1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Seton

SETON (Family). The Scottish family of Seton, Seyton or Seatoun, claims descent from a Dougall Seton who lived in the reign of Alexander I. Sir Richard Maitland of Lethington counted seven generations between this personage and Sir Christopher Seton (d. 1306), the first of the house who emerges in history with any distinctness, but these links are not all supported by documentary evidence. The name was derived from the Anglo-Norman family of Say, the Anglo-Norman immigrant being supposed to have given the name of Sey-toun to the lands granted to him in East Lothian; The family honours include the earldoms of Wintoun (cr. 1600) and Dunfermline; of Eglinton through marriage with the Montgomeries; and through alliance wit-h a Gordon heiress a Seton became the ancestor of the earls and marquesses of Huntly and dukes of Gordon. The Setons were connected by marriage with the royal family of Scotland, and also with the Dunbars, Lindsays, Hays and Maitlands.

Sir Christopher Seton, son and heir of John de Seton, a Cumberland gentleman, and his wife Erminia Lascelles, was born probably in 1278, since his age is given in'March 1299 as twenty-one, in an inquisition into the lands of his deceased father. He did homage for these in October of that year, and was in the service of Edward I. at Lochmaben in 1304. In 1305 he came into possession of lands which had been granted by Sir John Seton to Robert Bruce and his wife Christian, who was perhaps a Seton. He had married about 1301 Christian Bruce, sister of King Robert, who was possibly his second cousin. He was present at his brother-in-law's coronation at Scone in 1306, and saved his life at the battle of Methven later in the same year. According to Dugdale he shut himself up in Lochdoon Castle in Ayrshire, and on the surrender of that castle was hanged as a traitor at Dumfries by order of Edward I. He left no heirs. His widow was in March 1307 in receipt of three pence a day from Edward I. for her support at the monastery of Sixhill in Lincolnshire. She was afterwards placed in the custody of Sir Thomas de Gray. His Cumberland estates, with the exception of his mother's dower, were given to Robert de Clifford. Another Seton, John de Seton, described as having no lands or chattels, was hanged for helping in the defence of Tibbers Castle, and for aiding in the murder of John Comyn, with other prisoners of war, at Newcastle in August 1306.

Sir Alexander Seton (d. c. 1360) was probably the brother of Sir Christopher. He received considerable grants of land from King Robert Bruce, and was one of the signatories of the letter addressed by the Scottish nobles to the pope to assert the independence of Scotland. He was twice sent on embassies to England, and in 1333 he defended the town of Berwick against the English. He agreed with the English to surrender the town on a certain date unless he received relief before that time, giving his eldest surviving son Thomas as a hostage. On the refusal of the Scots to surrender at the expiry of the term Thomas Seton was hanged in sight of the garrison. This incident is related by Fordun and Boece, but with inconsistencies that have rendered it suspect. An elder son, Alexander, had perished in 1332 in opposing the landing of Edward Baliol; according to some authorities the third son, William, was hanged with his brother, but he is generally said to have been drowned during the siege; his daughter Margaret married Alan de Wintoun. The tragic death of young Thomas Seton was the subject of a ballad of “Seton’s Sons,” printed in Sheldon’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border; of a tragedy, The Siege of Berwick (1794, printed 1882) by Edward Jerningham, and of another by James Miller (1824).

Sir William Seton of Seton (fl. 1371–1393) is said to have been ennobled with the title of Lord Seton, and his heirs laid claim that the barony of Seton was the oldest in Scotland. By his wife Catherine Sinclair he had eight children. John succeeded him; Alexander married Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of Sir Adam de Gordon, by whom he became the ancestor of the Gordons of Huntly.

Sir John of Seton (d. c. 1441) was taken prisoner at Homildon Hill in 1402. He was hostage in England for the earl of Douglas in 1405, and again in 1423 for James I. He married Lady Janet Dunbar, daughter of the 10th earl of March. His son Sir William was killed at Verneuil, lighting on the French side, leaving as heir GEORGE (d. 1478), 1st Lord Seton, who was created a lord of parliament in 1448 as Lord Seton. By his first marriage with Margaret, daughter of John Stewart, earl of Buchan, he had a son John, who died during his father’s lifetime. He was succeeded by his grandson George, 2nd Lord Seton (d. 1508), who was a scholar of St Andrews and Paris, and in common report a necromancer. He was captured by the Flemings, and on his release fitted out and maintained a ship for the purpose of harassing Flemish travellers. His son George, 3rd Lord Seton, was killed at Flodden in 1513. He redeemed estates which his father had sacrificed to support his enterprises against the Flemings. By his marriage with Janet, daughter of Patrick Dunbar, 1st earl of Bothwell, he left a son George, 4th Lord Seton (d. 1549), who allowed Cardinal Beaton to escape from custody in 1543, and received considerable grants of land in the sequel. The castle and church of Seton were burnt by Hertford in revenge for the part he had taken against the English in 1544.

George, 5th Lord Seton (1530?–1585), was a firm friend of Mary, queen of Scots. He was present at her marriage with the dauphin in 1557, and three years later he was again in France because of his adherence to the old religion. When Mary returned to Scotland he became privy councillor and master of the household, but four years later he again found it advisable to retire to France. Mary and Darnley spent their honeymoon at Seton Palace, and Mary found a retreat there after the murder of Rizzio and again after the murder of Darnley. She spent the night before Carberry Hill under Seton’s roof, and he was waiting for her on her escape from Lochleven in May 1568. He took her to his castle at Niddrie, Linlithgowshire, and thence to Hamilton. A week later he was taken prisoner at Langside. He was set free after the assassination of the regent Moray, and made his way to Flanders, where he was said to have made his living as a Wagoner. He was, in fact, entrusted by Mary's supporters with a mission to the duke of Alva, and sought in vain to secure for service in Scotland two regiments of Scots then in Spanish pay. He returned home in 1571, being apparently reconciled with the government, but he retained his Catholicism and his friendship for Mary, who wrote to Elizabeth in 1581 desiring a passport for Lord Seton that he might alleviate her solitude. In 1581 he was one of Morton’s judges, and in 1583 he was sent as ambassador to France, where he sought interference on Queen Mary’s behalf. He died soon after his return on the 8th of January 1585. The 5th Lord Seton figures in Sir Walter Scott’s Abbot. He was succeeded by his second eldest surviving son, Robert, who became 6th Lord Seton and and 1st earl of Wintoun. His third son, Sir John Seton of Barns, was a gentleman of the bedchamber to Philip II. of Spain. He was recalled to Scotland by James VI., and served as lord of session from I§ ;87 to 1594.

Mary Seton, one of the “ Four Maries ” attendant on the queen, is supposed to have been the 5th Lord Seton’s half-sister, being the daughter of the 4th lord by his second wife, aFrenchwoman named Mary Pieris, maid of honour to Mary of Guise. She had been educated with Queen Mary in France, being about a year older than her mistress, with whom she returned to Scotland in 1561. She helped Mary to escape from Lochleven by assuming her clothes. Later on she joined her at Carlisle, and remained with her in her various prisons until 1583, when prison life had undermined her health and spirits. She retired to the abbey of St Pierre at Reims, and she was still living there, an old lady of seventy-four, in poverty in 1614.

Robert Seton (d. 1603) succeeded his father as 6th lord in 1585, and was created earl of Wintoun in 1600. He married, about 1582, Margaret, eldest daughter of Hugh Montgomerie, 3rd earl of Eglinton. His sons Robert and George were successively earls of Wintoun; the third, Alexander, became, in right of his mother, 6th earl of Eglinton; the fourth, Thomas, was the ancestor Of the Setons of Oliveston.

George, 4th earl of Wintoun (1640–1704), succeeded his grandfather, George Seton, 3rd earl, in 1650. He saw some service in the French army, and fought against the Covenanters at Pentland and at Bothwell Bridge. By his second marriage, with Christian Hepburn, he had a son George, who quarrelled with his father and is said to have been working as a journeyman blacksmith abroad when he succeeded to the title in 1704. In 1715 the 5th earl joined Kenmure with 300 men at Moffat, but it was against his advice that the Jacobite army invaded England. He was lying in the Tower under sentence of death when he succeeded in making his escape, and proceeding to the continent, he became well known in Rome, where he was grand master of the Roman lodge of Freemasons. He died there in 1749. With him the earldom became extinct, but it was revived in 1840 in favour of the earls of Eglinton.

Some of the cadet branches of the family remain to be noticed. The Setons of Parbroath in Fife, represented by American descendants, are descended from Sir George Seton (fl. 1589–1595). The Setons of Touch, near Stirling, descended from Alexander Seton, 1st earl of Huntly. They were hereditary armour-bearers and squires of the body to the king, dignities which passed, in the female line, to the Seton-Stewarts in 1786. From the Setons of Touch were descended the Setons of Culbeg or Abercorn. The Setons of Preston (Linlithgow) and Ekolsund (Sweden) have been connected with the Swedish army since the 18th century when George Seton, a merchant, settled in Stockholm. The Setons of Melorum descended from William Seton, brother of the first earl of Huntly. The Pitmedden branch was an offshoot from Meldrum; the baronetcy was created (1686) for the judge Sir Alexander Seton, Lord Pitmedden (c. 1639–1713). The Setons of Mounie again were a branch of the Pitmedden family; one of their house, Lieut.-Colonel Alexander Seton, 74th Highlanders, was in charge of the troops on the ill-fated “ Birkenhead ” in 1852. The Setons of Cariston, descended from John, second son of the 6th Lord Seton, obtained the barony of Cariston in 1553. Other branches are Seton-Gordon of Embo, with a baronetcy created, in 1631, and Seton of Garleton, with a baronetcy created in 1663. The viscount of Kingston was created for Alexander Seton (d. 1691), third son of the 3rd earl of Wintoun, and became extinct on the attainder of James, 3rd viscount, in 1715. See Huntly, Earls and Marquesses of.

Authorities.—Sir Richard Maitland, History of the House of Seton, continued by A. Seton, 1st Viscount Kingston (mod. ed., Glasgow 1829, and Edinburgh 1830); G. Seton, The History of the House of Seton (2 vols., 1896); Sir R. Douglas, Scots Peerage, new ed. by Sir J. B. Paul; Calendar of Documents relating to Scotland in the “ Rolls ” series; and G. E. C(okayne), Complete Peerage.