Details of the early generations of the Seton family are of dubious quality, with various competing origins, and confusion between branches. I will try my best to give as accurate a picture as possible. I also begin the nomenclature of the Seton lordship at the earliest possibility of 1371 rather than the alternative 1448, having being convinced by arguments preferring the former date.



Lords Seton (1371)


1st Lord Seton, William Seton, b.?, a.1371, d.c.1410


The Setons were formerly one of the most aristocratic of non-royal families. They were in fact of Flemish origin, from Lens in Flanders. The first member of the family in Scotland, Seier de Seton, was distantly related to Queen Maud of Scotland and to William the Conqueror. He already had holdings on Yorkshire and obtained lands in East Lothian. His son Walter de Seton married Janet, a member of the de Quincy family, said to be the daughter of Saer de Quincy 1st Earl of Winchester, though the dates involved make this unlikely, and it may well have been that Janet was the daughter of an earlier generation de Quincy, as the family had close ties to William the Lion. He nevertheless gained the neighbouring estates of Tranent. Walterís son Secker de Seye made much of the Norman side of his ancestry, varying his surname to suit his purposes and thereby muddying the waters of history. The genealogy of the next few generations of the family is confused and unreliable. However, it is known that one scion of the family, Sir Christopher Seton, Governor of Berwick, married Christan Bruce, sister of Robert the Bruce, and the Margaret Seton, heiress of the main line of the family, married Alan de Wyntoun, another member of the family. Their daughter married George Cospatrick, 10th Earl of Dunbar & March and their son William Seton was made the very first Lord of Parliament as 1st Lord Seton at the Coronation of Robert II.


2nd Lord Seton, John Seton, b.?, a.c.1410, d.b.1434


Son of the 1st Lord and Janet Fleming, daughter of Sir David Fleming (grandfather of Robert Fleming, 1st Lord Fleming, for whom see the earls of Wigton). His younger brother Alexander Seton (b.?, d.1440) married Elizabeth Gordon, heiress of the Gordons of Huntly, and became feudal Lord of Gordon and Huntly.


3rd Lord Seton, George Seton, b.c.1415, a.c.1434, d.1478-1479


Grandson of the 2nd Lord and Catherine Sinclair, daughter of Sir William Sinclair of Herdmanstoun, and son of Sir William Seton of Seton (b.b.1408, d.1424) and Janet Dunbar (b.?, d.a.1434), daughter of George, 10th Earl of Dunbar. He accompanied Chancellor William Crichton to France in 1448 as an envoy, and is said to have been raised to the peerage at that time, implying possibly that his great-grandfatherís peerage was for life only, though it is more generally accepted that this was his coming-of-age and not a separate creation. He was invested as a Privy Counsellor in 1458 and served again as envoy to England in 1472.


4th Lord Seton, George Seton, b.?, a.1478, d.1507-1508


Grandson of the 1st Lord and Margaret Stewart (b.?, d.c.1461), daughter of John Stewart, 3rd Earl of Buchan, and son of John Seton (b.?, d.b.1478) and Christina Lindsay (b.?, d.1491-1496), daughter of John Lindsay, 1st Lord Lindsay of the Byres. He was a Privy Counsellor in 1496. He was interested in science and astronomy and an enthusiastic builder and landscape gardener.


5th Lord Seton, George Seton, b.?, a.1507-1508, d.1513


Son of the 2nd Earl and Lady Margaret Campbell, daughter of Colin Campbell, 1st Earl of Argyll. He died at Flodden.


6th Lord Seton, George Seton, b.?, a.1513, d.1549


Son of the 3rd Earl and Lady Janet Hepburn, daughter of Patrick Hepburn, 1st Earl of Bothwell. He was made a Privy Counsellor and an Extraordinary Lord of Session in 1542. In 1543 he was given custody of Cardinal Beaton, but allowed him to escape. His lands were ravaged during the Rough Wooing. He commissioned the learned politician and poet Richard Maitland of Lethington & Thirlstane, father of Sir John Maitland, 1st Lord Maitland of Thirlstane, ancestor of the earls of Lauderdale) an history of his family.


7th Lord Seton, George Seton, b.1531, a.1549, d.1585-1586


Son of the 4th Earl and Elizabeth Hay, daughter of John Hay, 3rd Lord Hay of Yester. He attended the marriage of Mary, Queen of Scots, to the French Dauphin, and was later Master of the Household to the new Queen. He also served as Provost of Edinburgh from 1557 to 1561 during the most violent period of the Reformation, and struggled to preserve the holy buildings of the city. Seton House was Maryís first port of call following the murders of her secretary Rizzio and later of her husband Lord Darnley. He also aided in her escape from Lochleven Castle. After the Battle of Langside, he was briefly held prisoner, but was released by the Regent Moray and was allowed to retire to the Continent, where he worked tirelessly on Maryís behalf. When James VI came of age, he invited Seton to return to Scotland, where he was made Privy Counsellor, and served as Ambassador to France in 1583. Though his first son, George Seton, Master of Seton (b.?, s.1562) died young, two of his younger sons became earls in their own right, his heir as 1st Earl of Winton, and his fourth son Alexander Seton as 1st Earl of Dunfermline.


8th Lord Seton, Robert Seton, b.?, a.1585-1586, d.1603


Second son of the 5th Earl and Isabel Hamilton (b.c.1534, d.1604), daughter of Sir William Hamilton of Sanquhar. Educated in France and a strict Catholic, Robert Seton supported his fatherís defence of Queen Mary, but as a Royalist and close friend of James VI he was made a Privy Counsellor shortly before inheriting his titles, and was considered at the time to be Scotlandís most senior Baron. He was created 1st Earl of Winton in 1600.



Earls of Winton (1600)


1st Earl of Winton, Robert Seton, b.?, a.1600, d.1603


Robert married Lady Margaret Montgomerie (b.?, d.1624), daughter of Hugh Montgomerie, 3rd Earl of Eglinton. His third son Alexander Seton (b.1588, d.1661) became 6th Earl of Eglinton by an arrangement with the 5th Earl of that line, an additional family connection being Mariot Seton, sister of the 4th Lord Seton, who had married Hugh Montgomerie, 2nd Earl of Eglinton. He died shortly before James VI became James I of England, and by co-incidence, the Royal cavalcade met the funeral procession at Seton House. James halted his progress until the funeral cortege had passed out of sight. This episode is sometimes seen as the passing of Scotlandís prestige and influence as an independent country.


2nd Earl of Winton, Robert Seton, b.c.1585, a.1603, d.?


Son of the 1st Earl and Lady Margaret Montgomerie (b.?, d.1624), daughter of Hugh Montgomerie, 3rd Earl of Eglinton. He became insane on his wedding night and was kept at Seton Hall until his death, resigning the earldom to his brother in 1606, though he continued to work on the rebuilding of Seton Hall and managing the family estates.


3rd Earl of Winton, George Seton, b.a.1584, a.1606, d.1650


Younger brother of the 2nd Earl. He continued the developments of the family estates begun by his father and older brother, building Winton House on the site of an earlier building at Pencaitland that had been destroyed during the Rough Wooing and developing an harbour at Cockenzie. A senior noble, committed Roman Catholic and Royalist, he welcomed King Charles on two occasions to Seton Palace. At the start of the Bishopís Wars he joined Charles in London to offer his services and during the Civil Wars, his estates were ravaged by Covenanters and English soldiers in turn. He supported James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose until the Battle of Philiphaugh, where his son and heir, George Seton, Master of Seton, was taken prisoner. Although later released under a bond, he died before his father. In 1650, Winton accompanied Charles II in Scotland, but died just prior the Coronation. His second son, Alexander Seton (b.1620, d.1691) was created 1st Viscount Kingston.


4th Earl of Winton, George Seton, b.1642, a.1650, d.1704


Grandson of the 3rd Earl and Lady Anne Hay, daughter of Francis Hay, 9th Earl of Erroll, and son of George Seton (b.1613, d.1648) and Lady Henrietta Gordon (b.?, d.1651), daughter of George Gordon, 2nd Marquess of Huntly. A child when he inherited, he was raised as a Protestant by his uncle Alexander Seton, 1st Viscount Kingston. As a young man, he fought with distinction in the French army, and when he returned to Britain was received as a Privy Counsellor by Charles II and given command of the East Lothian Foot Regiment, which he led against the Covenanters at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge. In 1682 he was made Sheriff of Haddingtonshire and in 1685 made Master of the Household. In later life he indulged interests in science and engineering, building a new harbour for Cockenzie at Port Seton.


5th Earl of Winton, George Seton, b.?, a.1704, d.1749


Son of the 4th Earl and Christian Hepburn. He was born illegitimate, but later legitimised by his parentsí marriage. In early life he showed a complete disinclination to take on the role expected of him in public life by his father, which led him to leave home and travel extensively in Europe. He was abroad when his father died and did not return to Scotland for several years afterwards, allowing the family estates to fall into disrepair. However, in 1715 he was one of the first nobles to commit himself to the Jacobite rebellion, leading a regiment from East Lothian to join other Jacobites in the South of Scotland. Although he preferred to remain in Scotland to take control of major towns in the south and press the Duke of Argyll at Stirling, he was entreated to accompany Northumbrian forces in advancing into England. They reached Preston before being met by government forces, and had to surrender after heavy fighting, Winton, having fought bravely, amongst the prisoners taken to the Tower of London. He was brought to trial in the House of Lords alongside other Jacobite prisoners, but pleading not guilty was tried separately. Not surprisingly, he was condemned for treason and sentenced to death, his titles forfeit. However, he contrived to escape the Tower by cutting through the bars over the window using tools smuggled in for him and fled to join the Old Pretender in Rome. A man of unusual character and temperament, he became Grand Master of the Masonic Lodge in Rome. There are various conflicting reports on how he spent his last years and where he died.



The 5th Earlís death brought about the end of the noble house of Seton, James Seton, 4th Earl of Dunfermline also being forfeit for being a Jacobite. However, the title of Earl of Winton was later resurrected in the Peerage of the United Kingdom for Alexander Montgomerie, 13th Earl of Eglinton, a distant relative.


(Last updated: 31/08/2011)


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