Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Question from Nicole - Mary Grey's appearance

I have read that Mary Grey, Jane Grey's sister, was a hunchback. What exactly does this mean? Did she have some type of physical deformaty?

[Ed. Note: This was touched on in the thread about "The Sisters Who Would Be Queen", but I thought would be good to have it in a post of its own in case others came looking for info.]


Anonymous said...

The primary sources, written by eyewitnesses or those who either knew or saw Mary Grey Keyes, indicate that she was uncommonly small. None of her contemporaries described her explicitly as a dwarf (that I am aware of), even though dwarfism was known. That suggests that she was not considered a dwarf. One source, a biased Spanish Catholic ambassador, described her as "crook-backed" and very ugly, but without offering other specifics.

I suspect she was simply very small in stature compared to those around her. She may also have had scoliosis or kyphosis, both common curvatures of the upper spine, but that is purely speculation.

Elizabeth M. said...

There is a supposed portrait of Mary Grey with her entry on Wikipedia. I know this site is not the most accurate, to say the least. It gives the source of the picture as Worldroots. Who they are, I do not know. So the picture is suspect, but at least looking at for curiosity's sake.
The article also says she may have suffered from kyphosis, a curvature of the upper spine caused by a spinal abnormality, or because of bad posture, which PhD Historian mentioned.

Anonymous said...

The portrait seen on Wikipedia is presented in Leanda de Lisle's book on the Grey sisters, The Sisters Who Would Be Queen. The illustration credits indicate that the portrait now hangs at Chequers, where Mary Grey Keyes was imprisoned for two years and which is now the Buckinghamshire country residence of the UK's Prime Minister. The portrait was recently on public display as part of an exhibition held at Compton Verney, another country house, in nearby Warwickshire. The exhibition was scheduled to end in December 2008.

Ms de Lisle's illustration credits indicate that the painting is dated 1571, when Mary was about 26 years old. In the portrait, she appears neither obviously crook-backed nor "ugly" (at least to my eye).

The credit also indicates that the portrait was painted by Hans Eworth. Judging solely by the large full-color photograph in Ms de Lisle's book, this seems to me a questionable attribution. The rendering of the facial features is of a significantly inferior technical and artistic quality when compared to that seen in other portraits by Eworth. Compare, for example, to the two portraits of Mary Neville (Lady Dacre), the portrait of Queen Mary from ca 1555 (now in the offices of the Society of Antiquaries, London), of Mary Dudley Sidney (collection of the Earl of Egremont and Leconfield at Petworth House), or of Anne, Lady Penruddocke (collection of Hazel Czernin, Baroness Howard de Walden).

And like his predecessor Holbein, Eworth was for a time one of those artists that collectors seemed to attribute works to, even when it was fairly clear that he had not done them. I can think immediately of two life-sized portraits at Arundel Castle in the collection of the Duke of Norfolk that are labeled as Eworths but that very clearly are not.

Admittedly, the photograph suggests that the painting is in desperate need of cleaning and conservation, so my impression of the attribution may be "off" as a result. The catalogue for the Compton Verney exhibition, which should contain more information about the painting, is not available online for me to check my impression against. (Tamise, do you have a copy of the catalogue?) But I have studied Eworth's work for a number of years, and my impression for now is that this is not an actual Eworth portrait.

Elizabeth M: Thanks for your post. In responding to it, I stumbled across a tantalizing bit of info that may be useful to me in tracking down the lost portrait of Mary's sister, Jane Grey. So thank you!

Elizabeth M. said...

You are most welcome!! When is Ms. de Lisle's book due out again?

Anonymous said...

My info says January 26 in the UK, but I have also heard January 19.

Elizabeth M. said...

Then I suppose I can get it an around that time. I'm too impatient to wait until it comes out in the USA:)