Success in search for Melford Hall’s long-lost owner

Melford Hall in Suffolk has finally unearthed a portrait of its long-lost owner – largely thanks to a mysterious little red bag.

Thomas Savage by Cornelius Johnson (detail) 1- Photo (C) Amy Howe-NTSir Thomas Savage, 1st Viscount Savage, who inherited Melford Hall in 1602 and is an ancestor of Princes William and Harry, has for a long time been conspicuous by his absence from the walls of the grand house. That was because there was only one known likeness of him, held in a private collection in Yorkshire.

Now that is all set to change after experts discovered a painting, thought for 200 years to be a 17th century Archbishop of York, which is in fact of Savage.

We asked Wendy Monkhouse, National Trust curator for Melford Hall, to explain…


Sir Thomas Savage was an influential man and held the important post of Chancellor to Queen Henrietta Maria, the wife of King Charles I. Whoever held this post was painted with a richly-embroidered red purse of office, bearing the cipher ‘HMR’ for Henrietta Maria Regina.

When a painting arrived for auction at Christie’s listed as John Williams, a 17th century Archbishop of York, it caused some interest because it showed him sitting with the little red purse of office. Williams had never held the post and further research by Christie’s unearthed the truth – that it was not Williams in the picture after all, but Savage.

Savage was Chancellor to the Queen from the mid-1620s until his death in 1635. Comparison with the painting in Yorkshire strongly suggested this was the same man.

Thomas Savage by Cornelius Johnson (detail) 2- Photo (C) Amy Howe-NT

Thomas Savage by Cornelius Johnson (detail) 4- Photo (C) Amy Howe-NTThomas Savage by Cornelius Johnson (detail) 5- Photo (C) Amy Howe-NT


The National Trust acquired the painting at auction and immediately sent it off for conservation work at the Hamilton Kerr Institute in Cambridge. While there, the hidden signature of Cornelius Johnson, a London painter from a Flemish/German immigrant family, was discovered beneath heavily darkened varnish. Alongside it was the date 1632. This identified both the painter, which had only been suspected, and confirmed the painting dated to when Savage held the office of Chancellor to the Queen.

So, largely thanks to the clues offered up by a mysterious little red bag, a portrait of Sir Thomas Savage will finally take its place on the walls of Melford Hall. The painting of Savage will hang alongside that of his wife, Elizabeth, reunited at last. Their descendants include Princess Diana, Princes William and Harry, Camilla Duchess of Cornwall, Sarah Ferguson, the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson, the scientist Sir Francis Galton, Bertrand Russell and Lord Lucan.

Sir Thomas Savage by Cornelius Johnson- Photo copyright Amy Howe-NT

Photo credits: Amy Howe

Luke Potter, National Trust General Manager at Melford Hall, added:

“To finally have a painting of Sir Thomas Savage hanging on the walls will be wonderful. It will complete our collection and brings a long search to a close. Our volunteers have been looking for paintings of Savage for many years and have worked very hard, visiting the only known likeness in Yorkshire. We are all delighted to have found a painting of him and to have secured it forever for the nation.”

The painting will be on public display when the hall reopens on Wednesday 2 April.

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