Imagined Lives Competition



Mary Scott – the explorer by Eleanor Tutt

Based on Unknown Woman, formerly known as Mary Queen of Scots 1542-1587

From Courtroom to Countryside; from Mazes to Mountains; from Style to Stile! Oh I do like the fresh air and the great outdoors!

It all so utterly fabulous for someone like me: Lady Mary Scott. My public will definitely love the background drop of my portrait - so fashionable and so apropos.  I never wish to be forgotten or unknown, so I have decided to leave Court, pursue my dreams and become the first famous, female, Tudor Explorer.
My family coat of arms includes symbols of time and travel and our motto is “tempus fugit” : time flies . Hence I have two timepieces, one in my hand and the other round my neck, just to ensure that I live by the family motto   – especially as one time piece doubles up as a compass!

If I could place England’s Queen’s colours on the summit of the mountains behind that would be most worthy. I would like the English public to remember my energetic feat of outward bound and to be known as one of the most daring figures of Tudor time.

I’m getting paler by the second, according to my ticking clocks, and the cold is definitely giving both my eyes and hands a blueish white tinge. So I had better start on the expedition. I am wrapped up warm with very fine cloth, jewels and ermine.  Not included in my portrait is my entourage: be well assured that I have all I need for my daring.

I challenge your fame Sirs Francis Drake and Walter Raleigh!

Of course, I will come back… but if I don’t this final portrait will also be my epitaph. And I will be known: Scott the Explorer.


Why? By Jennifer Tattersall

Based on an Unknown woman, formerly known as Margaret Tudor

Why does my mother look so sad? This portrait was painted many years ago before she became all and died, leaving me in the haphazard care of my father and his many mistresses. Did she foresee her early demise? Was she aware of her philandering husband?

Her mourning black and pendant, reflecting the inevitable conquest of death over us all, may just be to show respect for my beloved grandfather, whose counsel and love had guided her through the first years of her tempestuous marriage and left her to fight her battles alone.


A Parchment found among the Effects of the Widow of Sir Edwin Wallace by Chris Payne

Based on Unknown man, formerly known as Cornelius Johnson

It is my wont on a summer’s evening to sir before this likeness of my dear husband when low sunlight through the casement rekindles those dear lost eyes. He was a mans of letters, studious, wise in a natural philosophy and well accomplished in the art of drawing flowering plants and seeds and tree leaves. Such was his learning that the Duke appointed him tutor to his two sons.

The Duke himself had this portrait commissioned as a mark of his esteem. It was twenty years or more since but I well remember the artist coming to our home and Sir Edwin trimming his beard especially! Mr Johnson has caught his manliness, his upright integrity, his sense of correct and sober dress. And yet, I smile. His ruddy cheeks and nose beneath a pale forehead tell the tale of excursions in the sun under his tall, broad-brimmed hat, training those noble eyes in the recognition of the flora on their father’s estate.


Deathbed by Xenia Crockett

Based on Unknown Man, formerly known as James Scott, Duke of Monmouth and Buccleuch.

Incense still drifts across the room. They think I have gone.  From my inner depth I watched them crying and lamenting the great loss: kissing me, touching my hands to check if they are cold. Now only the priest is left, standing by the window, collecting bible and prayer books; packing censer and extinguishing candles.

I am tired. What was my short life about?  Known only as John Smith, foundling.  Hours old picked up by a beggar and minutes later left on the poor house steps.

I lived by looks as much as wits, both were my doom. I picked up nice manners, well dressed ladies took a fancy to me. Street urchins taught me to fight which I loved and became good at. I was spotted by a man from the king’s court who took me into his home. I ran errands for him. One of his clerks taught me to read and write. I was taught to fence and care for my benefactor’s horses. I learnt to sing and play the lute and entertained fine ladies and their husbands.

And then I fell in love with his young, beautiful daughter.. Oh, we were careful, she more than I, but we were found in her chamber and her enraged father stabbed me fatally before throwing me into the street.

I don’t know whose house I am lying in. People have been in and out of my room – what did they care about me, a nobody.

I sense somebody by my bedside. Through thin eye lids I see somebody sitting near me. It is the daughter. Tears are rolling slowly down her cheeks while she is busily sketching – surely she is not drawing my dying portrait to add to those of living people in the grand hall?


Unknown woman, formerly known as Margaret Tudor, by Unknown French artist, circa 1520 - NPG  - © National Portrait Gallery, London

Unknown woman, formerly known as Margaret Tudor
by Unknown French artist
circa 1520
NPG 1173

Lady Eleanor and Caterina by Kathleen Mustoe

Based on Imagined Life of Unknown Noblewoman, formerly known as Margaret Tudor

Caterina, accompanied by her father, Jan, had arrived in England at the request of Henry, Earl of Cumberland.  It was Caterina’s chance to improve her portrait painting in the male dominated world of art. She had been chosen to paint Henry’s wife, Lady Eleanor Brandon, a minor royal whom Henry ignored most of the time but whose status was useful to him in these turbulent Tudor times. 

When Caterina met Lady Eleanor, she bowed low, eyeing the expensive silk dress, exquisitely patterned with pomegranate and leaf. Caterina did not know that the Earl had begrudged the expense, as he always did but Lady Eleanor reminded him that the portrait might be viewed by the court and therefore it was an investment. 

Settling Lady Eleanor into her chair, facing three-quarters forward, Caterina wondered about the gold medallion she wore.  It featured a man on a horse and a bird of prey – how odd the English were, thought Caterina!

Meanwhile, Lady Eleanor brooded.  She wondered if this young woman knew what she was doing.  It was typical of Henry to insist on a woman artist. Did he not trust her with a man?  She resented that he had made her wear his ‘love’ token.  What did he know about love?  Although, he had trained her to be outwardly obedient, like the falcon on this medallion, he could not control her thoughts.  As a husband, he brought her little joy and since their second infant had died, he had lost all interest.  At least he has not had me executed, thought Lady Eleanor, her mind wandering to another Henry whose wife had ‘failed’ to provide.

Lady Eleanor sighed, what a dreary room, so gloomy.  It is a wonder Caterina Van Hemesson could see to paint at all!


An Extract from the Last Will and Testament of Giovanni della Croce by Ben Turvill

Based upon Unknown man, formerly known as James Scott, Duke of Monmouth and Buccleuch (1649-85).

It is an interesting thing to be nameless. To be, that is, truly nameless: I do not believe any title picked up over the years quite suffices as a name. To be without name is to be without character; to be without character is to be excluded from society; to be so excluded is to cease to be: to die, although not dead. In such a condition a life is led as a sin.

Names are normally first pronounced on a mother seeing her newborn child, but for me the cruel romanticism becomes cracked and deformed from the first: the hospital in which I was born being a prison one, and my parents being incarcerated for some petty crime (murder being in this case petty). My mother barely had time to look upon me before she was returned to her cell. I do not know her- she is just a smear in my distant memory.

I was thus released upon the world: poxed with the birth of a slammer bastard and, cruelly nameless, I became open to life and its influences and so came to the title I carry today: Giovanni della Croce. Each letter, forged from people I met in the slums and things I did in the brothels, amalgamated into the queer invention of an entirely false Italian lineage, that served to hide the truth and only ever carried one monetary expense: my Tuscan villa to keep up the pretence.

I have not lived truly as myself; if I had I would have now no family - and no painter - standing beside my sickbed. I am thus nobody: the 'Unknown Man' - a fitting title for my portrait.


Unknown man, formerly known as Cornelius Johnson (Jonson or Jonson van Ceulen), by Cornelius Johnson (Jonson or Jonson van Ceulen), 1636 - NPG  - © National Portrait Gallery, London

Unknown man, formerly known as Cornelius Johnson (Jonson or Jonson van Ceulen)
by Cornelius Johnson (Jonson or Jonson van Ceulen)
1636
NPG 1887

An extract from the diary of William Pulverbatch 1590 -1634
by Pauline Heathcote

Based on Unknown man, formerly known as Cornelius Johnson painted by Cornelius Johnson

I must order my portrait to be completed quickly.  I should record that Margaret, my beloved wife, believes Cornelius makes a portrait of my mother and my frequent visits are to check the honesty of her servants. 

I told Cornelius I want my family to see me as an honourable man, a man of good taste.  The doublet I wear on portrait days is finest satin and new. My beard is trimmed on those days and I try to place my hand in the same position, reflecting my trustworthiness. Such a portrait will grace the new town house or perhaps the office of my business.  Should I present this portrait to Margaret on her birthday or wait until the new child is born?

I have such pain in my nose that it is more delicate than a rose petal. Margaret assures me it is reducing in size. My physician says it’s part of my disease.

Now he urges me to understand I have the Pox. He recommends Mercury inhalation a treatment which, he says, will rid me of the fevers, the aches and the sores within a month. I remain uncertain. No one understands the Pox. Some say it is associated with Brothels. Some say spend a night of pleasure with Venus and a lifetime with Mercury. My son, I have never visited a Brothel. Not for years. Not since your mother permitted me to return to her bed.  Two years after your blessed birth.

My mother watches me: she told me, some ten years ago, I had the Pox, like my father. She anticipates my decline but I will prove her wrong.


'The Portrait' by Catherine Demoliou

Based on Unknown man, formerly known as George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham attributed to Cornelius De Neve

She knew she had no other choice. She must have known it, she thought, the minute he walked in with the portrait in hand, to take down her favorite painting with the yellow margaritas in the green-blue vase, and hang his portrait in its place, instead. It did take her by surprise then, so much that she could not utter a single word of protest as she studied the details of the portrait and a feeling of utterly despair overwhelmed her. It is unfair, she wanted to scream, unfair, unfair…… Eventually she managed to turn and leave the room with nothing said but for his triumphant laughter that stayed in her head. There it was, in front of her now, the same inviting hint of a smile below the brown moustache, the slightly raised eyebrows, his overrated eye look and inviting angled pose she had caught him practicing in front of the mirror so many times, always ending with a wink and a slight right tilt of the head. At first, she thought that the charade was part of his vanity and self-indulgence in admiring himself. ‘I got married to a narcissist’, she used to think then, when she caught him practicing his pose in front of the mirror, on his way out without her. It took a while to accept the connection with his late hours of return and him not coming to her bed anymore. When she finally dared ask him for whom this ‘act’ was, he just laughed, the same triumphant laugh, and said ‘certainly not for you, madam!’ ‘No other choice’ she whispered. As the portrait was turning to shreds, she noticed that the knife tearing through the canvas and her heart beats were the only sounds now in her head. The maddening laughter had gone.


'My Last Husband' by Clare Inglis

Inspired by 'Unknown man, formerly known as James Scott, Duke of Monmouth and Buccleuch' by an Unknown Artist

That’s my last husband on his deathbed. The artist (I forget his name) had to work quickly of course and it’s so wonderful how well he has captured the peace and tranquillity of my dear one’s departure from this earthly life. Yes, please do come closer to see the painting properly. Visitors often remark to me – for no one is permitted to see my beloved without my company – that such a heavenly repose must be the reward of a well-conducted life. Well, sir, I have never known a man so generous with his attention or his purse. My dowry in his possession, nothing would satisfy him but to share his new-minted prosperity with as many people as possible. How well I remember the gleaming of the candlelight on some rich jewel upon his finger, the shimmer of the silk damask unfurled for his new doublets, the stamping thoroughbred on whose back he hunted so boldly on that final, fateful day. My loving, faithful heart was of course bestowed upon him quite freely and he valued it accordingly. Those silent, perfect lips you see there, sir, what honeyed words once they dropped, what smiles they dispersed to a grateful world. No lady ever knew herself slighted, no maidservant passed him unrewarded for her labour. So liberal he was with his favours, but I kept account. Now, of course, he smiles no more and the debt of honey has been repaid. Well, sir, shall we leave him to his peace? We’ll go downstairs and conduct our business. New ventures in the East and my large delivery of books must be this widow’s consolation. Yes, that’s a nice bronze isn’t it? From Mantua by a great master: Diana and her hounds unleashed.


Unknown man, formerly known as John Bull, by Unknown artist, circa 1600-1620 - NPG  - © National Portrait Gallery, London

Unknown man, formerly known as John Bull
by Unknown artist
circa 1600-1620
NPG 4873

'The Rise and Fall of Mr Herbert' by Ab and Sarah

This story is based upon the Portrait of an Unknown man (possibly John Bull)

Mr Herbert was a most troublesome subject. Many gentlemen that I have had the honour of painting have been less wealthy but far more gracious than he. The day I visited his manor (oooh very grand) he flung a few sovereigns at me and demanded that I waste no time in capturing his handsome visage on canvas.

Only after when the remainder of my payment failed to arrive did I discover, upon making enquiries, that he was a very great scoundrel. Having made his fortune in tobacco, he had crossed a gentleman of great reknown who took his revenge by forcing Mr Herbert’s ruination. I recovered some of my dues by swapping the painting for a bottle of gin.

I hear that after his infamous escape from prison, Herbert was sighted in Brazil in shackles. Some say he was sold into slavery. Myself, I’d say he could slip away from hell if he cared to….




'The Final Sitting of Nikolass Van Meter' by Keith Casto

Were her family not paying for it, I surely could not endure this eternal posing. Thank God this is the last of it, for this dauber is too high-handed by far: sit up, sit back, turn this way and that. Tyrant.

What? Frowning? Yes, all right, I hear you, just paint.

Try to think of pleasanter things…like Anne, sweet Anne, undressed and waiting. No, don’t smile, or this fellow will be at you again. Oh, but Anne, Anne. So delicious—and so poor. Marien, thankfully, whom I just married (Don’t frown) has wealth enough to support us both. Anne and I, that is. Marien, I plan to kill.

It can’t be so terribly hard, but one must be careful, of course. No stabbing, surely, for blood is such a betrayer. The canal?…No, she swims far too well withal. I could throttle her in the wood (oh,yes), but there is always the chance that the dogs would sniff out her grave. Whenever, and however she dies, I must keep myself clear.

Poison…Yes, poison is a possibility, used rightly. Not a fatal dose, to rouse suspicion, but administered in small doses over time, so that she sickens slowly and naturally. She is extremely fond of bilberry tea, and what is more natural than for a new husband to want to cater to his wife’s desires? Ah, well, that is the answer then. She shall die, I shall inherit, and my future thereafter will hold naught but unhindered and unlimited pleasure. I will be sure to visit the ratcatcher’s on the very morrow.

The devil, what is that painter saying now? I do not slouch, and never have. The fellow is bothersome as the plague. Hmm…I wonder if he is at all fond of bilberry tea?