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Mary Seton (1542–1615) was a Scottish courtier and later a nun. She was one of the four attendants to Mary, Queen of Scotland known as the Four Marys. She was a Nun at the Convent of Saint Pierre les Dames in Rheims at the time of her death.
Early Life Edit
Mary Seton was the daughter of George Seton, 6th Lord Seton, and Marie Pieris, a French-born lady-in-waiting to Mary of Guise, the wife of King James V of Scotland.
Service to Queen Mary Edit
As a child, Mary Seton became a lady-in-waiting to the young Mary, Queen of Scots, along with three other girls of similar age and of a similar standing in Scots society. They were famously known as "The Four Marys": she and Mary Beaton, Mary Fleming and Mary Livingston. They were chosen by Marie de Guise, with the exception of Mary Fleming, for their Franco-Scottish parentage. The Four Marys accompanied Queen Mary in France, where she later married the Dauphin, Francis II of France Mary Seton was the only one of the four not to marry, and continued in service with Mary, in Scotland and during her captivity in England
Home to Scotland Edit
When Queen Mary returned to Scotland, after her ceremonial entry at Edinburgh in September 1561, she went to Linlithgow Palace, while the four Marys, accompanied by the Queen's uncle, the Grand Prior of Malta, François de Lorraine, travelled west to Coldingham Priory and Dunbar. They stopped at the house of Mary Seton's brother George Seton, 7th Lord Seton, Seton Palace, for dinner. Mary Seton accompanied the captive queen back to Edinburgh after her defeat by the Confederate lords at the battle of Carberry Hill. Prior to the Queen's flight to England following the battle of Langside, Seton assisted her escape from the island fortress of Loch Leven by standing at a window dressed in the queen's clothes while Mary Stuart fled to the mainland in a small boat.
In England Edit
In England Mistress Mary Seton's role and talent as the Queen's hairdresser was described in detail by Sir Francis Knollys, Mary's keeper at Carlisle Castle in his letter to William Cecil of June 28, 1568. Mary had told Knollys that Mary Seton was the finest 'busker' of a woman's head and hair in any country. At first Mary Seton was given a room to herself with two beds, one for her maid or 'gentlewoman' Janet Spittell. In March 1569 the Earl of Shrewsbury noted that Queen Mary would sit and sew in his wife Bess of Hardwick's chamber at Tutbury Castle accompanied by Mary Seton and Lady Livingston.
A suitor for marriage Edit
When Queen Mary was moved to Sheffield Castle in September 1571, Mary Seton stayed in attendance, and Janet Spittle was sent back to Scotland. Mary Seton then had an older woman as her servant, and as they were tired of each other by April 1577, the servant was allowed back to Scotland. At Sheffield in November 1581, Robert Beale questioned Mary Seton about Queen Mary's recent illness, which had a quick onset. Seton said that she had not seen the Queen as ill before, her side gave her evil pains especially in the thigh and leg. The Queen lacked appetite, was losing sleep, and in Seton's opinion could not long continue. The master of Mary's household in England, Andrew Beaton, wished to marry Mary Seton, but as she had made a vow of celibacy, Andrew travelled to Paris to obtain a dispensation. He died during his return journey.
The Convent of Saint-Pierre in Rheims Edit
Sometime around 1585 she retired from the Scottish Queen's household in England to the Convent of Saint-Pierre at Rheims in France where the abbess was Renée de Guise, the sister of Mary of Guise and aunt of Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary wrote a letter to Mary, Countess of Shrewsbury on February 22, 1608, mentioning that her right arm was paralyzed, and the letter was in French because she had forgotten the little English she knew after twenty years, as a 'poor recluse in a monastery.' She wrote that she had sent other letters to the Countess and Lady Arabella Stuart. Mary Seton died at the Convent in 1615.
Little else is known about her last years at Saint Pierre les Dames other than what was written by James Maitland, the expatriate Catholic son of William Maitland of Lethington. Maitland visited the convent and found Seton to be living in poverty and suffering from failing health. He complained to her family, to whom he was remotely related, and to Queen Mary's son James VI of Scotland, but there is no evidence of a response. The bequests in her will show that she was wealthy.