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Hazard Yet Forward The tradition motto of the House of Seton

The History of the Seton-name, and the Carolingian Lineage of the House of Seton - The House of Boulogne

The original Arms of the Seton family, prior to 1347.

The manuscript at the British Museum from the 16th century it states that "their surnam came home with King Malcolme Camoir foorth of Ingland". Chalmers in his "Caledonia" states that the first Setons were members of a Norman (Flemish) family named "Say" (which was incorrect), and that they obtained from David I land in East Lothian which were called Sey-tun. Sir Richard Maitland of Lethington wrote a "Historie or Chronicle of the Hous and Surename of Seytoun" down to the year 1559, wrote that King Malcolm Canmore "gaif to the predecessour and forebear of my Lord Seytoun the surename of Seytoun... appearandlie be ressoun that the gentilman... possessit the landis of Seytoun for the tyme... thay landis ar callit Seytoun for ane grit caus, becaus thay ly hard upon the Sey cost and the Toun thairof is neir to the Sey."

While Maitland of Lethington had reference to the East Lothian lands of the family as being the originator for King Malcolm's giving of the family name, it was in fact the King's referring to the Northumberland lands of Staithes, the secret port or Sea-town there, for which the King made reference to and thence we had given likewise to the lands in East Lothian as a result.  The mark of honour however, being given the name to the family by the King has never been forgotten and is maintained to this day.

It was during the reign of King David I that the Seton Family firmly established themselves in Scotland.  They had previously settled in what was known as the sea-town of Staithes in Northumbria, a small hidden village in a cleft in the cliffs, later called Seaton-Staithes and now simply known as Staithes.  Before that the family was previously known as de Lens, of the House of Boulogne and seniors of the ancient Carolingian line descended from the Emperor Charlemagne from the eldest son of Count Lambert de Lens from his first marriage.  It was Count Lambert's eldest son, Seier de Lens who held lands in both Northumbria and later in Scotland.  It appears that Seier's Christian name is unknown, for Seier is the old French name for Baron (Seigneur), however his brother was called Walter, or Walcher. 

The family name therefore, simply means "the town by the sea", which chronicler's have erroneously assumed to mean that of Seton in East Lothian: which lands received their name from the family, not given it to them, and is the reason why the family were known as Seton OF Seton, and not "Seton of that Ilk".  Whereas when a family took their name from the lands, they were known as, "of that Ilk", however when they gave their name to the lands, then the previous applied and the family were known as being "of...".  It was a small point in Scotch etiquette, but one habitually overlooked by English-cultured historians.

There is no correct method on how to write the family name, however, it should be pointed out that the S-E-T-O-N version is acknowledged as the Scots version, and the preferred traditionally accepted version; the S-E-A-T-O-N being the Anglized or British version; The S-E-E-T-O-N version seems to have been used mostly in Aberdeenshire and in Ireland predominantly (as per the Seeton's of Nova Scotia of the family of Seton of Barnes), though periodically found across Britain; and the S-E-Y-T-O-U-N form is almost certainly amongst the oldest and found in Scots documents. The following example of Scots writing from the 17th century serves to illustrate the language which gave rise to the various spellings and is as follows:

Maister Jhone Forbes, (Master John Forbes) maist worthie of credeit, (most worthy of credit) Yit came thair neiuer to me sik a greiff in hairt and minde, as I reasued be yiour heighness sould suspect ony sik thing off me.  It has wounded me sua, that it has putt me fra all other thocht or cair; for as I wald think myself onwordie to be leiuand, gif I haid committed sa filthe an errour, sua man I disdane baith my lyff and haill estaitt, sa lang as I am in feare my maist gracious souerane has onye suspicion I be onye wayis giltie of sa abominabill crime. Chancellor Alexander Seton, to his King, James VI and I, 1604.

Other Variances from Latin, Continental and Scots/Anglo corruptions include:

Setoniis, Sietoun, Seiton, Saytoun, Seytoune, Seyton, Setoune, Settoun, Saiton, Setan and, Ventoun, Wintoniensi, Wintoniensis or Wintoniae for Winton, which in England was called after 'Winchester'.

The Carolingian Lineage of the House of Seton

Boulogne was originally named Gesoriacum and probably also to be identified with Portus Itius.  By the 4th century Boulogne was known to the Romans as Bononia and served as the major port connecting the rest of the empire to Britain. The emperor Claudius used this town as his base for the Roman invasion of Britain, in AD 43, and until 296 it was the base of the Classis britannica.

Like so many other pedigrees, the Norman origin offered for the Seton family is careless nonsense. As their own distinctive crescents show, Seier de Seton and his brother Walter sprang from a second son of the House of Boulogne. Known in their Flemish homeland as Seier and Walter de Lens, they were sons of Count Eustace I’s second son, Count Lambert de Lens from his first wife, and whose daughter by a second marriage (to the sister of William the Conqueror) was the Countess Judith, mother of Scotland’s Queen Maud. With the previous Flemish ties to the ruling House in Scotland and in Northumbria, both Seier and his brother were one of many that were invited to come and settle in Scotland by King Malcolm III, of the Alpin line.

The Flemish-Boulonnaise enjoyed a much respected status throughout Europe as a result of their lineage in the Empirical-French Monarchy, as well as those of others, and inter-marriages between Flanders and the courts in Scotland and Northumbria had reached their zenith when Judith, daughter of Lambert of Lens from his second marriage to Adele of Normandy, (sister of Duke William, later King William I), married Waltheof of Northumberland, Earl of Huntingdon.  Their oldest daughter, Maud, married David of Scotland (son of King Malcolm III) who became Earl of Huntingdon and later King David I of Scotland.

The Flemish influence at the Scottish court cemented their presence there, coupled with service to the Royal household, and which tradition was continued by Seier’s eldest son, Walter de Lens, or Walter the Fleming as he is described in Domesday.   Although he had his chief English home at Wahull (now called Odell) in Bedfordshire, it was on the Firth of Forth as heir there of his father Seier (where he was called Dougall or "the dark stranger", a nickname which was also given to his own son Walter, and duly recorded by the family’s first official chronicler, Sir Richard Maitland of Lethington, in 1554), that he concentrated his principal efforts.  With the estates of Boulogne and Lens passing to more senior family, the brother's Seier and Walter (Walcher) became de Seaton/Seton and le Flandrensis/Fleming, respectively in Britain.  Seier's line founded the Houses of Seton and Oliphant, and which prospered as a combined result of their Carolingian lineage and dedicated military service to the Scottish Court.  Their Arms then, as senior and junior, state this lineage proudly.


The Scottish Royal Lineage

The Seton family had further married into the Royal House of Scotland on four separate occasions, and where Sir Christopher Seton married the sister of King Robert I and was added the double tressure in addition to his paternal coat of arms to signify the Royal lineage.  Lady Catherine Seton, the daughter of Sir William Seton son and heir of Sir John 2nd Lord Seton; married Sir Alan Stewart of Derneley (later Darnley), and gave rise to the Earls of Lennox, who's descendant Henry Stuart became Lord Darnley and 2nd husband to the famed Queen Mary Stuart, and father of King James VI and I.  This gave the Seton's direct lineage in the Royal House of Scotland, and in Britain.

George, 3rd Lord Seton succeeded his grandfather Sir William Seton, and married the only child and daughter of John Stewart, Earl of Buchan (son of Robert Stewart Duke of Albany and grandson of King Robert II), the heiress Margaret Stewart.  Although deprived of the Earldom, it was universally acknowledged that the Seton's were heirs to Buchan, and their arms quartered to reflect this lineage.

Gold Medal struck to mark the marriage of George Seton and Isabel Hamilton
© British Museum

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Medal struck to mark the marriage of George Seton and Isabel Hamilton
© Historic Scotland
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     The Main Line
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     The Meldrum Line
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     Preston-Ekolsund Line
     The Mounie Line
     The Belches Line
    Eglinton Lineage
     The Bellingham Line
     The Seton's of Clatto