This rare image shows the young Queen Elizabeth at the start of her reign. It is one of the small group of portraits showing her in a full frontal image reflecting those used both in early official documents and in the lost portrait of her in coronation robes. She is shown in black with a prominent ermine-lined collar and holds a carnation in one hand and a book in the other, probably signifying her devotion to the Protestant faith.
She is shown with fine jewellery as befitting her status. On her right hand is a ring set with a point-cut diamond and on her left hand, a ring set with a ruby within a quartrefoil setting. Her sleeves are fastened with a set of buttons sewn with seed pearls, and the girdle is set with clusters of five pearls alternating with gems in rectangular collets which match the jewelled border of her cap - this type is frequently listed in her inventories. Her collar comprises gold links set with twin pearls alternating with gems in raised collets, and the pendant is elaborately chased with decorative motifs and set with a large point cut diamond and with a pearl hanging below.
A tree-ring analysis carried out by John Fletcher in 1978 indicated a date for the portrait in the 1560's, and Fletcher pointed out that one or possibly two of the panels in the present portrait were almost certainly from the same tree as two of the panels in the portrait of Richard Wakeman painted by Hans Eworth and dated 1566. The link with Eworth is significant as the background of the present portrait shows the Cloth of State, something which emphasised the sitter's royal status. The Cloth of State forms the background of at least four of Eworth's celebrated images of Elizabeth's sister Mary, most notably in the Society of Antiquaries portrait where it is coloured red. The inclusion of the Cloth of State in the present portrait sets it apart from all the other known early portraits of the Queen and gives it a special significance.
When Elizabeth succeeded to the throne in 1558 she was only twenty-five years old, but the difficult five preceeding years when her elder sister Mary was on the throne must have taken their toll. Mary distrusted and feared her sister, and this distrust was only encouraged by various rebellions, such as those by Wyatt, which were carried out in Elizabeth's name, and in the early years of Mary's reign she was sent to the Tower and then to Woodstock where she lived under house arrest. In view of this it is perhaps not surprising that the very earliest portraits of the new Queen such as this one do not show the confident splendour of her later portraits. However it is an important document as it is one of only a few of these early images which survive. It comes from a period when there was no pressure from the Court or the Church for the image of the Monarch to be projected to the nation or to other Monarchs and the idea that the royal portrait could be an instrument of propaganda had not yet born fruit.