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Sir Edward Hoby

1 portrait matching 'NPG 1974'

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Sir Edward Hoby

by Unknown Anglo-Netherlandish artist
oil on panel, 1583
37 1/2 in. x 29 3/4 in. (953 mm x 756 mm)
Purchased, 1923
Primary Collection
NPG 1974

Sitterback to top

  • Sir Edward Hoby (1560-1617), Scholar and favourite of James I. Sitter in 1 portrait.

Artistback to top

This portraitback to top

Dendrochronology (tree-ring dating) has indicated that the tree used for this panel was felled some time after 1579, and derives from the Eastern Baltic. This tells us that the wood was put to use as a panel very soon after it was imported. Hoby's baton, lower left, is inscribed with a motto which can be translated 'anger without strength is vain'. The mysterious inset scene at the top right shows a woman standing in front of a castle and holding a scroll or banner on which is written 'RECONDUTUR NO RETUDUTUR', which can be translated as 'laid aside but not blunted'. In front of her is a pile of discarded weapons and military trophies with a veil over them. Painted a year after Hoby's marriage the allegory probably refers to a break from his military career.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Bolland, Charlotte, Tudor & Jacobean Portraits, 2018, p. 97 Read entry

    As a young man, Edward Hoby rose to favour at Elizabeth I's court through the support of his uncle, William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, and through his marriage to Margaret, the daughter of Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon, who was the queen's cousin. He was knighted after his wedding and developed a career as a diplomat and scholar. He published several works supporting Protestantism and made translations from French and Spanish. The symbolism of this portrait is difficult to interpret, as despite the prominence of the militaristic imagery, Hoby does not seem to have been involved in military activities in 1583; it may have been intended to indicate his willingness to serve. Hoby is depicted in armour with a baton of command bearing the Latin inscription: VANA SINE VIRIBUS IRA ('Anger without strength is in vain'). In the inset scene, which is seen as if viewed through a window, a woman emerges from a castle carrying a banderole with the Latin inscription: RECONDVTVR NO RETVDVTVR ('Laid aside, but not blunted') in reference to the military trophies that lie veiled in the foreground. The woman may have been intended as an allegory of Peace or as a representation of the queen herself. The insertion of allegorical scenes into portraits became popular in England in the 1580s and allowed for the inclusion of more complex messaging than could be expressed by an impresa.

  • Cooper, Tarnya; Fraser, Antonia (foreword), A Guide to Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 2012, p. 21 Read entry

    The young Edward Hoby was a renowned soldier and scholar and both these roles are on display in this puzzling portrait, which shows him dressed in striking armour with a sword, baton and helmet. This picture certainly had a story to tell its original audience, though its exact meanings are no longer clear. The baton by Hoby's side is inscribed with Latin text, which can be translated as 'anger without strength is vain' perhaps referring to the futility of harbouring resentment without the ability to act. The meaning of the narrative scene shown through a window to the right of the figure is also difficult to interpret. The allegorical image seems to relate to a temporary pause in military action, as it shows a woman in front of a castle with discarded weapons and military trophies covered by a veil in the foreground. She holds a banner with a Latin inscription, which can be translated as 'laid aside but not blunted'.

    From what we know of Hoby's activities in 1583, he was not involved in military action and this picture may have been designed to indicate his readiness to serve.

  • MacLeod, Catherine, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery Collection at Montacute House, 1999, p. 21
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 306
  • Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, p. 168

Subjects & Themesback to top

Mediaback to top


Events of 1583back to top

Current affairs

Francis Throckmorton plots to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I and place Mary, Queen of Scots on the English throne. The conspiracy is uncovered and Throckmorton is executed.
Sir Humphrey Gilbert establishes an English colony in Newfoundland. He is drowned on the return voyage.
The revolt in Munster, Ireland, against English rule ends with the execution of the rebel leader the Earl of Desmond. The region is devastated by famine and plague.

Art and science

The first recorded life insurance policy is issued in London.
The Italian botanist Andrea Cesalpino publishes De plantis (Of Plants) the first modern classification of plants.


The French Fury - François, Duke of Anjou attacks Antwerp in an attempt to assert French authority in the Spanish Netherlands. He fails to capture the city and retires to France.
The Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II moves the Imperial Court from Vienna to Prague.

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