By George Vertue in Description of Four Ancient Paintings, being Historial Portraitures of Royal Branches of the Crown of England, 1740, plate IX (published by the Society of Antiquaries in 1776).
Vertue first encountered the painting that served as inspiration for the present composition in October 1737, when Edward Harley, 2nd Earl of Oxford, took him to Coleshill, the Warwickshire seat of William, 5th Lord Digby. There Vertue recorded seeing the painting of The Royal Progress of Queen Elizabeth I. The owner of the painting, Lord Digby, thought it recorded 'Queen Elizabeth doing Honour to a Young married Couple,' but did not know who was involved, where it recorded or when it took place. The following year, it was arranged that the painting be taken to London for Vertue to copy and carry out necessary research with the help of fellow antiquarians and historians. Vertue’s ingenious explanation was that the painting was by Marcus Gheeraerdts the Younger and that it depicted a visit by Queen Elizabeth to her cousin Lord Hunsdon at his house in Hertfordshire, as also described at the end of his inscription on the work. Vertue also identified some of the groups of figures in the composition, although some of these identifications are now thought to be incorrect. Vertue’s detailed description of the painting was incorporated into his manuscript Description of Four Ancient Paintings, being Historical Portraitures of Royal Branches of the Crown of England, which was published in 1740 (although the reproductive plate of the present image is dated 1742). The manuscript is dedicated to Lord Oxford and dated Decembr 20/1739/GV and the printed text December 20, 1740. Lord Oxford was so pleased with Vertue's copy of his painting that according to Horace Walpole, he sent Vertue and his wife 'about sixty ounces of plate'.
Since the 18th century, further research has been undertaken on the author and subject matter of the original painting, which has descended in Lord Digby's family to John Wingfield-Digby Esq. at Sherborne Castle, Dorset. It is now thought to be by Robert Peake and depict Elizabeth carried in triumph and surrounded by her courtiers, the principal figure in the foreground being Edward Somerset, 4th Earl of Worcester, who became Master of the Horse in 1601. The gentleman immediately behind him is possibly his son Thomas, later Lord Cashel, and the gentleman in white is his eldest son, Lord Herbert. The bearer of the Sword of State is Gilbert Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury.1
1 For a full discussion of the iconography of the painting see Sir Roy Strong, Gloriana, The Portraits of Queen Elizabeth I, 1987, pp. 152-55.
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