The Seton Family



Motto of the Earl's of Winton



The Earldom of Winton, a title in the peerage of Scotland, conferred by charter, dated 16th November 1600, on Robert, eighth Lord Seton, to him, and his heirs male. This nobleman was a great favourite of King James VI., who, with his queen, was often at Seton house, Haddingtonshire, which was built in that reign, and considered at the time the most magnificently constructed house in Scotland. His lordship’s father had left the estate much involved, but by his own and his wife’s prudent management, he cleared it of all encumbrances. He died in 1603, and on the 5th April, his funeral procession was met in the highway by King James, then on his journey to take possession of the English crown. Halting his retinue, the king seated himself, till it passed, on a small part of the building, which still remains entire, at the south-west corner of the orchard of Seton, declaring that he had lost a good, faithful, and loyal subject. The earl married Lady Margaret Montgomery, eldest daughter of the third earl of Eglintoun, heiress of her nephew, the fifth earl of Eglintoun, and by her had, with one daughter, five sons, viz., 1. Robert, second earl of Wintoun, 2. George, third earl of Wintoun, 3. Alexander, sixth earl of Eglintoun. 4. Hon. Sir Thomas Seton, ancestor of the Setons of Olivestob. 5. Hon. Sir John Seton of St. Germains. The daughter, Lady Isabel, married, 1st, James, first earl of Perth, and 2dly, Francis Stewart, eldest son of Francis, earl of Bothwell, and had issue to both.

Robert, second earl of Wintoun, resigned in 1607, the titles and estates to his next brother, George, who had a charter of the same, 12th May that year, to him and the heirs male of his body, with remainder to his younger brothers and the heirs male of their bodies respectively, whom failing to his nearest male heir, they bearing the name and arms of Seton. He thus got the earldom in the lifetime of his elder brother, and became third earl of Wintoun. On James VI. revisiting Scotland in 1617, he spent his second night, after crossing the Tweed, at Seton house, and King Charles I. was twice entertained there, with all his retinue, in 1633. This earl built Wintoun house, in the parish of Pencaitland, in 1619, and about 1630, through his patronage or bounty, the fishing village of Port Seton, in the parish of Tranent, which has its name from the family, had twelve saltpans, some of which still exist. He was one of those who waited on the king after the pacification of Berwick in 1639, and on the ‘Engagement’ being entered into for the rescue of his majesty in 1648, he gave to the duke of Hamilton, the commander-in-chief, £1,000 sterling, in free gift for his equipage. When Charles II. came to Scotland in June 1650, the earl waited upon him, and continued with his majesty till November. He then went home to prepare for his attendance at the coronation, but died 17th December that year, aged 65. He was twice married. By his first wife he had four sons and two daughters, and by his second, four sons and five daughters.

George, Lord Seton, the eldest son, was, in May 1645, imprisoned in the Tolbooth of Edinburgh for his loyalty, fined £40,000 Scots, and in July following ordered to sell as much of the baronies of Winchburgh and Niddrie, Linlithgowshire, belonging to the family, as would discharge the fine. He joined the marquis of Montrose after the battle of Kilsyth in August the same year, and was made prisoner at the defeat of the royalists at Philiphaugh the following month. He was confined first at St. Andrews, and afterwards in the castle of Edinburgh, but was liberated on his father giving a bond of £100,000 Scots for his appearance when called. He died at Seton, 4th June 1648, aged thirty-five. By his wife, Lady Henriet Gordon, second daughter of the second marquis of Huntly, and afterwards countess of Traquair, he had George, fourth earl of Wintoun, and three other sons. Two of his half-brothers, Christopher and William, were drowned on the coast of Holland in July 1648; another, the Hon. Sir John Seton, Garletoun, was created a baronet 9th December 1664, and died in February 1686. His grandson, Sir John Seton of Garletoun, engaging in the rebellion of 1715, was taken at Preston 13th October that year, and died at Versailles, 9th March 1769. This family still subsists in the male line, though dispossessed of the estate. The youngest brother, the Hon. Robert Seton of Windygoul, was created a baronet 24th January 1671, but died without issue before 26th February 1672.

George, fourth earl of Wintoun, succeeded his grandfather in 1650, being then about ten years of age. Notwithstanding his youth, a fine of £2,000 was imposed on him by Cromwell’s act of grace and pardon in 1654. He afterwards travelled into France, and was in the French army at the siege of Besançon. On his return home by England, he was sworn a privy councillor to Charles II. IN 1666 he commanded the East Lothian regiment at the defeat of the Covenanters at Pentland, and also in 1679 at the battle of Bothwell Bridge. He afterwards entertained the duke of Monmouth and his officers at Seton. In 1682 he was appointed sheriff of Haddingtonshire, and in May of the same year he accompanied the duke of York from London to Scotland, when the ship was lost. In 1685 he went with his regiment against the earl of Argyle. A charter was granted to him 31st July 1686 of the earldom of Wintoun, to him and the heirs male of his body, which failing, to whichever person he might nominate and the heirs male of their bodies, with remainder to his heirs male, and failing these to his nearest heirs and assigns whatsoever, the eldest daughter or heir female succeeding without division, and marrying a gentleman of the name of Seton, or who should assume the name and carry the arms of the family of Wintoun. He died 6th March 1704.

His son, George, fifth earl, was abroad at the time of his father’s death, and it was not known where he resided, as he corresponded with no person in Scotland. Having been born several years before the marriage of his parents, and the viscount of Kingston, the next heir, doubting his legitimacy, the earl in 1710 took the proper steps for serving himself heir to his father. At the breaking out of the rebellion of 1715, his lordship, on the evening of the 11th October, with fourteen attendants, joined the viscount Kenmure at Moffat, where the latter had that day proclaimed the Chevalier St. George as James VIII. The force under Kenmure formed a junction with the English insurgents under General Forster near Kelso on the 19th October. A council of war was there held to deliberate on the course to be pursued, at which the earl of Wintoun strongly urged that they should march into the west of Scotland, to reduce Dumfries and Glasgow, and General Gordon, to open a communication with the earl of Mar, and threaten the duke of Argyle’s rear. It was, however, agreed, on the urgent representations of the Northumberland gentlemen, that they should cross the borders and march through Cumberland and Westmoreland into Lancashire, where the Jacobite interest was very powerful, and where they expected to be joined by great numbers of the people. The Highlanders at first refused to march into England, and separating themselves, took up a position on Hawick moor, on which the English officers threatened to surround them with what cavalry they had, and compel them to march. Exasperated at this menace, the Highlanders cocked their pistols, and told them that if they were to be made a sacrifice, they would prefer being destroyed in their own country. By the interposition of the earl of Wintoun a reconciliation was effected, and the insurgents resumed their march. Rather, however, than advance into England, about 500 of the Highlanders set off in a body to the north. The earl of Wintoun, who was quite opposed to crossing the borders, also went off, with his adherents; but being overtaken by a messenger, who was dispatched after him to remonstrate with him for abandoning his friends, he consented to return, and immediately rejoined the army. When overtaken, he drew up his horse, and after a momentary pause, as if reflecting on the judgment which posterity would form of his conduct, observed, with chivalrous feeling, that history should not have to relate of him that he deserted King James’ interest or his country’s good; but, with a deep presentiment of the danger of the course his associates were about to pursue, he added, “You,” addressing the messenger, “or any man, shall have liberty to cut these (laying hold of his own ears as he spoke) out of my head if we do not all repent it.” At the battle of Preston he had the command of a party of gentlemen volunteers who were drown up in the churchyard; but on the surrender of the insurgents he was taken prisoner, 14th November. On the meeting of parliament on the 9th January 1716, he and Lords Derwentwater, Nithsdale, Carnwath, and Kenmure were impeached of high treason, and on their being brought from the Tower on the 19th, they all pleaded guilty except the earl of Wintoun, who petitioned for a longer time to give in his answers. On various pretences he got his trial postponed till the 15th March, when, after a trial which occupied two days, he was found guilty, and received sentence of death. He found means to escape out of the Tower of London, 4th August following, and immediately fled to France. He died, unmarried, at Rome, 19th December 1749, aged upwards of 70.

In 1840 the earl of Eglinton was served “nearest and lawful heir male general, and also nearest and lawful heir male of provision to George, fourth earl of Wintoun,” the eleventh Lord Seton, and also Lord Tranent. This service took place before the sheriff of Edinburgh, and a distinguished jury, composed of members of the peerage, several of the judges of the court of session, and of baronets and gentlemen eminently qualified for legal and genealogical investigation.

The evidence laid before the jury was prepared in the same strict and elaborately comprehensive manner as if it had been necessary to submit it to the scrutiny of a Committee of Privileges in the House of Lords. Lord Eglinton produced the most ample and satisfactory proof, not only of his own propinquity, and of the extinction of all who were entitled to succeed before him, but also of the extinction of every collateral male descendant, remote as well as immediate, of any of the parties who could in any way have laid claim to the honours preferably to his lordship. A printed abstract of the whole of the documentary evidence, which was of great length, was, along with a detailed genealogical table, laid before the jury, who thus judicially ascertained his right to the male representation of the house of Wintoun, Seton and Tranent, and the other honours which were so long held by that noble family.

Although Lord Eglinton derives his descent in the Montgomerie line from ancestors of Norman origin, and through names distinguished in the battles of Hastings and of Otterburn, and by virtue of that descent enjoys the Eglinton honours and estates, -- in lineal male descent from a period equally remote, and through a line of loyal and patriotic ancestors, his family name is also that of Seton, and he is the head of the numerous noble and eminent families who claim to be descended from the Setons in the male line.

The Wintoun honours, destined in the first instance to heirs male, were forfeited by the fifth earl, in consequence of being engaged in the rebellion of 1715. This attainder had the effect of forfeiting absolutely the estates to the crown. But, as settled by the judgment of the House of Lords, in the case of Gordon of Park, adjudged by Lord Hardwicke, and recognized in many subsequent cases, the right to the honours was only in abeyance during the existence of the attainted earl, and the heirs entitled to succeed under the same substitution with himself. Accordingly, the right to the honours, which was merely suspended for a time, revived in the collateral branch of Eglinton, in consequence of the failure of all the prior branches in the direct Wintoun line.

The representation of the family of Wintoun devolved upon the earl of Eglinton in consequence of the marriage in 1582 of Robert the first earl of Wintoun with Lady Margaret Montgomerie, eldest daughter of Hugh third earl of Eglinton. Of that marriage the third son, Sir Alexander Seton of Foulstrouther, was adopted into the family, -- became sixth earl of Eglinton, and in 1615 obtained royal grants and confirmations of the estates and honours of Montgomerie. The present earl of Eglinton is the heir male of the body of this Sir Alexander Seton, afterwards earl of Eglinton, and in consequence of the failure of the direct Wintoun line by the death of Robert the eldest brother without issue, and of all the male descendants of George the next or immediate elder brother of Sir Alexander, Lord Eglinton is also the lineal male representative of the family of Seton (See SETON, Lord.)

The Scottish Nation

Or the Surnames, Families, Literature, Honours and Biographical History of The People of Scotland
By William Anderson 1863

Arms of the Seton Earls of Winton © The Seton Family 2005

















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