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 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.