The Castles of Scotland by Martin Coventry | Goblinshead | A comprehensive guide to 4,100 castles, towers, historic houses, stately homes and family lands
The Castles of Scotland by Martin Coventry | Goblinshead | A comprehensive guide to 4,100 castles, towers, historic houses, stately homes and family lands
The ‘Bible of Scottish Castles’…now available!
The ‘Bible of Scottish Castles’…now available! 

Seton Castle

Lothians: About 1.5 miles north-east of Tranent, on minor road north of A198, 0.5 miles south-east of Cockenzie and Port Seton, just east of Seton, at Seton Castle.

 

Private   NT 418751   OS: 66   EH32 0PG

 

Web: www.setoncastle.com

 

Seton Collegiate Church (HES): open Apr-Sep 9.30-17.30, last entry 17.00. Venue for weddings.

Tel: 01875 813334   Web: www.historicenvironment.scot

Seton Castle, a large and impressive Adam mansion near the atmospheric Seton Collegiate Church built by the Seton family, near Tranent and Cockenzie and Port Seton in East Lothian. Seton Castle (© Martin Coventry)
Seton Castle, a large and impressive Adam mansion near the atmospheric Seton Collegiate Church built by the Seton family, near Tranent and Cockenzie and Port Seton in East Lothian. Seton Castle (M'Neill, 1884)

Site of castle, which was apparently a splendid palace after being rebuilt in the 16th century. ‘Seatoun’ is prominently marked on Blaeu’s map of The Lothians, as well as on Adair’s map of East Lothian, where it is depicted in a large walled enclosure with a formal garden, orchard and woodland. The family and place is also often spelt ‘Seaton’.

Ruin of Seton Palace, predecessor of Seton Castle, a large and impressive Adam mansion near the atmospheric Seton Collegiate Church built by the Seton family, near Tranent and Cockenzie and Port Seton in East Lothian. Seton Castle: ruins of Seton Palace (MacGibbon and Ross)

The lands were acquired by the Setons in the 12th century, and Christopher Seton was Robert the Bruce’s brother-in-law and supporter. He is believed to have saved Bruce’s life at the Battle of Methven in 1306, but was captured after the battle and then brutally executed by the English. 

Ruin of Seton Palace, predecessor of Seton Castle, a large and impressive Adam mansion near the atmospheric Seton Collegiate Church built by the Seton family, near Tranent and Cockenzie and Port Seton in East Lothian. Seton Castle: ruins of Seton Palace (Grose, 1789)

Sir Alexander Seton, perhaps his brother, was one of the Scottish nobles to add their seals to the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320. He was Governor of Berwick when the burgh surrendered in 1333 and his son was hanged by the English. 

Coat of arms, Seton Collegiate Church, Seton Castle, a large and impressive Adam mansion near the atmospheric Seton Collegiate Church built by the Seton family, near Tranent and Cockenzie and Port Seton in East Lothian. Seton Castle: coat of arms, Seton Collegiate Church (© Martin Coventry)

William Seton was made Lord Seton in 1371, and the Setons married into the Gordons and their descendants were the Earls of Huntly, although they retained the Gordon name. William Seton, Master of Seton, was slain at the bloody Battle of Verneuil in France in 1424 fighting the English during the 100 Years War. James IV visited Seton in 1498, and George, 3rd Lord Seton, was killed at the Battle of Flodden in 1513. James V also visited.

Seton Castle, a large and impressive Adam mansion near the atmospheric Seton Collegiate Church built by the Seton family, near Tranent and Cockenzie and Port Seton in East Lothian. Seton Castle (old postcard)

An older castle was destroyed by the English in 1544, and a new house – the Palace – was built on the site. George, 5th Lord Seton, was a friend and supporter of Mary, Queen of Scots, and she fled here after the murder of David Rizzio at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in 1566, as well as playing golf and practising archery here. She also visited with James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, after the assassination of Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, her second husband.

Ruin of Seton Palace, predecessor of Seton Castle, a large and impressive Adam mansion near the atmospheric Seton Collegiate Church built by the Seton family, near Tranent and Cockenzie and Port Seton in East Lothian. Seton Castle: ruin of Seton Palace (Grose, 1789)

The following year her army camped at the castle the night before defeat at Carberry Hill. The Setons helped to rescue Mary from imprisonment in Loch Leven Castle, after which she stayed at another of their properties, Niddry Castle. They fought for her at Langside, but were defeated and the 5th Lord escaped to Flanders, although he later returned and was one of the judges at the trial of James Douglas, Earl of Morton, for the murder of Darnley. Morton was beheaded.

Seton Castle, a large and impressive Adam mansion near the atmospheric Seton Collegiate Church built by the Seton family, near Tranent and Cockenzie and Port Seton in East Lothian. Seton Castle (© Martin Coventry)

Robert Seton, 8th Lord Seton, was made Earl of Winton in 1600, and Alexander Seton, son of George, 7th Lord Seton, was made Earl of Dunfermline six years later (also see Pinkie House, Dalgety, and Fyvie Castle).  Robert Seton, 8th Lord Seton, had a ratification of 1592 granting the erection of the harbour at Cockenzie in a free harbour, and of the erection of the town of Cockenzie in a free burgh of barony. The family built a new harbour at Port Seton in the 17th century. 

Port Seton harbour, near Seton Castle, a large and impressive Adam mansion near the atmospheric Seton Collegiate Church built by the Seton family, near Tranent and Cockenzie and Port Seton in East Lothian. Seton Castle: Port Seton harbour (© Martin Coventry)

James VI visited Seton Palace in 1603, as later did Charles I and Charles II.

  The house was damaged and burned out during the 1715 Jacobite Rising – having been held for three days by Highlanders against Hanoverian forces – after which George Seton, 5th Earl of Winton, and his family were forfeited.

Seton Castle, a large and impressive Adam mansion near the atmospheric Seton Collegiate Church built by the Seton family, near Tranent and Cockenzie and Port Seton in East Lothian. Seton Castle: Seton Palace, the origin of the image is not clear (M'Neill, 1884)
Article from 1723, describing Seton Palace:
 
SEATON [SETON] HOUSE, EDINBURGHSHIRE.
The palace of Seaton stands in the middle of a large plantation of trees, of at least twelve acres, with a large garden to the south, and another to the north. The house consists of three large fronts of freestone, and in the middle is a triangular court: the front to the south-east hath a very noble apartment of a hall and drawing room, a handsome parlour, bed chamber, dressing room, and closet. This apartment seems to have been built in the reign of Mary, Queen of Scots; for on the ceiling of the great hall are plastered the arms of Scotland, with the arms of France on one hand, and those of Francis the Second, then Dauphin, with his consort, Queen Mary, in one escutcheon, on the other; the arms of Hamilton, Duke of Chateauherault [Chatelherault], with several other noblemen's arms and supporters, with the French order of St. Michael round them.
The front to the north seems to be a much older building than this.
The apartments of state are on the second story, and very spacious; three great rooms, at least forty feet high, which they say were finely furnished, ever since Mary, Queen of Scots, on her return from France, kept her court there: also two large galleries that were filled with pictures; but on my Lord Winton's forfeiture, all these were sold by the commissioners of inquiry, or stolen by the servants; and now there is not a whole window on that side of the house. The third front is full of good lodging rooms, but all out of order: at every angle of the house, and on each side of the gate, are handsome towers.
      There are a great many offices in the outer courts, and a handsome church or chapel, where are some old marble monuments. The situation of this palace is very fine, and in the middle of an estate of five thousand pounds sterling a year, and the three towns of Cockney [Cockenzie], Tranent, and Long Nidry [Longniddry], where the tenants live, each within half a mile of his seat; and the whole estate he could see from his windows: yet this Earl would throw himself into the rebellion, and forfeit all.
About two miles from Seaton is another palace, called Winton, a more modern and fashionable building," yet entirely out of repair, though the gardens, which are very spacious, are very well kept, the York-buildings Company, who purchased the forfeited estates, having let them to a gardener; but the house is too big for any family, and must fall down.
      The family of the Seatons [Setons] is one of the noblest families in the kingdom, there being few families of any antiquity but are either come of them, or are allied to them. They were great opposers of the Reformation, and all revolutions since. They always lean on the Popish side, although almost all of them profess themselves Protestants. They are also very ancient.
      Shakespeare, in his tragedy of Macbeth, brings in the Lord Seaton; but that I take to be of no authority: but upon the records there is a charter, granted by King William the First, " Alexandro Felio Philippi de Seaton, Winto [Winton] and Wisburgh [Wichburgh / Niddry]." The famous Sir Christopher Seaton, who married King Robert Bruce's sister, and was killed near Dumfries, had by his wife, Sir Alexander, the first Lord Seaton; King Robert, his uncle, having erected his lands of Seaton into a Barony. There is one thing very memorable recorded of this Sir Alexander, which I cannot omit telling you. In 1332 King Edward came before Berwick, when this Sir Alexander was Governor, and summoning him to surrender, threatened to hang his two sons, whom he had amongst his hostages, if he delayed. The gallows was erected, and the young men led forth under the town wall. His tenderness for his children began to move him, when his lady came up and told him, they were young enough to have more children; but if he surrendered, they could never recover their honour. On which he refused, and stood and saw his two sons hanged. She, who was of the name of Chcyns, was as good as her word; for she brought him forth two sons afterwards.
We find George, Lord Seaton, Governor of Edinburgh, during the regency of Mary of Lorain, and in 1558, was one of the commissioners appointed to treat of a marrage between Mary and the Dauphin of France. 
We find the same Lord sent Ambassador to France from King James the Sixth in 1583. His son, Robert, was created the first Earl of Winton in 1600, and his son treated King Charles the First, and all his Court, when he made a progress to Scotland in 1633, at his palace at Seaton. The fine furniture of crimson velvet, laced with gold, in the great apartments, was sold by the commissioners of inquiry but the other day. The great grandson to the Earl was tried and condemned at London for the rebellion at Preston, and forfeited honours and estate.
Journey through Scotland. John Macky, London, 1723
Seton Castle, a large and impressive Adam mansion near the atmospheric Seton Collegiate Church built by the Seton family, near Tranent and Cockenzie and Port Seton in East Lothian. Seton Castle (© Martin Coventry)

The property went to the York Building Company, which managed the estate and the coal woarking and saltpans, but the company went bust. The estate and castle were sold in the 1780s to Alexander Mackenzie (his father held the Portmore estate near Eddleston in the Borders), a young lawyer and a Lieutant Colonel of the 21st Dragoons, but after Mackenzie’s death in 1796 was soon (like so much of East Lothian) in the hands of the Earls of Wemyss,, who held it until 2003.

Seton Castle, a large and impressive Adam mansion near the atmospheric Seton Collegiate Church built by the Seton family, near Tranent and Cockenzie and Port Seton in East Lothian. Seton Castle (© Martin Coventry)

The house was left a ruin and was finally demolished in 1790, except perhaps for some of the vaulted basement, and a new mansion, an imposing castellated edifice of four storeys and designed by Robert Adam, was built on the site. The house has a large outer walled courtyard and two extensive wings, and sits in 15 acres of grounds. The property was put up for sale in 2008 for £5 million. The walled enclosure survives and there are three round towers, one at the south-west corner with a gunloop.

Seton Collegiate Church, near Seton Castle, a large and impressive Adam mansion near the atmospheric Seton Collegiate Church built by the Seton family, near Tranent and Cockenzie and Port Seton in East Lothian. Seton Castle: Seton Collegiate Church (© Martin Coventry)
Seton Collegiate Church, near Seton Castle, a large and impressive Adam mansion near the atmospheric Seton Collegiate Church built by the Seton family, near Tranent and Cockenzie and Port Seton in East Lothian. Seton Castle: Seton Collegiate Church (© Martin Coventry)

A fine collegiate church [NT 418751] stands near the house in an atmospheric and peaceful wooded location. The college (a religious community of six priests) was founded in 1492 by George, 4th Lord Seton, and the church contains a stone effigy of a knight and his wife, a memorial to the 5th Lord Seton, another George,  and other monuments. The roof is vaulted, and transepts were added in the 16th century, as was a square, rib-vaulted tower. 

Interior of Seton Collegiate Church, Seton Castle, a large and impressive Adam mansion near the atmospheric Seton Collegiate Church built by the Seton family, near Tranent and Cockenzie and Port Seton in East Lothian. Seton Castle: Seton Collegiare Church, interior (© Martin Coventry)

The church was looted and burned by the English in 1544,and was ransacked after the 1715 Jacobite Rising. After the property had passed to the Earls of Wemyss, the church was restored and then used as their burial place.

  There are also remains of the domestic buildings of the college, although these were remodelled for later use.

Seton Collegiate Church, Seton Castle, a large and impressive Adam mansion near the atmospheric Seton Collegiate Church built by the Seton family, near Tranent and Cockenzie and Port Seton in East Lothian. Seton Castle: Seton Collegiate Church (M'Neill, 1884)
Entrance to Seton Collegiate Church, Seton Castle, a large and impressive Adam mansion near the atmospheric Seton Collegiate Church built by the Seton family, near Tranent and Cockenzie and Port Seton in East Lothian. Seton Castle: Seton Collegiate Church, entrance (© Martin Coventry)

There was a village of Seton [NT 416750?] or Seaton, located approx between the present day farm and cottages at Seton (or what is also now known as East Seton) and Seton Castle, and this was made a free burgh for Sir Alexander Seton by Robert the Bruce in 1321.

Site of Seton village, near Seton Castle, a large and impressive Adam mansion near the atmospheric Seton Collegiate Church built by the Seton family, near Tranent and Cockenzie and Port Seton in East Lothian. Seton Castle: site of Seton village (© Martin Coventry)

The place is marked on Adair's map of East Lothian, and is depicted on both sides of a stream (which was also the lade for the mill) with backlands and a large pond, then on General Roy's map* of the 1740s and 50s, in more detail although the layout appears to be much the same. The village survived until the 1790s when it had a population of 86, mostly masons, weavers, tailors and shoemakers, but around then was mostly cleared by Alexander Mackenzie, the then owner of the Seton estate, the story going that many of the inhabitants had no deeds to their properties. Mackenzie is said to have been cursed by one of those he cleared, and he died unmarried in 1796 at the age of 27 in the West Indies, and the property was sold to the Earl of Wemyss. The farmhouse at (East) Seton dates from about 1800. *If you drag the map Roy will appear, the overlay does not match Roy's map…

Seton Collegiate Church, near Seton Castle, a large and impressive Adam mansion near the atmospheric Seton Collegiate Church built by the Seton family, near Tranent and Cockenzie and Port Seton in East Lothian. Seton Castle: Seton Collegiate Church (© Martin Coventry)

There are no apparent remains of the village, and the pond has also gone, not being marked on Forrest's map published 1802.

  Two mills are marked on Adair's and later maps, one of which Seton Mill [NT 417752] survives, with kiln, granary, barn and cottage, dating from the 18th century or earlier, but this has been converted for residential use. Mary Slessor (and black children that she had converted) ‘dwelt here for a period’. There was also a mill at the village of Seton, and a round doocot is also marked on a map, near the former village.

  The lade survives within the grounds of Seton Castle, but the stream, which ran from Meadowmill, now appears to be either subterranean, or has been diverted (perhaps due to the former open cast mine at Riggonhead / Blindwells or road realignments) until it reaches Seton Castle, where it flows through a defile. The stream is still marked on OS maps from the 1920s but not on later maps. The bridge for the burn survives, crossed by Fishergate Road, the route down to Port Seton. There was also a seamill.

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