We left Mary Stuart in trouble, infatuated with the Earl of Bothwell, who was accused of arranging the murder of her husband Lord Darnley, King of Scotland in name but without royal authority.  Bothwell had been arraigned for trial, but Mary ruled that this was to be a private prosecution by Darnley’s father the Earl of Lennox who with his permitted six followers did not dare enter Edinburgh to prosecute because Bothwell had 4,000 retainers in the city to protect his interests and overawe the court. The case was dismissed in March 1567 for lack of evidence.

The main actors in this drama

William Maitland of Lethington – elder son of Sir Richard Maitland of Lethington, formerly Lord of Session, and now blind

The Earl of Moray, Mary Stuart’s half brother

James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell – owner of Crichton Castle, near Lauder. His aunt, as Prioress of Haddington had made over Haddington Priory to William Maitland.

Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, son of Earl of Lennox, and Mary’s second husband, killed in an explosion in February 1567

David Rizzio, Italian courtier appointed secretary to Mary Stuart, murdered March 1566.

James Hamilton, Duke of Châtellerault chief of the Hamiltons, had been Regent during Mary’s infancy and was one of the heirs to the crown.

John Stewart, Earl of Atholl, a catholic peer, and supporter of Mary.

George Gordon, Earl of Huntly – a catholic peer, but one whose loyalties varied.

James Douglas, Earl of Morton. A Borderer, forbear of the Dukes of Buccleuch

Archibald Campbell, Earl of Argyll, dominant in the western highlands and for much of the time a supporter of Mary Stuart.

William Cecil, Lord Burghley, Queen Elizabeth’s chief advisor

Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, English diplomat

Now read on….

The Earl of Moray, Mary’s half brother, had been along with Maitland one of Mary’s trusted advisors until she appointed Rizzio as secretary.  Now, disgusted by Mary’s submission to Bothwell’s influence, and the loss of his own, he decided to leave the country.

Bothwell now arranged the notorious Ainslie Bond – a document signed by the major magnates enjoining him to marry the Queen. Fresh from the triumph of his acquittal on charges of killing Darnley, Bothwell arranged a supper at the Ainslie Tavern for the Lords of Parliament and at its conclusion produced a Bond for them to sign inviting him to marry the Queen and defending him against his accusers in the Darnley affair. Some lords were his cronies, others were intimidated by the retainers surrounding the tavern. One or two slipped away to avoid signature, but most of the nobility supported this venture. 

Bothwell now dominated the Queen, and Lethington performed his routine duties as Secretary (i.e. handling correspondence), but his advice was neither sought nor welcomed. He had reduced his activity to day to day work, and no longer sought to advise his monarch. He took no part in the Bothwell trial, nor was he present at the Ainslie Tavern.  During this period Maitland was simply a senior official. He was aware of the various crimes but did nothing to promote or to prevent them, “looking through his fingers” as the practice was known. He was not a magnate with great lands and retainers, able to raise several thousand men to support him, but an advisor whose influence lay in the quality of his thinking and the willingness of his mistress to be advised. As long as he carried out the subordinate duties of the Queen’s secretary and did not interfere, Bothwell tolerated him. Folllowing the transfer of the lands of the Haddington Priory, regarded by Bothwell as properly his own property there was bad blood between them.

Abduction to Dunbar and marriage to Bothwell

Mary went to Stirling in April 1567 to visit her baby son James and on her return to Edinburgh was met by Bothwell with a force of 800 men, and taken to Dunbar on the pretext that Edinburgh was unsafe for her. This was presented as a forcible abduction by Bothwell of the Queen, but those close to the events took the view that the Queen was a willing participant. Maitland, however, was not and accompanied the Queen to Dunbar Castle as a prisoner.

Once at Dunbar Bothwell appears to have raped Mary. Despite her evident obsession with Bothwell there is little evidence that she had a real affection for him, or he for her. She needed a man who could command, and he wanted royal power. Both parties now had reason to hasten the formal marriage.

Bothwell divorced Jean Gordon early in May, though the proceedings were bizarre – Archbishop Hamilton also annulled the marriage on the grounds that a dispensation for marrying within prohibited degrees had not been granted, notwithstanding the fact that he had granted the necessary dispensation himself fifteen months earlier.

Confederate Lords Rebel

Meanwhile the Confederate Lords met at Stirling and agreed to free the Queen from Bothwell, protect the Prince and punish Darnley’s murderers. Maitland sent a message of support to them from his captivity in Dunbar. However, he remained with the court for several more weeks, after it had returned to Edinburgh where Mary created the Dukedom of Orkney for Bothwell and married him a few days later on the 15th May.

A flurry of diplomatic activity followed to justify the marriage and exculpate Bothwell.  Ambassadors were briefed and despatched, though it appears that Maitland did not write their instructions – whilst still on good terms with the Queen, she realised his heart would not be in it. It is believed that she dictated the letters herself to a junior secretary.  The announcements were met with derision and contempt in the European courts.

Maitland leaves the court

Early in June (the 6th) Maitland left the court to stay with the catholic Earl of Atholl, but also a prominent member of the Confederate Lords, at Dunkeld.  Maitland’s policy had not changed, he continued to be an inveterate opponent of Bothwell and anxious to free the Queen from his influence. He did not expect the marriage to last – and it ended in practice within four weeks when Mary and Bothwell parted for the last time.

On the 14th June Maitland met the Lords at Edinburgh Castle, primarily to persuade the Governor Sir James Balfour of his personal safety in connection with the Darnley murder (in which he was implicated) if he handed over the castle to the Lords.

Carberry Hill and imprisonment of Mary

The following day Bothwell’s forces faced those of the Lords at Carberry Hill, near Musselburgh. Bothwell’s followers simply melted away. Bothwell fled to Dunbar whilst Mary was taken to Edinburgh where she was confined in the Provost’s house on the High Street – hardly a royal residence.

The next day, hysterical, she summoned Maitland who was passing in the street below. He went to see her, where she reproached him for his lack of support. Maitland replied that he was looking after her interests, that Bothwell had recently written to Jean Gordon his former wife to say that he still regarded Jean as his wife and Mary as his concubine.  She remained committed to Bothwell, and asked Sir James Balfour to hold the Castle for Bothwell and herself.

Maitland had misjudged the Queen. Close to her he was well aware of her lack of affection for Bothwell and their frequent violent quarrels. This was a violent age in Scotland, where murder was a frequent resort and Maitland may not have greatly regretted Darnley’s death, but he was certain that Bothwell was unacceptable to Scotland as a consort for the Queen. He hoped that once separated from Bothwell, the Queen would return to reason.

The Lords determined to send her to Loch Leven Castle, often used as a state prison.

The Casket Letters

There followed the affair of the Casket Letters. It is important to understand that despite their fame, they had little influence on decisions or events. None have survived. All that we have are transcripts, not even of the original texts, but just translations from the French. None of the letters were complete – with a salutation and a signature, and none can be subjected to forensic examination. Their contents is confusing, mainly scraps of letters, and whilst it is possible that one of the letters might have been written by the Queen, others could just as easily have been written one of her ladies in waiting, educated alongside her in France or by someone educated in France.

It was widely stated that they provided conclusive evidence of Mary’s complicity in the Darnley murder, and yet, and yet…none of this was announced when they were found, at which point they were treated as evidence of Bothwell’s, but not Mary’s complicity in the killing.

Maitland was at dinner on the 19th June with the Earl of Morton when word was received that a messenger from Bothwell was in Edinburgh trying to secure some documents. The messenger was arrested on the 20th, and a silver casket, covered in green cloth taken from him. The following day the box was forced in the presence of Atholl, Mar, Glencairn, Morton, Hume, Semple, Sanquhar, the Master of Graham, Maitland, Tullibardine and Archibald Douglas. The documents were letters and poems from Mary to Bothwell and documents relating to the marriage. Copies and spin regarding the contents were quickly in circulation, which asserted that the documents showed the Queen complicit in the murder. Despite the feeling that Mary was involved, at least to the extent of foreknowledge, the immediate action was the issue of a proclamation offering 1,000 crowns for Bothwell’s capture on the 26th, and on the 30th June a summons to appear in Edinburgh on the 22nd August.  Russell reckons that Maitland was not very impressed by the contents, knowing the Queen’s passionate nature and use of language.

The Hamiltons, with Huntly and Argyll were now forming a catholic party in opposition to the Confederate Lords to try to secure the regency for themselves. They feared that James would be crowned king and a regency established under Morton or Moray.

Queen Elizabeth tries to intervene in Scots affairs

Early in July a conference was arranged at Stirling to reconcile the parties, and on the 12th English ambassador Throckmorton arrived and was received by Maitland. His message was unwelcome – Elizabeth demanded release of the Queen into her custody, thus asserting a right to intervene in Scots affairs. Maitland rejected this outright and Throckmorton sought new instructions. After wide discussions Maitland gave Scotland’s answer in the form of an unsigned memorandum, accompanied by some informal advice. The memorandum explained why the Lords had proceeded against the Queen and Bothwell.  Maitland then pointed out that the Scots did not like English interference and would not hesitate to seek French help in case of need.

Here we see Maitland back in his role as foreign secretary, trusted by the Lords to negotiate. Whilst his own objectives were to free Mary from Bothwell’s influence and imprisonment but also to persuade her to accept moderate advice (i.e. his and that of Moray) the Lords preferred to put her entirely out of power and to exercise their own authority through the infant Prince and a regency, he felt responsible for implementing the policies of the Lords as their (in effect) foreign secretary.

The Regency

The Lords now decided to crown Prince James and establish a regency, after extorting the Queen’s consent on the 24th July to resign her powers in favour of her half brother, the Earl of Moray. Emissaries warned her that the alternative to agreement would be a trial for complicity in the murder of Darnley.  

Moray, meanwhile was on his way back to Scotland from France and reached London on the 25th to see Queen Elizabeth who was furious at the refusal of the Scots to accept her interference. On his journey north he stayed with several English statesmen who shared his view of Elizabeth’s policy, and was met with a great welcome in Edinburgh on the 11th August.

Throckmorton had a firm message to deliver the Scots Lords from Elizabeth, and it was only through Cecil’s intervention, which aroused Elizabeth’s fury, that he was permitted to deliver it privately to Moray and Maitland. Throckmorton’s despatch summarised the replies. Maitland was courteous but direct.

“Elizabeth had threatened war from herself and other princes. The Scots had not forgot the manifold benefits they had received from their Queen and meant her no harm. But she was at present like a sick person with a burning fever whose appetites ought not to be followed. ”When they see a moderation of her passion, she shall have nothing but good at their hands” And if there be no remedy but that the Queen your sovereign will make war, and nourish war against us, we can be but sorry, and do the best we may. But to put you out of doubt, we had rather endure the fortune thereof, and suffer the sequel, than to put the Queen at liberty now, in this mood that she is in, she being resolved to retain Bothwell…You must think my lord Ambassador, your wars are not unknown to us…..And whensoever you invade us, we are sure France will aid us, for their league standeth fast, and by it they are bound to defend us.   Strange language [has been] used as by you this last commission, charging us, another Prince’s subjects (for we know not the Queen’s Majesty to be our Sovereign) to set our Queen at liberty. But nothing hath been done by Her Majesty either for the apprehension of Bothwell and the murderers, for the safeguard of the King, or for the safety of these Lords…

Throckmorton turned to Moray, pointing out that he personally was not involved in the actions complained of, and that whilst Lord Lethington’s reply might represent the views of the Lords “yet I trust it be not agreeable to yours

Moray replied “Sir Nicholas, truly methinketh you have heard reason at Lord Lethington’s hand. And for mine own part, though I was not here at the doings past, yet surely I must allow [approve] of them; and do mean, God Willing, to take such part as they do. …The Queen of England would find more profit, for herself and for her realm, in their alliance than in opposition to them”

Whilst there was respect between Maitland and Moray, it must be remembered that Moray was the Regent with full powers, and Maitland the Secretary, appointed to do his bidding. They did have differing views on policy, Maitland taking a fairly relaxed view of Darnley’s murder – the kingdom was well rid of him – and anxious to reinstate the Queen as soon as she was willing to rule reasonably – that is with the advice of her nobles in general, not of one favourite, be he Rizzio, Bothwell or another. Moray, on the other hand, had done his best for his half sister and now as Regent was in practice monarch, though subject to the constraints any wise ruler would accept to ensure peaceable government and effective administration. He and many of his friends had no reason to welcome Mary’s return to power. Maitland was thus sidelined again after a period of influence.

At this time Throckmorton wrote an appreciation of Maitland, as follows

In this country [England] everyone thinks Lethington a man of great wisdom and counsel, very capable and very worthy to manage the affairs of a kingdom by which it appears to me that the Regent does himself a great wrong in suffering the absence of such a man from his company. And on the other hand, I know that Lethington has such an opinion of his own sufficiency that he thinks his sole counsel should be followed in all things.

Despite the distance between them, Maitland was appointed Speaker, because the Earl of Morton, the Chancellor, was indisposed. In opening the Parliament Maitland drew attention to the success of the Reformation, introduced in Scotland without the turmoil experienced n neighbouring countries, and assured the members that Moray would submit to the rule of law. The government continued to pursue and execute minor players in the Darnley murder, but were reluctant to attack people who today would be regarded as accessories – not active participants, but passive observers with knowledge of the plot, who chose not to intervene. This was a period when monarchs could legitimately order executions and incarcerations without the need for a court hearing. So many at court were aware of the plot, that nearly all were guilty to some extent by today’s standards. 

Mary flees from Scotland

The relative calm was disrupted by Mary’s escape from Loch Leven on the 2nd May 1568. Maitland was with Moray in Glasgow when the news reached them. Moray raised forces at once, and Kirkaldy of Grange brought the Edinburgh garrison, whilst Mary was supported by the Hamiltons, Argyle, Herries (Maxwell – a catholic family from Dumfries) and Huntly. The forces met at Langside, now a Glasgow suburb, where Grange’s superior military skill won the day.  Mary retreated to Dundrennan and from there took a boat to England.

Maitland’s positions during this period changed from loyal secretary to dutiful official to opponent. He had been sidelined from the appointment of Rizzio as secretary, and was never again in the Queen’s confidence. He had opposed the marriage with Darnley, and was aware of, but not active in the plot to kill Darnley. He firmly opposed the influence of Bothwell on personal and political grounds, and accompanied the army of the Confederate Lords to the final clash at Langside. He was despite all this a firm supporter of the Queen, and spent the remainder of his life campaigning on her behalf.

In the final part of this essay on William Maitland of Lethington we shall see how he died in her service.