Thomas Trayton (b. 1562), of Lewes, Sussex

William Larkin
(c. 1585 – 1619)

Thomas Trayton (b. 1562), of Lewes, Sussex

Painted 1618

Oil on panel: 21 1/8 x 15 1/2 in. (53.8 x 39.4 cm.)


Private collection, Spain, until 2016.


Inscribed and dated upper right: ‘AEtatis Suae 56. / June . 5 . 1618’

and with the Trayton family coat-of-arms, upper left

This newly discovered, and hitherto unrecorded, small-scale panel portrait can be attributed with confidence to the Jacobean court painter William Larkin. Dated 1618 and painted only a year before the artist’s death, the portrait characteristically displays Larkin’s skill at capturing his sitters’ features with an accomplished technique and a rare psychological insight. The head is finely rendered, particularly around the eyes, however the handling of the detailing in the costume and lace is more freely executed than in his earlier works.


The sitter, Thomas Trayton, alias Treton, of Lewes in Sussex, was a member of the household of Richard Sackville, 3rd Earl of Dorset (1589 – 1624), already an important patron of Larkin, whose family seat was at Knole in Sussex. That the painting is very specifically dated 5 June 1618, is therefore of some significance; for this was the summer that Larkin is recorded by Lady Anne Clifford (1590 – 1676) in her diaries as having visited Knole to paint her portrait  and possibly to complete the portraits, of herself and her daughter, Margaret.[1] In her diary for the period 1616 – 1619, Anne omitted the entire year of 1618, a period when she had lost a baby, but in January 1619 she began to record her quotidian life again, mentioning how she sent her portrait by Larkin as a gift to her cousin:


‘The first of this month I began to have the curtain drawn in my chamber and to see the light… The 16th… I sent my cousin Hall of Gilford [sic.] a letter and my picture with it which Larkin drew at Knole this summer.’[2]


We are grateful to Edward Town of the Yale Center for British Art for suggesting it is very likely that Larkin found the time to also make a portrait of Trayton when he came to Knole that summer. Richard Sackville, 3rd Earl of Dorset, to whom Anne Clifford had already been married some ten years, had previously commissioned Larkin to paint his portrait at least twice in 1613 (The Suffolk Collection, English Heritage, and The Lord Sackville, Knole, Kent), and even owned a portrait of the artist which hung at his home at Buckhurst in 1619: 'Item 1 Picture of Mr Larkine the picture maker'.[3] Trayton’s portrait could well then have been at the behest of the 3rd Earl, making it a rare portrayal of gentry by Larkin at a time when he was otherwise predominantly painting the court elite. Town notes that the Sackville family must have been proud of their extended family and household, for the 3rd Earl commissioned a double portrait of the 1st Earl with his secretary (now at Sissinghurst).[4]


Thomas Trayton served as the Woodward (Keeper) to Thomas Sackville, 1st Earl of Dorset (1536 – 1608) – and went on to serve Robert Sackville, 2nd Earl of Dorset (1561 – 1609) – who only survived his father by a year – and after that, Richard Sackville, 3rd Earl of Dorset (1589 – 1624). Trayton was clearly a trusted senior servant, who in 1607 was responsible for providing an estimate for the repair of the Sackville house, Lord's Place, in Lewes. Notably, the previous year, on 10 June 1606,  Trayton had been granted arms under the hands and seals of Sir William Segar, Garter (and notable Elizabethan artist); William Camden, Clarenceux, and Richard St. George, Norroy.[5]  


This is the only known portrait by Larkin on which he has included a coat-of-arms. The helmet has been highlighted with gold leaf, a clear reflection of the pride that Trayton had in his new found status in society. It is also relatively rare for Larkin to inscribe dates on his paintings, as here, and this too bears the remnants of gold. As identified by Edward Town, the form of the inscription on our painting compares closely to those on the portraits of Richard Sackville at Kenwood and his daughter Margaret Sackville at Knole.


Archives in Lewes that Trayton was a Constable in the years 1586, 1594, 1603, 1611 and 1617,[6] and it interesting to note that his employer, Richard Sackville, 3rd Earl of Dorset acted as Lord Lieutenant of Sussex from 1612 – 1624.[7] By November 1617 Sackville had sold Trayton land in Lewes in an attempt to service his debts. Clearly a man on the rise, in 1624 Thomas Trayton and his son Ambrose acquired the manor of Chalvington from the Sackville family for £600, with substantial outliers in Waldron and Folkington. Ambrose Trayton (1593 – 1679) had also married into the Chiddingly branch of the Sackville family and was buried at Withyham Church near the ancestral seat at Buckhurst. 


Thomas Trayton’s house in Lewes, Trinity House, still stands today. It was originally the site of the Church of the Holy Trinity which was owned by the Priory of Lewes until the 14th century. The building was in the occupation of the Trayton Family from the mid-15th Century to the mid-17th Century. During the Civil War, Thomas Trayton and his son Ambrose were Officers in the Parliamentary Forces of Sussex, and in 1642 the House of Commons authorised Captain Ambrose Trayton to raise a force of 200 men for the defence of Lewes. Now the site of a law-firm, nonetheless the gable room in the west bay still contains the Armoury with racks for the pikes, hooks for the equipment and roots of ceiling rails for the uniforms which Ambrose purchased for his men and preferred to keep safely in his own house. Trinity House continued in the ownership of the Trayton family until sold by John Trayton Fuller to David Bayford, Doctor of Law, around 1770.



Little is known of William Larkin's life and short career, which was cut short by his death in 1619, the same year that Nicholas Hilliard and also the Queen, Anne of Denmark, died. It is almost certain that he was the son of an innkeeper named William Larkin living in the parish of St Sepulchre, a close neighbour of the royal portrait painter Robert Peake, who very likely introduced the young Larkin to painting. Although Larkin never occupied an official position at court, he is celebrated for his spectacularly decorative full-length portraits of members of the court of James I of England. He is most famous for his celebrated set of nine magnificent full-length portraits that descended with the Earls of Suffolk, and which now hang at Kenwood House. His exaggerated, iconographic style has been likened to miniature painting on a grand scale, reflecting a particularly English aesthetic.




[1] Diarist and patron of authors and literature; firstly wife to the 3rd Earl of Dorset, and later wife of the 4th Earl of Pembroke. Anne Clifford, The Memoir of 1603 and Diary of 1616 – 1619, ed. Katherine O. Acheson, Toronto 2007, p. 155.

[2] Anne Clifford, The Diary of 1616 – 1619, ed. Katherine O. Acheson, (op. cit.), p. 155. In 2013 The Weiss Gallery rediscovered the portrait of Anne by Larkin as mentioned in her diary and gifted to her cousin, Margaret Hall. It was sold to the National Portrait Gallery, London, where it hangs today.

[3] See Edward Town, PhD thesis A House Re-edified: Thomas Sackville and the transformation of Knole 1605-1608, chapter 6:

[4] Edward Town, March 2014 at Knole at the ‘Understanding British Portraiture Seminar’, The Rake's patronage. He also notes the possibility that this is a Larkin product of c.1612, i.e. a posthumous portrait of the 1st Earl made from the established portrait type of c. 1600, with a new portrait of his secretary, John Suckling (1569 – 1627). It is not known whether Suckling remained in the service of the Sackvilles after the sudden death in 1608 of his patron, the 1st Earl of Dorset, though he received a gift of a jewel in a late addition to the latter’s will. See:

[5] College of Arms Ms: EDN 57/399, blazoned as ‘Argent on a Bend Gules an Helmet in the dexter point Or the bever clos.e’A Bever or Beaver is an old term for the visor of a helmet.

[6] The borough of Lewes was largely self-governing with a seal of its own and two constables chosen annually on the Monday after Michaelmas. A ‘court of all the town’, attended by the free and customary tenants and the lords’ officers, met twice a year, but day-to-day administration was exercised by the Twelve and Twenty-Four, bodies whose membership usually exceeded these figures. The constables levied a general rate to meet borough expenses, including the payment of parliamentary wages: the sum collected varied according to the need. Accounts kept by the constables survive from 1542.

[7] The History and Antiquities of Lewes and its Vicinity, vol. I, T. Walker Horsfield, G.A. Mantell & J. Baxter ed., 1824, Lewes.


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