Palaeostress inferred from brittle mesostructures in Seymour (Marambio) Island indicates a Cenozoic to Recent origin for an extensional stress field, with only local compressional stress states. Minimum horizontal stress (σ3) orientations are scattered about two main NE–SW and NW–SE modes suggesting that two stress sources have been responsible for the dominant minimum horizontal stress directions in the north-western Weddell Sea. Extensional structures within a broad-scale compressional stress field can be linked to both the decrease in relative stress magnitudes from active margins to intraplate regions and the rifting processes that occurred in the northern Weddell Sea. Stress states with NW–SE trending σ3 are compatible with back-arc extension along the eastern Antarctic Peninsula. We interpret this as due to the opening of the Larsen Basin during upper Cretaceous to Eocene and to the spreading, from Pliocene to present, of the Bransfield Basin (western Antarctic Peninsula), both due to former Phoenix Plate subduction under the Antarctic Plate. NE–SW σ3 orientations could be expressions of continental fragmentation of the northern Antarctic Peninsula controlling eastwards drifting of the South Orkney microcontinent and other submerged continental blocks of the southern Scotia Sea.