The 1st Earl of Monmouth and his family

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© National Portrait Gallery, London

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The 1st Earl of Monmouth and his family

attributed to Paul van Somer
oil on canvas, circa 1617
89 1/2 in. x 85 1/4 in. (2273 mm x 2165 mm) overall
Purchased, 1979
Primary Collection
NPG 5246

Sittersback to top

Artistback to top

  • Paul van Somer (circa 1576-1621), Portrait painter. Artist or producer associated with 36 portraits.

This portraitback to top

Monmouth is shown holding the white Chamberlain's rod, with, at the left, his wife Elizabeth Trevannion (died 1641), and his elder son Henry, later the second Earl (1596-1661). At the right is his daughter Philadelphia (1594-1654), later Lady Wharton, and his younger son Thomas (1597-1634).

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Bolland, Charlotte, Tudor & Jacobean Portraits, 2018, p. 86 Read entry

    The soldier and courtier Robert Carey, 1st Earl of Monmouth, was the first to bring the news of Elizabeth I's death to James VI of Scotland, riding north from London to Edinburgh in three days. He was immediately appointed a Gentleman of the Bedchamber by the king but was judged by the English court to have acted without decorum in his rush to Scotland; he was stripped of his new role when he returned to England. However, he became a favourite of the king and was made governor of Prince Charles and subsequently Chamberlain to the prince, who was by then the heir to the throne. Monmouth is shown at the centre of his family, with his wife Elizabeth Trevannion and his elder son, Henry, later the second earl, on the left and his daughter Philadelphia, and his younger son, Thomas on the right. Monmouth is shown holding the white Chamberlain's staff, and it is likely that this portrait was commissioned to mark his appointment in 1617. The women are set back within the composition, allowing the sons in particular to display their lavish clothes, which are tailored in the most up-to-date styles.

  • Cooper, Tarnya; Fraser, Antonia (foreword), A Guide to Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 2012, p. 40 Read entry

    This life-sized portrait depicts the family of Robert Carey, a soldier and courtier at the court of James I. It was painted in 1617 when Robert Carey was made Chamberlain to Prince Charles, and Robert is seen at the centre of this proud family group holding a long white rod of office. The two young sons (aged around twenty and twenty-one) show off their glamorous finery at either side of their parents, while their older sister peers out over their shoulders, standing to the back.

  • MacLeod, Catherine, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery Collection at Montacute House, 1999, p. 27
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 722

Events of 1617back to top

Current affairs

Robert Carey, Earl of Monmouth is made Chamberlain to Prince Charles.
Petitions from Catholics persuade James I to permit certain types of recreation on Sundays. However, the king's subsequent declaration of sports angers Puritans who advocated for appropriate and strict observance of the sabbath.

Art and science

Physician and Rosicrucian, Robert Fludd, begins to publish his philosophical work, Utriusque cosmi. Extensively illustrated with mystic emblems, Fludd's neoplatonist metaphysics suggested a complex relationship between the spiritual and physical world, prompting attacks from leading scholars.


Incited by Charles d'Albert, Duke of Luynes, Constable of France, the seventeen-year-old French king, Louis XIII, forces his mother Marie de Medici who has held de facto power, into retirement and has her favourite, Concino Concini, assassinated.

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