Elizabeth “Bess” Throckmorton, Lady Raleigh (1565 – c.1647)

Sir William Segar
(c.1565 – 1633)

Elizabeth “Bess” Throckmorton, Lady Raleigh (1565 – c.1647)

Painted Dated top left: ‘Anno Domo 1595’

Oil on panel: 42 ½ x 30 ½ in. (108 x 76.2 cm.)


Mrs. A.C. Hyde, fl. 1890; and by descent to

Raymond Robert Wentworth-Hyde (c. 1860 – 1918);

Christie’s, London 22 February 1924, lot 136 (as Zuccaro); bt. by

F.B. Greenstreet (d.c.1927), an art dealer based at 47 Duke Street, SW1;

Private collection, UK; thence by descent until

Bonhams, London 5 July 2017, lot 65 (as ‘Circle of Marcus Gheeaerts the Younger').


H.A. Grueber, Exhibition of the Royal House of Tudor, London 1890, p.141[1]

A. Graves, “A Century of Loan Exhibitions”, London 1913, p.1424.


London, New Gallery, Exhibition of the Royal House of Tudor, 1890, no. 479 [lent by Mrs A.C. Hyde].

This portrait was included in an ‘Exhibition of the Royal House of Tudor’ in 1890, at the New Gallery in Regent Street, London, with the rather sensationalist caption: “Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, one of Queen Elizabeth’s maids of honour, was married secretly in 1592 to Sir Walter Raleigh, on account of which they both suffered a short imprisonment in the Tower. When her husband was imprisoned in the Tower in 1603, she went to live with him, and in the next year their younger son Carlos was born; the eldest son Walter was killed in the expedition made by his father to South America in 1617.” [1]


There is no reason to doubt the traditional identification of the sitter as Elizabeth Raleigh, née Throckmorton (1565 – c. 1647), and the date of the portrait, 1595, would make her thirty. She was the daughter of the diplomat Sir Nicholas Throckmorton and Anne Throckmorton (née Carew), courtiers to Elizabeth I. Through both her parents, Bess had connections to Henry VIII.  Her father was the cousin of Henry’s sixth wife, Catherine Parr; and Anne Carew, her mother, was the daughter of Bicholas Carew, a close friend of Henry’s from childhood.


Elizabeth’s marriage to Sir Walter Raleigh, in July of 1591, was carried out in secret, when she was already pregnant with their first son, Damerei. This precipitated a long period of royal disfavour for the couple. Although they had married without royal permission, significantly, another of the Queen’s favourtites, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, nonetheless acted as godfather to the child.


Elizabeth I found out in 1592, she placed the couple under house arrest, later sending them to the Tower of London in June of that year. Raleigh was released from in August and Bess in December, joining her husband at Sherborne Castle, his Dorset estate. The queen expected the couple to sue for pardon, but they refused to, and so Raleigh would remain out of favour for a further five years.


The Raleighs’ second son, Walter, was born in 1593 at Sherborne. The couple's third son was born in January 1605, by which time Raleigh was again a prisoner in the Tower of London. After Raleigh's execution in 1618, Bess worked tirelessly to re-establish her late husband’s reputation and, in 1628, saw a Bill of Restitution restore the Raleigh name ‘in blood’, which allowed her one surviving son to inherit.


Bess is said to have had her husband’s head embalmed and to have carried it around with her for the rest of her life, although the only documented reference to Raleigh’s head is from the day of his execution, when it was noted that Lady Raleigh and her ladies left the scene carrying Sir Walter’s head in a red bag. An account from 1740 claims that, after her death, the head was returned to his tomb in St. Margaret’s Westminster. 


William Segar was a man of numerous talents; initially admitted to practice law at Gray’s Inn in 1579, his career took a slightly different path when he was introduced by Sir Thomas Heneage to the College of Arms and plausibly to Leicester. Here Segar would rise through the ranks, from Portcullis Pursuivant in 1585 to Norroy King of Arms in 1593 – apparently endorsed by Robert Dudley.[2] It is surprising to consider that Segar was not far into his service at the College of Arms when Dudley requested that he join him in the Netherlands to serve as the Master of the Ceremonies in the earl’s St George’s Day festivities held in Utrecht in April 1586. Dudley had already employed him as early as April 1584, and it would seem likely that Leicester also wanted a capable portraitist to paint him at the height of his achievements.[3]


As Norroy, Segar carried the Sword of State in the funeral procession of Elizabeth I in 1603, and that same year he was made deputy Garter. He obtained a great seal patent confirming him as Garter in January 1607, was granted arms in 1612, and knighted on 5 November 1616 for his services in heraldry. That same year, his colleague and rival Ralph Brooke – York Herald – tricked Segar into granting a commoner arms so that he could masquerade around the continent as an English gentleman. Brooke reported this misdemeanour to James VI & I who then ordered the imprisonment of both Segar and his whistle-blower. They were released after only a few days on the assumption that both had learnt their lessons; Brooke to be more honest and Segar to be more wise.[4]


As well as being a painter and a man of noble office and importance, Segar published poems and writings that expressed his Protestant leanings. In terms of his artistic talents, he was contemporaneously regarded as one of the leading portraitists in England.[5]



[1] H.A. Grueber, Exhibition of the Royal House of Tudor, London 1890

[2] E. Goldring, Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester and the World of Elizabethan Art, London 2014. p.144.

[3] Ibid. pp.144 – 146.

[4] Anthony R. J. S. Adolph, ‘Segar, Sir William (c.1554–1633)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, April 2016 [http://www.oxforddnb.com.ezproxy2.londonlibrary.co.uk/view/article/25033, accessed 21 Oct 2016]

[5] Ibid.