The Ashbourne Portrait:
Why It's Not the Earl of Oxford


The so-called Ashbourne portrait, now in the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, has been a favorite topic for Oxfordian conspiracy theories. In this post from humanities.lit.authors.shakespeare, I discuss the portrait and why it does not support the claims some Oxfordians make for it.

Scriblerus wrote:

I guess you fellows must be the guys to ask ...

On the dust jacket of Andrew Field's egregious novel The Lost Chronicles of Edward de Vere (1991) appears a portrait which the publisher's blurb maintains is a likeness of Shakespeare, now in the Folger Collection,

You're talking about the Ashbourne Portrait.
and that X-ray photographs reveal it to be a painted-over portrait of Oxford, and that the ring the subject is wearing carries Oxford's emblem of a boar ... is this the truth?
How indisputable is either image (Shakespeare's or Oxford's)? Etc etc ...
In 1940, Charles Wisner Barrell, an Oxfordian, had X-rays made of the Ashbourne Portrait, which revealed that the painting had been altered at some point in the past to look more like Shakespeare (in particular, the hairline had been pushed back to make the subject bald). Barrell claimed that the original portrait had been of the Earl of Oxford; he claimed that a coat of arms visible in his X-ray photos was that of the Earl's second wife, and that the subject's ring depicted a boar, one of the Earl's symbols. He also found initials which he interpreted as "C.K.," which he in turn interpreted as referring to Cornelius Ketel, who painted one of the two known portraits of Edward de Vere. Barrell published his findings in Scientific American and got quite a bit of media attention.

However, in 1979 the painting undewent a restoration in preparation for a Folger exhibition. Some of the paint was removed, and it turned out that the coat of arms in the painting was not that of Oxford's second wife at all, but that of Sir Hugh Hamersley, a prominent member of the Haberdasher's Company and onetime Lord Mayor of London. Also, the painting contains the age of the sitter (47 years old) and the date (1611), which fits Shakespeare; however, the restoration revealed that the last "1" in the date had been altered from a 2." Hugh Hamersley, it turns out, was born in 1565 (one year after Shakespeare), and thus was 47 years old in 1612. It is now universally accepted, even by most Oxfordians (except for a few extreme militants) that the original portrait was of Hugh Hamersley and had nothing to do with the Earl of Oxford. Details of all this can be found in an article by William L. Pressley in Shakespeare Quarterly, 1993, pp. 54-72, called "The Ashbourne Portrait of Shakespeare: Through the Looking Glass."

I have never been an adherent of the "Oxford is Shakespeare" faction, having little interest in the authorship debate, but if this claim is authentic it gives one pause, does it not?
It does not. Not unless you believe Hugh Hamersley wrote the works of Shakespeare, that is. This is one of the many persistent Oxfordian myths which never seems to die, no matter how many times it's conclusively debunked.

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