When Holbein arrived in England for the first time in 1526 it was a staunchly Catholic country. Returning to England by 1532 the situation was rapidly changing. Following Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn in 1533, the Act of Supremacy of 1534 asserted Henry VIII’s authority over the English church and its separation from Rome.
Holbein enjoyed the patronage of Thomas Cromwell, the King’s minister, who, with the Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, pressed for the King’s permission to produce an English Bible. Holbein designed the title page for the Coverdale Bible of 1535, which it was anticipated the King would approve, as well as other similar title pages. Yet, despite his talents as a designer of woodcuts, Holbein seems to have executed little else in England, and did not provide the rich range of designs and imagery in support of the English Reformation of which his Basel work had showed him capable.
Traditional religious imagery, however, continued to flourish throughout Holbein’s residence in England. Only a few of Holbein’s surviving portraits show evidence of religious devotion, but it is possible that others were intended to reflect such piety, in ways which might not be evident in the preparatory portrait drawings.