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William Maitland of Lethington

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

William was the renowned 'Secretary Lethington' to Mary I of Scotland. 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 the Court of Elizabeth I of England. He was involved in the conspiracy to murder David Rizzio, private secretary and rumoured lover of Queen Mary, by her King consort Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley and his supporters. However, he managed to regain the Queen's favour.

When Mary fled to the Kingdom of England in 1567, 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 despatched 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 his 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 Maries" 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 (b.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, as per the book The University of St Andrews; A Short History, by Ronald Gordon Cant, was educated at the University of St Andrews


This article incorporates text from the public domain 1907 edition of The Nuttall Encyclopædia.

  • 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


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