John Maitland, 3rd Earl and only Duke of Lauderdale lived through the tumultuous 17th century, Born in 1616, the year of Shakespeare’s death, he died in 1683. Born in the era of an absolute monarchy, where the King’s word was law, he died in a quasi-republic where the King had agreed to work with and accept the authority of an elected Parliament.

The first half of the century was dominated by civil conflicts. England and Scotland fought a civil war against King Charles II, from 1639 until 1649 when he King was executed. In France there were the Lawyers’ and Nobles’ Frondes – civil conflicts which revealed the weakness of the monarchy. Central Europe (Germany only came into existence in 1871) suffered the Thirty Years War – 1618 -1648.

1660 established the English constitutional settlement of choosing a hereditary executive Monarch subject to Parliamentary control. In France the power of the nobility was destroyed by King Louis XIV who ruled as an absolute monarch, extravagant, powerful, aggressive, but not cruel. In England and Scotland, the nobility had been curbed in the 16th century – John Maitland of Thirlestane having taken a leading role in suppressing private armies in Scotland.

  • His career may be divided into ten parts
  • Education, probably at Haddington Grammar School, then at St Andrews (on their records), and finally in Geneva, the centre of the Calvinist reformation.
  • Diplomatic representative of the Kirk (Scottish Presbyterians) to the English
  • Soldier - he commanded Lord Maitland’s Regiment  in the Parliamentary army at the Battle of Marston Moor in 1644, in which Royalist forces were decisively defeated. His regiment played an important part in the action.
  • Switch to supporting the King in 1647.
  • In exile in Holland 1649 – 1651
  • With King Charles II at the Battle of Worcester in 1651, was captured and imprisoned until 1660.
  • Scottish Secretary in England, and at court 1660 – 1663 ?
  • Lord High Commissioner to the Scottish Parliament – effectively viceroy in Scotland – 1663 – 1682
  • Superseded by The Duke of York, later King James VII, 1682
  • Retirement, in regular contact with the Duke of York 1682
  • Death 1682.

English and Scots politics were incredibly complex at that time, so we will take you gently through the various phases of his career.


Viscount Maitland, as he was then known probably attended the grammar school in Haddington, founded in 1379. Amongst its pupils was John Witherspoon, a signatory of the 1776 Declaration of Independence. Maitland then went on to study at St Andrews university, and then at Geneva, the heart of Calvinism. Maitland was fluent in Scots, English, French, Latin, Greek and Hebrew. During his imprisonment he purchased books in Latin from Antwerp. Despite his command of languages, his English spelling was to say the least, free-form. Although his titles were Earl and then Duke of Lauderdale, he regularly signed himself Lauderdaill.

Diplomatic Representative

In 1640, aged 24, he accompanied the Scots Commissioners sent to negotiate with King Charles I in the preliminaries of the civil war.

Military career

This was brief, and Lord Maitland distinguished himself by his command of Lord Maitland’s regiment of cavalry in the Parliamentary arms which defeated the Royalist forces at Marston Moor in 1644. After this he commanded no more troops

A leader of the Scots mission

By 1645, he was regarded as a key member of the Scots diplomatic mission in London. In 1646 he was negotiating with the English Parliament on the terms on which the King would be released by the Scottish army.

Becomes a Royalist

In 1647 Maitland, now Earl of Lauderdale after the death of his father, went as Scottish Commissioner to see his King at Woburn Abbey not far from London. He was turned out of his bed and ejected from the house during the night and denied access to his monarch.

This was a life changing event. He became a royalist at a time when his King could offer him no more than thanks. It was not a career enhancing move at that time but in due course and after nine years of imprisonment became the foundation of his fortunes.

He brought a troop of horse to rescue Charles when he was hunting near Nonsuch in Surrey, but Charles refused the offer.

In Exile

After Charles’ execution in 1649, Lauderdale joined King Charles II in Holland, and advised him on negotiations with the Kirk, He accompanied him on the expedition to Scotland and invasion of England in 1651. After the defeat of royal forces at the Battle of Worcester in 1651 Lauderdale was captured and imprisoned until 1660.

In Office

At the Restoration in 1660, Lauderdale was released, and went to meet his King in Holland. He was appointed Secretary of State for Scotland, based in Whitehall, London, whilst John Middleton, who had spent the years of exile with Charles was appointed Lord High Commissioner to the Parliament in Scotland – i.e. Viceroy.

In 1663 Middleton attempted to exclude Lauderdale from all offices, but failed and was appointed Governor of Tangier – as far away as the King could send him. Lauderdale was appointed Lord High Commissioner in his place.


After 20 years in office Lauderdale was superseded in 1680 as Lord High Commissioner by the Duke of York (later James II & VII). It was necessary to get James out of England, and Lauderdale had lost his formerly tight grip on Scotland. He remained a trusted advisor and frequent correspondent of the Duke of York.


Lauderdale died in 1682, and was interred in the Lauderdale Aisle at Haddington in 1683.

Detailed history

Lauderdale led a long life by the standards of the day, and an exceptionally active one, full of complexities. We cover his life in detail in separate articles.