The Palace of Seton

Commentary Regarding Seton Castle

When looking at the current Seton House Castle, the initial thoughts of most family members and historians are ones of regret and loss.

While architecturally the work externally is somewhat attractive, it lacks a great deal, missing the magnificence of the building which preceeded it and certainly presents no challenge to the history of what once existed on these grounds.  The Palace of Seton was an enormous structure, balanced and beautiful and represented the Seton Family and their ideals to the fullest.  The styling was ultimately French, brought about by the centuries of influence the Seton's obtained at their presence at the Courts in France and from their maintaining their their roots which came from Flanders.

The Chateaux of the Loire, and Angers played much in the overall design of the Palace of Seton, and in fact many of the Seton Family's houses like Niddry Castle, which upper part is now gone.  Chenonceau was a favourite of Queen Mary Stuart for example, and this design, though not the building that is seen today, influenced George Seton, 7th Lord Seton who also spent time at Chenonceau, much in his rebuilding of his Palace of Seton after Englands King Henry VIII's destruction of it in 1547 by the Earl of Hertford.  Seton once resembled the great Palace of Blois in the Loire Valley, and Blois was many times host to the Seton Family.

In looking at the current Seton House then, this history comes to mind... what on earth would possess anyone who had even the crumbling ruin of Seton at their hands to destroy the original building which stood here?  The answer, is simply, politics.

During the latter part of the 18th century, France had under gone it's revolution, which effects were later to manifest themselves throughout all of Europe.  Britain and it's upper-class society, still a monarchy, despised much of what was taking place in France, and, coupled with the loss of the American colonies and the bonds growing between the those newly emerging Republics, only added to the growing dislike, particularly in upper-class society in Britain, of anything French.  British-Styled design was becoming more and more the rage, with architects like Robert Adam creating a newer stage to highlight Britain, which was not to be out-done, and attempting to counteract what was happening on the stage in France.  The Castellated Baronial Style therefore had become the rage, and in an age of severe dislike for that of the French, stood the Palace of Seton... now fallen out of the hands of it's creators and into that of individuals who were following the then current trends in their society.

Alexander MacKenzie, was a man of little means in terms of the greater established upper-classes.  He was an ambitious man, and sought and gained much in his quest to elevate himself in society.  It was his original design to remouve the blatantly obvious French-styled Seton House and replace it with something more.. "British", and he enlisted one of the most popular Architects of his time to that end.  Though he could not afford to build a larger or more spectacular structure, he did have a brilliant and intelligent man at the helm of his designs.

Robert Adam was in every respect and more the Designer and Architect of his age.  Educated, gifted and successful, at the time of of the end of the 18th century he was in the prime of his career.  The commission of Alexander MacKenzie was sufficient to warrant his attention, and Adam being the ever passionate for Style seems to have envisioned a larger and grander scale design than MacKenzie could afford.  Robert Adam then, created Seton knowing in full what was being lost and at little power to prevent it, began a building that could be completed properly at a later date.

The current Seton house stands in every respect in evidence to this.  In looking at the circular towers it is obvious to anyone that they are incomplete, yet why would they be left so?  The wing-buildings too are left obviously barren-looking and at first, one might question Adams design.  Yet here lies the genious of Adam, like a mystery to be discovered and unravelled, the secret can be found in referencing both old and new mansions throughout Scotland, and indeed Britain and France, at Meldrum House and Fyvie Castle in Scotland, and at Azay and Chenonceau in France.

There is, unlike other Adam designs, a French-undertone to the Seton House.  The rounded turret-towers are brilliantly concieved and become obviously French when one looks at Loire-inspired Chateaux like Azay and Chenonceau for instance.  The doubling of the corbelling in the center of the Towers and indeed the entire structure mimics that of the Francophile.  I personally and truly believe that Adam left this as an intentional beginning for the Seton family when it was obvious, at the time, that a great house such as the Seton's would likely return and restore their place of grandeur.  Adam left a magnificent present as an inspiration to the Seton's to continue to build on... and complete, should they return.

Kenneth Seton, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, 2005.


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