Although the standard biography of the Duke by Mackenzie does cover this relationship, an article has just appeared in History Today which sheds much more light on Lady Margaret.

A little historical background. John Maitland, Master of Lauderdale was one of the leading Covenanters from the beginning of his political career. Returning to Scotland in 1638 from his studies in Geneva, the home of Calvinism, he immediately signed the Covenant, which called on the King to consult with Scots before implementing material changes in the church.

Sent to London as an emissary of the Kirk, Maitland made his mark as a diplomat, but by 1648 he had become estranged from the extreme Presbyterians and when King Charles 1' s fortunes were at their lowest ebb, and the King a prisoner of the Parliamentary army, Maitland, now the Earl of Lauderdale, became a royalist. After the King's execution in 1649 he joined the new King, Charles 11 in exile in the Netherlands. He had married in 1632 Lady Anne Home, but she never shared his intellectual interests.

By the late 1640's he appears to have been in correspondence with Lady Margaret Kennedy, and the connection survived his nine year imprisonment in England after the battle of Worcester. Nearly 200 years ago a bundle of Lauderdale's political letters was found at Ham House near London. The file consists of Lauderdale' s letters to and from leading Scots politicians of the day, and the inclusion of correspondence with Lady Margaret indicates that Lauderdale considered this to be part of his political rather than social life, and the content of the letters is largely confined to matters of state.

However, despite the essentially serious nature of the correspondence, some light is shed on their relationship by an exchange in 1663. Lauderdale had heard a rumour at the Royal Court at Whitehall that Lady Margaret had recently married and he quickly wrote to her in Scotland to ask if this was true. His enquiry has been lost, but her reply is preserved: "Your impatient letter I received last night and to make a complete romance story, you should have told me to whom they said it was (that I had married), for I cannot guess. If it be a prediction, I cannot say anything to it. It's true I once resolved so, 'ere I was acquaint with you, but, not being content, quiet it, and now have neither design nor desire to marry any."

The interesting feature of this correspondence is that it continued for over 10 years until 1671 when Lauderdale fell for Elizabeth Murray, Countess of Dysart. Lady Margaret was a convinced Presbyterian, as indeed, was Lauderdale. When Charles was restored to the English throne by a vote of the National Convention, he recovered the Scottish throne as well. However, during his exile, and in particular during the period from his father's death in 1649 until the Battle of Worcester in 1651, he was reliant on Scots support for their king but the Covenanters exacted a heavy price for their help, demanding slavish adherence to the Covenant by King Charles II. Charles never forgot the harsh treatment he had received and once the power was in his hands determined to suppress Presbyterianism in Scotland.

Lauderdale advised against this policy and wrote to Lady Margaret to ask her to get her friends to let the King know of their objections to his plans. However, Charles was determined, many of his advisers opposed Lauderdale in this matter, and the King went forward with his policy to reinstate bishops in Scotland. Lauderdale had decided that whilst he would advise the King on the most appropriate course of action, he would also carry out and implement the King's policies regardless of his personal opinions. Lauderdale had lost his estates during the Commonwealth rule, and had suffered nine years of imprisonment, and so was determined to repair his fortunes and not to allow his personal prejudices to get in the way of his career.

He regularly corresponded with Lady Margaret on this problem and she acted as Lauderdale's Presbyterian conscience. In 1665 she wrote “for God's sake, endeavour to persuade the King to part with bishops, or I much fear we will all be lost; they are now hated and hated by all as much as by Presbyterians.” In 1667 a plan was devised to reconcile Presbyterians to episcopacy by allowing the more moderate Presbyterian ministers to return to their parishes. Lauderdale asked Lady Margaret to take an active part in the choice of ministers, and 42 ministers were returned to their parishes. Sadly, the outbreak of peace did not last, and the sectarians returned to their warfare.

What was the relationship between Lauderdale and Lady Margaret? It was noted in Scotland that she was the first lady to be allowed to stay in the official lodgings at Holyrood, and that Lauderdale's rooms were close by. Sir George Mackenzie noted in his memoirs:

Lauderdale had, of a Long time, entertainment with Lady Margaret Kennedy, daughter to the Earl of Cassills and intimacy which had grown great enough to become suspicious. This lady had never married, and was always reputed a wit, and the great patron of the Presbyterians, in which persuasion she was very bigot; and the suspicion increased much, upon her living in the Abbey, in which no woman else is launched; nor did the commissioner blush to go openly to her chamber in his night gown."

Lauderdale in his correspondence referred to Lady Margaret, and also the Duchess of Hamilton, as one of our wives. Lady Margaret responded to criticism by saying that “her virtue was above suspicion”. The general opinion was that, despite appearances the relationship was perfectly respectable. Certainly, the surviving correspondence is businesslike rather than frivolous love letters.

However, once Elizabeth Murray's husband died in 1669, she and Lauderdale rekindled a relationship that predated the Civil War, and they married in 1671. The last letter from Lady Margaret is dated that year. Lady Margaret, probably on the rebound, married the much younger Gilbert Burnet, once a protégé of Lauderdale's but now to become his enemy. It is probable that the famous, but abusive description by Burnet of Lauderdale was inspired by enmity rather than observation. No man who could win the love and affection of the beautiful Elizabeth Murray could be also the disgusting oaf depicted by Burnet.