Queen Elizabeth I

(1533 – 1603)

Known as the “Ditchley portrait,” this painting was produced for Sir Henry Lee (1533–1611), who had served as Elizabeth I’s champion from 1559 to 1590. It probably commemorates an elaborate symbolic entertainment that Lee organized for the Queen in September 1592, held on the grounds of Lee's house at Ditchley, near Oxford, or at the nearby palace at Woodstock. After his retirement in 1590, Lee lived at Ditchley with his mistress, Anne Vavasour. The entertainment marked the Queen's forgiveness of Lee for becoming a ”stranger lady's thrall.”

The portrait shows Elizabeth standing on a map of England, with her feet on Oxfordshire. The stormy sky—the clouds parting to reveal sunshine—and the inscriptions on the painting make it plain that the portrait's symbolic theme is forgiveness. The three fragmentary Latin inscriptions can be interpreted as: ”She gives and does not expect” (left); ”She can but does not take revenge” (right); and ”In giving back she increases (?)” (bottom right). The sonnet (right) was possibly composed by Lee. Its subject is the sun, symbol of the monarch.

(“The Ditchley Portrait”)
By Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger (1561/2 – 1636)
Oil on canvas, circa 1592
National Portrait Gallery, London
© National Portrait Gallery, London