Edinburgh Castle: JÖrg Angeli on unsplash.com
If I have my geography even partially figured out, then, that part of Scotland bordering the North Sea, East Lothian, has been assigned a number of names: The Kingdom of Gododdin in the 500s (a Brittonic people of ancient origin). The Kingdom of Bernicia (Angles, Germanic people) in the 600s. Kingdom of Northumbria (Anglo-Saxon) from the 600s to the 900s. Subsequently, depending upon the year, Kingdom of Scotland and/or Kingdom of England, known at Northumbria. Called Haddingtonshire during the reign of David I when the Seton’s arrived. Conveniently located across the sea from Flanders (now part of Belgium).
Flemish in the Conquest
By the time of the Conquest, Flanders had a couple of centuries as a North Sea powerhouse already behind it. Count Baldwin, who made his headquarters in the city of Boulogne, was one of the more powerful men in Europe. His daughter, Matilda, married William the Bastard, soon to become William the Conqueror. Flemish knights (not yet including the Setons) held the Norman right at the Battle of Senlac Hill (part of the larger struggle at Hastings) facing off against the Saxon King Harold.
Eustace II, also a Flemish Count, led the Flemish force—without them the Battle of Hastings would perhaps have ended differently. Missing from the battle was Eustace’s brother, Lambert II, Count of Lens. Lambert likely would have joined in the action except for having been killed in 1054 in a different war on the Continent. He too was well connected, having been married to William’s sister resulting in a daughter, Countess Judith; he had two sons from an earlier marriage. The Eustace family came from a direct line leading back to Charlemagne. Still a rather big deal in 1066.
Eustace II adopted his brother’s two young children from the first marriage, taking them with him during the Conquest. Their names: Seier de Seton and Walter de Seton.
Thus, the scholar Beryl Platts traces the Seton family origins to Charlemagne. There also seems to be a French connection, but the family coat of arms is distinctly Flemish. While Platts does not cite any sources (unlike Bruce Gordon who provides extensive documentation), secondary on-line sources back up this version.
But are we even talking the same family? Maybe these mostly English Setons identified by Platts are different from the Scottish Setons chronicled by Gordon? I haven’t found the detailed documentation supporting the Platts view. Platts admits to having followed Maitland’s lead. But Gordon has shown Maitland as being incorrect. So, do all the on-line sources have it wrong? The Setons are nondescript Flemish knights married into an ancient Celtic family? The Seton’s are highfalutin gentry tracing their linage back to the most important post-Roman ruler in Europe?
Finally, there is also this: Lambert II is listed as French, not Flemish, but his origins are in Flanders. His brother, Eustace II, is listed as Flemish, not French. His headquarters was located in Boulogne, Flanders, but now part of France.
Gordon offers proof that Seher de Seton (also spelled Seier) lived in the 13th century, not the 12th century as Maitland incorrectly claimed. Gordon provides documentation; Platts provides none.
I have pages of notes from various sources leading me to no certainty. I challenge the historians of Scotland to clear this up!
The Heraldic design, or Coat of Arms, used by the Seton family derives from the Flemish House of Boulogne—just as Beryl Platts claims. In appearance, it evolved over time, but the basis is three red crescents on a gold background apparently indicating descent from the second son (i.e. Lambert de Lens). According to Platts, “So a man who carried, or followed, a banner of red on gold aspired to nobility, compassion, fortitude and valiance; he felt himself a part of the brilliance of sun and fire; shared in the qualities of ruby and brass.” (g. 33) Red and gold were the colors of Boulogne. The crescents are enclosed by a double tressure—a kind of border line showing connection to the Scottish Royal Family. (By the late 1200s, Setons were related to the Bruce family by marriage).
Hazard Yet Forward
The family motto became variations of Hazard Yet Forward, which seems to have declared absolute fealty to the Catholic monarchs of Scotland. (See my notes of the Battle of Langside for confirmation of this.) To put it slightly differently: The Setons will willingly fight and die for Scotland. Individuals within the Seton-Winton family proved this all the way through 1746.
Platts makes a poetic statement about the ethics of the medieval knight: “They are engaged in a terrible, dangerous but vitally enticing quest; and what they seek to discover and annihilate is nothing less than the evil side of Death. This is more important than the outcome of the battle. But it is what makes the battle glorious.” (pg. 31)
This then, is the Seton-Winton family Ethos, not only through of the last of the warriors at Culloden but less violently, to the time of Ernest Thompson Seton. A passed down through-the-ages cultural spirit, dedication to a cause, no matter the consequences, the very definition of existential personal character where it is all or nothing, compromise be damned. On, Forward On, No Matter What!
Even while the genetic heritage of Ernest Thomson Seton remains in considerable doubt, he remained (often to his detriment) the epitome of the Seton-Winton Ethos, as he was certainly aware. Dedication (or stubbornness) led the related families of Camerons, Gordons, Oliphants, Wintons, Bruces, and Setons to frequent disaster. This heritage is cultural, not genetic, but for all that, entirely powerful. Seton depicted his animal heroes (Lobo, Krag, the Winnipeg wolf) as manifestations of this Ethos, although this view of non-human life was not accepted at the time. His embrace of feminism and anti-war views (criticized at the time) and exploration of Native American history and values (criticized now for its exploitative aspects) led him off a series of cliffs. He could be bitter about his defeats, but remained unapologetic for the positions he took, regardless of consequence.
Hazzard it Forward, indeed.