Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, King of Scots was killed by an explosion in his house in Edinburgh on 9th February 1567. The Queen had asked her councillors to devise means of ending her marriage to him without compromising the legitimacy of her son James. Scots nobles, fearful of the consequences of a treason charge should the political atmosphere change, declined to assist, the Earl of Morton observing that he would only consider the Queen’s request if made in her own handwriting. James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell undertook the task, killed Darnely, then in April abducted Mary (along with William Maitland), took them to his castle of Dunbar where he raped her, and then on the 15th May married her. Both Lethington, her Secretary and the Earl of Moray, her half brother were so disgusted by these proceedings that they left the Court.
On the 14th June, Mary and Bothwell’s forces met those of the Confederate Lords at Carberry, near Musselburgh. The royal forces dispersed without a battle, Bothwell escaped and Mary became a captive of the Confederate Lords. She was taken to Edinburgh, where the next day she saw Maitland passing in the street. She reproached him for his disloyalty, to which he replied that Bothwell had never actually divorced his wife Jean, had written to confirm his commitment to her and that Mary was well rid of Bothwell.
The Lords concluded that if Mary was at liberty she would only stir up further strife and sent her that day to Lochleven. Several of the signatories of the warrant were Catholic lords.
A few days later, Maitland was dining with the Earl of Morton when they received news that Bothwell’s agent was seeking some documents. He was seized and the next day Morton secured the Casket Letters – correspondence from Mary to Bothwell. They were held to be highly incriminating and to demonstrate Mary’s involvement in Darnley’s murder. Maitland, as Mary’s Secretary of State, was familiar with her hand and writing style and appears to have had no doubt that they were in her hand. Regrettably, the originals have disappeared, the translations from the French are fragmentary, and none of the extracts are either addressed or signed. There is a well argued case which asserts that substantial portions are forgeries, and that the translations from French into Scots and finally into English are of very poor quality. However, contemporary opinion held them to be both incriminating and authentic. In the event, apart from damaging Mary’s reputation, they had no real impact on political decisions.
The Confederate Lords decided to dethrone Mary, crown her infant son James and appoint a Regent in her place. Mary was presented with abdication documents and signed them under threat. Maitland’s advice to her, supported by others, was to sign, and then if in a position to do so, repudiate the document as invalid on the grounds that her signature was extracted by force.
Moray was elected Regent, but despite their earlier alliance in support of Mary, no longer trusted Maitland. Maitland’s own views appear to have been that the murder of Darnley and the marriage to Bothwell could both be regarded as follies of youth and that Mary would grow up – she was 25, and still very impetuous. He was anxious to promote harmony, which included re-instatement of Mary as Queen. He still aimed for the Stuart succession to the English throne and union with England. He also sought a respectable marriage for Mary – one child was not considered enough to secure the succession. Furthermore, as long as Knox and Morton were in control, he would be out of power. His own allies were nearly all in opposition to the Regency, though not in armed conflict. Throckmorton, Elizabeth’s envoy commented
“In this country everyone thinks that Lethington is a man of great wisdom and counsel and very worthy to manage the affairs of a kingdom, by which it appears to me that the Regent does himself 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 that his counsel should be followed in all things….which is the cause of the division” Russell p 359
Despite these divisions, Maitland was appointed Speaker of the Scots parliament when it met in December 1567 to approve the appointment of the Regent and all his actions. Maitland made the opening speech in which he commented on Scotland’s good fortune in peaceably implementing the Reformation without bloodshed – unlike most neighbouring countries – and commended the Regent to them.
Bothwell and his henchmen were forfeited of their estates, and the principal participants in the murder executed in January 1568. Punishment was limited to those actively involved in the crime. Bothwell fled to Scandinavia, where he died in prison.
Mary escaped from Lochleven in May 1568, and Maitland was with the Regent in Glasgow when the news arrived. His letters to Cecil in May and June show him working closely with Regent Moray, and he was present, though not actively engaged at the Battle of Langside (now in the southern suburbs of Glasgow) where Sir William Grange commanded the Regent’s army. Mary’s forces were defeated, and she fled, via Dundrennan in Kirkcudbright to England, where she was imprisoned.
Now followed a prolonged series of hearings of mutual complaints by Mary and the Regent heard in English tribunals, first in York and then in Westminster. Maitland had opposed the hearings on the grounds that Elizabeth was reviving English claims to overlordship and had no right to question decisions of the Scots Parliament and that the evidence produced to the Commissioners would irretrievably destroy any chance of reconciliation. Mary’s reinstatement would become impossible and with it any chance of his return to office. Maitland thus had two reasons for his policy – Mary’s benefit and his own.
Maitland sent Mary copies of the Casket Letters before the hearings, and requested her instructions.
The hearings in York and Westminster were long and tedious, and ended indecisively in December 1568. Mary remained in custody, but Elizabeth had achieved her object of demonstrating Mary’s unfitness to inherit the English throne.
Maitland meanwhile continued with his plan to secure a marriage between Mary and the Catholic Duke of Norfolk, and her reinstatement in Scotland. This was seriously compromised by a Spanish plot to encourage Norfolk to start a rebellion, marry Mary and assume the English throne. The Catholic powers, France and Spain now saw Mary as an instrument to destabilise England, and decided to overlook the Darnley murder.
Maitland was increasingly seen as an opponent of Moray’s Regency, and in August 1568 was arrested whilst attending the Privy council at Perth and held a prisoner at Edinburgh Castle.
In November Maitland was brought to court to face charges of complicity in the Darnley murder, but he managed to get his numerous allies to assemble in Edinburgh with their retainers to over awe the court. The tactics succeeded and the trial was postponed.
In January 1570 Moray was assassinated. Three weeks later Maitland was again brought to trial, but he had made his peace with the Earl of Morton, and no one was willing to accuse him, so he was unanimously acquitted.
Was Maitland guilty ? If tried under 20th century law, he would have been found guilty as an accessory. Your editor in the 1970s and 1980s handled many banking transactions which were legal then, but which have recently cost banks and individuals today heavy fines and imprisonment. Laws do change.
Maitland had as Secretary of State been instructed by his Sovereign in council to facilitate the removal of Darnley, and under legal practice of the day could plead the Sovereign’s lawful instructions. Henry VIII in England had no compunction in ordering executions, even of Queens, and his ministers had no difficulty on carrying out these commands with impunity.
Many of the Scots nobility were well aware of Mary’s intentions, so they were as guilty or innocent of foreknowledge as Maitland, and therefore preferred not to press the point. Maitland was not involved in the planning or execution of the assassination, and was a political opponent of Bothwell, who did not seek Maitland’s participation.
During March 1570, the Queen’s Lords regularly met at Maitland’s house in the Meal Market just off the Cowgate in Edinburgh. Maitland was by now seriously infirm and travelled by litter. Attempts to secure agreement to secure the Queen’s release failed.
In April the English invaded Scotland, harrying the Borders, so Maitland took refuge in Edinburgh Castle where Sir William Kirkaldy of Grange was the commander. Grange had commanded Moray’s troops against Mary’s army at Langside before her flight into England, but had now changed his stance because he had personally guaranteed Mary’s treatment at Carberry before her imprisonment, and was now upset by the subsequent action by the King’s Lords against Mary.
In May Maitland was replaced as Secretary. English forces entered Edinburgh and their commander, Sir William Drury negotiated with Grange and Maitland in the Castle. At the end of May Maitland left Edinburgh for Blair Atholl, and in June the French government protested to Elizabeth over the invasion of Scotland, threatened French military support for Scotland and urged Mary’s release. Elizabeth agreed to new negotiations. Mary’s envoy met Maitland at Blair Atholl, and Sussex, the senior English commander was compelled to negotiate with him. The correspondence achieved nothing, but Elizabeth complimented Sussex on the success of his discussions with “the flower of the wits of Scotland”
In July the Earl of Lennox was elected Regent, and Grange, holding Edinburgh Castle refused to recognise his authority. Meanwhile in France Catherine de Medici made peace with the protestants, which took pressure off Elizabeth. In September Cecil met Mary at Chatsworth to discuss terms for her release, but the Scots Parliament rejected the proposals outright. The Parliament also formally deprived Maitland of his position as Secretary of State.
At the Parliament in May 1571 Maitland and his brothers were stripped of all their assets, and the Queen’s party began to fall apart as the French withdrew their support for Mary in order to seek a rapprochement with England. Maitland was in Edinburgh Castle.
The prolonged siege of the Castle now began, which ended two years later in May 1573 with Maitland and Grange’s surrender. Seventeen offers of favourable surrender terms were offered to them, which were all rejected unless the Queen was re-instated. This was the one thing which the Scots Parliament and the Regent were not prepared to concede, but they offered freedom and restoration of lands with a full pardon. There is little to be gained by a full analysis of the many offers made to them and it is difficult for us to understand Maitland’s intransigence. Many of his party accepted these terms and departed free.
Finally in May 1573 siege guns were used on the Castle, which ran out of supplies, including water, which was poisoned, and on 28th May 1573 Maitland and Grange surrendered. Both were imprisoned. Maitland died a few days later in his bed, and Grange was executed later that year. If he had survived, Maitland would have suffered the same fate.
There are suggestions that Maitland killed himself, but poison was a common explanation in those days for a sudden death. Maitland had been ill at the beginning of the siege two years before, was now 45, which was not particularly old, but his health had been bad since 1570, and the strain of the siege cannot have helped.
His body was left unburied – we do not know why. Mary Fleming, his wife, asked Cecil, now Lord Burghley to secure decent burial, and Elizabeth wrote to the Regent to this effect. we do not know where he was buried, but the floor of the Lauderdale Aisle is thought to be the probable location.
Maitland’s career, with his several changes of allegiance raises many issues, which we will consider in our next issue. For the moment, we recognise his loyalty to his Queen, but it is hard to understand his continued support for a lost cause when he was frequently offered generous terms – freedom and restoration of estates – for surrender of Edinburgh Castle.