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Imagined Lives of Unknown People

Eight internationally acclaimed authors have invented imaginary biographies and character sketches based on fourteen unidentified portraits. Who are these men and women, why were they painted, and why do they now find themselves in the Collection of the National Portrait Gallery? With fictional letters, diaries, mini-biographies and memoirs, Imagined Lives creates vivid stories about these unknown sitters from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Courtesy of the National Trust.

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False Mary by Alexander McCall Smith

Mary Peebles, or “False Mary” as she came to be known, is one of the most unusual figures of Scottish sixteenth-century history. She was the daughter of an Edinburgh merchant, a man who had prospered sufficiently to be noticed on the fringes of the Holyrood court of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots. This court, of course, was a hotbed of intrigue, a dangerous place for anybody, including a young queen, to be. The Scottish nobles, a bickering and ruthless group, thought nothing of murder as a means of securing their goals, and were not above bringing their murderous schemes into the heart of the Queen’s household.

4mins

12 Dec 2011

Rank #1

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A Letter from Catherine Hartshorn, A.D 1587, February 2nd by Joanna Trollope

He wears a very fine doublet, beloved mother, dull violet in colour, striped in a velvet ribbon with picot edge, and his ruff is well stiffened and of a good whiteness, indicating good laundresses at Newton Hall, which pleases me. And in his hand, he holds two pinks, one white, one crimson, which he tells me he had painted to show me he is in earnest about this marriage, for my own person, as well as because his land and that of my worshipful father do march together so conveniently.

3mins

22 Nov 2011

Rank #2

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A Mathilda’s Letter by Minette Walters by Joanna Trollope

My dear Sister,...You say I have no sympathy for your plight, but I do. Father made bad matches for both of us and I go to sleep at night wishing him in purgatory. You are married to a libertine and I to a fortune-hunter who has squandered my marriage settlement on cards and dice.

3mins

22 Nov 2011

Rank #3

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Rosy by Tracy Chevalier

...I have always flushed easily – from physical exertion, from wine, from high emotion. As a boy I was teased by my sisters and by schoolboys – but not by George. Only George could call me Rosy. I would not allow anyone else. He managed to make the world tender. He said it described not just my cheeks, but my lips as well, smooth and crimson as rose petals.

2mins

22 Nov 2011

Rank #4

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The Biography of William Wrightson, 2nd Viscount Dorchester by Julian Fellowes

Their wretched wives were both obliged to see husband and brother at war, a predicament cruelly underlined by Cumnor's calling out, on seeing his brother-in-law in the thick of the fighting, 'There goes my Lord Dorchester. Kill him now, I beg you, for I may not. Methinks my wife would mislike it.'

4mins

22 Nov 2011

Rank #5