Sir Thomas More, his father, his household and his descendants

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Sir Thomas More, his father, his household and his descendants

by Rowland Lockey, after Hans Holbein the Younger
oil on canvas, 1593
89 1/2 in. x 130 in. (2274 mm x 3302 mm) overall
Bequeathed by Emslie John Horniman, 1935
Primary Collection
NPG 2765

On display in Room 1 on Floor 3 at the National Portrait Gallery

Artistsback 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.
  • Rowland Lockey (active 1593-1616), Artist. Artist or producer associated with 3 portraits.

Sittersback to top

This portraitback to top

This group portrait was probably commissioned by Thomas More II, grandson of Sir Thomas More, and is a genealogical memorial of the staunchly Roman-Catholic More family over five generations, and a span of more than sixty years. Seven of the figures (nos. 1-7) derive from Holbein's group portrait Sir Thomas More with his Family and Household (1527-8), which was destroyed in the eighteenth century. Its appearance is recorded in a copy by Lockey at Nostell Priory, Yorkshire, and in Holbein's preliminary drawing in the Kuntsmuseum, Basle, Switzerland. Four of the figures (nos. 8-11) were probably painted from life by Lockey. The portrait of Anne More, (no. 12), hanging in the background, is presumably a copy of a portrait of circa 1560. The sitters, with their coats of arms displayed above them, are (from left to right): 1 Sir John More 1451?-1530 Judge and Father of Sir Thomas More; 2 Ann Cresacre 1511-77, wife of John More II; 3 Sir Thomas More 1478-1535, Lord Chancellor; 4 John More II 1510-47,only son of Sir Thomas More; 5 Cecily More born 1507, wife of Giles Heron. Youngest daughter of Sir Thomas More; 6 Elizabeth More born 1506, wife of William Dauncey. Second daughter of Sir Thomas More; 7 Margaret More 1505-44, wife of William Roper. Eldest daughter of Sir Thomas More; 8 John More III 1557-before 99. Eldest son of Thomas More II; 9 Thomas More II 1531-1606. Son of John More II; 10 Christopher Cresacre More 1572-1649. Fourth son of Thomas More II; 11 Maria 1534-1607, wife of Thomas More II. Daughter of John Scrope; 12 Anne More 1512-77.

Related worksback to top

  • NPG D39014: Sir Thomas More, his father, his household and his descendants (based on same portrait)

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Tudor Portraits Resource Pack, p. 12
  • Bolland, Charlotte, Tudor & Jacobean Portraits, 2018, p. 78 Read entry

    Sir Thomas More was a scholar and statesman who became a Catholic martyr after his refusal to accept Henry VIII as head of the church led to his execution in 1535. The interplay between his private and public life was demonstrated in an extraordinary group portrait of his family that he commissioned from Hans Holbein the Younger in 1527, during the artist's first visit to England. This was destroyed in the eighteenth century, but Holbein's annotated compositional sketch survives, along with a number of later copies of the finished painting. This copy of Holbein's painting creates an extraordinary intergenerational image through the addition of four figures and a painted portrait to the right-hand side of the composition. These are the Elizabethan members of the family: Thomas More II, the grandson of Sir Thomas More, his sons John and Christopher and his wife Maria; the portrait on the wall provides the link between the two groups as it depicts an older Anne More, Thomas More II's mother, who is also depicted second on the left in the composition when a young woman. It was probably commissioned by Thomas More II, who owned Holbein's original version in the late sixteenth century. The depiction of five generations of the same family allows the painting to serve as a genealogical memorial, with the prominent prayer books held by the Elizabethan sitters and the jewelled crosses worn by the older Anne and Maria, demonstrating that the Mores' Roman Catholic faith endured.

  • Cooper, John, A Guide to the National Portrait Gallery, 2009, p. 8 Read entry

    Five generations of Sir Thomas More’s family, from his father to his great-grandsons, are depicted: art in the service of dynastic pride and religious devotion.

  • Cooper, John, Visitor's Guide, 2000, p. 16
  • Cooper, Tarnya; Fraser, Antonia (foreword), A Guide to Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 2012, p. 39 Read entry

    This portrait shows five generations of the family of the scholar and Lord Chancellor of England Sir Thomas More. It presents a fiction by showing living and dead family members together in the same room. More's grandson commissioned it long after the Lord Chancellor's death, and it is partly based on an earlier group portrait by Hans Holbein showing More's immediate family, which is now lost.

    More was executed by Henry VIII in 1535 for refusing to accept the king as the Head of the Church of England and became a Roman Catholic martyr. He is seated third from the left wearing a gold chain and a dark red cloak. The four figures to the right wearing Elizabethan ruffs represent the later generations and, like their ancestors, they hold prayer books signalling their piety. Part of the painting's purpose was to show that faith could not be disrupted by the death of a family member or changed political circumstances.

  • Gittings, Clare, The National Portrait Gallery Book of The Tudors, 2006, p. 3
  • John Cooper, National Portrait Gallery Visitor's Guide, 2006, pp. 16-17 Read entry

    It was a happy coincidence that this picture was acquired by the Gallery in 1935, exactly 400 years after the execution by Henry VIII of Sir Thomas More, and in the year of his canonisation.

    In the early 1590s, Sir Thomas More's grandson, Thomas More II, was living at Lower Leyton in Essex; the family were ‘recusants', those whose continuing loyalty to the Roman Catholic Church made it impossible for them to accept the communion of the Church of England. This painting was surely conceived as a defiant pictorial genealogy, a family tree in paint, emphasising the More family's loyalty to the old faith.

    Five generations of the family are represented in the picture. On the extreme left is (1) Sir John More (1451-1530), father of the famous Sir Thomas. Next is Anne Cresacre (1511-77), a ward of Sir Thomas (under his legal protection) then (2) Sir Thomas himself (1478-1535), and (3) his son John (1510-47) who married Anne. Sir Thomas's three daughters Cecily Heron (b.1507), Elizabeth Dauncey (b.1506) and Margaret Roper (1505-44) appear next. Then comes (4) Thomas More II (1531-1606) seated next to his wife Maria Scrope (1534-1607), with (5) two of their sons: the eldest, John and the youngest, the beardless Christopher Cresacre More (1572-1649) behind. The portrait above Christopher is of his grandmother Anne in about 1560.

    It seems that in 1590, Thomas More II acquired Hans Holbein’s painting of the family of Sir Thomas More made c.1527-8 (since destroyed). He then commissioned Rowland Lockey to make three versions of it: one, a more or less exact copy of the original, now at Nostell Priory (National Trust, near Wakefield), and two in which Thomas More II's own family (generations 4 and 5) is represented alongside generations 1 to 3 centred on Sir Thomas More. The National Portrait Gallery's large picture is one of these two, while the other is a miniature version, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

    For the Gallery's picture, Lockey copied generations 1 to 3 from Holbein's work, retaining the poses but moving Elizabeth from between her grandfather and an adopted sister so that she stands awkwardly between her blood-sisters. Lockey then added the new portraits of Thomas More II and his family. To make room, and maintain the genealogical theme, acting presumably with his patron's approval, he dropped from Holbein's line-up non-family members, or those who, like Sir Thomas More's second wife Dame Alice (on the extreme right in the Nostell group), made no procreative contribution.

    The meaning of the picture is clear: here is a family, cultured, well-read, armigerous (having coats-of-arms), the later genera¬tions worthy successors to Sir Thomas in their proud Catholicism. This they show by the red prayer books, the crucifix on Maria's chest, and the cross worn by the grandmother they honour by means of a portrait. Further religious significance is probably carried by the flowers, particularly the white Madonna Lily on the extreme left. The extensive inscription in Latin, a later addition, gives the names and dates of the sitters.

  • MacLeod, Catharine, Tudor Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery Collection, 1996, p. 12
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 716
  • Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, p. 269,345
  • Van der Stock, Jan, In search of Utopia : art and science in the era of Thomas More, 2016 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 20 Oct. 2016-17 Jan. 2017), p. 38, 95

Events of 1593back to top

Current affairs

Plays and games are banned because of the Plague, which had killed 15,000 people in London the previous year.
Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex is made a Privy Councillor.
The theologian Richard Hooker publishes Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, the first systematic defence of the principals of the Elizabethan Church.

Art and science

The playwright Christopher Marlowe dies after receiving a stab wound in a tavern brawl.
William Shakespeare writes the epic poem Venus and Adonis.
The group portrait of Sir Thomas More with his family and descendants is painted by Rowland Lockey. It is partly copied from an earlier portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger (1527-8).


Henry IV of France converts from Protestantism to Catholicism to secure the support of the majority of his subjects.
The Convention of Uppsala demands that Sigismund III of Poland accepts Lutheranism as the national Religion of Sweden.

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04 September 2018, 16:23

In relation to the above comment, Roy Strong's Tudor and Jacobean Paintings vol.1 regarding the NPG collection has a detailed examination of the crests.

Frank Mitjans

09 August 2018, 20:00

The reply to the question by Steve Mott is given in John Guy, Thomas More, A very brief history, 2017,
Frank Mitjans

Steve Mott

30 August 2015, 17:39

Hi, I am a room guide at Montacute house and have noticed in the background above the heads of the two John Mores there are over-painted coats of arms, (at least three) . I assume these are well known about but would be interested in why they are there and when they were painted over and for what reason. Many thanks Steve