The man in this portrait, William, 4th Lord Widdrington, looks like a characteristically self-assured Georgian gentleman. In fact, by the time the picture was painted he had lost his title and estates because of his involvement in the 1715 Jacobite Rebellion.
He had actually been condemned to death as well, but his former lover, Catherine Graham, pleaded on his behalf and he was reprieved at the eleventh hour. He then married her, and they lived the rest of their lives at Catherine’s ancestral home, Nunnington Hall, North Yorkshire.
The portrait was purchased by the National Trust at the Newton Hall sale at Christie’s South Kensington, London, on 20 January. Funds for the purchase came from several generous bequests.
Newton Hall had been the Widdrington seat, and after its forfeiture by the Crown it was eventually bought by the Cook family. One of the Cooks married a great-niece of the last male Widdrington, and their son eventually changed his surname to Widdrington. The portrait we have acquired must have ended up at Newton Hall through this convoluted family inheritance.
It is not clear if the picture originally hung at Nunnington. However, it was decided to bid for it because the National Trust did not own a portrait of Widdrington in later life, after his marriage to Catherine. And of course it represents an affecting tale of love overcoming all, the kind of story, one imagines, that could be turned into a historical novel or a major motion picture.
The painting will need to undergo some conservation work. It will go on display at Nunnington as is while further funds are being sought.