Robert Seton, 1st Earl of Winton

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Robert Seton, 1st Earl of Winton (1553 – 22 March 1603) was one of the Scottish peers who supported Mary, Queen of Scots.

Early years

The son of George Seton, 7th Lord Seton, Robert Seton grew up active in the affairs of his father and of the State. He was educated early in France, and accompanied his father during his ambassadorships to France during the reign of Queen Mary. As a youth, he grew up a close childhood friend of the Queen’s son, the future King James VI.


Like his father, he was strongly attached to the Queen and to the Royal House of Stuart, and was part of his father’s rescue party for Queen Mary from Loch Leven Castle. He was also present at the battle of Langside in 1568. He was later one of the party who rescued King James VI from the hands of the Douglases, and supported his monarch during the Gowrie and other conspiracies of the time.


Upon the death of his father, in 1585, Robert succeeded as 6th Lord Seton.[1] Although his father left the estates heavily encumbered by reason of the great expense of several embassies and of his losses suffered by adhering to the Queen’s party, yet by prudence and ability he was soon able to put his affairs in good condition[2] and provide both sons and daughters with respectable fortunes. "He was very hospitable, and kept a noble house, the king and queen being frequently there, and all French and other ambassadors and strangers of quality were nobly entertained."

He was a great builder and a wise improver of his property, especially by working on the old harbor of Cockenzie, along the Firth of Forth, a curious fishing village of great antiquity whose history is little known. It originally sheltered only small boats, but when improved by art and accommodated vessels of a larger size. In January, 1599, the king granted him a charter unde the Great Seal of Scotland concerning Cockenzie, which had previously been erected into a free port and burgh of barony.

He "was a great favorite of King James VI", and was created Earl of Winton at Holyroodhouse, on 16 November 1600, to him and his heirs male.[3]


A strict Roman Catholic, the Earl and his family suffered indignities from the Presbytery of Haddington, East Lothian, as may be seen by the Records.

One entry reads thus:

"1597. Setoun Kirk. The Presbitery asked Lord Setoun if he will suffer them to sit in the Kirk of Setoun for the space of two or three days, because they are to ‘gang about’ all the churches within their bounds; but this his Lordship altogether refused." Protestant worship has never been held in Seton Church, as after the family conformed they attended the Tranent parish church, leaving their own church deserted, as it has remained ever since.


In 1582, Lord Seton married Lady Margaret Montgomerie, eldest daughter of Hugh Montgomerie, 3rd Earl of Eglinton, by whom he had five sons and a daughter:[4]

  1. Robert Seton, 2nd Earl of Winton
  2. George Seton, 3rd Earl of Winton
  3. Sir Alexander Seton of Foulstruther, Knight, who succeeded as 6th Earl of Eglinton,[5] and in descent from whom is the present Earl of Eglinton and Winton, Lord Montgomerie, Baron Ardrossan, Baron Seton and Tranent, etc.
  4. Sir Thomas Seton, Bt., of Olivestob., ancestor of this family.[6]
  5. Sir John Seton, Bt., of St. Germains.
  6. Lady Isabel Seton, who married (1) James Drummond, 1st Earl of Perth, (2) Francis, eldest son of Francis Stewart, 1st Earl of Bothwell, with issue to both.:[7]

Death & burial

The Earl of Winton in his Latter-Will, dated 28 February 1603, he ordained "My body to be buried whole in most humble, quiet, modest, and Christian manner without all extraordinary pomp or unlawful ceremony, within my College Church of Seton among my progenitors of worthy memory." By the words unlawful ceremony, the staunch old Catholic nobleman wished to say that he didn't want any Protestant interference or Kirk rites about him after death, as he hadn't 'brooked' them in life. He was buried on Tuesday 5 April,[8] on the same day that King James VI of Scotland set out from Edinburgh for London to become King James I of England.

"As the monarch passed the house of Seton, near Musselburgh, he was met by the funeral of Lord Seton, a nobleman of high rank; which, with its solemn movement and sable trappings, occupied the road, and contrasted strangely and gloomily with the brilliant pageantry of the royal cavalcade. The Seton’s were one of the oldest and proudest families of Scotland; and that lord, whose mortal remains now passed by, had been a faithful adherent of the kings mother: whose banner he had never deserted, and in whose cause he had suffered exile and proscription. The meeting was thought ominous by the people. It appeared, to their excited imaginations, as if the moment had arrived when the aristocracy of Scotland was about to merge in that of Great Britain; as if the Scottish nobles had finished their career of national glory, and this last representative of their race had been arrested on his road to the grave, to bid farewell to the last of Scotland’s kings. As the mourners moved slowly onward, the monarch himself, participating in these melancholy feelings, sat down by the way-side, on a stone still pointed out to the historical pilgrim; nor did he resume his progress till the gloomy procession had completely disappeared."[9]


  1. Anderson, William, The Scottish Nation, Edinburgh, 1867, vol. ix: 659
  2. Anderson, William, The Scottish Nation, Edinburgh, 1867, vol. ix: 659
  3. Anderson, William, The Scottish Nation, Edinburgh, 1867, vol. ix: 659
  4. Anderson, William, The Scottish Nation, Edinburgh, 1867, vol. ix: 659
  5. Anderson, William, The Scottish Nation, Edinburgh, 1867, vol. ix: 659
  6. Anderson, William, The Scottish Nation, Edinburgh, 1867, vol. ix: 659
  7. Anderson, William, The Scottish Nation, Edinburgh, 1867, vol. ix: 659
  8. Anderson, William, The Scottish Nation, Edinburgh, 1867, vol. ix: 659
  9. Tytler, Patrick Fraser, The History of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1866, new edition, vol.ix: 363-4