John Maitland (1616-1682), second Earl and first and last Duke of Lauderdale, began as a Covenanter but soon became one of the most devoted supporters of the Stuart monarchs. In 1647 he tried to rescue Charles I from captivity. He was with the young Charles II at Worcester Fight in 1651, after which he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. When he reported his release to the King in March 1660 Charles II replied from Brussels in the friendliest possible terms:

"… You will easily believe that I am very glad that you are at liberty, and in the place where you can do me most service, by disposing your friends to that temper and sobriety, which must be a principal ingredient to that happiness, we all pray for. I am confident you have the same opinions and judgement you had when we parted. I am sure I have, and the same kindness for you….. I hope we shall shortly meet, and then you will meet with all the kindness you can wish from
Your most affectionate friend, CHARLES R"

The scars of Cromwell’s arbitrary and alien rule of Scotland ran deep. Lauderdale was recommended to the Scots lords by one of the King’s go-betweens as the man best placed to make sure that Scottish interests would not be forgotten in the negotiations between the English and Charles II for the King’s restoration:

"...Otherwise our country may lie in perpetual oblivion ... for he being so well known to all these in power now who once had high enough esteem for Scotland, he is the fittest man to put them in mind of their former principles and to tell them that if they intend to keep us still as a conquered nation, they or their posterity may find the trouble of holding it so...."

Upon the Restoration Lauderdale was appointed sole Secretary of State for Scotland. Until a stroke compelled his resignation in 1680 he held Scotland in an iron grip, facing down both political opposition and organised rebellion. He saw his role as being to enforce the King’s wishes, even when he was not entirely in agreement with them, as with the Act of Supremacy and abortive plans for a union between Scotland and England. He wrote to the King in 1669, “…. Never was King so absolute as you are in poor old Scotland.” The occasional touches of humour in his letters reveal an instinctive understanding between the two men. The King, for his part, read Lauderdale’s reports attentively. He often commended him for his work and backed him unfailingly against his enemies.

Lauderdale was keen to keep Scottish affairs out of English control. This suited the King. A strong Royal prerogative in Scotland, combined with a Scottish militia under the King’s command, helped to keep the English opposition in check. When the English opposition tried to make common cause with like-minded Scots in 1678, Charles II shrewdly observed,

"...It is a foolish thing for Scotsmen to complain or make work here, or to endeavour a rebellion in Scotland, for if it should begin there, and afterwards come to England, and that England should turn Commonwealth, Scotland would be a province next summer after... They would not like that well."

At 6 pm on 8 May 1678 the opposition MPs in the English House of Commons sprang a parliamentary trap by proposing a draft address requesting the King to remove Lauderdale from his councils and presence for having given “pernicious counsels to the King, dishonourable and destructive to the nation”. During an impassioned debate enough supporters were whipped to the House from nearby taverns and eating houses to give Lauderdale a majority of one. (Some things in politics never change.) Lessons were learned. “To prevent the like inconveniences for the future, the King, the Duke and my Lord Treasurer have sent or spoke to all their friends and servants, to be sure that they give constant attendance every day that the House sits, till it rises again.”

Lauderdale kept up a similarly close relationship with the King’s brother and successor, James, Duke of York, whose letters show that he was not always confident of the King’s firmness of purpose. James’s sojourns in Edinburgh as High Commissioner to the Scottish Parliament towards the end of Charles II’s reign won him much respect for his qualities as an administrator, and the return of Court life to Holyrood House was generally welcomed. In 1679 Lauderdale advised James to swear the Oath of Allegiance before taking his seat in the Privy Council. This James refused to do, no doubt because of the religious implications of the oath. He wrote somewhat imperiously that he was “very surprised” by Lauderdale’s advice, but that nevertheless he remained a “hearty friend”. James never did take the oath, but all went smoothly. He thanked Lauderdale for standing by him, and also for his entertainment at Lethington on the way to Edinburgh.

Even after Lauderdale’s retirement James, on 23 June 1681, asked for his advice on managing the Scottish Parliament. Lauderdale gave him some practical tips. On aspects where he had no personal experience he advised James to get the lawyers to draft a paper for the new Scottish Secretary to lay before the King, and Lauderdale would take care to be present when it was discussed. Lauderdale died on 24 August 1682. He had remained in loyal harness to the Stuarts until the end.