John Maitland, 1st Lord Maitland of Thirlestane

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Lord Thirlestane
File:The Maitland tomb, St Mary's Church, Haddington.jpg
The Maitland tomb, St Mary's Church, Haddington

John Maitland, 1st Lord Maitland of Thirlestane (1537 – 3 October 1595), of Lethington, Knight (1581), was Lord Chancellor of Scotland.


He was the second son of Sir Richard Maitland of Thirlestane, Berwickshire, and Lethington, Haddingtonshire, who settled the lands of Thirlestane upon him, and he was sent abroad for his education.

Upon John Maitland's return, through the influence of his brother, William Maitland, he received the offer of the position of Commendator of Kelso Abbey, which he shortly afterwards exchanged with Francis Stewart, later Earl of Bothwell, for the Priory of Coldingham. This transaction was ratified by Mary, Queen of Scots on 20 April 1567.

Upon the death of his father, he was appointed Keeper of the Privy Seal of Scotland, on 20 April 1567. He also supported Regent Moray and sat in his parliaments in December 1567 and August 1568. On 2 June 1568, he was created a Senator of the College of Justice as an Ordinary Lord on the spiritual side. He retained the rich endowment of Coldingham until 1570.

Following the Regent Moray's assassination, Maitland joined the Lords who met on the Queen's behalf at Linlithgow and shared in the dangers of the civil war which ensued. At the end of 1570, he was denounced a rebel by the King's party, with his brothers William and Thomas, and they were all forfeited in the parliament which met in the Canongate, the so-called 'cropped parliament'.

John Maitland was deprived of all his offices and benefices and took refuge in Edinburgh Castle. Upon its surrender on 29 May 1573 he was sent as a prisoner to Tantallon Castle in Haddingtonshire. After nine months' confinement there he was removed to Hugh, Lord Somerville's house of Cowthallie, under house arrest with bail at £10,000 Scots. In 1574/5 a Letter of Rehabilitation in his favour, as "Commendator of Coldingham", passed the Great Seal.

On 26 April 1581 he was reappointed Keeper of the Privy Seal of Scotland and returned to the Bench. He was shortly afterwards made a Privy Counsellor, and upon the dismissal of Robert Pitcairn, Abbot of Dunfermline, appointed Secretary of Scotland on 18 May 1584. In the parliament which met on the 22nd of that month his doom of forfeiture was reduced, and he was restored to all the honours, heritages, and offices he had formerly possessed.

On 1 May 1585 plague came to Edinburgh, and the king and councillors including Maitland went to Dirleton Castle where their host James Stewart, Earl of Arran entertained them with a sumptuous banquet and a Robin Hood play.[1]

Maitland was appointed Vice-Chancellor on 31 May 1586 and was also appointed Lord Chancellor of Scotland that year, following Earl of Arran's disgrace. The following year, 1587, saw him granted the barony of Stobo.[2]

In 1589, a powerful combination, headed by the Earls of Huntly, Errol, and Bothwell, &c., was formed against Maitland. It was intended to meet at Quarryholes, between Leith and Edinburgh, to march in a body to Holyroodhouse, make themselves master of the King's person, and put the Chancellor to death. The King and Maitland were not, however, at Holyroodhouse and the plot failed. Several other plots were formed against him shortly afterwards, but they were all defeated.

Maitland and Anne of Denmark

He was one of those who accompanied James VI on his matrimonial voyage to Norway and Denmark. Maitland was involved in financing and accounting for this journey. According to an English observer, Thomas Fowler, he paid for fitting out of one ship of 126 tons and half the cost of another. Lavish provisions and banqueting stuff betrayed the king's secret intention to sail to meet Anne of Denmark.[3] Accounts of Maitland's expenses include the preparation of a ship, the James Royall of Ayr, hired from Robert Jameson, which was equipped with cannon by John Chisholm, painted, and supplied with new banners and red taffeta was stitched on the sails. Carpenters made new storage spaces for the food mentioned by Fowler. There were barrels of English beer and wine from the cellars at Holyrood Palace. A boatman James Lun spent eight days loading the ship and then put the king and his company aboard.[4]

In Oslo, on 27 November, some of the ladies in waiting to Anne of Denmark asked him to join with Jens Nilssøn, Bishop of Oslo to intercede with James VI for the pardon of David Cunningham of Robertland. He had been welcomed at the Danish court after fleeing Scotland in the aftermath of the murder of the Earl of Eglinton in 1586. Maitland and the Danish ladies in waiting had an audience with the king in the Old Bishop's Palace and the laird of Robertland was pardoned.[5]

On 15 December, James VI asked him to give the Danish counsellor Steno Brahe, brother of the astronomer Tycho Brahe, and the young king's lieutenant "Apill Gudlingstarre" or Axel Gyldenstierne gifts of silver plate from his cupboard, and Maitland was to keep the rest.[6] The silver had been a gift to James VI from Queen Elizabeth, supplied by the London goldsmith Richard Martin.[7]

Shortly after his return to Scotland, on 18 May 1590, he was made a Lord of Parliament with the title Lord Maitland of Thirlestane. Anne of Denmark's mother Sophie of Mecklenburg-Güstrow had asked him to set up her daughter's household in Scotland and advise on matters of "honour and benefit." He consulted with Anne at Dunfermline Palace in July 1590 to ask her to appoint a household of ladies and gentlewomen to be about her.[8]

James VI came to Thirlestane Castle on 15 February 1591 to celebrate the marriage of his niece to the laird of Lugton.[9] Sir Robert Ker of Cessford had married his niece Margaret Maitland, and he was able to help Maitland into the favour of Anne of Denmark.[10] Sophie of Mecklenberg sent Maitland a letter of thanks in June 1591, after hearing good reports from Wilhelm von der Wense.[11] James had asked him to resolve issues over pay in the royal households in April 1591 after kitchen staff deserted their posts, and he reminded Maitland of promises he had made to Sophie, writing "Suppose we be not wealthy, let us be proud poor bodies".[12]

Anne of Denmark believed she was the rightful owner of Musselburgh and Inveresk, lands belonging to Maitland, which were properties of Abbey of Dunfermline south of the River Forth.[13] These lands were transferred to her after a Danish ambassador Dr Paulus Knibbius made representations to Maitland in 1592.[14] She came to resent Maitland's powers and in January 1593 appealed for help against him and his wife, Jean Fleming, who she believed had slandered her and accused her of being complicit with the Earl of Bothwell.[15] In 1594 James VI appealed to her brother Christian IV of Denmark to ask her to take Maitland into her favour again.[16]

In February 1595 his relationship with the queen seems to have improved, and the courtier Roger Aston reported that he had made friends with the queen's council of advisors, men who had previously been his "unfriends". The queen's council included Alexander Seton, Walter Stewart of Blantyre, James Elphinstone and Thomas Hamilton.[17]

In July 1595 Maitland wrote to the Earl of Essex, about their future "diligent intercourse of intelligence" involving the Scottish diplomat Richard Cockburn of Clerkington and Essex's secretary Anthony Bacon. Essex replied that he wrote only with the queen's knowledge, and they would be happy to receive letters from Maitland or Cockburn.[18]

Death and legacy

John Maitland died on 3 October 1595 at Thirlestane Castle, after a month's illness attended by the physician Dr Martin Schöner and the minister Robert Bruce.[19] He was buried in a side chapel on the north side of St. Mary's, Haddington, where a splendid monument, with an epitaph, composed by King James VI, was erected to his memory.

Sir John Scot of Scotstarvet, writing in the seventeenth century, had this to say of the 1st Lord Maitland:

"Mr John Maitland, second brother to Secretary Maitland, after he had studied the laws in France, was preferred to be a Lord of Session by the said Earl of Arran's means, and thereafter became Chancellor. He was one of the Octavians [a name given to eight persons who managed affairs under king James VI], and was created Lord Thirlestane, and was an excellent Latin poet, as his verses inserted in Deliciae poetarum scotorum testify; and King James had such a respect to him, that he made the epitaph engraven on his tomb. Yet the conquest he made of the barony of Liddington [Lethington] from his brother's son, James Maitland, was not thought lawful nor conscientious."[20]

A portrait of John Maitland by Adrian Vanson at Ham House was valued at £2 in 1683.[21] Examination by Caroline Rae in 2016 showed that it was painted over an image of Mary, Queen of Scots.[22]


John Maitland married Jean Fleming, daughter of James, 4th Lord Fleming and Barbara Hamilton in January 1583. Their children included:

Brother of William Maitland of Lethington, Scottish Secretary of State,[23] and Mary Maitland, considered a scribe of the Maitland Folio and Quarto.[24]


  1. David Masson, Register of the Privy Council of Scotland: 1578-1585, vol. 3 (Edinburgh, 1880), p. 744: David Calderwood, iv, p. 366.
  2. National Records of Scotland, GD150.13789, GD40.1.739: Register of the Great Seal of Scotland, vol. 4, no. 2727.
  3. HMC Salisbury Hatfield, vol. 3 (London, 1889), p. 438.
  4. Miles Kerr-Peterson & Michael Pearce, 'James VI's English Subsidy and Danish Dowry Accounts, 1588-1596', Scottish History Society Miscellany XVI (Woodbridge, 2020), pp. 28-34: John Mackenzie, A chronicle of the kings of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1830), p. 142
  5. David Stevenson, Scotland's Last Royal Wedding (Edinburgh, 1997), pp. 94-5.
  6. David Masson, Register of the Privy Council, vol. 4 (Edinburgh, 1881), pp. 444-5: David Stevenson, Scotland's Last Royal Wedding (Edinburgh, 1997), pp. 39, 95.
  7. Calendar State Papers Scotland, vol. 10 (Edinburgh, 1936), pp. 160-162: Annie I. Cameron, Calendar State Papers Scotland: 1593-1595, vol. 11 (Edinburgh, 1936), p. 130.
  8. Calendar State Papers Scotland, vol. 10 (Edinburgh, 1936), p. 371.
  9. Calendar State Papers Scotland, vol. 10 (Edinburgh, 1936), p. 467.
  10. Thomas Thomson, Memoirs of his own Life (Edinburgh, 1827), p. 405.
  11. Calendar State Papers Scotland, vol. 10 (Edinburgh, 1936), p. 371: William Fraser, Memorials of the Earls of Haddington, vol. 2 (Edinburgh, 1889), p. 61.
  12. Calendar State Papers Scotland, vol. 10 (Edinburgh, 1936), p. 509.
  13. David Stevenson, Scotland's Last Royal Wedding (Edinburgh, 1997), pp. 64-5.
  14. William Fraser, Memorials of the Earls of Haddington, vol. 2 (Edinburgh, 1889), pp. 63-4.
  15. William Fraser, The Douglas Book, vol. 4 (Edinburgh, 1885), pp. 38-40.
  16. Annie I. Cameron, Warrender Papers, vol. 1 (Edinburgh, 1932), pp. 232-6, 237.
  17. Annie I. Cameron, Calendar State Papers Scotland: 1593-1595, vol. 11 (Edinburgh, 1936), pp. 120, 541.
  18. HMC Mar & Kellie, vol. 2 (London, 1930), pp. 36-7.
  19. Calendar State Papers Scotland, vol. 12 (Edinburgh, 1952), pp. 18, 23, 28, 33, 34.
  20. Scot, John (1872). The Staggering State of the Scots Statesmen from 1550 to 1660. Edinburgh: Paterson. p. 43.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. Alastair Laing, 'Fitting Rooms to Pictures', Christopher Rowell, Ham House (Yale, 2013), pp. 417, 427 no. 87.
  22. Revealing Ham House’s hidden portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots
  23. Loughlin, Mark. "Maitland, William, of Lethington". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. "Women as Readers, Writers, and Book Owners in Late Sixteenth-Century Scotland: The Maitland Quarto Manuscript". The Bottle Imp. 1 November 2013. Retrieved 2 December 2020.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • An Historical Account of the Senators of the College of Justice of Scotland, by Sir David Dalrymple of Hailes, Bt., re-edited at Edinburgh in 1849, pps: 140–146 (who says he was "probably born in 1545").
  • The Royal Families of England, Scotland, and Wales, with their Descendants, etc., by Messrs, John and John Bernard Burke, London, volume 1 (1848) pedigree XV, and volume 2 (1851), pedigree LXXXIV.
  • History of the Priory of Coldingham, by William King Hunter of Stoneshiel, Edinburgh & London, 1858, pps: 72-3.
  • Miscellanea Genealogica et Heraldica, edited by Joseph Jackson Howard, LL.D.,F.S.A., volume 2, London, 1876, p. 206.

External links

Peerage of Scotland
New creation Lord Maitland of Thirlestane
Succeeded by
John Maitland
Political offices
Preceded by
Richard Maitland
Keeper of the Privy Seal of Scotland
Succeeded by
George Buchanan
Preceded by
George Buchanan
Keeper of the Privy Seal of Scotland
Succeeded by
Walter Stewart
Preceded by
Earl of Arran
Lord Chancellor of Scotland
Succeeded by
3rd Earl of Montrose
Academic offices
Preceded by
Patrick Adamson
Archbishop of St Andrews
Chancellor of the University of St Andrews
Succeeded by
John Lindsay of Balcarres, Lord Menmuir