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The Great Historic Families of Scotland
The Setons


The Setons are among the most ancient and illustrious of the great houses of Scotland, and are proverbially said to have the reddest blood in the kingdom. In consequence of a remarkable number of other families of the highest rank having sprung from their main stock, the heads of the house are termed ‘Magnae Nobilitatis Domini;’ and from their intermarriage upon four different occasions with the royal family, they obtained the addition to their shield of the royal or double tressure. Their earliest motto, ‘Hazard yet forward,’ is descriptive of their military ardour and dauntless courage. They were conspicuous throughout their whole history for their loyalty and firm attachment to the Stewart dynasty, in whose cause they perilled and lost their titles and extensive estates.

SECKER DE SEYE, son of Dugdale de Sey, by a daughter of De Quincy, Earl of Winchester, the founder of this illustrious family, was of Norman descent, like most of the progenitors of the other great houses of Scotland, and settled in Scotland in the days of David I., from whom he obtained a grant of lands in East Lothian, to which he gave his own name—Seytun, the dwelling of Sey. His son, ALEXANDER DE SETUNE, or SETON, was proprietor of the estate of Winchburgh, in Linlithgowshire, as well as of Seton and Wintoun, in East Lothian, and his son, PHILIP DE SETUNE, received a grant of these lands from William the Lion in 1169. The fourth in descent from him was the noble patriot SIR CHRISTOPHER, or CHRISTALL SEYTON, who married Lady Christian Bruce, sister of King Robert Bruce, and widow of Gratney, Earl of Mar. The ‘Gallant Seton,’ as he is termed by the author of the Lord of the Isles, was one of the earliest and most strenuous supporters of his illustrious brother-in-law, and was present at his coronation at Scone, 27th of March, 1306. At the Battle of Methven, on the 13th of June following, Bruce, who had ventured his person in that conflict like a knight of romance, was unhorsed by Sir Philip Mowbray, but was remounted by Sir Christopher, who greatly signalised himself in the conflict by his personal valour. [Sir Christopher is said to have been a man of gigantic stature. His two-handed sword, measuring four feet nine inches, is in the possession of George Seton, Esq., of the Register Office, representative of the Setons of Cariston.] He made his escape from that fatal field, and shut himself up in Lochdoon Castle, in Ayrshire, where he was betrayed to the English, through means (according to Barbour) of one Macnab, ‘a disciple of Judas,’ in whom the unfortunate knight reposed entire confidence. Sir Christopher was conveyed to Dumfries, where he was tried, condemned, and executed; and his brother John shared the same fate at Newcastle. Another brother, named ALEXANDER SETON, succeeded to the estates of the family, and adhered to their patriotic principles, for his name is appended, along with those of other leading nobles, to the famous letter to the Pope, in 1320, asserting the independence of Scotland. He was rewarded by King Robert Bruce with liberal grants of land, including the manor of Tranent, forfeited by the powerful family of De Quincy, Earls of Winchester and High Constables of Scotland, from whom, as we have seen, he was descended in the female line. This Sir Alexander has been immortalised in the pages of Sir Walter Scott for the conspicuous part which he took in the defence of his country against the invasion of the English after the death of Robert Bruce. He was Governor of the town of Berwick when it was besieged by Edward III. of England in 1333. Though the garrison was neither numerous nor well appointed they made a gallant defence, and succeeded in sinking and destroying by fire a great part of the English fleet. The siege was then converted into a blockade, and as the supplies at length began to fail and starvation was imminent, the Governor agreed to capitulate by a certain day unless succours were received before that time, and gave hostages, among whom was his own son, Thomas, for the fulfilment of these stipulations.

Before the appointed period expired, Sir William Keith and some other knights, with a body of Scottish soldiers, succeeded in throwing themselves into the town. The main body of the Scottish army, however, after a fruitless attempt to provoke the English to quit their lines and give them battle, marched into Northumberland, and Edward then peremptorily insisted that the town should be surrendered. The besieged refused to comply with this demand, asserting that they had received succours both of men and provisions. The vindictive and cruel monarch, enraged at this refusal, caused Thomas Seton—a tall and good-looking youth, like all his race [The Setons have from the earliest times been noted for their lofty stature. ‘Tall and proud, like the Setons,’ was long a common saying in Scotland.]—to be hanged before the gate of the town; so near, it is said, that the unhappy father could witness the execution from the walls. The other two sons of Sir Alexander Seton both fell in their country’s cause—one in opposing the landing of Edward Baliol, near Kinghorn, 6th August, 1332; the other was drowned in the successful attack on the English fleet at Berwick, in sight of his father, in July, 1333. Sir Alexander sought refuge from his sorrows and troubles in a hospital of the order of St. John of Jerusalem, and his daughter Margaret became the heiress of his extensive estates. She married ALAN DE WYNTOUN, who is believed to have been a cadet of her own family, for Philip Seton obtained a charter of the lands of Wyntoun from William the Lion. This marriage led to a sanguinary contest with rival and disappointed suitors, called ‘the Wyntoun’s war,’ which, according to Wyntoun, the metrical chronicler, caused more than a hundred ploughs to be laid aside from labour. Alan de Wyntoun died in the Holy Land, leaving a daughter, who became Countess of Dunbar, and had an only son, SIR WILLIAM SETON, of whom it is recorded that ‘he was the first creatit and made lord in the Parliament, and he and his posteritie to have ane voit yairin, and be callit Lordis.’ The younger son of this powerful baron married the heiress of the great family of GORDON, and became the progenitor of the Dukes of Gordon and Marquises of Huntly, as well as of the Setons of Touch, hereditary armour-bearers to the King; the Setons of Meldrum, of Abercorn, of Pitmedden, [Colonel Seton, of the 74th Highlanders, whose heroic conduct at the shipwreck of the Birkenhead, where he perished, excited universal admiration, was a cadet of the Pitmedden family.] and other branches of the house. He fought with the hereditary valour of the Setons at the memorable battle of Harlaw in 1411, and in the wars in France in 1421.

The elder son, SIR JOHN SETON, who married a daughter of the tenth Earl of Dunbar and March, carried on the direct line of the family, and was the ancestor of the Earls of Wintoun and Dunfermline, and the Viscounts Kingston. His only son, Sir William, accompanied the Scottish auxiliaries under the Earl of Buchan and Archibald, Earl of Douglas, who went to the assistance of Charles, the Dauphin of France, then hard pressed by the English; and who gained the famous battle of Beaugé, in which the Duke of Clarence, the Marshal of England, and the flower of its chivalry, were left dead on the battlefield. But in the following year Sir William fell, along with the Earls of Buchan and Douglas, and the greater part of the Scottish contingent, at the bloody battle of Verneuil, in the lifetime of his father, 17th August, 1424. His son, GEORGE SETON, was created a peer of Parliament in 1448, and was the husband of Lady Margaret Stewart, daughter and heiress of John, Earl of Buchan and High Constable of France, son of the Regent Albany, and grandson of Robert H.

GEORGE, second LORD SETON, endowed the collegiate church of Seton (20th June, 1493), for the support of a provost, six prebendaries, two singing boys, and a clerk. This fine building is of great antiquity, though the precise date of its erection is unknown. It was long allowed to remain in a dilapidated condition, but a few years ago it was put into a tolerably satisfactory state of repair, and has been converted into a place of burial for the family of the Earl of Wemyss, to whom it now belongs. Lord George is described by the historian of the family as ‘meikle given to leichery (medicine), and as cunning in divers sciences as in musk, theology, and astronomy. He was so given to learning that, after he was married, he went to St. Andrews and studied there lang, 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.’ His taste for splendid buildings may have contributed to his embarrassments. It was he who erected the original house of Wintoun, which appears to have been destroyed in Lord Hertford’s inroad. The historian of the family says, ‘the second lord built the haill place of Wintoun, with the yard and gardens thereof,’ and he describes quaintly its ornamented gardens, the flower-plots of which were surrounded by a hundred wooden towers or temples, surmounted by bells over-gilt with gold. His eldest son, by a daughter of the first Earl of Argyll—

GEORGE, the third LORD SETON, was held in high esteem by James IV., and fell with his sovereign on the fatal field of Flodden. He left a widow, eldest daughter of the first Earl of Both-well, who survived him for a period of nearly half a century. His successor—

GEORGE, fourth LORD SETON, says Sir Richard Maitland, 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.’

The greatness of the family reached its highest point under the fifth lord, who bore their favourite name of George, and who has been immortalised in tradition and history, and, above all, in Sir Walter Scott’s tale of ’The Abbot,’ as the staunch supporter of the unfortunate Queen Mary, during all the mutabilities of her career. He entered upon public life at an early age, and in 1557 was nominated one of the commissioners appointed by the Scottish Parliament to proceed to Paris for the purpose of being present at the marriage of their young queen to the Dauphin of France. He seemed at first to be favourably inclined towards the Reformed faith, and was one of the nobles who went to hear John Willock, the Protestant preacher, explain from his sick-bed the doctrines of the gospel; but he ultimately adhered to the Romish Church, and joined the party of the Queen Dowager against the Lords. This step was naturally regarded with great displeasure by the Protestant party. Calderwood says: ‘The Erle of Argyll and Lord James Stewart entered in Edinburgh, the 29th June, 1559. The Lord Seton, the Provost, a man without God, without honestie, and oftentimes without reason, had diverse times before troubled the brethrein. He had taken upon him the protection of the Blacke and Gray Friars, and for that purpose lay himself in one of them everie night and also constrained the honest burgesses of the town to watch and guarde these monsters to their great greefe. When he heard of the suddane coming of the Lords he abandoned his charge.’ Lord Seton held the office of Grand Master of Queen Mary’s household, and was concerned in not a few of the most momentous events in her history. The night after the murder of Rizzio, when Mary fled from Holyrood, her first halting-place was Seton House, where Lord Seton was in readiness at the head of two hundred horsemen to escort his sovereign to the strong castle of Dunbar. A few days after the murder of Darnley, Mary repaired to Seton House, where she was entertained by its owner in person, and spent her time in hunting and shooting. On the Queen’s escape from Lochleven, Lord Seton was waiting in the vicinity of the lake with fifty of his retainers, and attended her in her rapid flight to his castle of Niddry, on his Winchburgh estate in West Lothian, where she first drew bridle. He fought on her side and was taken prisoner at the battle of Lang-side, in 1568, which ruined her cause in Scotland. The Regent Moray, who seems to have respected Lord Seton for his fidelity to his sovereign, set him at liberty and permitted him to retire to the Continent, where he was indefatigable in his efforts to induce the French and Spanish Courts to interfere on her behalf. He was reduced to such a state of poverty in his exile that at one time he was obliged to drive a waggon in Flanders for his subsistence. A painting of him in his waggoner’s dress, in the act of driving a wain with four horses, which he caused to be made, long adorned the stately gallery in Seton House. He appears to have been fond of the fine arts, for he had himself painted also as Master of the Queen’s household, with his official baton, and the following characteristic motto:-

‘In adversitate patiens,
In prosperitate benevolus.
Hazard yet forward.’

On various parts of his castle he inscribed, as expressing his religious and political creed, the legend Un Dieu, Un Foy, Un Roy, Un Loy.

A beautiful family-piece, by Sir Antonio More, representing this faithful adherent of Queen Mary surrounded by his children, was in the possession of Lord Somerville, and is published in Pinkerton’s ‘Scottish Iconographia.’

After James VI. took the reins of government into his own hands, he appointed Lord Seton one of the lords of his household, and in January, 1584, sent him ambassador to France. His lordship died, in 1585 soon after his return from France, and was buried in Seton church, where there is a monument to his memory commemorating his fidelity and the prudence by which he thrice restored his house, thrice ruined by the foreign enemy. As the estates of the Seton family lay on the direct road from Berwick to Edinburgh, they suffered severely from the inroads of the English. When the Earl of Hertford invaded Scotland in 1544, and laid waste the whole of the eastern Border, his army ‘came and lay at Seton, burnt and destroyed the castle thereof, spoyled the kirk, took away the bellis and organis, and other tursible [portable] thinges, and put them in their schippes, and brynt the timber wark within the said kirk.’ The account given by the ruthless invaders of the rich vestments of the provost and inferior priests, and of the gold and silver vessels that the church contained, shows the splendour with which it had been furnished by the munificent founder and his successors.

Lord Seton, it is said, declined the offer of an earldom from Queen Mary, being unwilling to forego what he considered a greater distinction. On which Mary wrote, or caused to be written, the following lines—

‘Sunt comites, ducesque alii, sunt denique reges;
Setoni dominium, sit satis esse mihi.’

Which have been thus rendered—

‘Earl, duke, or king to those that list to be;
Seton, thy lordship is enough for me.’

The daughter, or; as some say, the half-sister of the fifth Lord Seton, was one of ‘the Four Manes,’ celebrated in tradition and song, daughters of Scottish noblemen—Livingston, Fleming, Seton, and Beatoun — all of the same age and Christian name, who accompanied Queen Mary when in her childhood she was taken to France, and were her playmates there. Only three of these ‘Manes,’ however, returned with her to Scotland, for Mary Seton died unmarried at Rheims.

George, the eldest son of the fifth Lord Seton, predeceased him. ROBERT, his second son, was created EARL OF WINTOUN by James VI., 16th November, 1600. SIR JOHN, the third son, resided for some years at the Court of Philip II., of Spain. Viscount Kingston in his historical account of the Seton family says that Sir John ‘was a brave young man,’ and that he was made by Philip ‘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 has a sword in their 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 syde on 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.’

Sir John Seton was recalled to Scotland by James VI., who made him Lord Treasurer, Master of the Horse, and an Extraordinary Lord of Session. Alexander, the fourth son of Lord Seton, was one of the most eminent lawyers of his day, and a statesman of great ability and influence.

ROBERT, first Earl of Wintoun, was a prudent manager, and freed his ancestral estates from the heavy encumbrances in which they were involved by his adventurous father. He married the heiress of the illustrious family of the Montgomeries of Eglintoun, and his sixth son, Alexander, was adopted into that family, and became sixth Earl of Eglinton. Lord Wintoun was a great favourite of James VI., who met the funeral procession of the Earl, 5th April, 1693, when on his journey to take possession of the English Crown, and remarked as he halted at the south-west corner of Seton orchard until it passed, that he had lost a good, faithful, and loyal subject. There is not much deserving of special notice in the lives and characters of the next three Earls. They fought, of course, on the royal side in the Great Civil War, and suffered severely in fines and imprisonment for their loyalty.

GEORGE, third Earl, was noted for his architectural taste and the extent of his building operations. Lord Kingston says, ‘He built the house of Wintoun (being burnt by the English of old and the policy thereof destroyed) in Anno 1620. He founded and built the great house from the foundation, with all the large stone dykes about the precinct, park, orchard, and gardens thereof.’ This Earl, as Mr. Billings remarks, appears to have been a magnificent builder, for we find, from the same authority, that he made great additions to the old princely mansion of his family. ‘He built, in Anno 1630, two quarters of the house of Seton, beginning at Wallace’s Tower at the east end thereof, which was all burnt by the English, and continued the building till Jacob’s Tower, on the north syde of the house.’ He also erected salt-pans on the adjoining shore of the Firth, and built a harbour at Cockenzie. He was a zealods royalist, and suffered much in the cause of Charles I. during the Great Civil War. Yet the family historian records the great additions made by him to the family estates in East Lothian. He died in December, 1650, in the midst of preparations to attend the coronation of Charles II. as a ‘Covenanted King’ at Scone.

His eldest son, George, Lord Seton, was imprisoned in the Tolbooth of Edinburgh in 1645, fined £40,000 Scots, and ordered to dispose of a portion of the family estates in Linlithgowshire in order to pay the fine. He was taken prisoner at Philiphaugh, and was confined first at St. Andrews and afterwards in the Castle of Edinburgh, but was liberated on his father giving a bond for £100,000 Scots that he would appear when called. He predeceased his father, in 1648, at the age of thirty-five, and his eldest son, GEORGE, fourth Earl, succeeded to the family titles and estates on the death of his grandfather in 1650. Though he was only ten years of age at that time, a fine of 1704.

GEORGE, fifth and last Earl, was possessed of excellent abilities, but from his early years he displayed a marked eccentricity of character. Some family misunderstandings caused him to leave home while a mere youth, and he spent several years in France as bellows-blower and assistant to a blacksmith, without holding any intercourse with his family. On the death of his father, Viscount Kingston, the next heir, taking for granted that the young Earl was dead, was proceeding to take possession of the title and estates, when he suddenly appeared and vindicated his rights. It was afterwards ascertained that a confidential servant kept him apprised of what was taking place at home and in the family, and had sent him notice of his father’s death.

The Seton family, as we have seen, had always been noted for their loyalty and their attachment to the old Church, and the last Earl, though he had renounced the Romish faith, held firmly to the political creed of his ancestors. He was living peaceably in his own mansion at Seton when the rebellion of 1715 broke out. It is probable that he would, under any circumstances, have taken the field in behalf of the representative of the ancient Scottish sovereigns; but his doing so was hastened, if not caused, by the outrageous treatment which he received from a body of the Lothian militia, who forcibly entered and rifled his mansion at Seton, as he alleged on his trial, ‘through private pique and revenge.’ ‘The most sacred places,’ he adds, ‘did not escape their fury and resentment. They broke into his chapel, defaced the monuments of his ancestors, took up the stones of their sepulchres, thrust irons through their bodies, and treated them in a most barbarous, inhuman, and unchristian like manner.’ On this disgraceful outrage the Earl took up arms against the Government, assumed the command of a troop of horse mostly composed of gentlemen belonging to East Lothian, and joined the Northumbrian insurgents under Mr. Forster and the Earl of Derwentwater. Their numbers were subsequently augmented by a body of Highlanders under Brigadier Macintosh, who formed a junction with them at Kelso.

The English insurgents insisted on carrying the war into England, where they expected to be reinforced by the Jacobites and Roman Catholics in the northern and western counties. The Scotsmen proposed that they should take possession of Dumfries, Ayr, Glasgow, and other towns in the south and west of Scotland, and attack the Duke of Argyll, who lay at Stirling, in the flank and rear, while the Earl of Mar assailed his army in front. The English portion of the insurgent forces, however, persisted in carrying out their absurd scheme in spite of the strenuous opposition of the Scots, and especially of the Highlanders, who broke out in a mutiny against the English officers. The Earl of Wintoun disapproved so strongly of this plan that he left the army with a considerable part of his troop, and was marching northward when he was overtaken by a messenger from the insurgent council, who entreated him to return. He stood for a time pensive and silent, but at length he broke out with an exclamation characteristic of his romantic and somewhat extravagant character. ‘It shall never be said to after generations that the Earl of Wintoun deserted King James’s interests or his country’s good.’ Then, laying hold of his own ears, he added, ‘You, or any man, shall have liberty to cut these out of my head if we do not all repent it.’ But though this unfortunate young nobleman (he was only twenty-five years of age) again joined the insurgent forces, he ceased henceforward to take any interest in their deliberations or debates. The Rev. Robert Patten, who officiated as chaplain to the insurgents, and afterwards wrote a history of the rebellion, indeed states that the Earl ‘was never afterwards called to any council of war, and was slighted in various ways, having often no quarters provided for him, and at other times very bad ones, not fit for a nobleman of his family; yet, being in for it, he resolved to go forward, and diverted himself with any company, telling many pleasant stories of his travels, and his living unknown and obscurely with a blacksmith in France, whom he served some years as a bellows-blower and under-servant, till he was acquainted with the death of his father, and that his tutor had given out that he was dead, upon which he resolved to return home, and when there met with a cold reception.’

The Earl fought with great gallantry at the barricades of Preston, but was at last obliged to surrender along with the other insurgents, and was carried a prisoner to London, and confined in the Tower. He was brought to trial before the House of Lords, 15th March, 1716, and defended himself with considerable ingenuity. The High Steward, Lord Cooper, having overruled his objections to the indictment with some harshness, ‘I hope,’ was the Earl’s rejoinder, ‘you will do me justice, and not make use of "Cowper-law," as we used to say in our country—hang a man first and then judge him.’ On the refusal of his entreaty to be heard by counsel, he replied— ‘Since your lordship will not allow me counsel, I don’t know nothing.’ He was of course found guilty, and condemned to be beheaded on Tower Hill. ‘When waiting his fate in the Tower,’ says Sir Walter Scott, ‘he made good use of his mechanical skill, sawing through with great ingenuity the bars of the windows of his prison, through which he made his escape.’ He ended his motley life at Rome, in 1749, aged seventy, and with him terminated the main branch of the long and illustrious line of the Setons. Male cadets of this family, however, came by intermarriage to represent the great historic families of Huntly and Eglinton, besides the ducal house of Gordon, now extinct, and the Earls of Sutherland, whose heiress married the Marquis of Stafford, afterwards created Duke of Sutherland. The earldoms of Wintoun and Dunfermline, the viscounty of Kingston, and the other Seton titles were forfeited for the adherence of their possessors to the Stewart dynasty, and have never been restored; but the late Earl of Eglinton was, in 1840, served heir-male general of the family, and, in 1859, was created Earl of Wintoun in the peerage of the United Kingdom.

According to tradition, it was customary for the Earls of Wintoun once a year to ‘ride the marches’ of their estates, which were so extensive that a whole day, from sunrise to sunset, was required to ride in state round the boundaries of their lands. On these occasions the head of the house was always accompanied by a large retinue of friends and retainers, mounted on gaily caparisoned horses, the charger of the chief being arrayed in cloth of silk adorned with gold tassels. The festivities which followed this ceremonial lasted several days.

The estates of the last Earl of Wintoun were forfeited to the Crown on his attainder, for the part which he took in the Jacobite rising of 1715. They were vested by Act of Parliament in the King for the public interest, and Commissioners were appointed for inquiring into their condition. Owing to the numerous obstacles thrown in their way, it was not until the autumn of 1719 that the Commissioners were ready to dispose of the forfeited lands. In a number of instances the forfeited estates were bought back for the family of their former proprietors, but none of the Setons appear to have been able to purchase the Wintoun property, as the main line was extinct. On the 6th of October the Wintoun estate was put up for sale by auction, and, with a trifling exception, was purchased by the agent of the York Buildings Company for the sum of £50,300. It appears, from an official survey taken in the years 1716 and 1717, that the rental of the estate amounted at that time to £3,393. Of that sum only £266 7s. 9d. was payable in money; £876 18s. 4d. was payable in wheat valued at 10s. 5d. per boll, £1,019 12s. 2d. in barley, and £166 2s. 6d. in oats, both valued at the same price as the wheat. The salt-pans and coal-pits were reckoned at about £1,000; [The company attempted to work the coal-mines and salt-pans at Tranent. They fitted up one of the new fire engines, the first of the kind in Scotland, and made a wooden railway between one and two miles long, connecting the pits with the salt-works at Preston and the harbour at Port Seton. After an expenditure of £3,500 they could not clear £500 a year from the coal-pits and salt-pans combined. They let them for £1000 a-year to a ‘competent person,’ but in no long time he gave up the lease, because he could not make sufficient to pay the rent. The company also tried glass-making, and set up a manufactory for that article at Port Seton; but, on balancing their accounts at Christmas, 1732, they found that they had lost £4,088 17s. 5d. by the experiment.] 749 capons at 16d. each, and 802 hens at 6 2/3d. each, amounted to £53 10s., and 504 thraves of straw, at 5d. per thrave, to £10 10s.

The York Buildings Company ultimately became bankrupt, and in 1779 the Wintoun estate was again exposed for sale. As the property was of great extent, it was thought that it would be difficult to find a person able to purchase the whole, and it was therefore, by authority of the Court of Session, put up in lots. The first two of these, including the famous old Seton House, the chief residence of the family, were purchased by Mr. Alexander Mackenzie, W.S., who was common agent for the creditors of the company. [Mr. Mackenzie was succeeded as a common agent in 1789, on the nomination of the company, by Mr. Walter Scott, W.S., who at that time had as his apprentice his son, the great novelist and poet.] No objection was made at the time to the legality of this purchase on the part either of the Court or of the creditors; but thirteen years afterwards an action of reduction was brought at the instance of the company. The Court of Session gave judgment in Mr. Mackenzie’s favour, but their decision was reversed on appeal to the House of Lords. The Company not only raised the general question that the purchase was a breach of trust on the part of the common agent, but they brought special and strong charges against Mr. Mackenzie’s conduct in the transaction. They alleged that the manner in which the previous rental was made up was not satisfactory, and that the knowledge which Mr. Mackenzie had obtained in his official capacity of the condition and details of the property had been of material advantage to him. They further averred that the sale had been hurried through in an irregular and improper manner. According to the custom of that time the sale was advertised to take place ‘between the hours of four and six afternoon,’ a latitude allowed for the ‘want of punctuality in the judge, the clerks, and the other persons immediately concerned,’ so that five o’clock came to be considered the proper and real hour. On this occasion, however, Lord Monboddo, the Ordinary, before whom the judicial sale was to take place, having received a hint to be punctual, arrived at the Parliament House and took his seat upon the bench exactly as the clock struck four. Proceedings commenced immediately, and the first and second lots, having been put up successively, were knocked down to Mr. Mackenzie without waiting the outrunning of the half-hour sand-glass, as required by the Articles of sale. Several persons who had intended to offer for these lots found, to their great disappointment and chagrin, on their arrival at the Court that the sale was over. These allegations do not appear to have been taken into consideration by the House of Lords, since the illegality of the conduct of the agent was regarded as sufficient to vitiate the transaction.

The lands in question were again exposed for sale, and were purchased by the Earl of Wemyss in 1798, at three times the price that had been paid by Mr. Mackenzie. The decision of the House of Lords unfortunately came too late to save from destruction the fine old castle or palace of Seton, as it was called, owing to its having been frequently the residence of royalty. It occupied a commanding position on the coast of the Firth of Forth, closely adjoining the battlefield of Prestonpans. The date of its erection is unknown, but it had undergone at various times considerable alterations and enlargements. The building consisted of three extensive fronts of freestone, with a triangular court in the middle. The front to the south-east—which appears to have been built early in the reign of Queen Mary—contained, beside other apartments, a noble hall and drawing-room. The state apartments, which were very spacious, consisted of three great rooms forty feet high, and their furniture was covered with crimson velvet laced with gold. There were also two large galleries filled with pictures. Altogether, the mansion was regarded as the most magnificent and elegantly furnished house in Scotland.

Seton Palace was a favourite resort of Queen Mary. It was visited by her in her royal progresses, and, as we have mentioned, it was her first halting-place when she and Darnley made their escape from Holyrood after the murder of Rizzio. She was entertained there by Lord Seton in 1567, and on that occasion she and Bothwell won a match in shooting at the butts against Lords Seton and Huntly. The forfeit was a dinner, which the losers had to provide in an inn at Tranent. When James VI. revisited his native country in 1617, he spent his second night in Scotland at Seton. Charles I. also, on his journey from London to Edinburgh, in 1633, in order to be crowned there as well as in England, halted a night at Seton, and was magnificently entertained by George, third Earl of Wintoun. The castle was held for a short time in 1715 by Brigadier Macintosh and a detachment of Highlanders before their march to the Borders to join the Northumbrian insurgents under Mr. Forster and Lord Derwentwater.

With an unpardonable want of taste and respect for historical associations, Mr. Mackenzie pulled down this splendid structure and erected in its place an incongruous tasteless building, which has frequently been used as a boarding-school, and is fit for nothing better. It is surrounded, however, by some fine old stately trees, and the gardens are still celebrated for the finest and earliest fruits of the season.

The destruction of the famous old castle of Seton was not the only act of Vandalism of which Mackenzie was guilty during the short time he possessed the property. A few hundred yards to the west of the castle stood the ancient village of Seton, which in 1791 was inhabited by eighty-six persons, mostly weavers, tailors, and shoemakers, each family possessing a house and a small piece of ground. This industrious little community, which for centuries had thriven under the fostering care of the Seton family, was entirely broken up and dispersed by the unscrupulous lawyer who had illegally, if not fraudulently, obtained temporary possession of the estate. When called upon by him to produce the title-deeds of their little properties, it was found that most of them had no titles to show, their houses and lands having been handed down from father to son through many generations. Those who were unable to produce their titles were at once turned out of their houses, while it is alleged that the few who possessed the requisite documents, and sent them to Mackenzie’s office in Edinburgh, never saw them again, and were, like the others, shortly after compelled to remove from their ancient heritages without receiving any compensation. Only one of the villagers escaped eviction. He somehow learned that his property had been registered when it was purchased, and he was consequently enabled to set at defiance the attempts of the usurper to rob him of his patrimony.

Mr. George Buchan Hepburn, factor on the Wintoun estates, and a son of Mr. George Buchan, the York Buildings Company’s agent, purchased the baronies of Tranent and Cockenzie at the same sale at which portions of the Wintoun estate were bought by Mr. Mackenzie, but the transaction was not challenged. Cockenzie soon after was acquired by the Cadell family, who had possession also of the barony of Tranent till 1860.

Branches of the Seton family have flourished in the counties of Linlithgow, Fife, Stirling, and Aberdeen. The Setons of Parbroath, in Fife, were descended from John, fourth son of Sir Alexander Seton, who married Elizabeth Ramsay, the heiress of that estate. One of them was Comptroller of Scotland. The venerable Sir Richard Maitland, the historian of the house of Seton, makes mention of another member of this family, ‘Maister David, parson of Fettercarne and Balhelvie,’ of whom he says, ‘he was ane large man of bodie as was in his dayes, and stout theirwyth, the best-lyk ageit man I ever saw.’ The old chronicler relates the following graphic incident in the life of this worthy: ‘In the tyme of King James the Ferd [Fourth] there was ane process laid aganis the baronnes callit recognitionis. The Advocat at that tyme was named Maister Richard Lausone, and his assistant Maister James Henrysone. Maister David Seytoun, in his defence of Lord Seytoune’s case, said to the King, "Schir, quhen our forbears [ancestors] gat yon landes at your maist nobell predecessoure’s handis for their trew service, sumtyme gevand the blude of their bodie, and sumtyme their lives in defence of this realme; at that tyme there was nether Lausone nor Henrysone quha wald invent wayis to disheris [disinherit] the baronnis of Scotland."’ The King, seeing the warmth with which he made his defence, said to him, ‘Would you fight?’ The old cleric, who was beyond the age when he had a right to challenge a decision by single combat, said that if the King would give permission he would fight his opponent. ‘The King’s grace, quha was the maist nobel and humane prince in the warld, smylit and leuch [laughed] a little, and said na mair,’ admiring in his heart the noble spirit of the man who stood up so bravely for the rights of his kinsman.

Parbroath passed out of the lands of the Setons towards the close of the seventeenth century. The lands of Lathrisk, in the parish of King’s Kettle, Fife, were acquired by John Seton, a cadet of the Parbroath family, on his marriage with Janet Lathrisk of that ilk. About the middle of last century Lathrisk became the property of a family of the name of Johnston.

ALEXANDER SETON, Earl of Dunfermline, was the fourth son of George, the fifth Lord Seton, the ‘defender of the beauteous Stewart.’ He was born before the Reformation, and was the godchild of Queen Mary, and he survived the union of the Crowns (1555—1622). From his godmother he received, as ‘ane Godbairne gift,’ the lands of Pluscarden, in Moray. ‘Finding him of a great spirit,’ his father sent him to Rome at an early age, and he studied for some time in the Jesuits’ College, with the view of entering the priesthood. It seems probable that he did take holy orders, and it was thought that if he had remained at Rome he would have been made a cardinal. The overthrow of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland probably induced young Seton, as his biographer conjectures, to abandon his ecclesiastical pursuits, and to betake himself to the study of the civil and the canon law; and he passed as an advocate before James VI. and the Senators of the College of Justice in the Chapel Royal at Holyrood in 1577. The Setons had hitherto been more distinguished in warlike than in civil pursuits, but in the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries no less than six members of the family obtained seats on the Scottish Bench. Alexander Seton, the most illustrious of these legal luminaries, was created an Extraordinary Lord of Session in 1586, obtaining in the following year a gift of the revenues of Urquhart and of the Priory of Pluscarden. With all their attachment to the old Church, the Setons, like the rest of the Scottish nobility of that day, seem to have been by no means unwilling to share in its spoils. Two years later Alexander Seton became an Ordinary Lord of Session under the title of Lord Urquhart, and in 1593 he was elected by his brethren to the president’s chair at the comparatively early age of thirty-eight. He was appointed one of the Octavians—a committee of eight persons to whom the King, in 1596, entrusted the management of public affairs, and who introduced a number of important administrative reforms, though they were regarded with great suspicion and distrust by the clergy. These councillors, indeed, were so unpopular that to satisfy the fears of the Presbyterian party, James promised that he would not meet them in Council, ‘at least when the cause of religion and matters of the Church were treated.’

The Court of Session had long been in bad odour in Scotland, on account of its subserviency to the Court and its partial and unjust judgments. It is therefore with a feeling of agreeable surprise that we learn that, though Seton was a favourite with the King, he had the courage to resist and defeat a characteristic attempt of James to induce the Court to decide unjustly in his favour against a claim of the celebrated Robert Bruce, the successor of Andrew Melville, as the leader of the Presbyterian Church. Bruce had been most unjustly deprived of his stipend by the King, and he sued the Crown in the Court of Session for redress. James pleaded his own cause, and commanded the senators to pronounce judgment in his favour. Seton, with great dignity and firmness, informed the King that though they were ready to serve him with their lives and substance, ‘this is a matter of law, in which we are sworn to do justice according to our conscience and the statutes of the realm.’ ‘Your majesty,’ he added, ‘may indeed command us to the contrary, in which case I and every honest man on this bench will either vote according to conscience, or resign and not vote at all.’ The judges, with only two dissentient voices, pronounced their decision in favour of Mr. Robert Bruce, and the mortified monarch ‘flung out of court, muttering revenge and raging marvellously.’ As Mr. Tytler justly observes, ‘When the subservient temper of the times is considered, and we remember that Seton, the president, was a Roman Catholic [a mistake], whilst Bruce, in whose favour he and his brethren decided, was a chief leader of the Presbyterian ministers, it would be unjust to withhold our admiration from a judge and a Court which had the courage thus fearlessly to assert the supremacy of the law.’

The anger and disappointment of the King were not lasting, for Seton still continued to enjoy the royal favour, and to receive a succession of honours and appointments. But, notwithstanding, he firmly opposed, in 1600, the foolish and dangerous proposal of the King in the Convention of Estates to raise an army to be in readiness, on the death of Queen Elizabeth, to secure for him the succession to the English throne. The scheme was supported by the majority of the higher nobility and prelates, but was stoutly and successfully resisted by the barons and the burghs, led by Seton and the young Earl of Gowrie. ‘Notwithstanding the undisguised mortification of the King, the result occasioned all but universal satisfaction throughout the country.’ In 1598 the President obtained the erection of the barony of Fyvie into a free lordship, with the dignity of a lord of Parliament. On the accession of James to the English throne, Lord Fyvie was entrusted with the guardianship of Prince Charles, the King’s younger son. In the following year he was summoned to London, along with the Earl of Montrose, to take part in the negotiations for a union of the two kingdoms, but though the King himself eagerly pressed the measure, and was zealously supported .by Lord Bacon, it was found to be premature, and had to be postponed for a century. While in England Montrose was persuaded to resign the office of Chancellor, which was conferred upon Seton.

In 1605 Lord Fyvie was advanced to the dignity of Earl of Dunfermline. His long enjoyment of the royal favour and the good fortune which it had brought him had no doubt excited the envy and jealousy of some of the courtiers, and an intrigue seems to have been tried at this time to bring about his dismissal from the Chancellorship. But ‘pairtly by his friends at home and pairtly by the Queen and English secretaries moyen, he was suffered to enjoy still his office.’ He continued to possess the confidence of the King and of Sir Robert Cecil, and took an active part in carrying on the government in Scotland, and in promoting the restoration of Episcopacy. In addition to his judicial office the Earl was for ten years Provost of Edinburgh—a position which had been previously held by his father. In those days the provostship of the capital was an office of great influence as well as dignity, and was an object of ambition to the most powerful nobles. The Chancellor survived till 1622, retaining to the last the confidence of his sovereign and of his colleagues in the administration. What is more rare, and is a stronger testimony to his moderation, sound judgment, and upright conduct, he commanded the respect both of Episcopalians and Presbyterians, though bitterly hostile to each other. Spottiswood and Calderwood, though they both suspected him of Popish leanings, concurred in their testimony to the impartiality of his administration. Lord Dunfermline, besides being a ‘learned lawyer, was an accomplished scholar. Lord Kingston says, ‘He was great in esteem at Rome for his learning, being a great humourist in prose and poesy, Greek and Latine; well versed in the mathematics, and had great skill in architecture and herauldry.’ He appears to have been also the friend of men of learning and science. Robert Terot dedicated to him his curious tract on the ‘Right Reckoning of Years,’ written to prepare for the introduction of the new style in 1600; and the illustrious Napier of Merchiston, his treatise on ‘Tabulation by Rods,’ which are still used, under the name of ‘Napier’s bones.’ Two of Seton’s Latin epigrams, prefixed to Bishop Lesley’s ‘History of Scotland,’ are regarded as specimens of elegant scholarship, and so is his epigram to Sir John Skene on the publication of his treatise, known as ‘Regiam Magistatem.’ That the commendation bestowed upon Seton’s skill in architecture was well merited is proved by the stately and beautiful Castle of Fyvie, which he built for himself, and by the additions which he made to his fine mansion of Pinkie, near Musselburgh, where he died. The Seton family, indeed, were noted for their munificent architectural taste, as was shown in Seton church, and in that ‘peculiar and beautiful structure,’ Winton House, long the residence of the late venerable Lady Ruthven.

Lord Chancellor Dunfermline was frequently accused of a leaning to Romanism, and Tytler terms him a Roman Catholic, but the accusation seems to have been unfounded. He certainly joined the Episcopalian Church, and was buried in a vault under the old church of Dalgety, in Fife, after a sermon by Archbishop Spottiswood. Mr. Seton’s summary of the character and qualifications of Lord Dunfermline is not much, if anything, heightened: ‘An able lawyer, an impartial judge, a sagacious statesman, a consistent patriot, an accomplished scholar, a discerning patron of literature, a munificent builder, a skilful herald, and an ardent lover of archery and other manly sports.’

CHARLES SETON, second Earl of Dunfermline, was a zealous adherent of the Covenanting party, and was prominent in the contest for the rights of the Church and people of Scotland. He was repeatedly sent to England as one of the Commissioners of the Estates, and he commanded a regiment in the army which, under General Leslie, marched into England in 1640 to the assistance of the Parliament in their struggle with Charles I. He was one of the eight Scottish Commissioners who negotiated the treaty of Ripon. In 1641 he was sworn a Privy Councillor, and in the following year he was appointed by the King High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Scottish Church which met at St. Andrews. He took an active part in the subsequent proceedings of that stirring period. He supported the ‘Engagement’ in 1648 for the rescue of Charles from the Republican party, and after the execution of the King he went to the Continent, in April, 1649, to wait on Charles II., with whom he returned to Scotland in 1650. He was appointed a member of the Committee of Estates and of the Committee entrusted with the management of the affairs of the army. He commanded a regiment of horse in the ill-advised and unfortunate expedition into England under Charles II., which terminated in a complete defeat at Worcester, September 3rd, 1651. At the Restoration he was sworn a Privy Councillor, and in 1669 was appointed an Extraordinary Lord of Session. He was nominated Lord Privy Seal in 1671, and died in January, 1673. The Earl left three sons and a daughter by his wife, a daughter of the Earl of Morton.

ALEXANDER, the eldest son, became third Earl, but died soon after succeeding to the title. Charles, the second son, was killed in a sea-fight with the Dutch in 1672. The third son—

JAMES SETON, was the fourth and last Earl of Dunfermline. Though he served in his youth under the Prince of Orange, at the Revolution he adhered to the cause of the Stewarts, and commanded a troop of horse under Viscount Dundee at the battle of Killiecrankie. In 1690 he was outlawed and forfeited by the Scottish Parliament. He followed King James to St. Germains, and died in exile in 1694. He married a sister to the first Duke of Gordon, but as he left no issue his titles became extinct, and in consequence of his attainder his estates fell to the Crown.


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