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Friday, September 10, 2021

Wyntoun's War or the "Rough Wooing" of my 19th Great-Grandmother

I’m taking a small break this month from the Bruce sisters.  I promise to finish up next month with Maud, Margaret and Mary de Brus.  Due to two new roofs and other demanding needs, I just wasn't able to devote the time I need for the remaining trio.  Instead, I will speak of some Bruce relations, for they are of the blood, cousins.  But, more importantly, this tale is about love, romance, and a lovers dash to Edinburgh Castle—that may or may not have been a kidnapping—and the man and woman who were my 19th great-grandparents.


Wyntoun's War 
or the Rough Wooing of my 19th Great-Grandmother.

At the start of 1343, Lady Margaret de Seton was suddenly thrust into the role of heiress to her father, Lord Alexander de Seton, governor of Berwick Castle.  The Setons were longtime supporters of Clan Bruce, and even married into it.  Alexander was the brother of Sir Christopher Seton, who wed Christian de Brus (sister to Robert the Bruce).  You might recall from my previous article about this Bruce sister that Christopher was Christian’s second husband, and he gave his life defending the Bruce women when they were trying to flee the English in 1306.  Over the decades, the Setons were recognized for their loyalty and rewarded by Bruce, and they continued to support his son David II at the cost of their lives.

Margaret de Seton, born around 1330, was Alexander’s last child and only daughter.  She became heiress to her father’s vast wealth at a young age, and not a position she had anticipated inheriting.  She had four valiant warriors for older brothers—Alexander, John, William and Thomas.  If one fell, another would assume the titles and lands rightfully his.  Some historians dismissively list her as Alexander Seton’s granddaughter, and instead, put her as the daughter of her brother, Alexander.  A couple try to fix her as daughter of John, another brother, (likely because she became heiress after John’s death).  These careless mix-ups really cause snarls, which few show interest in fixing.  Both Alexandersfather and son—were at Berwick Castle at the time of the siege of 1332-3, so for starters, they tend to blur the two Alexanders into one person, which they are not.  The father outlived the son by over a decade.  Margaret clearly was the daughter of Alexander the elder and Christian le Chenyne (granddaughter of Isabella Macduff, countess of Buchan—the woman who crowned Bruce king).  However, the confusion doesn’t end there.  Her mother’s name was Christian, and her uncle Christopher married Christian de Brus, thus many are now listing Christopher and Bruce’s sister as her parents, which they are not.  Christopher died in 1306, long before Margaret came along.

In the late summer of 1332, Alexander—the father—was governor of Berwick Castle, when a siege was laid.  His defense of the fortress cost him three of his sons. Margaret’s brothers died valiantly in the continued struggle against Edward Balliol and Edward III.  Alexander, was killed in the Battle of Kinghorn, where the son of John Balliol was trying to land in Scotland so he might claim the Scottish crown for himself.  William also died in the same fight, drowned in repulsing the landing.  A third brother, Thomas, was captured.  Seton called for a truce, which was granted, but only on condition that he surrender if not relieved by the Scots before the 11th of July.  They were relieved by riders, men under Sir William Keith, Sir Alexander Gray and Sir William Prenderguest. Only Edward III of England said the riders came from the English side of the border, not Scottish, so the castle was not “relieved from Scotland” and thus he proceeded to execute Thomas and ten other men held prisoner.  Alexander and his wife were forced to watch as Thomas was hanged, drawn and quartered before the gates of the town.  Keith took command of the town from Alexander (small wonder), and negotiated a second truce which held—an unconditional surrender to the English, but it allowed all the Scots to leave unharmed.

Around the mid-1340s tragedy again strikes the Setons.  Twice.  First, Sir Alexander dies around 1343, and the title goes to the remaining son, Sir John.  Only, three years later, John dies at the Battle of Neville’s Cross in Durham, England.  And dies without issue.  Some list him as marrying a Margaret Ruthven and having a son, Alexander, but that is likely an echo of the mess they have created with Seaton and his son, who died at the Battle of Kinghorn.  I believe this to be false, because had there been a son, that child would’ve inherited the estate of his grandfather, not his aunt, Margaret.  For Margaret to become heiress it clearly means John didn’t have a child for the estate to go to, and as John’s younger sister, Margaret was next in line.

So, there in a space of less than three years, she loses her father, and his final son, John, dies in battle.  A lot of heartache facing a young woman.  With the passing of her father and brother, she is suddenly a very rich heiress—and target of greedy young men everywhere.

As you might assume, Sir Alexander was popular in the hearts of the people of East Lothian, in his never failing support around the Bruce family.  He had sacrificed a brother and three sons in protecting Bruce’s rule and his legacy, and finally the fourth son had died in the same service.  The prominence of the Seton family had risen, along with that of the Stewarts and Bruces.  Thus, the people of East Lothian felt a protectiveness toward young Margaret.  Only, others hoped to latch onto her wealth and the power of her name, so the young woman was nearly crushed in the stampede of suitors for her hand.

Into the middle of this story rides one dashing and handsome Baron Alan de Wyntoun, son of Alan de Wynton and Margaret Murray (de Moray).   This new Margaret really complicates matters in trying to keep things reasonably straight, because she is the granddaughter of Christian de Brus.  Yeah, Excedrin headache 113, and it only gets worse!  She was also the granddaughter of Thomas Randolph, 1st earl of Moray—Bruce’s nephew.  I know you are really hating all these tangled lines, but I needed to demonstrate why a small knight, a vassal of Sir Alexander Seton, would take it upon himself to swoop in and abduct Margaret.  I am assuming, though the Wyntouns, who took vows of homage and fealty to the mighty Setons, they felt they had as much right to status and position through their close lineage to the Bruces and the Randolphs.

Emboldened by the blood in his veins, Alan carried off Margaret in what the Scots called a “rough wooing”.  Well, hadn’t Marjorie Carrick snatched Robert Bruce, lord Annandale in this fashion?  And let’s not forget about William le Hardi Douglas, who executed a raid to abscond with his second wife, Eleanor Bagot de Lovayne.  Alan and Margaret grew up hearing these stories around fireside.  Alan was akin to the royal family, and was in fact cousin to the Setons.  I am guessing Alan saw the chance to raise the Wyntouns up to the level they had been heretofore denied by forcing the then seventeen-year-old woman into marriage.  At least, some said forced.

Alan wasn’t the first, nor the last Scotsman, to take this quick route to winning the hand of an heiress.  Only, it was another thing to pull this stunt so closely following Sir John’s death at Neville's Cross, and as they say, poor Alexander barely cold in his grave. 

Since the Wyntouns were close cousins to the Setons, and a cadet branch of her own family, there arose cries of consanguinity—mostly from the disappointed rivals, who still hoped to get their chance of being husband to the valuable heiress if they broke the marriage.  There is scant enough material to make a good judgment call on whether this was a kidnapping or an elopement.  I come down on the side that Margaret was a party to the plan, and was determined to marry whom she wanted before a king stepped in and forced her to wed someone she didn’t care for.  Maybe it’s the romantic in me, but how the event unfolded only reinforced that belief they were in love and wanting to control their own fate.

Inadvertently, the two lovers seemed to set half of East Lothians out for blood, while the others were ready to hold a wedding feast.  A bit of an exaggeration, perhaps, but it was said her abduction caused a war—the Wyntoun’s War.  Still, whether or not this was an actual abduction to force a marriage, or something Margaret actively participated in so she could marry Alan, was hotly debated at the time.  The one telling fact that sticks out in my mind—his uncle, William de Moray, brother to Alan’s mother, took the young couple into Edinburgh Castle.  He was governor there, and granted the lovers protection within the castle walls, barring the angry mob that was following in their wake.

One chronicler. Fordun, proclaimed that 'a hundred ploughs were laid aside in Lothian while the matter was discussed.’  Half favored “the ravisher” and applauded Wyntoun for taking the situation in hand.  Others were armed and ready to bring him in for punishment for daring to steal the daughter of his overlord.  And the jilted suitors likely screamed the loudest!  Citizens of Lothian grew into an angry mob and fell upon the castle, demanding Wyntoun be handed over.  When Wyntoun’s uncle refused, an objection quickly made it all the way to the ear of King David II,  and a call was sent out for Alan to be arrested—cousin or not!

Keep in mind, Alan and Margaret are my 19th great-grandparents, so I am possibly a bit prejudiced.  Be still my heart—for after much arguing and various threats, Margaret was required to perform The Ring or The Sword ceremony.  I wrote about the rite and ritual in A Restless Knight— when Tamlyn marries Julian Challon in the old ways.  Family lore says the couple I based them upon went through this ceremony when they wed, but they haven't been fully documented yet.  So, imagine my thrill at finding proof of yet another set of great-grandparents going through this very same ceremony! One tale says Margaret was blindfolded and made to choose between a sword and a ring, each resting upon a pillow.  She did not get to feel these objects, by the way, but had to touch the pillow upon which they rested to determine Alan's fate.  This was seen as a Trial by Ordeal—God’s hand would decide Alan’s fate through her selection.  Other tales say she made her own choice—knowingly, and had from the start.  Whichever you wish to believe, Margaret picked the ring, and she and Alan were officially wed.  They lived together as man and wife, and had two children*** —a son William and a daughter, Christian.

*** I put the stars here to make note there is extreme conflict on the number of children.  William and Christian are fully recognized and well-documented as Alan and Margaret’s children—their only children.  However, some genealogy sites list the couple as having two other sons—Alexander and Henry. Some list the men as Margaret’s sons, half-brothers to William and Christian, implying they were fathered by another man after Alan left.  However, this doesn’t hold water for me since both of these sons inherited Wyntoun lands and titles, and chose to use the Wyntoun name, not the Seton name and honours.  The conflicts arise because both are shown as born years after Alan’s death.  I sincerely believe the date of Alan’s death is off by a decade, and these two are his legitimate sons, which jives with proof to them inheriting his holdings and electing to use his surname.  Even sites that run by the Seton family recognize both of them as Alan’s.  If you take the stance, as I believe, Alan died ten years later than they record, then these are his legitimate sons.

Alexander de Wyntoun of Seton married Jean Halyburton, daughter of Sir Thomas Halyburton of Dirleton.  The youngest son, Henry de Wyntoun, retained his father's surname and inherited Wrychthouses in Edinburgh.  Henry married Amy Brouna of Coalston, and he went on to be one of the heroes of the Battle of Otterburn, August 19, 1388. 

Margaret’s daughter Christian (though they start up with muddling things again by often calling her Margaret, too), went on to do well, marrying George Dunbar, the 9th earl of Dunbar and March—son of Gelis Isabelle Randolph and John Dunbar, of Derchester & Birkynside, earl of Fife—and grandson of Thomas Randolph, earl of Moray.  They went on to have nine daughters and sons.

After the marriage, Alan changed his name to Seton, and used the title of Lord Seton, jure uxoris (by right of wife).  Even so, rumors held that Margaret’s family tended to make life such a continuing hell for Alan that by his early fifties he took to the cross, joining the Knights Hospitallers and went off on a crusade.  Since the last crusade had ended long before this time, it’s assumed he went to the Holy Lands as a pilgrim.  He is recorded as leaving 400 ducats of gold for safe keeping with a Venetian merchant, Nicholas Zucull, in London as he departed England, but that is the last anyone hears of Alan de Wyntoun de Seton.

In 1363 his son, Lord William Seton authorized Adam Wymondham, a citizen, and Nicholas Nogrebon, a Venetian, to recover the money.  The document states that Alan had died on his way to Mount Sinai, when about to visit the tomb of St. Katherine there.  The date of Lord William seeking to recover the money in 1363 seems to support Alan “vanishing” around 1357.  There is no reason they would wait sixteen years to recover the gold.

Little is mentioned of the remainder of Margaret’s life.  She died around 1360, about four years after the disappearance of her husband.

I am sorry such a pale hangs over the end to their story, both vaguely fading into the mists of history without a definitive end to their lives, or what happened to turn Alan against his family and to leave.  But the romance writer in me loves having a real life set of grandparents who went through The Ring and the Sword ceremony, just like my beloved Tamlyn and Julian.



10 comments:

  1. Love the Ring and the Sword Ceremony! Very romantic
    As ever, a facinating insight into a turbulent past.
    All those names being the same! Very tricky.
    Did any have nicknames?

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  2. If they did, it was some addition to the name like Robert Bruce's grandfather was Robert "The Competitor". Patrick of earl of Dunbar and March, also a competitor for the crown in the Great Cause. He was known as Patrick "Blackbeard" -- too many Patricks and Cospatricks in the direct lines. Another, my 13th Great Grandfather, John "Red Bag" Somerville, 1st lord of Cambusnethan, got his nickname of red bag for he wore a red velvet bag tied from his belt about his waist. But then, they had to go confuse matters again with calling his son "Red Bag" as well. Often, females would have a name like Matilda, but they would call her Maud, or Margaret could be called Marjorie, but even those were uses so often that you have this vision of walking into the room and saying "Alexander?" and a third of the men in the room go, "Yes?" Then you would say, "Alexander Montgomerie." and you would get a dozen "Yes?" lol. Sometimes, they would tag men as "the elder/older" or "younger". The Irish use Og -- which went as a tag for younger (Mac meaning son, Og meaning grandson--which is where the O'Connells and O'Briens came to be surnames). I have 26 Alexander Montgomeries in the direct tree, by the way...lol.,,and 39 Robert Bruces.

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  3. Another fascinating insight into the whirlwind of medieval Scottish history. Thanks so much for this wonderful read, and I hope that you get your roof fixed very soon.

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  4. Thank you for reading the articles. I was actually fool enough to get two roofs installed at once. Mine needed it because of tornado damage to the carport singles. The other was a property I owe, where Candy Thompson lives. She had some critter try to dig its way in around the skylight, which caused a leak. They delivered her materials on a Tuesday, and did her roof Wednesday and Thursday. They dropped off mine on Wednesday and did mine Thursday and Friday. They were also taking down my failing brick chimney. Cutting through that with the big saws made it feel like the whole house was coming down. They are guaranteed for 50 years, rated at 130 mph winds and hail resistant, so I can sleep now when storms approach.

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  5. Such a wonderful post! You always write the most interesting things and this was no exception! I thoroughly enjoyed it...so well-written! So much information that you made so enjoyable to read! So glad you did this story this month! Looking forward to your next post in October!!!

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    1. Thank you! As much as I love the Bruce sisters, I was running out of time to get the three sorted out properly. I couldn't think what to do, then I realized I had been working on this story as part of the history book for the family project. I mean how perfect -- they were both kin to Bruce, and I loved they went through The Ring and The Sword ceremony like my other ancestors had. Thank you for reading.

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  6. Your family history is amazing and this blog was a wonderful eye-opener into the confusion of the names of that era. Thank you for writing this blog and thanks to Prairie Rose Publications for posting it!

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    1. Thank you for reading it! The name confusion can make it very hard to map your family trees. In my researching details on this article, I saw one history site thanking a person for pointing out Christopher Seton couldn't be Margaret father. They were amazed at his discovery. LOL. Anyone knowing he died the same year he married Christian Bruce in 1306, could figure out he couldn't be her father, since he was dead nearly 24 years before she was born. It's always get satisfaction when you can untangle the knots, and get to really know your ancestors.

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  7. It is wonderful that you have found so much detail about the lives of your ancestors. Your blogs are so interesting, especially since I've had little previous exposure to Scottish history. Thank you for making it fun to learn about your family history,

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  8. Thank you for reading. I am so thrilled to be able to share with people who are interested in this stories. My family crosses their eyes when I start launching into one of my delights at finding all the puzzle pieces. LOL. They say when you get this far back into history you will have between 250,000 and 500,000 great-great grandparents...so I have a long way to go to get to know them all.

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