George Seton was born in 1531 in Tranent, East Lothian. The Latin inscription from the wall of the Seton Collegiate Church in the Lothians states, that George had been living in France as a boy. After his father’s death in 1549, he returned to Scotland to become 5th Lord Seton. Soon afterwards, he was appointed by the Scottish Parliament to return to France and negotiate, and later ratify, the marriage contract between the Scottish Queen, who lived in France, and the eldest son of king Henry II of France.
On this portrait, Scottish nobleman Seton displays the magnificent clothes he wore at the wedding of Mary Queen of Scots with the French Dauphin Francis in April 1558 in the Paris Louvre. However, Seton’s portrait was painted twenty years after the actual event. His baton is that of the Master of the Queen’s household, a position he held in 1561, after Mary Stuart’s return to Scotland and second marriage to Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. Today, Seton’s portrait hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh. It’s maker, Flemish artist Adrian Vanson or Adrien van Son, was the Scottish court painter from around 1580. There are six records of his artworks in the National Galleries of Scotland.
On the solemn occasion of the Scottish Queen’s wedding in France in 1558, George Seton is wearing a very fine ‘mante’ or cloak, in the Scottish royal colours of red and gold. The cloak, an essential part of Scottish clothing in the 16th century, can be seen here in much cruder form, worn by a Highland warrior, as shown in Francis Deserps‘ book on contemporary costumes, published in 1567:
On the Deserps engraving, the Scottish Highland captain wears long hair and a beard. He clasps a sheathed longsword, a curved and unstrung bow and a bunch of arrows under his right armpit. There also seem to be a sort of bag with pending ornaments (?) under his arm. Over his left shoulder hangs a thick cover, probably made of wool or animal skin, a cloak or ‘mante’, from the Latin word mantum signifying ‘(short) cloak’ (cf. the word ‘Mantel’ in German). The ‘mante’ was used as a sleeping cover and might have preceded the use of the Scottish kilt for the same purpose, a century later. Lord Seton’s ‘mante’ is very elaborate and quite similar to the French Court dress of the 1550’s, except the very high collar. On one of his official portraits, King Henry II of France wears a short coat without collar. The cloak was a fashion element most probably inspired by the Italian fashion of the 15th century.
On the Adrian Vanson painting, George Seton’s cap is similar to the white plume bonnet the French king is wearing, but Seton’s ‘feather’ seems to be made of red cloth with embroidered precious stones. The upstanding high collar had become fashionable around 1570, as shows the following picture of a French master of fencing:
Is it possible that the Adrian Van Son painting was commissioned around 1570, when Seton had fled to the Low Countries in attempt to raise an army in support of Queen Mary? Was it he who brought Adrian Vanson to the Scottish Court after his submission to king James VI of Scotland in 1573, and thus enabled the Flemish artist to become a Court painter?
George Seton died in 1586, a year before Queen Mary Stuart, who’s marriage he had witnessed so long ago, was finally decapitated.