A 350 year old facelift!

2016 marks the 350th anniversary of the death of Sir Richard Fanshawe (1608-1666).  To commemorate this occasion the Valence House Volunteer Group began the ‘Be part of the bigger picture’ campaign to raise funds towards the conservation of Sir Richard’s portrait to ensure that it survives for another 350 years.

Be Part of the bigger picture

Portrait of Sir Richard Fanshawe by William Dobson
Sir Richard Fanshawe, by William Dobson, c1644

The portrait of Sir Richard at Valence House was painted in 1644 by William Dobson , who is considered to be the greatest British born portrait painters to have lived.

Sir Richard’s portrait is full of symbolism, telling us what Sir Richard thought were his most important characteristics:  the dog symbolises his loyalty to the king; the letter in his hand represents all of his important diplomatic works; the mask at his feet shows his love of literature and the arts; and the column behind his right shoulder is a Solomonic column, symbolising his great wisdom.

The portrait of Sir Richard is in good condition.  However, whilst Sir Richard himself shines bright from the painting, the imagery in the background is obscured. For example, the image of the god Alpheus emerging from a pool and the black cloth draped over Sir Richard’s legs are not very clear.  The difference in the clarity between the background and foreground may result from deliberate actions by conservators in the past to make the figure of Sir Richard more prominent. Conservation work will reveal these obscured details.

Conservation work of the portraits at Valence House

Since 2007 Valence House Museum has undertaken an extensive programme of conservation on the Fanshawe portraits.


Portrait of Rear Admiral Charles Fanshawe
Recently conserved portrait of Rear Admiral Charles Fanshawe, by the Circle of Joseph Highmore, c1750

In 2005 a conservation analysis was undertaken which ranked the portraits by conservation need. Level 1 was assigned to those in most need of work and level 4 for those needing  little or no work.  To date, with the help of the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Friends of Valence House, all of the level-1 portraits and half of the level-2 portraits have been conserved.

As well as stabilising and restoring the portraits, we are glazing them with low-reflective, UV-filtered glass. This prevents damage to the surface of the painting and also stops the paint discolouring due to light damage.

Glazing the paintings also allows us to create a micro-climate. By sealing the painting in an air-tight enclosure, created by the frame, a stable environment is produced. This protects it from the damaging effects of pollution and from changes in temperature and humidity that can cause the painting support to warp and shrink and the painted surface to crack.

Portrait of Sir Simon Fanshawe
Recently conserved portrait of Sir Simon Fanshawe, by Sir Peter Lely, c1657

Conservation of a painting

Framed portrait of Sir Thomas Fanshawe
Recently conserved portrait of Sir Thomas Fanshawe, English School

Paintings need care to keep them looking at their best. How well a painting survives depends on the environment in which it is kept and on sensible handling, storage and display. However, even if a painting is well cared for it will experience the effects of aging and dirt accumulation.

Paintings can be damaged in many ways. The canvas might sag or become dented or could be torn or punctured. If the painting is on a wooden panel the wood might split or warp. Even if the underlying material appears sound the painted surface might have cracked and paint could have flaked and fallen off. The varnish coated over the painting could have darkened or become yellow or mould could have begin to grow. Additionally the frame, which should help protect the picture, may be in poor condition thus placing the painting at risk of physical damage.






x-ray of Thomas Fanshawe portrait
X-ray image of the portrait of Thomas Fanshawe, revealing an earlier painting of an unknown man beneath Thomas’ hands


The goal of the conservator is to stabilize the remaining original artwork and integrate any repairs in order to preserve the artist’s original intent. A conservator will undertake a technical examination and analysis of the artwork to fully understand how the painting was originally put together and how it would have originally looked. They do this by using Photographic techniques such as x-rays and by examining paint samples under microscopes.

half cleaned portrait
Portrait of Katherine half-way through cleaning demonstrating the work done to remove layers of dirt and old varnish.

Cleaning is a delicate and demanding part of painting conservation. Layers of dirt, discoloured varnish and old restorations have to be painstakingly removed.

Structural work might also be necessary if the canvas or wooden panels that support the paint surface need strengthening or have been damaged.







The real Sir Richard

Richard was a man of noble character and great learning, being a poet and translator.

His first appointment, in 1635, was as a secretary in the British Embassy in Madrid.  In 1640 he was in Ireland as Secretary to the Council of War, until he succeeded his eldest brother Thomas as Remembrancer of the Exchequer on 5th August 1642. He was Secretary of War at Oxford to the Prince of Wales at the start of the Civil War in 1643.

On 18th May 1644 he married fellow Royalist Ann Harrison, and they had 14 children.  All but five of their children died in infancy.

Sir Richard gave all he had to the Royalist cause, suffering great hardships. As compensation for his losses, Richard was created a Baronet in 1651. The following year he was captured after the Battle of Worcester and imprisoned by the Parliamentary Government. He was released after Cromwell’s death in 1658 and joined Prince Charles in Paris, France, where he was appointed Master of Requests and Secretary of the Latin Tongue.

He was entrusted with the mission to Portugal to obtain the hand of Princess Catherine of Braganza for King Charles II and was one of the reception party for Catherine at Portsmouth in May 1662. Two years after the Royal marriage, Richard was appointed Ambassador to Portugal and later to Spain.

It was in Spain that Richard died of a fever in 1666 and was succeeded by his ten-month old son Richard. His wife Ann brought his body back to England for burial.

Sir Richards’ travels

Paris, France – Sir Richard travelled aboard for the first time in 1632, he was 24 and joined his Smythe first cousins in Paris. He stayed a year improving his French and learning the manners and culture of the country.  He stayed no further length of time in France until 1650 when he visited the widow of King Charles I, Queen Henrietta Maria in exile at the French Royal Court. He carried messages from her son, Charles II seeking her help to raise funds to support his campaign to reclaim his throne. Travelling by sea from Northern Spain, Sir Richard landed at Nantes, in the west of France and then travelled through the Loire Valley to reach Paris.  After the death of Oliver Cromwell, Sir Richard and his family travelled to Paris in November 1669 to join King Charles II in Paris planning for his return to England.

Oxford, England – In 1643 the Republicans took control of London, leading King Charles I to take refuge within the walled city of Oxford. Sir Richard Fanshawe was among the many Royalists who joined him there, and he remained until 1645.  This was a significant period in his diplomatic career for in the Spring of 1644 he was appointed Secretary for War to Prince of Wales. Whilst at Oxford he came to know Ann Harrison and they were married at Wolvercote Church, close to Oxford in May 1644.

The west of England – Early in 1645 Oxford became unsafe for the King. Forced to run, he entrusted the safety of the 14 year old Prince of Wales with Sir Richard Fanshawe. Pursued by the Parliamentarians, they too left Oxford and travelled throughout the West Country seeking refuge in Bristol, Barnstaple, Truro, Dartmouth and Launceston. The arrived at Pendennis Castle by the end of the year and sailed from Land’s End to the Scilly Isles in February 1646.

The Channel Islands – A very stormy sea crossing in February 1646 brought Sir Richard Fanshawe and his family to the Scilly Isles as they accompanied the young Prince of Wales into exile. After a month they sailed to the Isle of Jersey, remaining until 23 June when Sir Richard and the Prince sailed across to the safety of France, landing at Coutainville in Normandy.  His duty done, Sir Richard returned to Jersey to accompany his wife by sea to Caen in Normandy where they joined his brother and other exiled members of the Fanshawe family. They left in 1647, return via Jersey to collect their infant daughter and travelled back to London where Sir Richard made his plea, under the arrangements of composition permitted by the Republicans.

Spain – In 1633 Sir Richard Fanshawe travelled from Paris to Madrid. Fascinated by the Spanish language and literature, he became immersed in Spanish society and cultural life and stayed almost two years. His maturing style and charm became noted as suited to a diplomatic career so that when he returned to London in 1635 he was soon appointed Secretary of the Embassy to Lord Aston the English Ambassador in Madrid. Lord Aston was recalled in 1637 but Sir Richard remained until 1638 as Interim Agent at the Court of Spain until the next ambassador was appointed.  The Civil War denied Sir Richard further opportunities to travel to Spain until 1650 when he sailed from Galway in Ireland and landed at Malaga on the southern Spanish coast. He travelled the long route overland to Madrid with instructions from King Charles II to seek monetary support for the Royalists from King Philip IV, the Spanish King.  It was until 1664 that Sir Richard travelled to Spain again but he travelled with great pomp and ceremony as Charles II’s Ambassador to Spain and travelling via Portsmouth, Torbay and Cadiz he arrived in Madrid on April 30th 1664. Despite a difficult mission he was greatly honoured in the Spanish court but sadly, in June 1666 he died suddenly in Madrid and his final journey was one of repatriation. His wife and diplomatic household brought his body on a long and arduous journey by land and sea and arrived at the Port of London in November 1666.  

Ireland – In 1639 Sir Richard Fanshawe was appointed Secretary of the Council of War for Ireland under the Earl of Strafford and elected MP for Ballyankill in the Irish Parliament. He returned to London in 1641 and succeeded to the position of King’s Remembrancer. In 1648 he was appointed Treasurer at War to the Fleet, and travelling to Cork he joined the Duke of Ormonde, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and continuous and dangerous journeys took them to Kinsale, Limerick and Galway until the end of 1649.

The Netherlands –  In 1648, Sir Richard Fanshawe was entrusted by King Charles I to deliver personal messages to the Prince of Wales in exile in Holland. After the King’s execution in January 1649 he again went to Holland and at the Hague he gave the King’s last messages to his son.  In 1651, Sir Richard travelled from Paris to Holland to meet King Charles II and crossed to Scotland with him and his entourage.  Early in 1660 Charles II was in Breda, Holland where the new royal court began to form as he prepared to return to England and the Restoration. Sir Richard in Paris, travelled via Ghent and Bruges in January 1660 and arriving at Breda he was appointed Latin Secretary & Master of Requests and created a baronet.  A flotilla of ships left The Hague to cross to Dover and King Charles II landed on 23 May 1660, reclaiming his father’s kingdom, aboard the King’s ship was Sir Richard Fanshawe.

Portugal – In 1661, The Latin Secretary, Sir Richard Fanshawe travelled as the King’s Envoy to the Royal Court of Lisbon. His courtly charm and fluency in Portuguese were employed to effect a marriage contract between the King and Catherine of Braganza. Successfully completed the marriage took place at Portsmouth in May 1662 and Sir Richard and Lady Ann were present to welcome the new Queen.  Later that year they sailed into the Port of Belam Lisbon for Sir Richard had been appointed the new Ambassador for Portugal. They returned September 1663, arriving at the port of Deal from Lisbon and shortly after he was sworn in as a Privy Councillor.

Scotland, the north and the English shires – During his long diplomatic career and Royalist service, Sir Richard Fanshawe maintained an exhausting pace requiring robust health. There are many places that he is recorded as visiting but living through a dangerous and clandestine period, there might well be many more: 1651 – Dundee, Perth, Stirling – Charles II was crowned in Scotland on 1st January and in February, Sir Richard joined him to travel South with the Scots Army; 1651 – Sir Richard fought at the Battle of Worcester and when captured was brought to London and held in custody at Whitehall. He was released on 28th November and held under ‘house arrest’ for the remaining period of the Protectorate; 1652 to 1658 he was only allowed to live at designated residences that included family homes in Hertfordshire, Yorkshire, Huntingdonshire, London & Ware – in this period he produced his best poetic work, particularly at Tankersley House leased from the Earl of Strafford; 1658 – Immediately after the death of Oliver Cromwell, Sir Richard Fanshawe was granted a pass and travelled to join King Charles II abroad.