We continue our study of William Maitland. His father was Sir Richard Maitland of Lethington, the first of our family to secure a university education, and subsequently holder of the most senior legal positions in Scotland. William was born in about 1528, probably educated at the grammar school in Haddington, went on to St Andrews University and then studied abroad, being literate in French, Italian, Greek and Latin. In 1554, aged 26 he was appointed secretary to Mary of Guise, the French widow of King James V, and Regent of Scotland. Mary had wanted a French secretary, but the Scottish nobility insisted that she appoint a Scotsman, and Maitland was chosen. He was mainly employed on diplomatic missions to England and France. Mary of Guise was grappling with the early stages of the Protestant Reformation in Scotland and trying to resist it. Protestant lords, styling themselves the Lords of the Congregation opposed Mary and Maitland joined their faction as Mary of Guise sickened and then died early in 1560. This was the first of William's celebrated, or notorious, changes of allegiance.

The Lords of the Congregation sent William to London to negotiate a treaty of alliance with England, finally confirmed in the Treaty of Berwick of 1560.

At the same time as these negotiations were undertaken with England, the Protestant Reformation was successful in Scotland, with William Maitland called on to preside over the Scottish parliament which outlawed Catholic practice and celebration of the Mass and established the presbyterian Church of Scotland as the national church.

Mary Stuart had been Queen of France until the death in December 1560 of her husband King Francois II and following many approaches from the Scots nobility decided to return to Scotland to take her position as Queen of Scotland.

The new situation was full of complexities. Mary was a Catholic, as indeed had all her subjects been until a few months earlier, but she was to rule over a newly Protestant country. This divergence between the religion of ruler and subjects was almost unknown in Europe, and nobody was comfortable with this situation. After the death of King François several attempts were made to marry Mary off to a suitable Catholic prince, with the hope that in alliance with a Spanish or French husband Scotland would forcibly be returned to the Catholic fold. Equally, Queen Elisabeth was anxious to see the new Anglo-Scottish Alliance agreed by the Treaty of Berwick confirmed by Mary as Queen of Scots.
Mary swiftly decided (on the advice of her Guise uncles) that her half brother James Stewart, shortly to be elevated to Earl of Moray, and Maitland would be her principal advisers. Maitland was quickly in correspondence with Robert Cecil to secure passports for Mary's return to Scotland. Although English naval forces were negligible, and Mary planned to return to Scotland in French oar driven galleys which were much faster than any English ship, it was still considered prudent to secure leave to travel past the English coast. Passports were refused, but Cecil on Elizabeth's instructions demanded Mary's confirmation of the Treaty of Berwick. On Maitland's advice, Mary temporised, claiming that she could only act after consulting with her lords in Scotland. Meanwhile she asked for confirmation that she would be formally recognised as Elizabeth's heir. This Elizabeth refused, partly out of dislike of naming her successor and also through a well founded fear that recognition of Mary as a Catholic heir to the English throne would encourage France and Spain to seek Elizabeth's removal to make way for a Catholic restoration.

In the event, Mary set off without receiving Elizabeth' s permission, though the passports had been granted without her knowledge a few days before her departure. Meanwhile, she instructed Maitland that he was to ensure that adequate funds should be available to await her arrival. The letter combined flattery with placing full responsibility on Maitland's shoulders. "I have already promised, I should trust you and in good earnest avail myself of your services….. You have the ability and dexterity to do more than that. Nothing passes among my nobility without your knowledge and advice. I will not conceal from you that if anything goes wrong after I have trusted you, you are the one I will first blame." Mary had hoped that Maitland would break off the English Alliance, but he had no intention of so doing.

The situation on Mary's arrival was complex. A Catholic in a newly Protestant country, she had required and received an undertaking that she could practice her religion freely. Although this was not the first object of her policy, it seems clear that she did have hopes of returning Scotland to the Catholic fold. She had excellent connections with the powerful Guise family in France and prospects for a glittering marriage alliance with a powerful European prince. She was reluctant to throw this aside for the possibly ephemeral friendship of Queen Elizabeth. Although a professing Catholic, she paid little attention to Papal authority, alienating church land and marrying Darnley without Papal dispensation, and later marrying Bothwell in a Protestant ceremony. She had been brought up in the absolutist monarchy of the French court, and had no idea of the limitations of her power in Scotland where the monarch was merely the first amongst the nobles, and only in control of them to the extent of his or her personal authority. The Estates claimed great authority and the nobles still exercised the feudal powers which their class had lost in England and France. Finally, she faced John Knox.

The underlying narrative of Mary’s reign is that she was successful and respected during the period she accepted the advice and guidance of her step brother, James Stuart, later the Earl of Moray and of William Maitland. Once she abandoned them, married Darnley and attempted to exercise personal rule, she encountered the fierce opposition of the nobility which led to her overthrow in Scotland and finally drove her to England, confinement and execution.

Mary was welcomed enthusiastically and deployed her great personal charm to win over her opponents, apart from Knox. Maitland was almost at once dispatched to London. There were several major issues to discuss. First, Elizabeth sought Mary's personal confirmation of the Treaty of Berwick, and alongside that required her to stop showing the English royal arms in her own coat of arms. She also took considerable interest in Mary's future marriage plans. Mary wanted to arrange a personal meeting with Elizabeth to exploit her own well known and effective charm. She also wanted Elizabeth to recognise her as heir to the English throne. Sadly, none of the objectives were attained, apart from Mary confining her coat of arms to the Stuart Lion Rampant. Without Elizabeth's confirmation of her status as heir to the English throne, Mary was unwilling to add her personal ratification to the Treaty.
Elizabeth had a great aversion to naming her heir, which lasted until a few hours before her death, and which she may even have avoided it at that late stage. Emotionally, she was unwilling to recognise any successor. She and Mary were much of an age, so naming Mary as successor implied an early death. But the political imperatives were much stronger. Any heir apart from her own child posed serious threats in that disaffected subjects might prefer the putative heir to the present Queen. Elizabeth had seen enough of this during the reign of her sister Mary when she herself was regarded as a threat and kept under close supervision. The attempt to instal Lady Jane Grey as Queen in place of Mary Tudor warned Elizabeth of the dangers of alternative heirs. Thus nominating an heir might well destabilise the kingdom, as happened once Mary Stuart was a prisoner in England, and Elizabeth resisted all blandishments to meet Mary's request.

The Treaty of Berwick was another contentious issue. When the treaty was agreed by the Scots Parliament in 1560 the English secured confirmation not only by the Parliament which represented the nobility, but also ratification by representatives of the burghs of Scotland to show the commitment of the entire nation. Now with Mary as Queen, Elizabeth and Cecil wanted her to confirm her adherence to the English Alliance and the end of the Auld Alliance with France. Neither Moray nor Maitland were willing to concede this until their Queen was recognised as heir to the English throne.

Mary's marriage plans were a much more serious issue for England, Scotland and the remainder of Europe. The Protestant revolution was established in England, Scotland, the Low Countries and northern Germany, as well as Switzerland, and there was a substantial Protestant minority in France, described as Huguenots, which Mary's French relatives, the Guise family regarded as a serious threat to the French state. If Scotland could be detached from the Protestant alliance, then England's position would be seriously compromised. It was agreed by all that Mary must marry again - she was only 18 years old in 1560, and must produce an heir to ensure peace in Scotland. None of the choices were attractive. Marriage to a powerful European monarch would make Scotland once again a province, as had happened when Mary was Queen of France, and the only likely candidates were either French, or Habsburgs who ruled Spain, much of Germany, Austria and the Low Countries. Such a marriage would revive the Auld Alliance and threaten England. As an alternative, Mary might marry a junior prince, which would have similar disadvantages, but would provide no assurance of military support or a strong alliance. Marriage to a member of the Scots nobility would arouse the enmity of the other nobles and do nothing to strengthen the Queen's position. Marriage to an English noble with credible claims to the Tudor succession was probably the best choice in a difficult situation. Mary was fully determined, as a widow and Queen Dowager to make the choice herself whereas the Scots nobility considered that any princess in such a situation must take the advice of her parents or council.

Maitland was deeply involved in all these negotiations. Within two weeks of Mary's arrival he was on his way to London. His report survives and is of great interest. Elizabeth had a high regard and liking for Maitland so he had several meetings with her, as well as with her secretary, William Cecil, later Lord Burghley. But all Maitland’s charm could not make up for the weakness of the Scots position. On the first issue, that of the succession, Elizabeth was adamant, commenting "so that in assuring her of the succession, we might put our present estate in doubt." Elizabeth then demanded ratification by Mary of the Treaty of Berwick. Maitland was first evasive, explaining that the Estates had not met and therefore he could give no answer. Pressed further on this matter he told Elizabeth that his own opinion was that the treaty was "so prejudicial to Mary's right that she would never confirm it and that she was not in honour bound to do it." Pressed on the issue Maitland observed daringly that Elizabeth's own legitimacy had been questioned in law, and that the decision of the French Lords Deputies to give away Mary's succession was scarcely relevant since their commission was "slender for so momentous a transaction". Elizabeth seemed remarkably tolerant of so outspoken an envoy. Maitland returned to Scotland, closely followed by an English ambassador who again sought ratification of the Treaty. It was now suggested that the Treaty was out of date, several articles fulfilled, others no longer applicable and a full revision would be appropriate. To help this, a meeting between the Queens was proposed. Negotiations for a meeting between Mary and Elizabeth continued for many months in the hope and expectation that Mary's personal charm would overcome many of the difficulties between the kingdoms which were now in alliance. Although Elizabeth favoured this, Cecil advised against it and was obstructive, using delaying tactics until events in France, the outbreak of the Wars of Religion, provided him with an excuse to abandon the project.

In 1562 Mary undertook an expedition to the Highlands to reduce George Gordon, the Earl of Huntly, the leading Catholic peer and former Chancellor to obedience and also to extract from him the lands of the Earldom of Moray which she had conferred on her step brother. These had been under Huntly's control for some years. This operation had several advantages; it showed that Mary, though Catholic, was not prepared to give favours to co-religionists, and was fully supportive of her Protestant step brother James Stuart to whom she had given the Earldom. On arrival at Inverness she was denied entry to the royal castle by Huntly's brother. She later secured admittance and had the governor hanged. Huntly himself refused Mary's summons, was defeated in battle by Moray, was captured and died of a heart attack soon after. Maitland had accompanied the expedition, and in due course presided over the parliament which transferred the lands to Moray.

This operation was uncharacteristic of Mary, who consistently favoured the Catholic interests, and it also marked the high water mark of Moray's influence on affairs, as Mary began to rely heavily on Maitland's advice.

Mary's marriage was the next major issue to be resolved. Maitland was sent to London to propose mediation between England and France in a quarrel where the French were invoking the Auld Alliance and requesting a Scottish attack on England. The issue was shelved following the death of the Duc de Guise, Mary's uncle and great ally. With Guise's death, peace was temporarily restored in France, and Maitland turned to marriage diplomacy, opening discussions with the Spanish ambassador in London, de Quadra, Bishop of Aquila. News swiftly reached Cecil, as Maitland intended to put pressure on Elizabeth, who would have been threatened by a strong link between Spain and Scotland. Quadra's first advice was that Mary should be guided by Elizabeth in this. However Maitland pointed out that Mary would never marry a Protestant, and still less accept a husband at Elizabeth's nomination. Various Habsburgs were proposed, a prospect which terrified both the French and English governments who feared Habsburg domination of Europe. Maitland went on to France, where he was again pressed to break the English Alliance. He then returned to Scotland, via London bearing a firm message from Elizabeth to the effect that a Habsburg marriage would make England Scotland's enemy. A husband who met Elizabeth's approval would also secure English friendship, and also greatly enhance the possibility of a Stuart succession.

This adventurous diplomacy, whilst dangerous, actually produced results. Elizabeth finally realised that Mary would only marry a Catholic, and urged Mary to restore the Earl of Lennox to favour. His son Lord Darnley was received at court. Although the final result was a disaster, many of Maitland's objectives were achieved. Darnley, as we say today, "ticked all the boxes". He was handsome and attractive with a good presence, was Catholic but also favoured by Elizabeth and had the additional enormous advantage of Royal descent. His deplorable character only became apparent later on.

There is considerable debate over Elizabeth's policy in promoting the Darnley marriage. He was not her first choice, as she had proposed Lord Dudley for Mary who rejected him on grounds of low rank, the family being of little standing in England. This was a far cry from the son of King Philip of Spain.

At this stage it became apparent to Maitland, and also Moray, that Mary was taking negotiations into her own hands. Communications were by-passing her ministers, she had dismissed her private secretary for indiscretion and had installed Rizzio, a singer from her chapel, in his place. Maitland and Moray urged Cecil to sweeten the Dudley proposal to encourage Mary to accept it. Cecil responded that even if the Queen agreed, Parliamentary consent to formalise the succession would be required, and for a Catholic queen this was by no means certain. Maitland replied that Dudley's standing and background were inadequate for a royal marriage, but that Elizabeth could take steps to improve his position.
The English view was not encouraging. After providing support to the Lords of the Congregation to take control from Mary of Guise their reward was a demand for Mary Stuart to be recognised as Elizabeth's heir, notwithstanding her religion. In a world where the Catholic powers were thought ready to launch an onslaught to exterminate Protestantism, this was not a welcome move. Negotiations for a Habsburg marriage were seen as especially threatening to England. The final answer was that until Elizabeth had made a decision on her own marriage, she could promise nothing on the succession.

The English sent Lord Darnley north. Mary was much attracted by him but made a final enquiry about a possible Spanish marriage before sending Maitland to London to demand Elizabeth's approval of marriage to Darnley.

Mary had taken full control, overridden her principal advisers, fallen in love with Darnley and would accept no further advice. She had now effectively discarded both Moray and Maitland as ministers, preferring to rely on Rizzio. This action marked the end of her effective rule in Scotland, the start of noble opposition and was the first step towards her downfall.