Mary Seaton or Mary Seton?

There is a family story that some of my line are descended from Mary Seaton, one of the four Mary’s that were handmaidens Mary Queen of Scots. A fuller story of them is found at Mary Queen of Scots site.

My first reaction to hearing the story was it must be rubbish as she never married or had any children, but descent from her siblings was possible. I have come across a few posts on fora about other people who have the story in their trees but not proved it. Unfortunately the posts were quite old when I found them and I have no replies from the original posters.

With several families laying claim to the story, all based in South East Northumberland where there are places with Seaton in their names, the story deserved more study.

The first point is the family name, Seton seems to be the usual Scots spelling and Seaton is more often used in England, the name does seem interchangeable and could even be from a Nederland word Zeetuin, which is an archaic word meaning Sea Garden, possibly a place where sea and shellfish were harvested, the word does sound similar when spoken.

In an effort to get a start point I have spent several years researching the Seton family in Scotland, this has covered the Lords of Seton and later the Earls of Winton, but also tracing the line back to Fergus of Galway who had married a daughter of King Henry so the line goes back to the Norman conquest and before. The Seton line was in Cumberland before they relocated to Scotland and before that they appeared in some early documents to have been on the East coast of England. Perhaps before that they were from the Low Countries which may be where their family name comes from.

Tracing the family forward gets somewhat problematic, as the 5th Earl of Winton was accused of treason and sentenced to death in the Tower of London. Wikipedia has some of this story here but also has several disputed errors. It seems the direct line from the Seton family died with him, but in fact there are several obfuscations that led to this idea.

The main problem is that it is claimed, mainly by the Eglington family, that he never married and had no children, which is incorrect. George was a fervent protestant, he published several pamphlets promoting the King and protestantism, but he married secretly a catholic woman, Mary McKlear, the daughter of an Edinburgh doctor. The Seton family site contains many details and following the claim to the title being granted to George Seton of Bellingham the Earls of Eglington produced a counter claim based on the fact there was no marriage record, it was of course in their interest that there was no record of the marriage. The court in Edinburgh did however agree that the child of George and Mary was genetically theirs if not proven as legitimate.

While in the Tower of London for trial and execution he also fathered two children by Elizabeth Stevenson, widow of an Edinburgh doctor who was a friend of the attainted Earl, who was acting as his agent in procuring funds from his estate. After he escaped England he married an unknown woman and they lived in Rome where she was known as Lady or Countess Winton, they had at least three children, one line moved to Ireland and later England. It seems he made a living from the Freemasons in Rome, possibly embezzling funds to support his lifestyle.

He had a lot of descendants, but the Bellingham line looks interesting for links in Northumberland. They spread themselves around a lot and there are lines around Consett and South Shields who moved to Canada but also in Northumberland and later in San Diego and so far no direct link to any of my ancestors, although there are some living in the same street at the same time.

This returns me to the original premise, that we are descended from Mary Seton, which is difficult to prove. Most of her adult life she was imprisoned with Mary Queen of Scots, and though not herself a prisoner any child born would have been noted. We then have the period between her trip to France for the marriage of the Queen to the dauphin, who died before marriage, and the time when the family dispute, known as the Battle of Lansdale occurred. The battle was a family matter with several thousand troops watching which eventually led to Mary going to England for support from Elizabeth, which did not go well.

In the peaceful 10 or 12 years Mary and the Queen seem to have enjoyed life, playing golf at Musselburgh and perhaps the attention of suitors. The Queen seems quite open to fun but Mary was fairly strict about a vow of chastity. It is however possible there was an illegitimate birth, not recorded, and possibly the child was raised outside the family, this will mean tracing 500 years of descent through commoners in Scotland and England, without even a rumour that the birth had occurred.

While looking through some documents from a cousin I found a handwritten note attached to Thomas Reuben Whitfield Burn that he was a cousin of  Margaret Seaton of Rochdale. He was illegitimate but his mother did marry Thomas Reuben Whitfield, implying he was the father. It turns out Margaret Seaton’s  parents married in Newcastle on Tyne and her father was from Glasgow, he was also a methodist minister with the New Convention in Manchester. Once again no link has been found to my line or the Seton line, so far.

My current hope is that I can find another researcher with this story so we can narrow down where in our trees we should be looking.

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