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,