Attributed to John Bettes the Elder, active c. 1531–1570
Portrait of Sir John Gage 1479 – 1556
oil on canvas
107 x 86 cm.


wearing a brown doublet white ruff and lace sleeves, holding his gloves


a descendent of the Gage Family


Sir John Gage, (1479–1556), military administrator and courtier, was born on 28 October 1479 at Burstow, Surrey, the only son of William Gage of Burstow (d. 1497) and Agnes (d. 1501), daughter of Bartholomew Bolney, of Bolney, Sussex. He was baptized the same day at St Michael's Church, Burstow. The Gages later transferred their residence to Firle, near Lewes. The tradition that after his father's death John became a ward of the third duke of Buckingham, based on recollections of a son, seems to have no basis, and in 1499 his wardship was acquired by Robert Tate, alderman of London. By a contract dated 14 April 1502 he was married to Philippa, daughter of Sir Richard Guildford of Cranbrook, Kent, comptroller of the royal household; she predeceased him.

It was probably through the patronage of Guildford that Gage entered the royal household as esquire of the body during the lifetime of Henry VII and continued in that post under Henry VIII. In local affairs he served as justice of the peace for Sussex from 1514 and for Surrey from 1528 and on various other local commissions. His first major post came some time before 1522, by which time he had been appointed deputy to Sir Nicholas Vaux, captain of Guînes in the Calais pale. It seems that Vaux wished to replace him, and Sir William Sandys, treasurer of Calais and an early patron, pressed hard for a new office, repeatedly praising Gage's 'wisdom, personage and hardiness' and adding that he 'has done the king good service' (LP Henry VIII, vol. 3, pt 2, nos. 2222, 2326, 2413). On 17 August 1522 Gage was granted the survivorship of the office of comptroller of Calais during the infirmity of Sir Robert Wotton, and he succeeded him in 1524. He plainly gained experience in the French wars of 1512–13 and 1522–5 and by 1525 was a knight.

In April 1526 Gage exchanged his post of comptroller of Calais for that of vice-chamberlain of the household when his patron Sandys became lord chamberlain. In 1529 he was elected to parliament for Sussex (sitting in all the subsequent Henrician parliaments), and in April 1530 wrote to Cromwell from Windsor about Wolsey's ostentatious journey to the north, advising it would be wise for him to 'in godde avatte vatte vordeys passeys hyme' (LP Henry VIII, vol. 4, pt 3, no. 6335). In 1529–30 he received grants of wardship, portions of Wolsey's property, a manor in Lincolnshire, and the deer park at Burstow from Archbishop Warham. Appointed commissioner to survey the lands of Calais in 1532, in December he went north on important royal business, staying until the spring of 1533.

Thus far Gage's rise, if slow, had been smooth and successful, but it seems the impending royal divorce caused problems. Gage was conventionally pious, but had signed the petition for divorce to the pope in July 1530, and was at Cranmer's court at Dunstable on 12 May 1533. In August, though, he left the court. His friend Sir William Fitzwilliam (alongside whom he had fought when the latter was captain of Guînes in 1524) reported that 'Master vice-chamberlain departed from the king in such sort as I am sorry to hear; the king licensed him to depart hence, and so took leave of him, the water standing in his eyes' (LP Henry VIII, vol. 6, no. 965), adding, in a letter asking Cromwell to intervene, that though he was a man 'more ready to serve God than the world … there is so much honesty in him that I dare warrant that, next God, he loves the king above all things' (LP Henry VIII, vol. 6, no. 966). Chapuys reported in January 1534 that Gage, 'who is of the Council, and one of the wisest and most experienced in war of the whole kingdom has renounced his office and gone to the Charterhouse intending, with the consent of his wife, to become a Carthusian' (LP Henry VIII, vol. 7, no. 14). Indeed he did write from the Sheen Charterhouse in December (probably 1534) on court matters to his son James (a member of the household, first in the pitcher house, then as clerk of the green cloth, and master of the household by 1540).

The deaths of Katherine and of Anne Boleyn may have resolved any conflict of loyalties; Gage was summoned to the council in the crisis of July 1536 and attended both the baptism of Prince Edward and the funeral of Jane Seymour in 1537. He had been appointed to the commission for the survey of church tenths in Sussex in January 1535, played a part in the dissolution of Battle Abbey, and accepted extensive grants from its lands (he was to be a great dealer in church lands). In 1537–8 he was active in the arrest in Sussex of dissidents and examinations for the Exeter conspiracy trials, and in 1539 in the organization of coastal defence. It is therefore incorrect to suppose that he remained aloof because of the king's religious policies. Cromwell had made a note to 'remember Sir John Gage to the King' in October 1533 (LP Henry VIII, vol. 6, no. 1371) and in May 1536, while Fitzwilliam had appealed to the 'old friendship' between them in 1533 (LP Henry VIII, vol. 6, no. 965). There is ample evidence of extensive business dealings between them in 1529–30. Their religious leanings, though, could not have been more divergent, and in 1540 Gage was drawn into the complex manoeuvres surrounding the minister's fall, appointed with the earl of Sussex to the investigative commission at Calais. However, by the time they returned in July Cromwell had been executed, and Gage the following year received the grant of some of Cromwell's offices and lands in Sussex.

As a religious conservative, Gage was more than ever in favour; in October 1540 he succeeded Kingston as comptroller of the royal household and constable of the Tower and was sworn of the privy council. In May 1541 he was installed KG. He was now at the centre of power, involved for instance in the arrest and execution of Katherine Howard. In October 1542 Fitzwilliam died at Newcastle during preparations for an attack on Scotland. Hertford was sent north to replace him, accompanied by Gage in order to assure the loyalty of Fitzwilliam's men, 'being a dere freende and allyance to the said lord Privy seale' and designated to succeed to the chancellorship of the duchy of Lancaster (Bain, 1.272). Gage's main task was the supply of the army. In the following year he formed part of the commission to negotiate the marriage of Prince Edward to the infant Mary Stuart and signed the treaty of Greenwich in July. Above all, in 1544 he played a pivotal role in the organization of transport and supplies for the army for the invasion of France, his presence on the expedition being specifically requested by Suffolk. He had already been organizing supplies through his contacts in the Low Countries and left in June to complete arrangements. His role both in the siege of Boulogne and in diplomatic negotiations was prominent, and after the fall of the town, and until the king's death, he was preoccupied with the maintenance of the English military establishment at Calais and Boulogne. In 1544 he became a knight-banneret.

Henry VIII appointed Gage a councillor for Edward VI, but though he knew Somerset well during the late Henrician wars, their religious views diverged. In June 1547 Gage was ousted from his council position and his offices as comptroller and chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster. He sided with Warwick in the crisis of 1549, signed the council letter declaring Somerset's treason, and resumed his role as co-ordinator of military supplies for Calais. However, though his wife and Warwick's were related, he had little sympathy with the new head of the council and attended only infrequently in 1551 and never in 1552–3, supposedly being too ill to attend the Garter chapter in April 1553. He refused to side with Northumberland's attempt in July to set up Jane Grey as queen (thus being suspended as constable), and he received the duke a prisoner into the Tower. Restored as constable of the Tower by Mary I, he was created lord chamberlain of the household. He welcomed the return of Catholicism and took part as captain of the guard in the resistance to the Wyatt rebellion; as related by Edward Underhill, at Charing Cross 'old Gage fell downe in the durte, and was foul arrayed … and … came in amoungst us alle durt, and so fryghted that he coulde not speke to us' (Nichols, Narratives, 165–7). Train-bearer at Mary's marriage to Philip of Spain, Gage supported Gardiner in council politics during this period. As constable he received Princess Elizabeth into the Tower and was thought to have treated her severely 'more for love of the pope than for hate of her person' (Heylyn, 2.259).

Gage died at his Sussex house of Firle Place on 18 April 1556 and was buried on 25 April beside his wife at West Firle church. His income (estimated for the subsidy in 1527 at £73 6s. 8d.) then stood at £309 p.a., derived, apart from his offices, from the profits of livestock rearing and timber production (his contacts with merchants such as the Johnson brothers were close, and he was a founder member of the Russia Company). He had built up extensive holdings in Sussex and Surrey and owned a house in Southwark, where he was king's steward by 1542. He left four sons, Edward (d. 1567), James (the household official), Robert (c.1518–1587), and William, and four daughters. One of his daughters married Sir Anthony Browne (d. 1548), master of the horse, another the heir of Christopher Baynham. The family continued in the Catholic faith and were excluded from office and punished as recusants; one grandson was executed for complicity in the Babington plot.

Artist biography

John Bettes the Elder (active c. 1531–1570) was an English artist whose few known paintings date from between about 1543 and 1550. His most famous work is his Portrait of a Man in a Black Cap. His son John Bettes the Younger, with whom he is sometimes confused, was a pupil of Nicholas Hilliard who painted portraits during the reign of Elizabeth I and James I.

Man in a Black Cap, 1545.

Nothing is known of John Bettes's life, except that he was living in Westminster in 1556, according to a documented court case. He is first recorded as working for Henry VIII at Whitehall Palace in 1531. Queen Catherine Parr's accounts for 1546/47 record payments to Bettes for "lymning" (painting in miniature) the king's and queen's portraits, and for six other portraits. Her new year's gift of 1547 to Prince Edward was a pair of portraits of the king and herself. Bettes has been identified as the designer of the engraved title-border for William Cuningham's Cosmographical Glasse, printed by John Day in 1559. He may also be the designer of engravings for Edward Hall's Chronicle, published in 1550, and of a woodcut portrait of Franz Burchard, the Saxon ambassador to England, published in 1560. In 1576, John Foxe referred to Bettes as already dead. An earlier second edition of Foxe's Actes and Monuments printed in 1570 refers to Bettes' death.

The identification of John Bettes's work stems from the inscription on the back of Man in a Black Cap: "faict par Johan Bettes Anglois" ("done by John Bettes, Englishman"). The painting is dated 1545 on the front. On the basis of its style, four further portraits have been attributed to Bettes: two of Thomas Wentworth, 1st Baron Wentworth, (1549); one of Sir William Butts the Younger (154/3?); and one of Sir William Cavendish (c. 1545).


Man in a Black Cap's technique is reminiscent of Hans Holbein the Younger's, suggesting that Bettes may have worked with Holbein as part of his workshop. Nothing, however, is known of Holbein's workshop other than paintings seemingly associated with it. Holbein does not appear to have founded a school, and Bettes is the only artist whose work reveals his technical influence. For example, he paints over a pink priming, as did Holbein. According to art historian Roy Strong, "He is the artist who, on grounds of style, has the best claim to have worked under Holbein". On the other hand, Bettes's style is distinct from Holbein's; he paints fur more loosely and the beard more flatly than the German artist. In the view of art historian Susan Foister, on the evidence of this portrait, Bettes is "unlikely to have assisted" Holbein.

The recording of an artist's name on a painting is rare in this period. The addition of Bettes' nationality suggests that Man in a Black Cap may have been painted abroad. Since the work's creation, the blue smalt pigment of the background has turned brown; the painting has also been cut down along the sides and bottom, with the inscription reaffixed to the back. It has been speculated that the portrait may be of Edmund Butts, the brother of the William Butts whom Bettes painted. Both were sons of William Butts, a court physician whose portrait Holbein painted in 1543.