11 November 2021

Elizabethan Ladies: Katheryn of Berain


Katheryn of Berain, sometimes called Mam Cymru ("mother of Wales"), or Katheryn Tudor, (her father being Tudor ap Robert Vychan). Katheryn, was a ward of Queen Elizabeth, and heiress to the Berain and Penymynydd estates in Denbighshire and Anglesey.

Her maternal grandfather Sir Roland de Velville (1474 – 25 June 1535), is said to have been a natural son of King Henry VII of England by a Breton lady, during his long exile in Brittany.

In her portrait, Katheryn of Berain clutches a prayer-book and caresses a human skull. The skull often occurs in sixteenth-century portraits; the contrast between flesh and bone reminds us of the frailty of life. She appears to be in mourning, but in fact had recently married the royal agent Richard Clough.

She is presented as a fitting wife for a wealthy merchant. Her elaborate costume, pale skin and plucked brows were highly fashionable, and the prayer-book confirms her piety.

It is thought this portrait was painted in the Northern Netherlands by the Friesian artist van Cronenburgh.

Tony Riches

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