John Maitland, 1st Lord Maitland of Thirlestane

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Lord Thirlestane
The Maitland tomb, St Mary's Church, Haddington

John Maitland, 1st Lord Maitland of Thirlestane (1537 – 3 October 1595), of Lethington, Knight (1581), was Lord Chancellor of Scotland.


He was the second son of Sir Richard Maitland of Thirlestane, Berwickshire, and Lethington, Haddingtonshire, who settled the lands of Thirlestane upon him, and he was sent abroad for his education.

Upon John Maitland's return, through the influence of his brother, William Maitland, he received the offer of the position of Commendator of Kelso Abbey, which he shortly afterwards exchanged with Francis Stewart, later Earl of Bothwell, for the Priory of Coldingham. This transaction was ratified by Mary, Queen of Scots on 20 April 1567.

Upon the death of his father, he was appointed Keeper of the Privy Seal of Scotland, on 20 April 1567. He also supported Regent Murray, and sat in his parliaments in December 1567 and August 1568. On 2 June 1568 he was created a Senator of the College of Justice as an Ordinary Lord on the spiritual side. He retained the rich endowment of Coldingham until 1570.

Following the Regent Murray's assassination, Maitland joined the Lords who met on the Queen's behalf at Linlithgow, and shared in the dangers of the civil war which ensued. At the end of 1570 he was denounced a rebel by the King's party, with his brothers William and Thomas, and they were all forfeited in the parliament which met in the Canongate, the so-called 'cropped parliament'.

John Maitland was deprived of all his offices and benefices, and took refuge in Edinburgh Castle. Upon its surrender on 29 May 1573 he was sent as a prisoner to Tantallon Castle in Haddingtonshire. After nine months' confinement there he was removed to Hugh, Lord Somerville's house of Cowthallie, under house arrest with bail at £10,000 Scots. In 1574/5 a Letter of Rehabilitation in his favour, as "Commendator of Coldingham", passed the Great Seal.

On 26 April 1581 he was reappointed Keeper of the Privy Seal of Scotland and returned to the Bench. He was shortly afterwards made a Privy Counsellor, and upon the dismissal of Abbot Pitcairn, appointed Secretary of Scotland on 18 May 1584. In the parliament which met on the 22nd of that month his doom of forfeiture was reduced, and he was restored to all the honours, heritages, and offices he had formerly possessed. He was appointed Vice-Chancellor on 31 May 1586.

He was also appointed Lord Chancellor of Scotland in 1586, following Arran's disgrace. In 1589 a powerful combination, headed by the Earls of Huntly, Errol, and Bothwell, &c., was formed against Maitland. It was intended to meet at Quarryholes, between Leith and Edinburgh, to march in a body to Holyroodhouse, make themselves master of the King's person, and put the Chancellor to death. The King and Maitland were not, however, at Holyroodhouse and the plot failed. Several other plots were formed against him shortly afterwards, but they were all defeated.

He was one of those who accompanied James VI on his matrimonial voyage to Denmark and shortly after his return he was made a Lord of Parliament with the title Lord Maitland of Thirlestane, on 18 May 1590. The queen, Anne of Denmark, came to resent his powers and in January 1593 appealed for help against him and his wife, Jean Fleming, who she believed had slandered her and accused her of being complicit with the Earl of Bothwell.[1]

Sir John Scot of Scotstarvet, writing in the seventeenth century, had this to say of the 1st Lord Maitland:

"Mr John Maitland, second brother to Secretary Maitland, after he had studied the laws in France, was preferred to be a Lord of Session by the said Earl of Arran's means, and thereafter became Chancellor. He was one of the Octavians [a name given to eight persons who managed affairs under king James VI], and was created Lord Thirlestane, and was an excellent Latin poet, as his verses inserted in Deliciae poetarum scotorum testify; and King James had such a respect to him, that he made the epitaph engraven on his tomb. Yet the conquest he made of the barony of Liddington [Lethington] from his brother's son, James Maitland, was not thought lawful nor conscientious."[2]

He was buried in a side chapel on the north side of St. Mary's, Haddington, where a splendid monument, with an epitaph, composed by King James VI, was erected to his memory. The Commendatorship of Coldingham was bestowed upon Francis Stewart, 1st Earl of Bothwell, eldest son of the late Prior, John Stewart.

Marriage and issue[edit]

John Maitland married Jean Fleming, daughter of James, 4th Lord Fleming in January 1583, and had issue:


  1. ^ William Fraser, The Douglas Book, vol. 4 (Edinburgh, 1885), pp. 38-40.
  2. ^ Scot, John (1872). The Staggering State of the Scots Statesmen from 1550 to 1660. Edinburgh: Paterson. p. 43.
  • An Historical Account of the Senators of the College of Justice of Scotland, by Sir David Dalrymple of Hailes, Bt., re-edited at Edinburgh in 1849, pps: 140–146 (who says he was "probably born in 1545").
  • The Royal Families of England, Scotland, and Wales, with their Descendants, etc., by Messrs, John and John Bernard Burke, London, volume 1 (1848) pedigree XV, and volume 2 (1851), pedigree LXXXIV.
  • History of the Priory of Coldingham, by William King Hunter of Stoneshiel, Edinburgh & London, 1858, pps: 72-3.
  • Miscellanea Genealogica et Heraldica, edited by Joseph Jackson Howard, LL.D.,F.S.A., volume 2, London, 1876, p. 206.
Political offices
Preceded by
Richard Maitland
Keeper of the Privy Seal of Scotland
Succeeded by
George Buchanan
Preceded by
George Buchanan
Keeper of the Privy Seal of Scotland
Succeeded by
Walter Stewart
Preceded by
Earl of Arran
Lord Chancellor of Scotland
Succeeded by
3rd Earl of Montrose
Academic offices
Preceded by
Patrick Adamson
Archbishop of St Andrews
Chancellor of the University of St Andrews
Succeeded by
John Lindsay of Balcarres, Lord Menmuir