This portrait shows Elizabeth Roydon at the age of forty and was painted in 1563, as the Latin inscription 'AETATIS XL, ¦ M.D.LXIII,', upper right, indicates. Elizabeth, who is dressed entirely in black, had recently been widowed, for her second husband, Cuthbert Vaughan, had been killed in that year protecting the French port of Le Havre against French Catholic forces. In the following year she was to marry Sir Thomas Golding of Belchamp St Paul, Essex. The heraldic arms in the top left-hand corner are those of her own family, the Roydons of Kent. They were added some years after the picture was painted, presumably by one of her descendants, to emphasise her status as an heiress in her own right.
To the left of these arms can be seen the conjoined monogram 'HE'. Around forty British paintings survive by the artist who used this monogram and is presumed to be the Antwerp-trained Jan Eeuwowts, known in Britain as 'Hans Eworth'. Little is known about his life, but a painter of this name was exiled from Antwerp for religious reasons at the end of 1544. The earliest known work signed by 'HE' is A Turk, possibly Suleyman the Magnificent, on Horseback, 1549 (private collection, see Karen Hearn, ed., Dynasties, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery 1995, no.22, p.65, reproduced in colour). Almost all the extant works by this artist are portraits, and many show considerable subtlety of handling. Eworth worked on every scale, from large full-lengths to tiny portrait miniatures. Elizabeth Roydon's portrait is comparatively small, being 376 x 299 mm (14 13/16 x 11 13 / 16 in). Surviving portraits suggest that Eworth was the court portraitist to the Tudor queen Mary I (reigned 1554-8), although no record that he held a formal post has been found.
The present painting is in extremely good condition for its age and, with its very fine brushstrokes, is carried out in a technique similar to that of a miniaturist. The translucency of the paint in the flesh areas means that the freely drawn underdrawing is now visible.
Elizabeth was the daughter of Thomas Roydon (c.1520-c.1571) of Roydon Hall, East Peckham in Kent. She first married, before 1540, William Twysden of Chelmingham in Kent and their eldest son Roger eventually became her main heir. Elizabeth died on 19 August 1595. Her will shows her to have been a woman of strong religious convictions and an affectionate mother and grandmother who had already given away much plate and jewellery during her lifetime.
A. Smith, 'Presented by the Misses Rachel F. and Jean I. Alexander: seventeen paintings for the National Gallery', Burlington Magazine, vol. 114, September 1972, p.630
Karen Hearn, 'Hans Eworth: Traces of a Biography', in The Portrait of Sir John Luttrell: A Tudor Mystery, exhibition catalogue, Courtauld Gallery, London 1999, pp.6-7