Melford Hall has recently acquired a portrait of one of its seventeenth-century owners, Sir Thomas Savage, 1st Viscount Savage (c. 1586-1635). Previously only one likeness of him was known, in a private collection in Yorkshire.
The newly acquired picture was long thought to be of John Williams (1582-1650), a seventeenth-century Archbishop of York. But when it was recently consigned for sale at Christie’s the red purse of office bearing the cipher ‘HMR’ shown in the picture caused some interest.
‘HMR’ stands for ‘Henrietta Maria Regina’, or Queen Henrietta Maria, the wife of King Charles I, and the sitter would therefore have been the queen’s chancellor, a post not held by John Williams.
But Sir Thomas Savage was the queen’s chancellor from the mid-1620s until his death in 1635. Moreover, comparison with the Yorkshire portrait suggested this was indeed Savage.
The National Trust purchased this portrait at auction in April 2013 and sent it to the Hamilton Kerr Institute for conservation. Cleaning revealed the signature of the artist, Cornelius Jonson (or Cornelius Janssen van Ceulen, to give him his original Flemish name), and the date 1632.
The picture is now on display at Melford near that of Savage’s wife, Lady Elizabeth Darcy (1581-1651). Lord and Lady Savage extended and refurbished Melford Hall, but appear to have overspent. That and the sacking of the house at the start of the Civil War forced their son to sell it in 1649.