Scottish lawyer, poet, and collector of Scottish verse
Sir Richard Maitland (Lord Lethington) was born in 1496. His father, Sir William Maitland of Lethington and Thirlestane, fell at Flodden; his mother was a daughter of George, Lord Seton. He studied law at the university of St Andrews, and afterwards in Paris. His castle at Lethington was burnt by the English in 1549. He was in 1552 one of the commissioners to settle matters with the English about the debateable lands. About 1561 he seems to have lost his sight, but this did not render him incapable of attending to public business, as he was the same year admitted an ordinary lord of session with the title of Lord Lethington, and a member of the privy council; and in 1562 he was appointed Keeper of the Great Seal. He resigned this last office in 1567, in favour of John, prior of Coldingham, his second son, but he sat on the bench till he attained his eighty-eighth year. He died on the 10th of March 1586.
His eldest son, by his wife Mary Cranstoun of Crosbie, was William Maitland: his second son, John (c. 1545-1595), was a lord of session, and was made a lord of parliament in 1590, with the title of Lord Maitland of Thirlestane, in which he was succeeded by his son John, also for some time a lord of session, who was created Earl of Lauderdale in 1624. One of Sir Richard's daughters, Margaret, assisted her father in preparing his collection of old Scots verse.
The poems of Sir Richard Maitland, none of them lengthy, are for the most part satirical, and are principally directed against the social and political abuses of his time. He is chiefly remembered as the industrial collector and preserver of many pieces of Scots poetry. These were copied into two large volumes, one in folio and another in quarto, the former written by himself, and the latter by his daughter. After being in the possession of his descendant the duke of Lauderdale, these volumes were purchased at the sale of the duke's library by Samuel Pepys, and have since been preserved in the Pepysian Library, Magdalene College, Cambridge. They lay there unnoticed for many years till Bishop Percy published one of the poems in his Reliques of English Poetry. Several of the pieces were then transcribed by John Pinkerton, who afterwards published them under the title of Ancient Scottish Poems (2 vols., 1786.)
For an account of the Maitland Folio Manuscript see Gregory Smith's Specimens of Middle Scots, 1902 (p. lxxiii.). The Scottish Text Society has undertaken an edition of the entire manuscript. Maitland's own poems were reprinted by Sibbald in his Chronicle of Scottish Poetry (1802), and in 1830 by the Maitland Club, named after him, and founded for the purpose of continuing his efforts to preserve the remains of early Scots literature. Sir Richard left in manuscript a history of the family of Seton, and a volume of legal decisions collected by him between the years 1550 and 1565. Both are preserved in the Advocates' Library, Edinburgh; the former was published by the Maitland Club, in 1829.
Being the entry for SIR RICHARD MAITLAND (LORD LETHINGTON) in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain.