William Maitland of Lethington

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William Maitland of Lethington

William Maitland of Lethington (1525 – 9 June 1573) was a Scottish politician and reformer, and the eldest son of poet Richard Maitland.

William was the renowned 'Secretary Lethington' to Mary, Queen of Scots. As Secretary of State, he played a prominent part in the various movements of his time, but gained the confidence of no party. He adhered to the party of James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray, illegitimate half-brother of the Queen, against the extreme measures of John Knox.

Maitland proved a highly astute ambassador at Elizabeth I of England's court. He was involved in the conspiracy to murder David Rizzio (the private secretary and rumoured lover of Queen Mary) by her King consort Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley and his supporters. But he managed to regain the Queen's favour. After Mary was captured by her enemies at the battle of Carberry Hill, on 25 July 1567 Maitland came to see the English ambassador in Edinburgh, Nicholas Throckmorton. As instructed by Elizabeth, Throckmorton asked Maitland if the plan was to restore Mary to the throne. If so, Elizabeth promised to help prosecute Darnley's murder and preserve Prince James. Throckmorton recorded Maitland's personal answer, which outlined that English interference was not welcome at this time, and might even be counterproductive, and Throckmorton would not be allowed to see Mary;

"Being in place to knowe more than you can knowe, I saye unto yowe ..., in case you doe on the Quenes majesties behalf your mestris, presse this company to enlarge the Quene my soveraigne, and to suffer you to goe unto her (at Lochleven Castle), or doe use any thretnynge speache in those matters, the rather to compasse them (rather than achieve them), I assure you, you wyll put the Quene my soveraigne in greate jeopardye of her lyffe: and therefore there is none other waye for the present to do her good but to give place and use mildness."[1]

When Mary fled to the Kingdom of England in 1568 Maitland joined with the new government, but acted in her interest and formed a party to restore her to power. In 1573 Sir William Kirkaldy of Grange, noted for his military talents and the forthright adherent of Mary, Queen of Scots, held Edinburgh Castle for her party, along with his brother, Sir James, and Sir William Maitland of Lethington.

The Regent called on the military assistance of Queen Elizabeth I of England, who dispatched Sir William Drury from Berwick-upon-Tweed with a formidable train of artillery to assist in reducing the castle. Kirkaldy resisted with firmness worthy of his high military reputation, until the walls were breached and shattered, his provisions expended, the wells choked with ruins and inaccessible, and the artillery silenced. He surrendered to Sir William Drury on a general promise of favourable terms; but in this, the English commander had undertaken more than he could make good.

By Elizabeth's orders, Sir William Drury saw himself obliged to surrender his prisoners to the vindictive regent, and the gallant Kirkaldy and his brother were executed at the Market Cross in Edinburgh. Maitland of Lethington, already ill, was removed to Leith prison, where he either died from his disease or, according to some accounts, killed himself.

Maitland married Mary Fleming, one of the "Four Marys" who accompanied Mary, Queen of Scots, to France in 1548 as her principal attendants. The Great Seal (charter number 1519, confirmed at Holyroodhouse on 8 April 1588), gives James Maitland of Lethington (born 1568) as "son and heir of William Maitland of Lethington, Royal Secretary". William Maitland's daughter, Margaret, married Robert Ker, 1st Earl of Roxburghe.

William Maitland, according to The University of St Andrews; A Short History, by Ronald Gordon Cant, was educated at the University of St Andrews.


  1. Calendar State Papers Scotland, vol.2 (1900), p.363
  • Scot, Sir John, of Scotstarvet, Director of Chancery, The Staggering State of the Scots Statesmen, from 1550 to 1650, Edinburgh, 1754, pps: 54 - 57.
  • Burke, Messrs., John and John Bernard, The Extinct & Dormant Baronetcies of England, Ireland, and Scotland, 2nd edition, London, 1841, p. 629.
  • Russell, E., Maitland of Lethington, London, 1912.
  • Cant,R.G., The University of St Andrews: A Short History, Scottish Academic Press, 1970
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainWood, James, ed. (1907). [https%3A%2F%2Fen.wikisource.org%2Fwiki%2FThe_Nuttall_Encyclop%C3%A6dia%2FM#Maitland%2C_William "Maitland, William" ] Check |ws link in chapter= value (help). The Nuttall Encyclopædia. London and New York: Frederick Warne.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>