Anne Russell, Lady Herbert, later Countess of Worcester (d. 1639), as a Maid of Honour to Elizabeth I

English School
circa 1600 – 1603

Anne Russell, Lady Herbert, later Countess of Worcester (d. 1639), as a Maid of Honour to Elizabeth I

Painted Painted c. 1600 – 1603

Oil on canvas: 76 x 38 in. (192 x 96.5 cm.)


Sir William Barker, 4th Bt. (d.1818), of Kilcooley Abbey, Thurles, co. Tipperary;

thence by descent within the Ponsonby family at Kilcooley to

Thomas Ponsonby Esq.;

with The Weiss Gallery, 2004;

Private collection, UK.


Peter Somerville Large, The Irish Country House, 1995, plate 17b, p. 224;

The Weiss Gallery, Icons of Splendour: Early Portraiture 1530 – 1700, 2004, no. 7.


Inscribed with the armorial of her husband Henry Somerset,

Lord Herbert of Gower, [later 5th Earl & 1st Marquess of Worcester] (1577 – 1646).

This remarkable portrait is a rare representation of the spectacular excesses of court fashion during the final years of Elizabeth I’s reign, and a testament to one of the last great dynastic marriages of Tudor England. From the armorial, which was only uncovered during conservation in 2004, it was revealed that the sitter is Anne Russell, Lady Herbert.[1] As a Maid of Honour to Queen Elizabeth I, she held a coveted position at court; attested to by the magnificently elaborate and specific costume that she wears.[2]


Anne was the second daughter of John, Lord Russell (son and heir of Francis, 2nd Earl of Bedford) and Elizabeth Coke, one of the most formidable women of the Tudor age. Her elder sister Elizabeth, favoured as one of the Queen’s goddaughters, was also to become a Maid of Honour. Anne was married with great ceremony in the presence of the Queen on 16 June 1600 to Henry Somerset, Lord Herbert (1577 – 1646). The celebration of this marriage between two ancient noble houses has been one of the suggested interpretations of the renowned ‘Procession portrait of Elizabeth I’.  In that painting Lady Anne may be identified as the young bride in white seen following immediately behind the Queen, born aloft on her bier.[3]


Her husband Henry Somerset acceded to the title of 5th Earl of Worcester in 1628.  Later, during the Civil War, as a staunch Royalist and by repute ‘the greatest monied man of the kingdom’, the Earl was to advance Charles I vast sums to help finance the King’s cause.[4] This support resulted in his being further ennobled as Marquess in 1643.


Anne was to give birth to nine sons and four daughters, though all bar two sons and two daughters had pre-deceased her by the time she died at Worcester House in the Strand on 8 April 1639. Subsequently her body was buried in the Somerset family tombs at Raglan Castle in Wales. The only other surviving portrait of Anne depicts the sitter clearly a few years younger, at Badminton, the home of the 11th Duke of Beaufort, the current head of the Somerset family.[5]


In the present portrait, Anne is shown wearing the hieratic costume associated with Elizabeth’s Maids-of-Honour. In particular, the serrated sleeves of her hanging gown and the distinctive head-dress composed of silver wire, spangles and pearls are found in comparable late-Elizabethan portraits of other Maids-of-Honour; for example those of Catherine Killigrew (Ipswich Museum and Art Gallery), Lady Elizabeth Southwell (Cowdray Park) and Mary Fitton (Arbury Hall).  The stomacher covering her bodice and large leg-of-mutton sleeves are examples of Elizabethan embroidery at its most grandiose – richly patterned with intricate motifs of flowers, fruit, birds and insects; all of which are overlaid with silk gauze woven a lattice of gold threads. She wears a triple chain necklace of gold and pearls, a large locket (for miniatures) encrusted with white diamonds suspended on a fine jet necklace, and an acorn shaped pouch that very likely contained her husband’s favour. In her right hand she holds a very fashionable and expensive ostrich feather fan, while tucked under her left arm, balancing on her spectacular farthingale skirt, is a small white lap-dog, likely a fluffy white Japanese chin dog (also known as a Japanese spaniel). These dogs were linked to Japanese nobility, and as such its inclusion alludes to rarefied trade connections, her noble status and, of course, fidelity.


As it is well documented that Elizabeth made a practice of gifting clothes from her vast wardrobe to those women in her close entourage, such as the Maids-of-Honour, this may well the Queen’s own former gown.[6] One can only imagine whether the splendid jewels might also have been gifted or lent by the Queen. The extraordinary clustered spinel or ruby pendant bunch of grapes, tied to her shoulder by a red silk ribbon, was clearly a very specific and surely important jewel, displayed here with obvious purpose, and in repetition of the extraordinary grape-vine motif embroidered in silver on her black velvet kirtle, or skirt. Alternatively, the embroidery may also be interpreted as a pattern of hops in silver thread, possibly correlating with a dress in a surviving inventory of Elizabeth I’s wardrobe made in 1600, and described as ‘Item one loose gown of blacke silke and sliver stitched cloth garnished with hopes of silver and black silk.’[7]  





[1] Previously by repute the sitter was thought to be Elizabeth Throckmorton, Lady Raleigh.

[2] Though not certain, it is likely that there were only six Maids of Honour at any one time. The duties of the Maids were not strenuous and seemed mostly to have involved accompanying the Queen during Court ceremonies and pageants.

[3] For a full discussion of this painting see Roy Strong, The Cult of Elizabeth: Elizabethan Portraiture and Pageantry, 1977, pp. 17-55.

[4] Clarendon, History of the Rebellion, vol. vi, p. 288.

[5] Anne’s grandson Henry Somerset, 3rd Marquess of Worcester, was created 1st Duke of Beaufort in 1682.

[6] At her death she owned over 2000 gowns.

[7] See Janet Arnold, Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d, 1988, p. 280, with reference to The Inventory made in July 1600 of all Clothes, Silks and Personal Jewels remaining in the Wardrobe of Robes at the Tower of London and within the Court at the Palace of Whitehall, Westminster, and other Royal Residences (or The Stowe Inventory) where it is listed under ‘Folio f.35v, no.87.

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