Prince Edward (1537-1553) was the son King Henry VIII had longed for, and his birth in 1537 was greeted with great rejoicing. The little boy’s mother, Jane Seymour, was Henry VIII’s third wife. She died soon after Edward’s birth and the prince was given a separate household from the age of two. This portrait was painted when he was only five years old and depicts him as a small but commanding figure. Edward is shown as a miniature version of his father, in the same full frontal, assertive and challenging pose in which King Henry was usually painted. It suggests that despite his young age he will be a worthy successor, reassuring viewers that the future of the Tudor dynasty is secure.
Edward is wearing a red doublet with gold thread and a black feathered cap. This outfit matches that mentioned an inventory of the Wardrobe of the Robes made in July 1600, which records the ‘Robes late Kinge Edwarde the vjth’, listing ‘one Dublet of Crimson Satten allover embroidered with venice gold cut and pulled out with the tincell Sarceonet…’. Also listed are a number of different types of buttons and gold aglets (paired pins), and in this portrait gold aglets can been seen holding together the slashes in Edward’s embroidered undersleeves, finishing his collar and decorating his cap.
The German painter Hans Holbein the Younger first came to London in 1526. He became court painter to Henry VIII and is responsible for creating the iconic, broad shouldered image of the King. Holbein also produced portrait paintings and drawings of the members of the Tudor court, including several studies from life of the young Prince Edward, which remain in the Royal Collection today. One of these rapidly sketched ‘face patterns’ closely resembles the depiction of Edward in this portrait (RCIN 912201), but it is not clear whether this portrait, which was painted by a follower of Holbein, is based on the drawing or a painting.
Follower of Hans Holbein the Younger Edward, Prince of Wales, later Edward VI About 1542 © Compton Verney