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Mary Fleming was a Scottish noblewoman and childhood companion of Mary, Queen of Scots. She and three other ladies-in-waiting (Mary Livingston, Mary Beaton and Mary Seton) were collectively known as "The Four Marys". A granddaughter of James IV of Scotland, she married the queen's renowned secretary, Sir William Maitland of Lethington.
Mary Fleming was the youngest child of Malcolm Fleming, 3rd Lord Fleming and Janet Stewart. She was born in 1542, the year her father was taken prisoner by the English at the Battle of Solway Moss. Her mother was an illegitimate daughter of James IV of Scotland, born during his marriage to Margaret Tudor. Lady Fleming became a governess to the infant queen, also born in 1542, and the dowager queen, Mary of Guise, chose Lady Fleming's daughter Mary to be one of four companions to the young queen. Mary Fleming and Mary, Queen of Scots, were technically half-first-cousins.
In 1548, five-year-old Mary Fleming and her mother accompanied Mary, Queen of Scots, to the court of King Henry II of France, where the young queen was raised. Mary Fleming's father having died the previous year in the Battle of Pinkie, her mother had an affair with the French king, the product of which was a son born around 1551.
The English diplomat Thomas Randolph recorded that the Queen was particularly consoled by Mary Fleming when she was disturbed by the discovery of the French poet Chastelard hiding in her bedchamber. After having "some grief of mind" the Queen took Mary to be her "bedfellow".
During the twelfth day of Christmas pageant in January 1564, Mary Fleming played the part of Queen. On 19 September 1564 William Kirkcaldy of Grange wrote that the Royal Secretary, William Maitland was showing an interest in Mary Fleming:
I dout not bot ye understand or now (by now) that our secretaree' wyf is dead—and he a suter to M. Flemyng, quha is als meit for hym as I am to be paipe! (as fit for him, as I am to be Pope)
Marriage to Maitland
Later in life, Mary Fleming married the queen's royal secretary, Sir William Maitland of Lethington, who was many years her senior. The following evidence compellingly suggests that the marriage was successful, despite rumors that they were unhappy and that Mary wished to murder her husband:
- The wedding occurred after a three-year courtship that weathered ambivalent relations between Maitland and Mary, Queen of Scots, to whom Mary Fleming was a lady-in-waiting and had been since the age of five.
- Maitland was so infatuated with Mary Fleming that he wrote to William Cecil about it.
- The courtship was the talk of both the Scottish and English courts.
- It appears that Mary Fleming was captured with her husband at Edinburgh Castle by the English, and then surrendered to Regent Morton. While her sister-in-law was permitted to keep her property and plate, Mary Fleming was forced to give up her possessions including jewellery given her by the Queen of Scots. Her much-older husband was carried out of the castle on a litter, because he was unable to stand or walk. He died awaiting trial and execution. Suicide was suspected. After the death of William Maitland, Mary Fleming wrote to Cecil to prevent his dead body from being hanged, drawn and quartered. As a result, Queen Elizabeth asked Morton to spare the body, which he did.
Mary Fleming did not receive the restoration of Lethington's estate and properties until 1581-82, by grant of King James VI. While there is some dispute about this, the evidence is that she never remarried.
She had two children, a boy James, who later became a Catholic and lived in France and Belgium in self-imposed exile, and a daughter Margaret, who married Robert Ker, 1st Earl of Roxburghe. In 1581, Mary, Queen of Scots asked Elizabeth I to grant Fleming safe conduct so she could visit the imprisoned Queen of Scots. There is no evidence that Mary Fleming Maitland actually went. The last documents attributed to her are her letter to Cecil and a letter to her sister discussing some bad feelings that existed between Fleming and her brother-in-law Coldingham.
- Bain, Joseph, ed., Calendar of State Papers Scotland, vol. 1 (1898), pp. 886, 688.
- Bain, Joseph, ed., Calendar of State Papers Scotland, vol. 2 (1900), pp. 34, 75.