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The Palace of Seton: a lost landmark.

Seton Palace Drawing by Diana Simcock

Armorial Plaque from Seton Palace drawn by Diana Simcock

Why build at Seton?
Seton Palace lay in a strategic position overlooking the Forth, with excellent resources; fertile farmland, productive coal and salt workings. It was also well connected, on a high road between Edinburgh, Haddington and Dunbar. This made it possible for the Lords and Ladies of Seton to provide hospitality to the Stewart monarchs and to consolidate their position at court as members of the Royal Household.

Mid 20th century excavations of canon’s quarters

The History of Seton Palace
Seton Castle was built during the 13th and 14th centuries by the Seton family, damaged by fire and looted by the English during the “Rough Wooing”, then restored and extended. Most of the surviving sculptural work dates from 1630.  It’s most splendid manifestation was as the Renaissance Palace in which the Lords of Seton displayed their wealth and entertained the Stewart monarchs. After the 1715 Jacobite rebellion Seton Palace passed out of the hands of the Seton family. It fell into disrepair and was demolished in 1790. The Robert Adam mansion that replaced it sits within the original boundary of the Palace. It is still possible to see the position of the lodgings provided for the canons who served at the Collegiate church.

Sketch of the Mapp of the Parioch of Tranent

From Macky’s Journey Through Scotland 1723
Quoted in The Family of Seton by George Seton published 1896
“The Palace of Seton 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 a triangular court. The front to the south-east hath a very noble apartment of a Hall, a Drawing-room, a handsome parlour, bedchamber, 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 plaistered the arms of Scotland, with the arms of France on the one hand, and those of Francis the Second, the dauphin, with his consort Queen Mary, in one escutcheon on the other; the arms of Hamilton, Duke of Chateauherault, with several other noblemen’s arms and supporters, with the French Order of St Michael around them. The front to the north seems to be a much older building than this. The apartments of state are on the second storey 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 many great offices in the outer courts, and a handsome church or chapel, where there are some old marble monuments. The situation of this Palace is very fine, in the middle of an estate of 5000 pounds sterling a year, …yet this Earl would throw himself into the Rebellion, and forfeit all.”

Drawing of a Stone Mason by Diana Simcock

Who built the Palace and the Church?
Several generations of the Seton family commissioned building works at Seton, but the artisans that actually worked on the construction of both the Church and the Palace, would have been drawn from local and itinerant masons. Freestone carving was a specialist skill, and a lodge of masons may have been based at Seton to carry out the finer pieces of work.The site would have been busy with noise and activity, unlike the quiet setting of today.

Adapted from a leaflet produced for a guided walk supported by Friends of the John Gray Centre, Haddington.  Diana Simcock 2017 Research based on sources in The National Library of Scotland, The University of Edinburgh, at Gosford, and in the Local History Library at the John Gray Centre, Haddington.