The Family of Winton

The Great Garden of Pitmedden, of the Seton Baronets of Pitmedden.Cadets in the Setonl Household

In the early history of the Seton family, the lands of Winton were granted by Royal Charter by King to Philip de Setoune.  Philip succeeded to Seher, his father and got a charter from King William the Lion, in 1169, confirming to him certain lands, which remained in possession of his descendants for more than five hundred years. It is one of the oldest Scottish charters in existence, and is mentioned with enthusiasm by the learned Cosmo Innes (Scotland in the Middle Ages, p. 20), who says: "I could not give you a better specimen of one of those ancient simple conveyances than a charter of William the Lion, a grant to the ancient family of Seton. It conveys three great baronies, confers all baronial privileges, fixes the reddendo at one knight's service, expresses the formal authentication of a goodly array of witnesses, and is comprised in seven short lines. The original is in possession of the Earl of Eglinton and Winton. From Philip stems the family of Winton, and in the style of the times, his son took as their family name that of their estate.  Sources: "The History of the House of Seytoun to the Year MDLIX", Sir Richard Maitland of Lethington, Knight, with the Continuation, by Alexander Viscount Kingston, to MDCLXXXVII. Printed at Glasgow, MDCCCXXIX. "A History of the Family of Seton during Eight Centuries" George Seton, Advocate, M.A. Oxon., etc. Two vols. Edinburgh, 1896"An Old Family" Monsignor Seton, Call Number: R929.2 S495

Wrychts Houses, by Francis Grose, 1789.In the year 1347, Lady Margaret Seton was forcibly abducted by a neighboring baron named Alan de Winton, a distant kinsman of her own and a cadet of the Seton family. Andrew Wyntoun relates the case in his Orygynale Cronykil of Scotland, saying: "Dat yhere Alene de Wyntoun tuk the yhoung Lady Setoun and weddit hyr than till hys wyf." This outrage caused a bloody contest in Lothian; on which occasion, says Fordun, a hundred ploughs were laid aside from labor.  A romantic incident of this affair--the opposition springing, perhaps, from selfish motives on the part of her guardian--is that when Margaret was rescued and Alan confronted with the Seton family, she was handed a ring and a dagger, with permission to give him either Love or Death. She gave him the ring, and they were happy ever afterward.  Alan de Winton assumed his wife's name, and died in the Holy Land, leaving besides a daughter Christian de Seton who became Countess of Dunbar and March, three sons:  1st Sir William Seton, his successor and 1st Lord Seton; 2nd Alexander Seton who married Jean Halyburton, daughter of Sir Thomas Halyburton of Dirleton (recorded by Alexander Nisbet); and Henry who retained his father's name and inherited Wrychthouses (Wrightshouses, Edinburgh).  One of the oldest stones of this mansion bears the Seton's arms. 

Henry de Winton married Amy Brown of Coalston and continued the family name of Winton.  Henry was one of the heroes of Otterburn, August 19, 1388.  Friossart calls him :The Seigneur de Venton" (Wintoun, Francisque Michel). Sources: "The History of the House of Seytoun to the Year MDLIX", Sir Richard Maitland of Lethington, Knight, with the Continuation, by Alexander Viscount Kingston, to MDCLXXXVII. Printed at Glasgow, MDCCCXXIX. "A History of the Family of Seton during Eight Centuries" George Seton, Advocate, M.A. Oxon., etc. Two vols. Edinburgh, 1896 "An Old Family" Monsignor Seton, Call Number: R929.2 S495.  From Henry de Winton was descended the famous Scottish chronicler, Andrew Wyntoun, who is credited as being Scotlands first historian.

Wrychtes House's, courtyard view

From the Winton's of Wrychthouses stems the Scottish family of Winton, and the estate of Wrychthouses was to remain with them until it was sold to the Napier family.  The estate is listed in Blaeu's Atlas of Scotland, 1654 compiled by David Buchanan, 1595-1652.  The lands of the estate of Wrightshouses are found between the Water of Leith and the North Esk there are very many houses and castles of nobles worthy of mention. First between the Water of Leith and the Braid Burn, starting from the foot of the Pentland Hills and continuing the descent to the north as far as the Forth, are Swanston, Comiston, Craiglockhart, Craighouse, Braid, Plewlands, Bruntsfield, Grange, Sciennes, Wrightshouses, Merchiston, Priestfield, Dalry, Coates, Drum, Broughton, Pilrig, Restalrig, and Duddingston.

 The Wrychtishousis (Wrightshouses) estate, in Edinburgh, lay to the west of the Biggar Road just to the south of Tollcross at the beginning of the district now known as Bruntsfield. The name is recorded in a charter dated 1382, but the oldest inscription noted in the walls of the mansion dated from the Seton-Winton's tenure, anno 1376. The estate was acquired by a William Napier sometime between 1390 and 1406. The origin of the name is not certain, it could be "houses of wrights or carpenters" but considering its rural location in the 14th century, nearly two miles outside the city walls, it seems unlikely. It is more likely to have been named after an owner called Wright.


From the "Antiquities of Scotland", the mansion-castle was noted as:

THE Wryte's Houses stand a small distance south-west of the town of Edinburgh, in a suburb called Portsborough. Their denomination is vulgarly, but erroneously, said to have originated from their having been the residence of certain Wrights or Carpenters, employed in cutting down and working the oaks and other timber growing on the Borough Muir ; but Maitland, who mentions this, says they were houses belonging to the Laird of Wryte. The western wing of this building, according to him, is the most ancient part of the edifice, having on it an inscription bearing date anno 1316. The
wing at the eastern side was, as is related, built in the reign of king Robert III. and the centre building, connecting them, was erected in the reign of king James VI. but Arnot says this house was built for the reception of a mistress of king James IV. This he seems to affirm of the whole building.

IN 1788, when this View was taken, they had been just repaired, and deformed with a daubing of lime or whitewash, and had, besides, been otherwise much injured in their appearance, by the modernizing of the windows of the centre building, which before agreed with the style of the wings.

All that remains of the old castle or mansion of the Winton's line of Wrychthouses. 

From the "Carpenter Gothic".  Gillespies Hospital, built on the site of the picturesque ancient mansion of Wrighthouses, demolished to make room for it by the Trustees of James Gillespie, snuff maker. Built 1806.

Used as soldiers quarters during the War.


 click to read:  Alexander Winton, Motorcar Manufacturer


The Scottish chronicler, born (as we know from the internal evidence of his writings) in the reign of David II, about the middle of the fourteenth century. He was related to Alan of Wyntoun, who married the heiress of Seton, and is now represented by the Earl of Eglinton and Winton. He became a canon-regular of the priory of St. Andrews, and before 1395 was appointed prior of the ancient monastery of Lochleven, in Kinross-schire, which was a subject house of St. Andrews for upwards of four hundred years (see LOCHLEVEN). Innes, in his "Critical Essay" (1729), pointed out that the register of the priory of St. Andrews contained several acts or public instruments of Wyntoun, as prior of Lochleven, from 1395 to 1413; but there is no evidence as to how long he continued in office after the latter year, or as to the date of his death. It was at the request of Sir John de Wemyss (ancestor of the Earls of Wemyss), whom he mentions as one of his intimate friends, that Wyntoun undertook to write his "Orygynale Cronykil of Scotland", so entitled, as he himself explains, not because it was his own composition, but because it begins at the beginning of things, namely with the creation of angels. How long the compilation of the work took is uncertain, but the fact that Robert, Duke of Albany, is mentioned in it as dead proves that it was finished some time after September, 1420. The author, while engaged in the latter part of it, reckoned himself already an old man, as appears from his prologue to the ninth book, so that it is not probable that he lived long after its completion. The variations in the manuscripts show that it was frequently revised and corrected, in all probability by Wyntoun's own hand.

No printed edition of the Chronicle appeared until 1795, when it was edited from the Royal manuscript in the British Museum, with a valuable critical introduction, by David Macpherson. Nearly one- third of the original was, however, omitted, and this was restored by Laing in his edition published in 1872, in the "Historians of Scotland" series. Laing describes the eleven manuscripts of the Chronicle known to exist, and the Scottish Text Society has since printed a new edition from the Cottonian and Wemyss manuscripts, with the variants of the other texts. A considerable portion of the Chronicle, it must be noted, is the work of an unknown author, who sent it to Wyntoun, and it was incorporated by him into his own narrative. Both are written in the same easy-flowing, octosyllabic rhyming verse, and the work has therefore value from a poetical as well as from an historical standpoint. Andrew Lang credits Wyntoun with "a trace of the critical spirit, displayed in his wrestlings with feigned genealogies"; but Æneas Mackay does him more justice in pointing out that he understands the importance of chronology, and is, for the age in which he wrote, wonderfully accurate as to dates. His work has thus real value as the first attempt at scientific history writing in Scotland, and philologically it is not less important as having been written in the Scots vernacular, and not (like nearly all the works of contemporary men of learning) in a dead language. Regarded as a poet, Wyntoun can hardly take high rank, certainly not equal rank to his predecessor Barbour, the father of Scottish poetry. His narrative, in truth, though written in rhyme is mostly prosaic in style; but some of his descriptions are vivid, and touched with the true spirit of poetry.

"In Wyntown’s Chronicle," says Mr Macpherson, "the historian may find, what, for want of more ancient records, which have long ago perished, we must now consider as the original accounts of many transactions, and also many events related from his own knowledge or the reports of eye-witnesses. His faithful adherence to his authorities appears from comparing his accounts with unquestionable vouchers, such as the Federa Angliae, and the existing remains of the ‘Register of the Priory of St Andrews,’ that venerable monument of ancient Scottish history and antiquities, generally coeval with the facts recorded in it, whence he has given large extracts almost literally translated." His character as an historian is in a great measure common to the other historical writers of his age, who generally admitted into their works the absurdity of tradition along with authentic narrative, and often without any mark of discrimination, esteeming it a sufficient standard of historic fidelity to narrate nothing but what they found written by others before them. Indeed, it may be considered fortunate that they adopted this method of compilation, for through it we are presented with many genuine transcripts from ancient authorities, of which their extracts are the only existing remains. In Wyntown’s work, for example, we have nearly three hundred lines of Barbour, in a more genuine state than in any manuscript of Barbour’s own work, and we have also preserved a little elegiac song on the death of Alexander III., which must be nearly ninety years older than Barbour’s work. Of Barbour and other writers, Wyntown speaks in a generous and respectful manner, [He even avows his incompetency to write equal to Barbour, as in the following lines:-- The Stewartis originale, The Archdekyne has tretyd hal, In metre fayre mare wertwsly, Than I can thynk be my study, &c. –Cronykil, B. viii. c. 7. v. 143.] and the same liberality of sentiment is displayed by him regarding the enemies of his country, whose gallantry he takes frequent occasion to praise. Considering the paucity of books in Scotland at the time, Wyntown’s learning and resources were by no means contemptible. He quotes, among the ancient authors, Aristotle, Galen, Palaephatus, Josephus, Cicero, Livy, Justin, Solinus, and Valerius Maximus, and also mentions Homer, Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Statius, Boethius, Dionysius, Cato, Dares Phrygius, Origen, Augustin, Jerome, &c

Wyntown’s Chronicle being in rhyme, he ranks among the poets of Scotland and he is in point of time the third of the few early ones whose works we possess, Thomas the Rhymer and Barbour being his only extant predecessors. His work is entirely composed of couplets, and these generally of eight syllables, though lines even of ten and others of six syllables frequently occur. "Perhaps," says Mr Ellis, "the noblest modern versifier who should undertake to enumerate in metre the years of our Lord in only one century, would feel some respect for the ingenuity with which Wyntown has contrived to vary his rhymes throughout such a formidable chronological series as he ventured to encounter. His genius is certainly inferior to that of his predecessor Barbour; but at least his versification is easy, his language pure, and his style often animated."

He wrote it in the Scottish tongue, was an older contemporary of Walter Bower. He died an old man soon after 1420. Of him, as of the other contemporary chroniclers, we know little except that he was head of St. Serf’s priory in Lochleven, and a canon regular of St. Andrews, which, in 1413, became the site of the first university founded in Scotland. The name of his work, The Orygynale Cronykil, only means that he went back to the beginning of things, as do the others. Wyntoun surpasses them only in beginning with a book on the history of angels. Naturally, the early part is derived mostly from the Bible, and The Cronykil has no historical value except for Scotland, and for Scotland only from Malcolm Canmore onwards, its value increasing as the author approaches his own time. For Robert the Bruce, he not only refers to Barbour but quotes nearly three hundred lines of The Bruce verbatim—thus being the earliest, and a very valuable, authority for Barbour’s text. in the last two books, he also incorporates a long chronicle, the author of which he says he did not know. From the historical point of view, these chroniclers altogether perverted the early chronology of Scottish affairs. The iron of Edward I had sunk deep into the Scottish soul, and it was necessary, at all costs, to show that Scotland had a list of kings extending backwards far beyond anything that England could boast. This it was easy to achieve by making the Scottish and Pictish dynasties successive instead of contemporary, and patching awkward flaws by creating a few more kings when necessary. That the Scots might not be charged with being usurpers, it was necessary to allege that they were in Scotland before the Picts. History was thus turned upside down.

Apart from the national interests which were involved, the controversy was exactly like that which raged between Oxford and Cambridge in the sixteenth century as to the date of their foundations, and it led to the same tampering with evidence. Wyntoun has no claims to the name of poet. He is a chronicler, and would himself have been surprised to be found in the company of the “makaris.”  The original scheme was for seven books, but the work was, later, extended to nine.  Wyntoun would not have been the child of his age and training did not the early part of his history contain many marvels. We hear how Gedell-Glaiss, the son of Sir Newill, came out of Scythia and married Scota, Pharaoh’s daughter. Being, naturally, unpopular with the Egyptian nobility, he then emigrated to Spain and founded the race which, in later days, appeared in Ireland and Scotland. It is interesting to learn that Wyntoun identified Gaelic and Basque, part of the Scottish stock remaining behind in Spain.

And Simon Brek it was that first brought the Coronation Stone from Spain to Ireland. The exact date before the Christian era is given for all these important events.  When Wyntoun arrives at the Christian dispensation and the era of the saints, it is only natural that he should dwell with satisfaction on the achievements of St. Serf, to whom his own priory was dedicated. St. Serf was the “kyngis sone off Kanaan,” who, leaving the kingdom to his younger brother, passed through Alexandria, Constantinople and Rome. Hence, after he had been seven years pope, his guiding angel conducted him through France. He then took ship, arrived in the Firth of Forth and was advised by St. Adamnan to pass into Fife. Ultimately, after difficulties with the Pictish king, he founded a church at Culross, and then passed to the “Inche of Lowchlewyn.” That he should raise the dead and cast out devils was to be expected. A thief stole his pet lamb and ate it. Taxed with the crime by the saint he denied it, but was speedily convicted, for “the schype thar bletyt in hys wayme.” 52  Wyntoun tells, not without sympathy, the story of that “Duk of Frissis,” who, with one foot already in the baptismal font, halted to enquire whether more of his kindred were in hell or heaven. The bishop of those days could have but one answer, whereupon the duke said

With all his credulity, Wyntoun, in the later part of his chronicle, is a most valuable source for the history of his country. To him and to Fordun we are indebted for most of our knowledge of early Scotland, since little documentary evidence of that period survived the wreck that was wrought by Edward I.


Withe thai he cheyssit 53  hym to duel,

And said he dowtyt for to be

Reprewit wnkynde gif that he

Sulde withedraw hym in to deide 54 

Fra his kyn til ane wncouthe leide, 55 

Qwhar he was nwrist and bred wp withe,

Qwhar neuir nane was of his kyn,

Aulde na [char]onge, mare na myn,

That neuir was blenkyt withe that blayme.

“[Abrenuncio] for thi that schayme,”

He said, and of the fant he tuk

His fute, and hail he thar forsuyk

Cristyndome euir for to ta, 56 

For til his freyndis he walde ga

Withe thaim stedfastly to duell

Euirmare in the pyne of hel. 57 


Good churchman as Wyntoun is, he is not slow to tell of wickedness in high places and duly relates the story of pope Joan, with the curious addition


Scho was Inglis of nacion

Richt willy of condicion

A burges douchtyr and his ayre

Prewe, pleyssande and richt fayr;

Thai callit hir fadyr Hob of Lyne. 58 


In this book (chap. 18) he also tells the most famous of all his stories—Macbeth and the weird sisters, and the interview between Malcolm and Macduff. But Wyntoun renders Macbeth more justice than other writers,


[char]it in his tyme thar wes plente

Off gold and siluer, catall and fee. 59 

He wes in iustice rycht lauchfull,

And till his liegis rycht awfull. 60 


Birnam wood comes to Dunsinane, and Macbeth, fleeing across the Mounth, is slain “in to the wod of Lumfanane.” 61   With all his credulity, Wyntoun, in the later part of his chronicle, is a most valuable source for the history of his country. To him and to Fordun we are indebted for most of our knowledge of early Scotland, since little documentary evidence of that period survived the wreck that was wrought by Edward I.

There are various manuscripts of Wyntown’s work, more or less perfect, still extant. The one in the British Museum is the oldest and the best; and after it rank, in antiquity and correctness, the manuscripts belonging to the Cotton Library and to the Advocates’ Library at Edinburgh.

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