The Seton Family



Motto of the Earl's of Winton



The surname derived from Sea-town, the dwelling of de Lens family of the House of Boulogne. Anciently there were two flemish families named "de Seton", of Carolingian descent settled in Seaton-Staithes in Northumberland in England. The first of the race who came into Scotland was Seier (or Seyerus, Seyer, Secher or Saiker) de Lens, the eldest son of Count Lambert de Lens by his first wife, and who came during the reign of Malcolm III and who obtained from David I, the lands in Haddingtonshire and who was the ancestor of the noble family of Seton, Barons and Lords Seton, and Earls of Winton. He was the son of Dugal or Dougall de Seytoun, by his wife, a daughter of De Quincy, earl of Winchester, constable of Scotland.

Alexander de Seton, son of Seier, witnessed a charter of David I, to William de Riddell of the lands of Riddell in Roxburghshire. He was proprietor of Seton and Winton in East Lothian, and Winchburgh in Linlithgowshire, and his son, Philip de Seton, got a charter of these lands from William the Lion, to be held in capite of the crown. Philip’s eldest son, Sir Alexander de Seton, witnessed many charters of Alexander II., and also a donation of Sayer de Quincy, earl of Winchester, to the abbacy of Dunfermline, before 1233. His son, Seier (or Serlo or Secher) de Seton, had two sons and a daughter, Sir Alexander, Sir John, and Barbara, the wife of Sir William Keith, Great Marischal of Scotland. Among those who swore fealty to Edward I. in 1296 was Alisaundre de Seton, valet, Richard de Seton, del counte de Dunfres, and John de Seton of the same county.

Sir Alexander, the elder son, was father of Sir Christopher Seton, who married Lady Christian Bruce, third daughter of Robert earl of Carrick, sister of King Robert I., widow of Gratney, earl of Mar. He was one of the principal supporters of his brother-in-law, and was present at his coronation at Scone 27th March 1306. At the disastrous battle of Methven, 13th June following, he rescued Bruce when he was unhorsed by Philip de Mowbray. He afterwards shut himself up in Lochdoon castle in Ayrshire, and on its surrender to the English, Sir Christopher Seton was, by order of Edward I., executed at Dumfries. He appears to have been succeeded by his brother Sir Alexander Seton, who signed, with other patriotic nobles, the famous letter to the Pope in 1320, asserting the independence of Scotland. He had grants from King Robert I. of various lands, as well as of the Manor of Tranent and other extensive possessions previously belonging to the noble family of De Quincy, attainted for their espousal of the cause of Edward. He also got the lands of Falside or Fawside, forfeited by Alexander de Such, who married one of the daughters and heiresses of Roger de Quincy, Earl of Winchester.

Falside Castle, situated near the boundary with Inveresk, was one of the ancient strong fortalices of the Setons. A younger branch of the family styled themselves the Setons of Falside. Their other principal castle was Niddry in Linlithgowshire, where the ruins of which still remain. Sir Alexander de Seton had a safe-conduct into England 7th January 1320, and Robert I. applied for another, 21st March 1327, for him to treat with the English. He was Governor of the town of Berwick when it was besieged by the English in 1333. His son Thomas was given as a hostage to King Edward III, that that place would be surrendered on a certain day if not relieved before then. Sir William Keith having arrived with succours, assumed the Governorship, and refused to deliver up the town. Edward ordered Thomas Seton, and, some accounts say, two sons of Keith, who had fallen into his hands, to be executed in sight of the besieged. The day after the defeat of the Scots army at Halidon-hill, 19th July 1333, Berwick surrendered to the English.

Sir Alexander Seton was present in Edward Balliol’s parliament, 10th February following, when he witnessed the concession of Berwick to the English. He had a safe-conduct to go to England, 15th October 1337, and in August 1340, he was one of the hostages for John, earl of Moray, when he was liberated for a time. He appears to have entered into a religious order in his old age, as “Frater Alexander de Seton miles, hospitalis sancti Johannis Jerusalem in Scotia” had a safe-conduct into England on the affairs of David II., 12th August 1348. By his wife, Christian, daughter of Cheyne of Straloch, he had three sons and a daughter, namely, Alexander, killed in opposing the landing of Edward Balliol near Kinghorn, 6th August 1332; Thomas, already mentioned; and William, drowned in an attack on the English fleet at Berwick, in sight of his father, in July 1333. The daughter, Margaret, became heiress of Seton. She married Alan de Wyntoun, a cadet of the Seton family from the original de Quincy Winton Estate.

This marriage, we are told, produced a feud in East Lothian with Sir Alan being confronted with the Seton family upon his claiming of his cousin, the young Seton Heiress, and occasioned more than a hundred ploughs to be laid aside from labour. However, Sir Alan's children retained the name of Seton, and he himself died in the Holy Land, leaving a son, Sir William Seton who was to become the first Lord Seton, and the first ever created Lord of Parliament, and a daughter, Christian or Margaret, countess of Dunbar and March.

The only son, Sir William Seton of Seton, first Lord Seton, visited Jerusalem. He lived previously to 1366, and it is recorded of him that he “was the first creatit and maid lord in the parliament, and he and his posteritie to have ane voit yairin and be callit Lords”, and were the Premier Baron's of Scotland. Accordingly, in the Records of the Scottish parliament held at Scone 26th March 1371, at the coronation of Robert II, Sir William de Seton is named among the “Nobiles Barones,” as “Dominus de Seton.” He married Catherine, daughter of Sir William Sinclair of Hermandston, and had, with four daughters, two sons, Sir John and Sir Alexander. The latter married Elizabeth de Gordon, and was ancestor of the Lords Gordon and later Earls and Marquis' of Huntly &c; the Setons of Touch, who held the office of Hereditary Armour-Bearers to the King; and the Setons of Meldrum, &c.

Sir John Seton of Seton, the elder son and second Lord Seton was taken at the battle of Homildon in 1402. He was one of the hostages for the release of James I. by the treaty of 4th December 1423, his annual revenue being estimated at 600 marks. He had a safe-conduct to meet the King, 13th of the same month, and was one of the guarantees of the treaty for his majesty’s release, 28th March 1424. He died in 1441. By his first wife, Lady Janet Dunbar, daughter of the tenth earl of Dunbar and March, he had a son, Sir William Seton, Master of Seton, and two daughters.

Sir William Seton, Master of Seton, the only son, accompanied the Scots auxiliaries to the assistance of Charles the dauphin in France, and was killed at the battle of Verneuil in Normandy, in the lifetime of his father, 17th August, 1424.

His son, George, accompanied the chancellor Crichton in his embassy to France and Burgundy, and had a safe-conduct to pass through England, April 23, 1448. He was soon afterwards re-created as a peer of parliament that was already hereditary in his family, by the title of third Lord Seton, and 1448 is the incorrect date usually assigned as that of the creation of the peerage of Seton, when in fact it was created a century earlier. He was one of the ambassadors to England to whom a safe-conduct was granted March 16, 1472. He died in 1478. By his first wife, Lady Margaret Stewart, only daughter and heiress of John, Earl of Buchan, constable of France, killed at Verneuil in 1424, he had a son, John, Master of Seton who predeceased him and himself leaving a son, also called George who succeeded his grandfather as fourth Lord Seton. By a second wife, Christian Murray, of the house of Tullibardine, he had a daughter, Christian.

George, fourth Lord Seton, succeeded his grandfather. By the treaty of Nottingham, 22d September 1484, he was appointed one of the commissioners for settling border differences. He erected the church of Seton into a collegiate establishment for a provost, six prebendaries, two singing boys and a clerk, 20th June 1493, assigning for their support the tithes of the church and various chaplainries which had been established in it by his ancestors. He was one of the conservators of treaties with the English 30th September 1497, and 12th July 1499, and he witnessed the assignation of the dower of Margaret, queen of Scotland, 24th May 1503. He died in 1507. He is described as “meikle given to leichery, and was cunning in divers sciences, as in music, theology, and astrology. He was so given to learning that after he was married he went to St. Andrews and studied there long, and then went to Paris for the same purpose. He was, on a voyage to France, taken by some Dunkirkers, and plundered. To be revenged of them he bought a great ship called the Eagle, and harassed the Flemings. The keeping of that ship was so expensive that he was compelled to wadset (mortgage) and dispose of several lands.” (Douglas’ Peerage, Wood’s edition, vol. ii. p. 643.) He married Lady Margaret Campbell, eldest daughter of the first earl of Argyle, and with one daughter, Martha, the wife of Sir William Mailtland of Lethington, had two sons, George, third Lord Seton, and John, ancestor of the Setons of Northrig.

George, fifth Lord Seton, was a favourite of James IV., and fell with him at Flodden, 13th September 1513. He married Lady Janet Hepburn, eldest daughter of the first Earl of Bothwell, and had one son, George, sixth Lord Seton, and one daughter, Mariot, Countess of Eglinton.

George, sixth Lord Seton, was in 1526 appointed a member of the parliamentary committee pro judicibus, and admitted one of the extraordinary lords of session, 5th March, 1542. In March of the following year, Cardinal Bethune was placed in his custody in Blackness castle, but he permitted him to escape, being, according to the writers of the time, bribed for the purpose. It seems certain, however, that the cardinal was set at liberty with the consent of the governor, Arran. In May 1544, the English army, under the earl of Hertford, then in Lothian, “came and lay at Seton, burnt and destroyed the castle thereof, spoyled the kirk, tuk away the bellis and organis and other tursable (portable) thingis, and pat thame in thair schippis, and brint the tymber wark within the said kirk,” In November of the same year, he was employed by parliament as one of the negotiators between the governor of the kingdom Arran, and the queen-dowager, afterwards regent. He died in July 1545. At his request, Sir Richard Maitland compiled the History of the house of Seton. The following is the character he gives of him: “He was ane wise and vertewes nobleman; a man well experienced in all games, and took pleasure in halking, and was holden to be the best falconer in his days.” He was twice married, first to Elizabeth, daughter of John, Lord Hay of Yester, by whom he had, with four daughters, three sons, namely, 1, George, seventh Lord Seton. 2. John, ancestor of the Setons of Carriston, Fifeshire. 3. James. Secondly, to Mary Pyeres or Peris, a French lady, who came to Scotland with Mary of Lorraine, and by her had one son, Robert.

George, seventh Lord Seton, was the chivalrous and devoted adherent of Mary, Queen of Scots, and with two of his children, figures conspicuously in Sir Walter Scott’s tale of ‘The Abbot.’ He was one of the commissioners appointed by the parliament of Scotland, 17th December 1557, to be present at Mary’s nuptials with the dauphin of France. In 1558, when several of the nobility went to secret to hear the reformed preacher, John Willock, expound from his sickbed the doctrines of the Gospel, Lord Seton was one of them, but afterwards he was the first to fall back into popery. The following year he was provost of Edinburgh, and joined the party of the queen-dowager against the lords of the Congregation. Calderwood (Hist. of the Kirk of Scotland, vol. i. p. 474) says, “The erle of Argile and Lord James (afterwards the regent Moray) entered in Edinburgh the 29th June 1559. The Lord Seton, provost, a man without God, without honestie, and often times without reason, had diverse times before troubled the brethrein. He had takin upon him the protection of the Blacke and Gray friers, and for that purpose lay himself in one of them everie night, and also constrained the honest burgesses of the toun to watch and guarde these monsters, to their great greefe. When he heard of the suddane coming of the lords, he abandoned his charge.” In autumn of the same year he was sent by the queen-dowager, with the earl of Huntly, to solicit the brethren assembled in St. Giles’, Edinburgh, to allow mass to be said either before or after sermon, but of course they could get no other answer than that they were in possession of the church and would not suffer idolatry to be erected there again. About the same time, suspecting one Alexander Whitelaw to be John Knox, he pursued him as he came from Preston, accompanied with William Knox, towards Edinburgh, and did not give up the chase till he came to Ormiston. On Queen Mary’s return from France in 1561, he was sworn a privy councilor, and appointed master of the household to her majesty. The night after the murder of Rizzio, Lord Seton, with 200 horse, attended the queen first to Seton and then to Dunbar, Darnley being compelled by threats to go with her. On Darnley’s assassination, the queen and Bothwell, it is well known, went to Seton, where they remained for some days, and there the marriage contract between them was signed. Lord Seton was one of her chief supporters at Carberry Hill, and when she made her escape from Lochleven castle in the beginning of May 1568, he was lying secretly among the hills on the other side, and immediately joining her, conducted her first to his castle of Niddry, in Linlithgowshire, and then to Hamilton. He was present at the battle of Langside, and on the defeat of the queen’s forces there, retired to ‘Flanders. He remained two years in exile, and for his living was compelled to become a waggoner. A painting of him driving a wagon with four horses was in the north end of the long gallery of Seton. He was in Scotland in the spring of 1570 actively employed on behalf of Queen Mary. He was one of the nobles of her faction who signed the letter to Queen Elizabeth, dated in March of that year. On the report that the lords of the king’s party were to come to Edinburgh on the first of May, some of the queen’s lords left the town, but “Lord Seton assembled his forces at the palace of Holyrood-house, and bragged that he would enter in the town, and cause beat a drum, in despite of all the caries. He had in company with him the Lady Northumberland.” This lady was in Scotland on the captive queen’s behalf, and the same year she was sent with Lord Seton to the Low Countries to solicit the assistance of the duke of Alva for the friends of Mary’s cause in Scotland. On the downfall of the Regent Morton in 1581, he was committed to the charge of Lord Seton and sundry other noblemen, to be conveyed to Dumbarton castle. In January of the same year he was one of the lords of the king’s household, who subscribed the Second Confession of Faith, commonly called the King’s Confession. He was one of the jury on Morton’s trial, and with the laird of Wauchton was objected to by him, as known to be his enemies. At his execution, “Lord Seton and his two sons stood in a stair, south-east from the cross.” He was one of the noblemen who conveyed the duke of Lennox on his way to England in December 1582, when ordered out of Scotland. The following year he was complained upon by the synodal assembly of Lothian for entertaining of ‘Seminary priests.” In January 1584, he was sent by King James VI. ambassador to France, He died soon after his return, on 8th January 1585, aged about 55, and was buried in the family vault at Seton, where there is a monument to his memory. By his wife, Isabel, daughter of Sir William Hamilton of Sanquhar, high-treasurer of Scotland, he had five sons and one daughter, Margaret, married to Lord Claud Hamilton. The sons were, 1. George, master of Seton, who predeceased his father in March 1562. 2. Robert, sixth Lord Seton. 3. Sir John Seton, Lord Barns, of whom afterwards. 4. Alexander Seton of Pluscardine, 1st Earl of Dunfermline. 5. Sir William Seton of Kyllismore, Sheriff of MidLothian and postmaster of Scotland. It is related that George, seventh Lord Seton, declined the dignity of Earldom, being unwilling to forgo what he considered a great distinction, and that his accomplished sovereign commemorated the fact in the following lines:

“Sunt Comites, Ducesque alii, sunt denique Reges,
Setoni Dominium, sit satis esse mihi.”

An engraving of the Seton family from a painting by Sir Antonio More, consisting of Lord Seton and five youngest children, is given in Pinkerton’s Scottish Gallery.

Robert, the second son, eighth Lord Seton, was created 1st Earl of Winton, 16th November 1600.

Of his next brother, Sir John Seton, Lord Barns, the following particulars are given in Haig and Brunton’s Senators of the College of Justice: According to a historical account of the family written by Alexander, Lord Kingston, he “was a brave young man, and went to Spaine to King Philip II., his court, by whom he was made knight of the royal order of St. Jago, att that tyme the only order of knighthood in that kingdome of greatest esteem, in memory whereof, he and his heirs hes a sword in the coat of armes, being the badge of that order. King Philip also preferred him to be a gentleman of his chamber and cavalier de la Boca (master of the household). He also carried the golden key at his side in a blew ribbing, all which were the greatest honours King Philip of Spaine could give to any of his subjects, except to be made a grandee of Spaine. He had a pension granted to him and his heirs of two thousand crowns yearly.” (Melville’s Memoirs, p. 365.) He was recalled to Scotland by James VI., who appointed him treasurer of his household. He was constituted master of the horse, and in 1581, sent ambassador to Queen Elizabeth, to complain of the conduct of her ambassador in interfering on behalf of the Regent Morton, after his downfall, but was not allowed to enter England. He was appointed one of the extraordinary lords of session, as Lord Barns, in room of his brother, Alexander, admitted an ordinary lord, 17th February 1587. He was a favourite of the king, as well as of the duke of Lennox, who quarreled with the profligate earl of Arran (Captain Stewart) on account of an indignity offered to Sir John, by the latter. He was afterwards appointed comptroller, and died 25th May, 1594.

From the earliest period, the family of Seton filled a prominent place in the annals of Scotland. They were surpassed by none in loyalty to the throne and firm attachment to the dynasty of the Stuarts. Their military ardour, and dauntless and patriotic bearing appear from their ancient war-cry of “Set-on,” and their earliest motto of “Hazard, yet forward.” It was in consequence of so many other noble families having sprung from them that the Lords Seton were styled “Magnae Nobilitatis Domini.” Owing to their inter-marriages, upon four different occasions, with the royal family, their shield obtained the addition of the royal or double tressure. Their unshaken loyalty is marked by another of their mottoes, “Intaminatis fulget honoribus,” and it was this heroic spirit that led to the last earl of Winton, the descendant and representative of the Setons, joining in the rebellion of 1715, for which his titles and estates were forfeited. (See WINTON, Earl of.) The lands which the family held were very extensive, and their chief seat was recognized in the royal charters ad the palace of Seton, in consequence of having often been the place of royal entertainment, as for ages it had been the scene of great magnificence and splendid hospitality. The representation of the noble family of Seton is claimed both by the earl of Eglinton and George Seton, Esq.

The Scottish Nation

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

The Arms of George Seton, 7th Lord Seton.
Arms of the Lords Seton, © TheSetonFamily 2005

















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