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Sir William Butts

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© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Sir William Butts

after Hans Holbein the Younger
oil on panel, late 16th century, based on a work of circa 1540-1543
18 1/2 in. x 14 3/4 in. (470 mm x 375 mm)
Purchased, 1866
Primary Collection
NPG 210

Sitterback to top

  • Sir William Butts (1485-1545), Physician and confidant of Henry VIII. Sitter associated with 7 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • Hans Holbein the Younger (1497 or 1498-1543), Painter, printmaker and designer; son of Hans Holbein the Elder. Artist or producer associated with 310 portraits, Sitter associated with 25 portraits.

This portraitback to top

The original Holbein portrait on which this painting is based is now in the collection of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston. Technical analysis suggests this version is likely to date from the period 1571-1603. It indicates an interest by Elizabethan patrons in commissioning portraits of early Tudor sitters.

Linked publicationsback to top

Events of 1540back to top

Current affairs

King Henry VIII marries Anne of Cleves in January but then takes Catherine Howard as a mistress in June. Henry and Anne's marriage is annulled and he weds Catherine in July.
Sir Thomas Cromwell is beheaded for High Treason. Catharine Howard's uncle, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk replaces him as Henry VIII's chief minister.
Waltham Abbey becomes the final abbey to be closed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Art and science

Stirling Palace begun for King James V of Scotland, it is built in the French Renaissance style.


The Holy Roman Emperor Charles V enters Ghent in Flanders after the city had offered its allegiance to Francis I of France.
Pope Paul III grants official approval the Catholic Order of the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits, through the papal bull Regimini militantis ecclesiae (To the Government of the Church Militant).

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Paul McFarland

14 May 2021, 20:36

very grateful to the contribution by Hugo Vickery Graham Butts who is presumably a descendant, as am I. I may be able to clarify the Bacon family references. Edmund Butts' mother was Margaret Bacon whose family were from Norfolk. His daughter Anne married Sir Nicholas Bacon, son of the Sir Nicholas who was born in Kent, and kept the great Seal, and half brother to the still-renowned Francis; but i have not been able to connect the Norfolk Bacons of Edmund's mother to the Kent Bacons of his son-in-law.

Hugo Vickery Graham Butts

30 April 2017, 15:33

Sir William Butts is in the National Biography. One of his sons Edmund Butts was painted by John Betts, This picture is the oldest picture in the Tate called Man in a Black Hat, It was painted in 1545 the year of Sir William's death when Edmund Butts would have inherited a fortune, it is not directly attributed by The Tate but some scholars say it is Edmund Butts and his name is etched on the frame of the picture. Sir William's Wife was dame Butts who was lady in waiting to Ann Boleyn. There is a Holbein etching of her in the Queen's collection at Windsor. Sir William also wrote on religion and his papers are in the British Museum. His family had held the manor of Thornage in Norfolk which Henry VIII added to. The family are first mentioned as renting land from King John. The family coat of arms carries is adorned by the prince of Wales three feathers awarded by the Black Prince in the battle in which he obtained this emblem ( i think defeating a welsh chieftain. The sons of Sir William all married into the Bacon family, holder of the Privy Seal. One of his sons was Sherriff of Nottingham and was knighted in some battle. You have etchings of Lady Butts who must be a grandaughter or great grandaughter of Sir William. His ancestors incuded two Thomas Butts's one of whom was a student of William Blake and the other his patron. In the British Museum there are miniatures by Blake of the two Thomas's and an Elizabeth Butts. A direct descendant of Sir William is Mary Butts a famous writer friends of John Cocteau who sketched her, Ezra Pound, and other writers living in Paris in the l920"s.Her family home of Saltings in Devon was where many Blake pictures were kept and the Holbein of Sir William, now in Boston, which was sold by Mary Butts mother for 15,000 pounds in the early 20th century. There is a biography of Mary Butts, plus her novels. Sir William was buried in Fulham Church where there was originally a full size brass which was removed/destroyed at some point. There is still a skull and crossbones to Sir William on the wall of the church. Sir William briefly appears in Shakespeare's Henry VIII play defending Cranmer. Another distaff descendant was Bishop Butts of Ely, previously Norwich. There is a bust of him at Ely Cathedral, and reference at Norwich Cathedral.