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Seton Collegiate Church

A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

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Seton, an ancient parish of Haddingtonshire, annexed to Tranent in 1580. Its church of St Mary and Holy Cross, 1¾ mile NE of Tranent town and 2½ miles SW of Longniddry station, must have been founded prior to Robert III.'s accession in 1390, since early in his reign Catherine Sinclair of Herdmandston, widow of Lord William Seton, 'biggit ane yle on the south syde of the paroche kirk of Seytoun.' From time to time additions were made to the church, which George, second Lord Seton, rendered collegiate in 1493 for a provost, six prebendaries, a clerk, and two singing boys; but it was never completed, and in 1544 suffered much at the hands of the English invaders, who 'tuk away the bellis and organis and other tursable (movable) thingis, and put thame in thair schippis, and brint the tymber wark within the said kirk.' As restored at considerable cost by the late Earl of Wemyss, who is buried here with his Countess, Seton church now consists of a Decorated three-bayed choir, with a trigonal apse and a N sacristy, two transeptal chapels, and a low square Early English tower, with a truncated octagonal spire. The tracery of the choir windows is very good, and special features of interest are the sedilia and piscina, three monumental effigies of the Setons, and a long Latin inscription to the fifth Lord.

Seton Palace, which stood near the church, appears to have been built at different periods. It is said to have been 'burnt and destroyed' by the English in 1544, and its SE front most probably dated from the reign of Queen Mary. It excelled in taste and elegance any other mansion of the 16th or the 17th century, and was esteemed much the most magnificent castle in Scotland. Its gardens and terrace walks, as well as its splendid interior, were the delight of kings; and it consisted of two sides of a quadrangle, united by a rampart. When, on 5 April 1603, James VI. was on his way to take possession of his English crown, he met the funeral of the first Earl of Winton, and, halting his retinue, he seated himself on the garden-wall of the palace whilst the funeral passed by. In 1617, the same monarch, revisiting his native kingdom, spent at Seton his second night after crossing the Tweed; and Charles I. and his court were twice entertained here in 1633. No vestige of the palace now remains, it having been pulled down in 1790 by Mr Mackenzie of Portmore, the then proprietor, who erected the present castellated edifice after a design by Adams.

In the 12th century the ancestors of the Seton family received a charter of the lands of Seton, Winton, and Winchburgh. Alexander de Seton, a nephew of Robert Bruce, obtained from his royal uncle the manor of Tranent, and other extensive possessions of the noble family of De Quincy, who had espoused the cause of the English king. The Setons became one of the richest and most infuential families in Scotland, great in their own strength, and exalted by many noble and princely intermarriages. They were created Lords Seton in 1448. George, third Lord Seton, fell at Flodden (1513), and George, fifth Lord, is famous in history as Queen Mary's most zealous adherent, and, with two of his children, figures conspicuously in Sir Walter Scott's tale of The Abbot. Calderwood characteristically speaks of him as 'a man without God, without honestie, and often times without reason.' On 11 March 1566, the night after Rizzio's murder, the Queen and Darnley, slipping out of Holyrood, rode straight to Seton, and thence got an escort to Dunbar; and on Sunday, Feb. 16, 1567, just a week after Darnley's assassination, the Queen and Bothwell went to Seton Palace. There they remained some days, amusing themselves shooting at the butts, and, having together won a match against Seton and Huntly, were entertained by the losers to a dinner at Tranent. Lord Seton was one of Mary's chief supporters at Carberry Hill, and when she made her escape from Loch Leven in May 1568, he was lying among the hills on the other side, and immediately joining her, conducted her first to his castle of Niddry, Linlithgowshire, and then to Hamilton. From the defeat of Langside he retired to Flanders, where, during two years of exile, he was forced for his living to become a waggoner. A painting of him driving a waggon with four horses was in the north end of the long gallery of et n. In 1584 he was sent by James VI. on an embassy to France; and he died soon after his return, on 8 January 1585, aged about 55. In 1600 Robert, his son, was created Earl of Winton - a title forfeited by the fifth Earl for his part in the rebellion of 1715, when Seton Palace was held for three days by a body of Highlanders under Mackintosh of Borlum. The Earl died unmarried at Rome in 1749; and, through the marriage, in 1582, of the first Earl of Winton with the eldest daughter of the third Earl of Eglinton, the representation of the Winton family devolved on the Earl of Eglinton, who im 1840 was served heir male general of George, fourth Earl of Winton, and who in 9 was created Earl of Winton in the peerage of the United Kingdom.—Ord. Sur., sh. 33, 1863. See Sir Richard Maitland's Cronicle of the House of Seytoun (Bannatyne Club, 1829); vol. iv. of Billings' Baronial and Ecclesiastical Antiquities (1852); and pp. 183-194 of -. M`Neill's Tranent and its Surroundings (1883).

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

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