Sir Henry Wotton (1568-1639) diplomat and writer

British 17th century unknown

Oil on canvas

c.1630-1650
  • About the work

    English author, diplomat and politician, Sir Henry Wotton, is depicted at a table, resting his head against his hand and looking directly at the viewer. On the table is an inkstand with two quills and a letter, which is addressed ‘To Sr. Henry Wotton Provost of Eaton Colledg [sic]’.

    This portrait by an unknown artist relates to two other portraits at Eton College and the National Portrait Gallery, painted in about 1630. However, these versions do not include the letter and inkstand. At Kingston Lacy in Dorset, there is also a miniature copy of the Eton version by Henry Bone (1755–1834). Bone’s preparatory drawing for the work is in the National Portrait Gallery.

    Henry Wotton was born in 1568 at Boughton Hall in Kent. Intent on a diplomatic career, he studied law at Heidelberg in Germany and in Vienna, Austria. In 1594, he became an agent and secretary to Robert Devereux, second Earl of Essex (1565–1601). Essex employed Wotton to provide intelligence information using a network of informants in Siena, Florence, Heidelberg, Basel, Vienna, Prague, Utrecht and The Hague. However, in 1600, after learning of Elizabeth I’s displeasure with the Earl of Essex, Wotton left his employment. 

    Wotton also carried out a secret and successful mission to Scotland to warn James VI of a plot to poison him. Wotton spent nearly 20 years in Venice as James I’s ambassador. Yet, in 1661, Wotton reportedly attacked James I, when he facetiously wrote: ‘An ambassador is an honest man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country’. 

  • About the artist

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  • Details
    Title
    Sir Henry Wotton (1568-1639) diplomat and writer
    Date
    c.1630-1650
    Medium
    Oil on canvas
    Dimensions
    height: 76.00 cm, width: 63.50 cm
    Acquisition
    Purchased from Squadron Leader Wheeler, April 1961
    Inscription
    bottom right on letter: To / Sr. Henry Wotton / Provost of Eaton [sic] / Colledg [sic]
    Provenance
    Collection of Squadron Leader T. Wheeler of 108 Grove End Gardens, London, NW8; from whom purchased by the Ministry of Works in 1961
    GAC number
    5469