In 2022, Parliament marked the Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. Here we explore artworks from the Parliamentary Art Collection depicting queens throughout British history.
Queen Elizabeth II reigned for 70 years, longer than any other British monarch. Here, we explore over 450 years of Queens in Parliament recorded through the Parliamentary Art Collection.
Within Charles Barry’s gothic Palace, and in many spaces traditionally only occupied by men until the 20th century, portraits, statues and representations of queens dominate the iconography of British royal history. From the Elizabethan to the Victorian age and beyond, queens play an important role in the visual representation of British history in the Palace of Westminster.
Mary I reigned as the first Queen of England from 1553 – 1558, inheriting a divided nation from her father Henry VIII. The political and religious turmoil following the break from Rome during the English Reformation continued into Mary I’s reign as she overturned the religious hierarchy set in place by her father. The legacy of the persecution of Protestants under Mary I was immortalised through her nickname ‘Bloody Mary’.
Richard Burchett’s portrait of Mary I forms part of a series of Tudor portraits which line the walls of the Princes’ Chamber in the House of Lords. The portraits were designed and overseen by Burchett and created by his students at the Government School of Design – later the Royal College of Art.
Portraits from this series were carefully compiled from contemporary representations of the sitters to ensure the authenticity of their likeness. This portrait of Mary I is most likely copied from a painting by Hans Eworth in the collection of the Society of Antiquaries of London.
Elizabeth I became the second of Henry VIII’s daughters to succeed to the throne of England. She took the throne in 1558 and reigned until 1603. Unlike her sister Mary I, Elizabeth I steered the crown and country back towards the ideals of the Reformation. At home, arts and culture flourished against a background of early colonialization of lands and peoples. During her reign Elizabeth I defied both Parliament and wider public expectation by refusing to marry and cultivated her image as the Virgin Queen.
This 1911 mural by Solomon J Solomon shows the moment in Parliament when Elizabeth I refused Members’ requests for her to marry. In response to a petition asking the queen to take a husband, Elizabeth I reportedly held her coronation ring and responded ‘With this ring I was wedded to the nation.’ The painting which hangs on Committee Stairs, leading from the House of Commons to Committee Corridor, contains the portraits of many contemporary figures including Henry Asquith, then Prime Minister.
Mary, Queen of Scots
Mary Stuart was crowned Queen of Scotland in 1542 and reigned until her abdication in 1567. Her reign was dominated by the dramatic rivalry with her cousin Elizabeth I and political intrigue, which ultimately lead to her execution at the order of Elizabeth I in 1587.
Mary, Queen of Scots is pictured not once, but three times in the artistic scheme of the House of Lords’ Princes’ Chamber. As well as a portrait by Richard Burchett there are two carvings depicting scenes from her life. This carving shows a particularly dramatic moment , illustrating Mary’s escape from Loch Leven Castle on 2 May 1568, where she had been imprisoned for almost 11 months following her forced abdication from the throne.
Mary II succeeded the throne with her husband William III in 1689 during the ‘Glorious Revolution’ which saw the removal of Catholic James II in favour of his Protestant daughter. She reigned until her death in 1694 and her husband continued until 1702, at which point Mary’s sister Anne succeeded to the throne.
This mural by Charles West Cope depicts the Lords and Commons Presenting the Crown to William and Mary in the Banqueting House. This painting, which was one of the decorative schemes to be commissioned by the Fine Arts Commission for the new Palace of Westminster, captures a key moment in British history.
Queen Anne was the last of the Stuart monarchs, reigning from 1702 – 1714. The end of one era marked the beginning of another with the passing of the Act of Union in 1707, which merged England and Scotland into the United Kingdom of Great Britain.
Sir Walter Thomas Monnington’s painting shows Queen Anne – enthroned and surrounded by her court at St James’ Palace – presented with the Articles of Union. The picture forms part of ‘The Building of Britain’ series in St Stephen’s Hall, one of eight works which capture key moments in British history. The scenes in this series were selected in 1925 and completed in 1927.
When Queen Victoria was crowned in 1837 she began what was to become a 63-year reign which saw huge social, political and cultural change in the UK and beyond as Britain continued to expand and control the British Empire. Following the fire of 1834, which destroyed the old Palace of Westminster, Queen Victoria became the first monarch to open Parliament in Charles Barry’s new gothic Palace.
Representations of Queen Victoria were central to the decorative schemes of the Palace. They are integrated widely into the fabric of the building and the works of art collection. Crowning these representations is John Gibson’s monumental statue which dominates the Prince’s Chamber in the House of Lords. Queen Victoria is shown enthroned wearing crown and robes and supported by the figures of Justice and Clemency.
Queen Elizabeth II attended her first State Opening of Parliament in November 1952 following her succession. During her 70-year reign as Queen of Britain and Head of the Commonwealth, she saw 18 general elections and 15 different Prime Ministers. Parliament marked many milestones under Elizabeth II including her Silver (1977), Gold (2002) and Diamond (2012) Jubilees. To mark these milestones Parliament presented gifts to the monarch which include the Jubilee Window in Westminster Hall (2012) and the Jubilee Fountain in New Palace Yard (1977).
The bust of Elizabeth II by sculptor Oscar Nemon was unveiled in 2009 and is on permanent display in the Robing Room in the House of Lords. The bust is cast from an original plaster made in the 1960s during sittings with the Queen when Oscar Nemon had a studio in St James’s Palace. It shows the Queen wearing the Imperial Crown of State.
Read about how Parliament has played a role in determining the inheritance and succession of female monarchs for 513 years, from the reign of Henry VIII to Queen Elizabeth II, and the often dramatic circumstances surrounding this.