Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait miniature of an Officer, probably Captain Horace Beauchamp Seymour (1791-1851) 

Louis Marie Autissier (1772-1830)

Portrait miniature of an Officer, probably Captain Horace Beauchamp Seymour (1791-1851), Louis Marie Autissier
Watercolour on ivory
18th Century
Oval, 75mm (3in.) high
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This portrait, can be identified as Captain Horace Beauchamp Seymour (1791-1851), and probably shows the young officer waiting in Brussels just prior to the Battle of Waterloo. Autissier, then one of the leading miniaturists in Europe was working in Brussels from 1796, and painted other British officers, including the Duke of Wellington [private collection].

The uniform worn here is central in identifying the sitter as Seymour. He is portrayed in the dress uniform of an aide-de-camp to a General officer commanding a cavalry formation. The scarlet coatee with blue facings and distinctively shaped, gold embroidered loops to the chest, together with the woven shoulder-cord and aiguillette of gold round-cord worn on the right shoulder, were a combination unique to an officer fulfilling that role and were ordered to be worn by such officers in General Orders issued in 1811. A Dress coatee of this form continued to be worn until 1816, although it is suggested that, from 1814, an epaulette replaced the shoulder-cord on the right shoulder. The miniature can therefore be dated with certainty to the period 1811-14 and possibly to that of 1811-16. As such, there are only 12 candidates of the appropriate rank and age to be the sitter here. The identity as Seymour is confirmed by the close likeness to another portrait of him done in about 1817 by Francis Wilkin [reproduced in The Connoisseur 167, 1968, p. 144)].

In view of the fact that Autissier was settled in Brussels, it is most likely that Seymour sat to him there during the period prior to the Battle of Waterloo, in the spring and early summer of 1815, when he was aide-de-camp to Lord Uxbridge. Given his priviledged background, it would have been entirely natural for Seymour to seek out the most highly regarded miniaturist in the area and record this historic moment in his career.

Gathered in Flanders, ready to oppose the eastward advance of Napoleon and his French army during the ‘100 Days’, Seymour’s time would have been spent with other officers enjoying ‘pleasure as usual’ (part of Wellington’s psychological warfare). The Duchess of Richmond’s ball was of course the most famous social event in the calendar, taking place on the eve of the battle.

Seymour narrowly escaped death during the battle when Marshal Michel Ney, five horses already killed under him, advanced his cavalry towards the Anglo-Dutch line. Seymour was riding with Wellington when a blanket of fog rolled in. Unable to see further than a few yards, he and the Duke escaped capture only ‘by a very sudden run’. In fact, very few could have had a more eventful Waterloo than Seymour. He witnessed the death of Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Picton and the wounding of Lord Uxbridge, who is reputed to have said “By God Sir. I’ve lost my leg” when hit on the knee by a round shot late in the day, to which Wellington replied “By God Sir, so you have”.

Seymour was very much one of the ‘decorative young gentlemen’ in the Duke’s cavalry who was not expected to engage in actual fighting (E. Longford, Wellington, 1992, p.318-19). When part of the cavalry, missing the Cumberland Hussars from the field late in the battle, and terrified that the French were at their heels, turned to go he showed unexpected bravery. Grabbing Colonel Hake by the collar, he tried to force him to stay and lead but could not prevent him turning back towards the safety of Brussels.

Seymour was in fact cited as one of the strongest officers in the British Army who was said to have “slain more men at Waterloo than any other single individual”. He was described rather less kindly by the regency courtesan Harriette Wilson as ‘a gay dashing son of Lord Somebody Seymour…whom everyone knows and few care much about’. He brazenly used his aristocratic and personal connections to further his career (his uncle, 2nd marquess of Hertford, was lord chamberlain and his wife the mistress of the Prince Regent). He took the position of Gentleman usher to the Prince Regent (retaining his position when the prince became George IV), then becoming equerry to William IV, to Queen Victoria and extra-equerry to Queen Adelaide.

We are grateful to Stephen Wood for assisting with the identification of the uniform and sitter.
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