Michael Drayton

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Michael Drayton

by Unknown artist
oil on panel, 1599
23 1/2 in. x 18 in. (597 mm x 457 mm)
Given by T.H. Woods, 1888
Primary Collection
NPG 776

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Unknown artist, Artist. Artist or producer associated with 6577 portraits.

This portraitback to top

This portrait was re-identifed as Michael Drayton following detailed technical analysis proving the authenticity of the crown of laurel branches. The picture dates from 1599 and the inscribed age at this date matches Drayton's own. Following the death of the poet Edmund Spenser in 1599, Drayton was one of the main contenders for the unofficial role of Poet Laureate.

Linked publicationsback to top

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  • Bolland, Charlotte, Tudor & Jacobean Portraits, 2018, p. 117 Read entry

    Michael Drayton was a poet, who came from relatively humble origins in Warwickshire. He became a London gentleman, described by the anonymous author of The Return from Parnassus in 1605 as lacking 'one true note of a Poet of our times, and that is this, he cannot swagger it well in a Taverne, nor domineer in a hot house'. His most famous work was a topographical description of England and Wales, Poly-Olbion (1612), which was illustrated by maps of each county engraved by William Hole. He wrote plays in collaboration with other playwrights, but most have been lost, as Drayton did not include them in his collected works, published in 1619; he also wrote commendatory poems for books, including George Chapman's translation of Hesiod (1618). Laurel wreathes were commonly used to herald a sitter's literary and artistic achievement; at the time this portrait was painted, it is likely that Drayton incorporated the wreath in his portrait as a means of demonstrating his fitness for the role of Poet Laureate. This unofficial position offered the prospect of an annual pension from the queen and was available following the death of Edmund Spenser in 1599. Drayton's self-styling in this portrait was unsuccessful, but he continued to incorporate the laurel wreath in his portraiture, as can be seen in William Hole's engraving from 1613, which was used as a frontispiece for some of his writings.

  • Bolland, Charlotte, The Tudors Passion, Power and Politics, 2022, p. 135
  • Charles Nicholl, Shakespeare and his Contemporaries, 2015, p. 81
  • Cooper, Tarnya, Searching for Shakespeare, 2006 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 2 March - 29 May 2006), p. 178
  • Cooper, Tarnya, Searching for Shakespeare (hardback), 2006 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 2 March - 29 May 2006), p. 178
  • Cooper, Tarnya (introduction) Banville, John (character sketch) Chevalier, Tracy (character sketch) Fellowes, Julian (character sketch) McCall Smith, Alexander (character sketch) Pratchett, Terry (character sketch) Singleton, Sarah (character sketch) Trollope, Joanna (character sketch) Waters, Minette (character sketch), Imagined Lives: Portraits of Unknown People, 2011 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from December 2011 - June 2012), p. 89
  • Nicholl, Charles, Character Sketches: Elizabethan Writers, 1997, p. 36
  • Nicholl, Charles, Insights: Shakespeare and His Contemporaries, 2005, p. 64
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 688
  • Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, p. 72

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1599back to top

Current affairs

Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex's campaign in Ireland is unsuccessful. He signs a truce with the leader of the rebellion Hugh O'Neill, Earl of Tyrone and returns to England without royal permission. He is placed under house arrest on his return to court.
King James VI of Scotland (future James I of England) writes Basilikon Doron ('The Royal Gift'), which asserts his theory of the divine right of kings.

Art and science

The Globe Theatre is built in London.
William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar is performed for the first time.
Death of the poet and administrator Edmund Spenser, author of The Faerie Queene.
Birth of the painter Anthony van Dyck in Antwerp (in present-day Belgium).


Michael the Brave, Prince of Wallachia, deposes Andrew Báthory, Prince of Transylvania.
Akbar, Mughal Emperor of India, leads a campaign of conquest into southern India.

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Dom Ramos

25 April 2016, 15:10

Underneath this portrait may be another, of Shakespeare. To better discern the dating and identity, teraherz photography should be carried out, perhaps?