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Prestonpans and Vicinity

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this branch of the Hamiltons obtained possession of the lands of Preston, or by what means they acquired them, seems to be shrouded in not a little mystery. Sir Walter Scott supposed Preston Tower to have been a seat or fortalice of the Earls of Home, when they held almost a princely sway over the south of Scotland; and all the gazetteers, etc., since his day, without halting to inquire, simply repeat what he supposed. The supposition of the novelist may pass muster in fiction, but facts have to be dealt with in history. When, for instance, had the Homes to do with the Swans of Tranent, or with the De Quincys of Winchester, Winton, and Tranent, whose boundary extended on the south from Winton to Inveresk, and on the north from Seton along the Forth to Pinkie Burn, and whose period of possession between the families extended from 1124 to 1295; or with the Setons, their immediate successors, whose family only helped to enlarge the boundaries by adding their own?
The Setons were ever a warrior race, and always powerful enough to hold their own against the Homes or any rival house when the trial came, and throughout their whole history from the days of Robert the Bruce, when they acquired these estates, up to the great confiscation of 1715, we never hear of a Home or any rival proprietor encroaching upon them.
That the Tower of Preston was constructed during the early part of the 14th century there is little doubt, and that it had been constructed by a scion of the house of Seton few would be hard to convince. Indeed, we find that Chalmers, in his "Caledonia, " describes Preston Tower as "an ancient fortalice of the Setons, " but unfortunately he gives no date as to its construction, nor any further information concerning it.
If a Seton built the Tower, seeing that the family acquired these estates during the last war-throes of the 13th century, it could not possibly be built till the beginning of the 14th, and during the 14th century the name of Lydell steps in.
Crawford, in his "MS. Baronage, " says "the estate of Preston came into the possession of a cadet of the Hamiltons of Fingalton, by his marriage, towards the end of the 14th century, with Jane, daughter and heiress of Sir James Lydell of Preston. " Crawford gives his information on the authority of Aikman the historian, but no further explanation from either is forthcoming; and the family papers having been destroyed during the conflagration of the Tower in 1544, it is now impossibe to obtain the corroborative evidence which they might have supplied. Seeing that Aikman makes his assertion boldly that "Sir James Lydell was of Preston, " it seems but fair to take for granted that he had good grounds for his assertion.
Assuming these points to be correct, we would only add, it is very probable that Sir James Lydell married a daughter of the house of Seton, had the lands of Preston with her as her portion, and built the Tower.
From the accession of this first Hamilton to the Tower and estate of Preston, we are also left in darkness through the conflagration of the Tower in 1544, when the family papers were destroyed, concerning his three successors. These three would have carried the family history entirely over the 15th into the early part of the 16th century, when David Hamilton, the fifth in succession, turns up. This David married Janet, a daughter of Sir William Bailie of Lamington, 1540, and lie it was who resided at the Tower during the conflagration.
George Hamilton, the sixth in succession, was born in 1542, two years previous to the destruction of the Tower, and he married, in 1563, Barbara Cockburn, a daughter of the Cockburns of Ormiston.
George is said to have been, like his father David, a staunch Reformer, and yet, like the Hamiltons in general, a firm supporter of the cause of Queen Mary and her faction. That he had got into trouble with his neighbour, Lord Seton, is evident, and that he had been the sufferer is no less sure, though what his trouble amounted to, or how it was brought about, no hint is given. Previous to 23rd March 1587 we find he had become so physically disabled that he was permitted by the king's authority on that date " to remane and abyde at hame frae all hosts and weirs, and also from all compearance upon assysis and inquests during his lifetime. "
Latterly he seems to have got the better of his physical disability, so far at least that he was able to attend church. The records of the Presbytery of Haddington show that he was summoned in 1592 before the Presbytery on account of non-attendance at the church of Tranent, to which parish Prestonpans was still attached. In answer to repeated citations from the Presbytery, he alleged that " he dared not pass thro' Lord Seton's grounds be terror of his life. "
On being afterwards further pressed by the Presbytery " to submit himself to reason as became ane Christian, and to take the communion in token of reconciliation, " being assured at the same time of a safe conduct from Lord Seton, he still
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