Art in the archives: portrait of the Barrett-Lennard family by Pompeo Batoni

As well as looking after the archives for Essex, the ERO is also the Corporate Custodian of Art for Essex County Council (ECC). Besides commissioning portraits of its chairmen ECC has never actively collected art, but has received a number of donations and bequests over the decades. Some of this art is displayed in ECC buildings, while other pieces are in storage at ERO.

Many pieces are viewable on the BBC Your Paintings website, and if there is something in storage that a member of the public would like to see you can make a request for it to be made available – please contact us on

The largest single collection of artwork was donated by the Barrett-Lennard family. It includes this family portrait by the Italian artist Pompeo Batoni painted in Rome in 1749/50.

Batoni portrait of Barrett-Lennard family

Portrait of Thomas and Anna Marie Barrett-Lennard with their daughter Barbara Anne by Pompeo Batoni, 1749/50

The painting has a very sad story behind it. It shows Thomas and Anna Marie Barrett-Lennard with their daughter, Barbara Anne, who had died of tuberculosis the previous year. The artist painted her likeness from a miniature by Thomas Hudson which the couple brought with them on their travels.

Barbara Anne was the couple’s only child, although Thomas had two illegitimate children with a mistress who were brought up by the couple as their own. The eldest, Thomas Fitzthomas, inherited the estate, and in 1786 he was granted the right to adopt his father’s surname and titles, becoming Thomas Barrett-Lennard (more on that here). A portrait of Thomas Jr by John Opie hangs in the ERO Searchroom.

The Barrett-Lennard family lived at the mansion of Belhus in Aveley, which they built up into one of the largest estates in Essex. During Thomas’s tenure, he remodelled the house in the gothic style and employed Capability Brown to landscape the park and gardens.

The painting was loaned for The Family in British Art, a touring exhibition that visited Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery, the Millennium Gallery in Sheffield, and the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle in 2011-12. The tour was part of the Great British Art Debate partnered with Tate Britain. It is currently stored at ERO, and is brought out for special occasions for public view. A high quality digital image is available, and anyone wishing to view the original can request for it to be brought out of storage.

Medieval Mercenary: Sir John Hawkwood

There’s not long to wait now until the forthcoming ERO Conference, The Fighting Essex Soldier: Recruitment, War and Remembrance in the Fourteenth Century.

While there will be talks on the participation of Essex men in the running of the county, the king’s wars in Scotland, France and Ireland, along with on the seas and mention of the Peasants’ Revolt, we just do not have the time to talk about those men who fought on after peace was declared.

Many of the soldiers who had fought for Edward III, perhaps over the course of many years in successive campaigns, did not necessarily find the idea of going home an attractive proposition. Skills honed on the battlefields and in the garrisons of the first part of the Hundred Years War might not be welcomed back home in Essex, while the opportunities for rape and plunder at home were much more limited than on the continent.

For those willing to take a chance and stay on in Europe there were openings for continuing to fight on in various countries, not least France and Italy. One of these men – and perhaps the most famous of them – was Sir John Hawkwood (d. 1394) of Sible Hedingham. He almost certainly took part in the wars of Edward III up to 1360 but in what capacity is unclear. Possibly he may have fought at Crécy (1346) and Poitiers (1356) but he came to prominence later as the most famous condottiere (a professional military leader or captain) in Italy of his day. Sir John is even commemorated by a fresco in Florence Cathedral.

Funerary Monument to Sir John Hawkwood by Paolo Uccello (1436)

While we do not have time for a paper on him during our day, the ERO has published a book by Dr Christopher Starr about him. This richly illustrated book places Hawkwood in an Essex context, showing his descent from villain ancestors, his network of gentry and aristocratic connections and the eventual dispersal of his accumulated estates. The intriguing history of Hawkwood’s mysterious tomb at Sible Hedingham is also uncovered for the first time.


Medieval Mercenary-1

Available in person from the ERO Searchroom for £9.99, or remotely for £13.49 (including p&p within the UK cheques made payable to ‘Essex County Council’ or by credit/debit card over the phone – 01245 244644), this is a wonderful introduction to a remarkable Essex character. Why not treat yourself to a copy?


The Fighting Essex Soldier: War Recruitment and Remembrance in the Fourteenth Century

Saturday 8 March 2014, 9.30am-4.15pm

More details here

One of our speakers, Dr Jennifer Ward, has also curated a display of fourteenth-century documents from our collections to accompany the conference which will be in the Searchroom from January-March.