overall width: 108 cm
Cornelius Johnson (1593-1661)
Catalogue Number
  • Inscribed lower left: ‘Mary Vere Wife/ to Sr Roger Townshend’


The inscription on this painting, which was added later, identifies the sitter as Mary Vere, wife of Sir Roger Townshend. Mary Townshend, born in the Netherlands, was the daughter of Horace Vere, 1st Baron Vere of Tilbury and his wife Mary Tracy.1 Her father spent much of his adult life fighting abroad in the conflict against Spain and continued his career as a soldier in the European theatres of war after peace was declared in 1604 as part of a volunteer expeditionary force in the Netherlands. For most of the conflict the family were based in The Hague and, having been born there, both Mary and her sister had to be naturalised on the family’s return to England.

Mary Vere married Sir Roger Townshend (1595–1637) on 27 May 1627 at the age of about eighteen. To judge from the costume, this painting must have been made around the time that Mary was pregnant with her son Horatio (1630–1687), who was named after his maternal grandfather, and who inherited the set of full-length portraits of captains who had served under his grandfather. 

Following the death of Sir Roger the previous year, in 1638 she married Mildmay Fane, 2nd Earl of Westmorland (1602–1666), who stated in his Vita, ‘I chose a widow for my second marriage on account of both her fertility and her qualities’.2 With her two husbands, Mary had a total of sixteen children. The nine children from her first marriage, including the two eldest boys, Sir Roger and Horace Townshend, lived for much of the time at the Fane family seat at Apethorpe in Northamptonshire, where their stepfather filled the remaining spaces in the panelling of the Long Gallery with made-to-measure full-length portraits of members of the Fane family. Mary died c.15 November 1669 and was buried on 18 November in Mereworth, Kent. 

Like the other panel painting in the Old Billiard Room, the portrait of Mary Vere looks to have been not only cut down at the bottom but also built out at the top and sides in order to fit into the panelling. As part of that process, a curtain has been inserted in an attempt to knit the composition together in its new format.

Another painting of around 1630, said to depict Mary and attributed to George Geldorp, was sold at the Townshend Heirlooms sale of 1904.3 It is, at the time of writing, with the London dealers Strachan Fine Art.4 The portrait depicts a girl about the age of twelve. Given that the costume suggests a date of the late 1620s or early 1630s, it seems unlikely to be Mary Vere. Another portrait, either a workshop copy or after Van Dyck of the 1630s, known only through a black and white photograph (Heinz Archive, National Portrait Gallery, London), bears a strong enough resemblance to the sitter in RN16 to be the same woman.

Cornelius Johnson has been described as ‘the forgotten man of seventeenth-century art’, despite the fact that he was a prolific artist, whose work is to be found in many British museums and country houses.5 Born in London in 1593, he trained probably in the Netherlands before returning to London by early 1619. Although he was appointed ‘picture-drawer’ to Charles I in 1632, he was overshadowed in court circles by his more celebrated Flemish contemporary Sir Anthony Van Dyck. In 1643 Johnson moved back to the Netherlands, working in The Hague and Utrecht, where he died in August 1661.

by Edward Town


Prince Frederick Duleep Singh, Portraits in Norfolk Houses, ed. Rev. Edmund Farrer, vol. 2, Norwich : Jarrold and Sons, 1928, vol. 2, p. 232, no. 40, illus. opp. p. 232


  1. History of Parliament gives her date of death as 18 November 1669: (accessed 1 February 2020).

  2. Kathryn A. Morrison, ed., Apethorpe: The Story of an English Country House, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2016, p. 188.

  3. Townshend Heirlooms sale, Christie’s, London, 7 March 1904 (158), ‘Portrait of a Young Lady’; Singh, 1928, vol. 2, p. 222, no. 162.

  4. See (accessed 29 January 2020).

  5. ‘Cornelius Johnson: Charles I’s Forgotten Painter’, (accessed 3 February 2020).


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