Scottish statesman
Born c.1528 Died 1573

William Maitland (Maitland of Lethington), eldest son of the preceding, was educated at St Andrews. At an early age he entered public life and began in various ways to serve the regent, Mary of Lorraine, becoming her Secretary of State in 1558. In 1559, however, he deserted her and threw in his lot with the Lords of the Congregation, to whom his knowledge of foreign, and especially of English, politics and his general ability were assets of the highest value. The Lords sent him to England to ask for assistance from Elizabeth, and his constant aim throughout his political career was to bring about a union between the two crowns.

He appears to have feared the return of Mary Queen of Scots to Scotland, but after her arrival in 1561 he was appointed Secretary of State, and for about six years he directed the policy of Scotland and enjoyed the confidence of the queen. His principal antagonist was John Knox; there were several tussles between them, the most famous, perhaps, being the one in the general assembly of 1564, and on the whole Maitland held his own against the preachers. He was doubtless concerned in the conspiracy against David Rizzio, and after the favourite's murder he was obliged to leave the court and was himself in danger of assassination. In 1567, however, he was again at Mary's side. He was a consenting party to the murder of Darnley, although he had favoured his marriage with Mary, but the enmity between {James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell|Bothwell] and himself was one of the reasons which drove him into the arms of the queen's enemies, among whom he figured at Langside. He was one of the Scots who met Elizabeth's representatives at York in 1568; here he showed a desire to exculpate Mary and to marry her to the Duke of Norfolk, a course of action probably dictated by a desire to avoid all revelations about the Darnley murder. But this did not prevent him from being arrested in September 1569 on account of his share in the crime. He was, however, delivered from his captors by a ruse on the part of his friend, Sir William Kirkcaldy of Grange, and was brought into Edinburgh Castle, while his trial was put off because the city was thronged with his adherents. Maitland now became the leader of the remnant which stood by the cause of the imprisoned queen. Already a physical wreck, he was borne into Edinburgh Castle in April 1571 and with Kirkcaldy he held this fortress against the regent Morton and his English auxiliaries. The castle surrendered in May 1573 and on the 7th or the 9th of June following Maitland died at Leith, there being very little evidence for the theory that he poisoned himself.

'Secretary Maitland' was a man of great learning with a ready wit and a caustic tongue. He was reputed to be the most versatile and accomplished statesman of his age, and almost alone among his Scottish contemporaries he placed his country above the claims of either the Roman Catholic or the Protestant religions. Among the testimonies to his great abilities are those of Queen Elizabeth, of William Cecil and of Knox. By his second wife, Mary Fleming, one of Queen Mary's ladies, whom he married in 1567, he had a son and daughter. His son James died without issue about 1620.

See John Skelton, Maitland of Lethington (1894); A. Lang, History of Scotland, vol. ii. (1902).

Being the entry for MAITLAND (MAITLAND OF LETHINGTON), WILLIAM in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain.

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