Seton, George (1530?-1585) (DNB00)

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SETON, GEORGE, fifth Lord Seton (1530?–1585), born about 1530, was eldest son of George, fourth lord Seton [q. v.], by Elizabeth, daughter of John, lord Hay of Yester. He was one of the commissioners sent by the parliament of Scotland, 17 Dec. 1557, to witness the nuptials of Queen Mary with the dauphin of France. He is mentioned as lord provost of Edinburgh in November of the same year (Extracts from the Burgh Records of Edinburgh, 1557–71, p. 13), having succeeded Archibald Douglas of Kilspindie, and, during his absence in France, his friend, Sir Robert Maitland, acted as president (ib. p. 16). He was also provost in 1558–9. Knox states that, although he attended the preaching of the reformer John Willock [q. v.] in 1558, he afterwards resiled to the old beliefs (Works, i. 256), and officially, as provost of Edinburgh, ‘greatly troubled and molested the brethren’ by taking upon him the protection of the Black and Grey Friars (ib. pp. 362–3). Knox consequently characterises him as ‘a man without God, without honesty, and oftentimes without reason’ (ib.) His protection of the friars was, however, vain, and on the arrival of the lords of the congregation in Edinburgh in June 1559, he ‘abandoned his charge,’ and permitted them to work their will in the suppression of ‘all monuments of idolatry’ (ib.) After the departure of Knox from Edinburgh in the autumn of the same year, he was sent with the Earl of Huntly ‘to solicit all men to condescend to the queen's mind’ by permitting mass to be said in St. Giles's, and allowing the people to choose what religion they would (ib. p. 389), but, as Knox expressed it, ‘the brethren stoutly and valiantly in the Lord Jesus gainsaid their most unjust petitions’ (ib. p. 390). Shortly after this Seton, according to Knox, without provocation offered ‘brak a chaise upon’ [endeavoured to capture] Alexander Whitelaw, an agent of Knox, who was coming to Edinburgh, and pursued him without success as far as Ormiston in the belief that he ‘had been John Knox’ (ib. p. 393).

After the triumph of the protestant party Seton went for a time to France, arriving at Paris on 3 July 1560 (Throckmorton to the queen, 9 Aug., in Cal. State Papers, For. 1560–1, No. 411). On 1 Oct., however, he obtained from Mary [Stuart], queen of France, a passport to pass from France through England into Scotland (ib. No. 593), and, meeting Throckmorton in Paris, he told him that, though he had been ‘evilly used’ in Scotland, he intended ‘to go home and live and die a good Scotchman’ (Throckmorton to the queen, 22 Oct., ib. No. 666). On the return of Queen Mary to Scotland in 1561 he was sworn a member of the privy council, and appointed master of the household. On 10 Nov. he and the Earl of Bothwell, who had been at feud, entered into bonds—in presence of the queen and by her express command—to keep the peace to each other until the first February following, under pain ‘of dishonour, infamy, and defamation’ (Reg. P. C. Scot. i. 183). In 1564 he quarrelled with Maitland of Lethington on account of one Francis Douglas (Cal. State Papers, For. 1564–5, No. 917), and, the queen deeming it advisable that he should for a time leave the country, he obtained permission in March 1564–5 to go to France (Randolph to Cecil, ib. No. 1044). He was still in France when the queen was married to Darnley, but was so high in favour with the queen that she went to his house at Seton to spend the honeymoon (ib. No. 1298). In August following he was recalled to Scotland (ib. No. 1430), and, returning shortly afterwards, became one of the queen's most consistent and devoted supporters during the remainder of her checkered career in Scotland. On the night after the murder of Rizzio, having been made privy to the queen's purpose to escape from Holyrood, he waited in the neighbourhood with a body of horse, and attended her first to Seton and thence to Dunbar. A catholic by conviction, he was one of the few noblemen present at the baptism of the young prince in the castle of Stirling on 17 Dec. 1566; and, when others refused to bear ‘the salt, grease, and candle, and such other things,’ Seton, with the Earls of Eglinton and Atholl, ‘brought in the said trash’ (Knox, ii. 536). It was to Seton House that the queen went for privacy after Darnley's assassination, Seton himself vacating the house and leaving it to be wholly occupied by the queen and her attendants. He remained faithful to her after her marriage to Bothwell, and it was at Seton she slept on the day before her surrender at Carberry, Seton being one of her supporters there. He was made privy to the plan for her escape from Loch Leven in May 1568, and, having invaded the neighbourhood with a large body of horse, he, immediately that she touched the shore, convoyed her first to his own castle of Niddrie, Linlithgowshire, and thence to Hamilton. He was one of the leaders at Langside on the 13th, and was there taken prisoner. On 13 Dec. 1569 he gave surety that he would enter into ward in the castle of St. Andrews (Reg. P. C. Scotl. ii. 69). After the assassination of the regent Moray he joined with other lords in support of the queen, and he signed the letter of May 1570 to Elizabeth on her behalf. When the lords deemed it advisable to leave Edinburgh, Seton assembled his supporters at the palace, and ‘bragged that he would enter in the town and cause beat a drum [i.e. to summon the people to the queen's standard] in despite of all the carles’ (Calderwood, ii. 560). He did so, but without effect (ib.) In his company at Holyrood was the Lady Northumberland, and shortly afterwards she and he were sent on an embassy to the Duke of Alva (ib.; Cal. State Papers, For. 1579–71, No. 1277). There is a tradition that when in Flanders he was forced to support himself by becoming a wagoner; but this is unlikely, although a picture of him as a wagoner is said to have been at one time in the long gallery at Seton. He arrived at the castle of Edinburgh with money from Flanders on 19 Feb. 1572 (ib. 1572–4, No. 144). After the fall of the castle he made his peace with Morton's government, and gave sureties for his obedience and allegiance (Reg. P. C. Scotl. ii. 212). It would appear, however, that then and afterwards he remained under the ban of the kirk's excommunication, for in an action against him before the privy council for refusing to allow a designation of a manse and a glebe, it was declared that ‘he had no place to stand in judgment by reason of the sentence of excommunication against him’ (ib. p. 314). On 27 June 1577 he, as well as Robert, master of Seton, obtained a license to go abroad (ib. p. 735).

Seton was one of the nobles who assembled in Edinburgh in July 1578 to oppose the reinstatement of Morton in power, some time after his resignation of the regency (Moysie, Memoirs, p. 14); and for intercepting Bowes, the ambassador of Elizabeth, on the 18th, between Edinburgh and Kirkliston, on his way to Stirling, and compelling him to turn back to Edinburgh, he was summoned before the council, and failing to appear was denounced a rebel and put to the horn (Reg. P. C. Scotl. iii. 11). He was also denounced a rebel on 24 Sept. for failing to answer to a complaint of James Crichton of Cranston-Riddell, for violently preventing Cranston from intromitting with the lands of Tranent (ib. p. 35), but in November gave caution to appear before the council by December (ib. p. 48), and finally gave caution not to make further impediment to Crichton (ib. p. 55). On 7 May 1579 he also answered a summons for intromitting with the king's goods and household stuff (ib. p. 152), which he had pledged in payment of a debt (ib. p. 195). On 12 June Seton and his eldest surviving son, Robert, signed a bond for him and his three sons to serve the king, and cease from having communication with John Hamilton, sometime commendator of Arbroath, and Claud Hamilton, sometime commendator of Paisley (ib. p. 182), against whom the old acts for the murder of the two regents had been revived, and who were then in hiding.

Seton was one of the lords who, after the fall of Morton, conveyed him on 18 Jan. 1580–1 to Dumbarton Castle (Moysie, p. 29; Calderwood, iii. 484). Before the trial of Morton the king stayed some days at Seton (Moysie, p. 32). Although justly objected to by Morton as one of his well-known enemies, Seton sat on the assize for Morton's trial, and, with his two sons, he witnessed Morton's execution in a stair south-east of the cross (Calderwood, iii. 575). He was a strong supporter of the Duke of Lennox, and, when Lennox was commanded to depart from Scotland, convoyed him south to England (ib. p. 693). In April 1583 the commissioner of the synod of Lothian complained against him to the king for entertaining a seminary priest (ib. p. 704), but the accusation came to nothing, and in October the king manifested his entire confidence in him by sending him on an embassy to France (Reg. P. C. Scotl. iii. 604). He died on 8 Jan. 1584–5, soon after his return from France, aged about 55.

The Setons, on account of the large number of noble families descended from them, were styled ‘Magnæ Nobilitatis Domini,’ and, owing to their intermarriages with the royal family, their shield obtained the addition of the royal or double tressure. The fifth lord is said to have declined an earldom, regarding it as a greater distinction to be Lord Seton, whereupon King James is reputed to have commended his resolution in the following Latin epigram:

    Sunt comites, alii ducesque, sunt denique reges:
    Setoni Dominus sit satis esse mihi.

By his wife Isabel, daughter of Sir William Hamilton of Sanquhar, high treasurer of Scotland, he had one daughter, Margaret, married to Lord Claud Hamilton, and five sons: George, master of Seton, who died in March 1562; Robert, sixth lord Seton, who was a special favourite of James VI, and on 16 Nov. 1600 was created Earl of Winton; Sir John Seton, lord Barns [q. v.]; Alexander, prior of Pluscardine and afterwards Earl of Dunfermline [q. v.]; and Sir William Seton Kyllismore, sheriff of Midlothian, and postmaster-general of Scotland.

A painting of Lord Seton and his family, by Sir Anthony Mor or More [q. v.], has been frequently engraved.

[Histories of Knox and Calderwood; Moysie's Memoirs, Lord Herries' Memoirs, and Sir James Melville's Memoirs in the Bannatyne Club; Reg. P. C. Scotl. i.–iii.; Cal. State Papers, Scot. Ser. and For. Ser. reign of Elizabeth; Sir Richard Maitland's History of the House of Seton, with continuation by Viscount Kingston in the Bannatyne Club; Douglas's Scottish Peerage (Wood), ii. 644–5.]

T. F. H.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.245
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
270 i 22 Seton, George, 5th Lord Seton: for ducesque alii, read aliique duces,
23  for Dominium read Dominus