Archive News: Mystery Lady May Be Queen

Mystery Lady May Be Queen
© Herald Sun
October 22, 1998

DNA tests by Melbourne scientists on a tiny tuft of red hair could unlock the secret of a 450 year old painting believed to be of Queen Elizabeth I, when she was nine. Geneticists at Monash University are analysing the hair, plucked from the original frame of the historic 1542 painting ‘Portrait of a Lady’, by renowned 16th century artist Hans Holbein. If the tests prove the hair is from a woman it could help confirm the identity of the woman in the picture as the young Princess Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII and future Queen of England.

The news coincides with the release of a major film on the life of the Tudor monarch, Elizabeth, starring Cate Blanchett.

It was Melbourne art historian and researcher Graeme Cameron who found the tiny strand of hair wedged in a crack in the painting’s elaborate original frame. “I went to brush it off but something made me stop and look at it a bit more closely” he said.

Mr Cameron was struck by the hairs age and the fact it was red – the colour of the then Princess Elizabeth’s hair. He said it was possible the hair could have come form either King Henry VIII himself or the artist Holbein, both of whom had red hair. “The hairs are quite ancient and shrivelled” he said. “Whoever it came from, it’s just amazing to think that it could have been there for that long”.

Mr Cameron who has been researching the painting for 20 years said the portrait had immense historical significance. “The Holbein portrait is an historical icon in its own right and represents the earliest image of Elizabeth I in existence” he said.

“It was potentially going to play a vital role in the politics of the day as a marriage portrait to secure an alliance between the English House of Tudor and the Scottish throne”.

Mr Cameron believes the artist painted the young Elizabeth to look much more mature and wiser than her years to increase her attractiveness to her potential suitor. The painting was sent to Scotland with Sir Lionel Duckett, one of the King’s advisers, but failed to win an alliance. It remained in the Duckett family for 300 years, largely forgotten until it was found in a private collection in 1952. The portrait is now owned by a private trust on the Isle of Man and is being restored.

Mr Cameron said the DNA test is just one of a battery of scientific tests being used to add further proof of the painting’s identity. If the DNA analysis reveals the hair to be female, he hopes to compare the genetic code with DNA samples from descendants of the Tudors.

Thanks to Jodie for snail-mailing this to me from down under!

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