Queen Elizabeth I

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Queen Elizabeth I

by Steven van Herwijck
lead medal, 1565
1 7/8 in. (48 mm) diameter
Purchased, 1962
Primary Collection
NPG 4294

Sitterback to top

  • Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603), Reigned 1558-1603. Sitter associated with 138 portraits.

Artistback to top

This portraitback to top

This cast lead medal of Queen Elizabeth I was found in a ploughed field at Great Moulton in Norfolk in 1962. It is the only known example of a medal which was the subject of a correspondence in 1565 between a Flemish poet and scholar, Charles Utenhove, and William Cecil, the Queen's Secretary, in which Utenhove seeks permission to produce a portrait medal of the Queen with an inscription in Greek on the reverse meaning 'divine fountain of the realm', with the Greek letters being an anagram of 'Elizabeth the Queen'. The reverse illustrates a fountain with a seated figure of Faith clasping a cross, and a view to a distant castle (symbolically the realm or seat of government). For information on the medal's political significance in Anglo-French relations, see Jan van Dorsten, 'Steven van Herwijck's Elizabeth (1565): A Franco-Flemish Political Medal', Burlington Magazine, vol.111, 1969, pp.143-7.

The medal is the work of Steven van Herwijck, a Dutch medallist and portraitist in London who produced several English portrait medals in the 1560s. It has a suspension hole indicating that it may have hung on a ribbon or loop of some kind. This could explain how it ended up in a field: if the loop broke and the wearer was unaware. For a discussion around the identity and work of the medallist, see Bendor Grosvenor, 'The identity of “the famous paynter Steven”: Not Steven van der Meulen but Steven van Herwijck', British Art Journal, vol.9, no.3, Spring 2009, pp.12-17.

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Events of 1565back to top

Current affairs

Mary, Queen of Scots marries her second husband Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley.
Sir Henry Sidney is appointed Lord Deputy of Ireland.

Art and science

The Royal College of Physicians receives official permission to carry out human dissections.
The first recorded manufacture of lead pencils.


The Knights Hospitaller repel the forces of Suleiman I, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire at the siege of Malta. Ottoman advances into Western Europe are halted and the celebrated admiral Turgut Reis is killed.
A Spanish expedition establishes the city of St Augustine in present-day Florida, the first permanent European settlement in North America.
The first Spanish settlement in Philippines is established at Cebu.

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