Forward Dress and Textiles, Portraits: British 16th and 17th C, Portraits: British 18th C, Yorkshire, The Humber and North East England: Artists and Subjects 25 Further information sought on Nathaniel Cholmley (d.1687) and the Cholmley family

Topic: Subject or sitter

The dates given by Art UK are inconsistent with the marriage in 1683 noted in the National Inventory Research Project entry.

These dates in fact belong to the sitter's son, Hugh, who was an MP.

The UK National Archive states that Nathaniel Cholmley died in 1687.

Art UK adds:
Please find attached a sheet of information from Ferens Art Gallery and a close-up image of the letter. The collection would like to find out more about the sitter and the Cholmley family during this period. Could we find out anything about Gennari’s portrait of Nathaniel’s wife? There is a link in the attachment to Godfrey Kneller’s ‘Portrait of Mary Cholmley (166 –1748), Wife of Nathaniel Cholmley’ (Christie’s sale, 2002).

Charles Matthews, Entry reviewed by Art UK


Osmund Bullock,

I am pretty sure that the date on the letter is *not* the date of the portrait (as both the NICE entry and the Ferens Gallery's info notes suggest). To my eye it is clearly a later addition to the painting in a different hand, and reads (of the sitter) "Died April [illegible]/1687". And indeed Nathaniel Cholmley died on 20th April that year, as evidenced by both the Cholmley family bible (see and the inscription on his tomb in Whitby Church (

The same book linked above gives extensive contemporary information on the family; but other than telling us that Nathaniel was (as we might suspect) the cousin of his father-in-law Sir Hugh Cholmley, fourth and last Baronet of Whitby, it does not (at a cursory reading) mention his parentage or age. Nathaniel's will was proved on 4th May 1687, but is curiously short and contains little to help us either. The only clue therein is that his brother (and sole executor) was named John. More may be discoverable with work, but the C17th is always challenging and I don't have time at the moment. In any case, if he was born during the tumultuous 1640s (quite likely), the record of his baptism may have been lost or never made in the first place.

Osmund Bullock,

There's more detail of the family at the relevant period in Burke's Extinct & Dormant Baronetcies*; but as neither that nor BLG tells us any more about Nathaniel (d. 1687, husband of Mary and father of Hugh the MP), they don't really help. (*

There is still more to be found in Clay's 'Dugdale's Visitation of Yorkshire with Additions': Clay mentions in a footnote the unknown origins of Nathaniel our sitter; he even hints at the idea that his father-in-law Sir Hugh may have been a little credulous in accepting him as a kinsman, such was his joy at keeping his inheritance 'in the family'.

The quote from Sir Hugh's will - he was "thankful to the Almighty Providence that from the East brought me a man of my owne family and that God has blessed his marriage with such hopeful issue to keep up my name and family" - is intriguing. Whitby is about as east as you can get in England, so perhaps he was referring to the Far East. Both Nathaniel and his brother John were diamond merchants, and in the C17th that meant dealing with India - could Nathaniel have been living there, and perhaps even born overseas? North Yorks County Record Office has a big collection of Cholmley family papers, including Nathaniel and John's account and letter books, etc, 1660s-90s. They might prove informative if anyone fancies doing some serious work:

Osmund Bullock,

Oh, heavens - the Cholmley letters and account books, it seems, are well-known to those interested in the East India gem trade, and much written about. See

Nathaniel went to India in around 1665, while brother John stayed behind to handle the London end of the business. He returned home in 1682, "a rich man". It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife...and also a portrait. He managed the first in October of the year after his return; my guess is that the portraits were commissioned not long afterwards, and possibly even before. I wonder if the date of the letter from Benedetto Gennari that mentions them is known - I must seek out Christopher Wright's 2002 book; and perhaps, too, the two Italian ones also mentioned in the NICE entry.

Kieran Owens,

Volume 10 (1903) of the East Riding Antiquarian Society's "Transactions" carries a detailed account of the portraits and paintings to be found in the family's home. Alas, there is not a full view available online but perhaps other contributors to this discussion might have access to that volume in some library or other.

Osmund Bullock,

Fuller details of the Chomley tombs at Whitby and Crambe are actually given (with a great deal more contemporary info besides) at the link in my first post following the words "...inscription on his tomb in Whitby Church” (

Thank you though, Kieran and Charles, for the E. Riding A.S. list of portraits at Howsham. It does appear in other forms and other places, but this is certainly the most detailed and useful of those I've seen. The relevant part in fact begins three (double) pages later, i.e. at page 41 (as originally paginated).

Our portrait is doubtless #11 on p.42 (it was attributed to Riley until about 30 year ago). The companion work of his wife Mary, now lost, is probably #20 on the next page, also there attributed to Riley. The size seems right – it is “three-quarter length”, i.e. what was in the C17th called a half-length, or approx 50 x 40 in. Our portrait is close to that, allowing for the usual measurement issues and/or slight later reductions. In his letter** Gennari describes hers as “mez[z]a figura” (‘half figure/length’); but as a companion to her husband’s it would be the same size (both are described as seated).

I was worried for a moment by the description of the sitter as a girl; but in Oct 1683 when she married (and I believe the probable year of the portraits) Mary was only just 16, so I don’t think it’s a problem. As to her husband Nathaniel, if he went to India in 1665 he can’t have been born after the early 1640s. If we take 1640 as a feasible year, he would have been 43 at marriage. Perhaps a little older, but not much.

(**The letter extract translated reads ’...a half-length portrait of Madame Chunley [sic] seated... A companion portrait to the aforementioned of the lady’s husband in a chamber robe, seated near a small table on which are some papers and books’.)

Kieran Owens,

Many thanks, it is worth a great deal.

Kieran Owens,

On page 42 of the above mentioned "Transactions", in an extensive and detailed inventory of portraits in Howsham Hall, there is listed a portrait of Nathaniel Cholmley "of London, died 20th April 1687, having married, 16th October, 1683, Mary, only surviving child and heiress of Sir Hugh Cholmley, 4th Bart., of Whitby (No. 1). Painted by John Riley."

In the hall of the house is a "Portrait of a Girl; Mary Cholmely, only daughter and heiress of Sir Hugh Cholmley, 4th Bart., by Lady Anne Compton, his wife; born 21st September 1667, married (1) Nathaniel Cholmley, Esq., (2) Nathaniel Stephens, Esq. She dies 2nd April, 1748. By Riley." This portrait is described in a footnote as being a three-quarter length.

Nowhere on the extensive list of 105 separate portraits is there a work attributed to Benedetto Gennari the younger (1633 – 1715). Could it be that the attribution to Gennadi is incorrect and that this portrait (and the missing one of Mary Cholmley) are actually by John Riley (1646 - 1691)?

Kieran Owens,

Sorry Osmund, once again our submissions have crossed over and (once again) yours is more convincing than mine.

Kieran Owens, links to the NPG's portrait of John Cholmley, brother to Nathaniel, also originally attributed to John Riley.

A collection of portraits at Emo Court, in Emo, Co. Laois, in Ireland, which are currently undergoing restoration by the Office of Public Works, of the Cholmeley-Dering family, are also attributed to John Riley. The works were part of the family portrait collection of the late Major Cholmeley Dering Cholmeley-Harrison, who died in 2008, he having previously gifted the house and its entire contents to the Irish State in 1994.

Jacinto Regalado,

The wig and the sitter's age alone would rule out someone born in 1683, though obviously other evidence excludes that.

Osmund Bullock,

There's no question about the sitter's identity and his date of death (1687), and both the Collection and NICE are fully aware of it (as Ferens' info sheet and the NICE entry make clear) - the dates given for him are just a (puzzling) error here, and as Charles says actually belong not to Nathaniel, but to his son Hugh.

Jacinto Regalado,

Yes, Osmund, it must have been a clerical or technical error or oversight of some kind. The visual evidence given by the picture alone refutes a birth date of 1683, which is clearly too late.

Osmund Bullock,

Kieran, I'm interested in your Emo Court portraits. Major Cholmeley Dering Cholmeley-Harrison was indeed a descendant, through a number of female lines, of our family. In 1677 his distant ancestor Sir Edward Dering, 3rd Bt, married Elizabeth Cholm(e)ley, daughter and ultimate co-heiress of the second Cholmley baronet, Sir William. She was the niece of Sir Hugh Cholmley, 4th & last Baronet, and first cousin to his daughter Mary who married our sitter Nathaniel Cholmley. I'm attaching a family tree that makes all that (and other things) clearer.

It is thus very likely that the Dering family owned versions or copies of some Cholmley portraits, and they may have descended to the Major. However, I am unable to find any reference online to the Riley portraits at Emo that you mention. Do you have a link?

1 attachment
Kieran Owens,

Osmund, I have sent a message to Marion giving her the go-ahead to give you my private email address. It might be a more appropriate method of communicating on this personal matter.

John Forbes,

And for Americans who stumble over the pronunciation of this family name, “CHUM lee” seems to be the consensus. If I this is incorrect, would a native British speaker kindly chime in?

Osmund Bullock,

That's certainly how it's pronounced nowadays, John - probably the norm historically, too, but I'm not sure how consistently.

To confuse things further - and give an idea of just how tricky researching this portrait's sitter has proved - I have so far found seventeen different late 16th, 17th and 18th Century spellings of the name in just this branch of the family: Cholmely, Cholmley, Cholmly, Cholmeley, Chomely, Chomley, Chomly, Chomeley, Cholmbly, Chombly, Chamle, Chumley, Chumeley, Chumly, Cholmonley, Cholmondley, Chomondley and Chomondleigh. Meanwhile the senior (Cheshire) branch, the Marquesses of Cholmondeley, spell it differently again.

Jacinto Regalado,

According to the NPG, John Cholmley died in 1693.

Jacinto Regalado,

The vital dates currently given for the sitter in the Art UK entry are clearly wrong and can be corrected. Perhaps Osmund can provide additional biographical information. There is still some question as to whether this is by Gennari or Riley, but it seems a little too forward for the latter, whose work tended to be softer or more reticent.

Marcie Doran,

The acquisition method should be improved on Art UK and the VADS entry. Here are some background documents about the purchase of this work (on November 22, 1950).

Here is an updated link to the VADS entry.

Please support your comments with evidence or arguments.

jpg, png, pdf, doc, xls (max 6MB)
Drop your files here
Attach a file Start uploading

Sign in

By signing in you agree to the Terms & Conditions, which includes our use of cookies.