Nicholas Hilliard, the son of a goldsmith, was born in Exeter in about 1547. He trained as a jeweller but later became an artist.
Influenced by the work of Hans Holbein, Hilliard worked for Elizabeth I and James I and established the English school of miniature painting. Hilliard also painted the portraits of Mary, Queen of Scots, Francis Drake, Philip Sidney, and Walter Raleigh.
Despite his success Hilliard had financial problems and in 1617 was imprisoned for debt. Nicholas Hilliard died in 1619.