English School, Sir John Townshend Kt (c.1568–1603)

Photo courtesy of Tom St Aubyn (All rights reserved)


Country House
Raynham Hall
Sir John Townshend Kt (c.1568–1603)
The Old Billiard Room
Medium and support
Oil on panel, in overmantel
Overall height: 108 cm, Overall width: 86 cm
English School
Catalogue Number
  • Inscribed bottom left on extended panel: ‘Sr John Townshend’ Inscribed top left on inner panel: ‘ÆTATIS SUÆ 28/ A. 1599’ and in later hand to right Townshend coat of arms


A contemporary inscription identifies the sitter as in the twenty-eighth year of his life in 1599, while the coat of arms in the upper right – the only one of this type at Raynham and which may have been added a short time after the picture was made – is that of the Townshend family: Azure, a chevron ermine between three crescents argent; Gules, a chevron or between three fleurs-de-lis argent; Argent, crusily gules, a lion rampant of the second, ducally crowned, or; Sable, a cross engrailed or; Gules, a cross argent within a bordure engrailed or; Argent, a chevron gules between three crosses-crosslet filchée azure.

RN15 belongs to a group of paintings which, through stylistic and technical similarities, can be attributed to the artist that Roy Strong called the ‘Unknown Follower of Gheeraerts’.1 This painter took a signature approach to painting the inscriptions on many of his paintings, of a type seen on this one. To judge from the inscriptions on the paintings, this artist was active between the late 1580s and mid- to late 1610s. Although Strong suggests that the painter may have been provincial, the fact that his sitters seem to have come from across the country points to him being domiciled in London.

The inscription made by the artist giving the sitter’s age does not tally with the dates for Sir John Townsend published in the History of Parliament but those may have only been estimated.2

Sir John Townshend was the eldest son of Roger Townshend and his second wife Jane, daughter of Sir Michael Stanhope of Shelford, Nottinghamshire. He was educated at Magdalen Hall, Oxford and succeeded his father in 1590, have married Anne, daughter and co-heir of Sir Nathaniel Bacon of Stiffkey in Norfolk. On his father’s death, Sir John inherited a substantial estate of land in Norfolk. Earlier in his life he had spent time abroad, fighting in the Netherlands, possibly under Horace and Francis de Vere. He later served under the Earl of Essex on the expedition to Cadiz in 1596 and was knighted there by Lord Admiral Charles Howard, 2nd Baron Howard of Effingham, as a man of ‘good experience in martial affairs’.3

Sir John was an irascible man, described by a modern biographer as having ‘an aggressive disposition’, and seems to have quarrelled his way into a series of disputes.3 It is fitting, then, that his untimely demise came at the hands of his combatant Sir Matthew Browne in a duel in 1603.

by Edward Town


Prince Frederick Duleep Singh, Portraits in Norfolk Houses, ed. Rev. Edmund Farrer, vol. 2, Norwich : Jarrold and Sons, 1928, pp. 228–9, no. 27, illus. opp. p. 232 (‘SIR JOHN TOWNSHEND, KT’)


  1. Roy Strong, The English Icon: Elizabethan and Jacobean Portraiture, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1969, pp. 305–11.

  2. History of Parliament. British Political, Social & Local History, (accessed 1 February 2020).

  3. Ibid.

  4. Ibid.


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