Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger (sometimes known as Mark Garrard) was born in Bruges, the son of the artist Marcus Gheeraerts the Elder and his wife Johanna. Hardly anything is known of the paintings of the elder Gheeraerts, although his work as a printmaker was renowned in Europe.
Like other Protestant artists from the Low Countries, Gheeraerts the Elder fled to England with his son to escape persecution in the Low Countries under the Duke of Alba. His wife was a Catholic and remained behind and is believed to have died a few years later. Father and son are recorded living with a Dutch servant in the London parish of St Mary Abchurch in 1568. On 9 September 1571, the elder Gheeraerts remarried. His new wife was Susanna de Critz, a member of an exiled family from Antwerp.
It is not known by whom young Marcus was trained, although it is likely to have been his father. He was possibly also a pupil of Lucas de Heere. Records suggest that Marcus was active as a painter by 1586. In 1590 he married Magdalena, the sister of his stepmother Susanna and of the painter John de Critz. The couple had six children, only two of whom seem to have survived—a son, Marcus III (c. 1602-c. 1654), also a painter, and a son Henry (1604-August 1650). His half-sister Sara married the painter Isaac Oliver in 1602.