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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Maitland, William

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a noted Scotch politician of the Reformation period, better known as "Secretary Lethington," was born about 1525, and was educated both at St. Andrews and on the Continent. He had great influence as a political leader, and though he became a convert to the Reformed doctrines about 1555, he was in 1558 appointed secretary of state by Mary of Guise. In the following year, however, he openly joined the lords of the Congregation, and was one of the Scotch commissioners who met the duke of Norfolk at Berwick, to arrange the conditions on which queen Elizabeth would give them assistance. In 1561, after the arrival of queen Mary from France, he was made an extraordinary lord of Session. He strongly objected to the ratification of Knox's Book of Discipline, and in 1563 conducted the prosecution raised against Knox for treason. From this time he appears to have lost his influence with the reformers. In 1564 he held a long debate with Knox on the claims of the Reformed Church to be independent of the state. In 1566 he took part in the conspiracy against Rizzio, after whose assassination he was proscribed, and obliged to seek shelter for some months in obscurity. After queen Mary's imprisonment (1567) in England he played a most unenviable part, pretending to Elizabeth to be one of her admirers, but really seeking all the while to protect the cause of Mary, and it is evident that he really never deserted her, although he was present at the coronation of king James VI, and although he fought on the side of her opponents on the field of Langside. He took part in 1568 in the conference held at York, and there displayed such unmistakable sympathy for Mary that the Scottish lords marked him as a dangerous enemy to the commonwealth, and in 1569 he was arrested at Stirling, but was liberated shortly after by an artifice of Kirkaldy of Grange. In 1570 he openly declared for Mary, and became the soul of the queen's party, in consequence of which he was declared a rebel, deprived of his offices and lands by the regent Morton, and besieged, along with Kirkaldy, in Edsinburgh Castle. After a long resistance, the castle surrendered, and he was imprisoned in Leith, where he died (in 1573), "some," says Melville, "supposing he took a drink and died as the auld Romans were wont to do." Buchanan has drawn his character with a severe pen in his Scottish tract entitled The Chameleon. Froude (10:474) believes that Maitland died a natural death. Burton (Hist. of Maitland iv. 55-57) says of Maitland that "his name was a byword for subtlety and statecraft. Yet... if we look at his life and doings, we do not find he was one of those who have left the mark of their influence upon their age.... He had great abilities, but they were rather those of the wit and rhetorician than of the practical man." In the estimation of Knox, Maitland had greatly lowered himself by his unkindness and vacillation, and the great reformer, in his dying hours even. was called upon to pronounce against the wary Scotch politician: "I have na warrant that ever he shall be well," alluding to Maitland's state in the hereafter. See Froude, Hist. of England, vol. 10. ch. 19 and 23; Robertson, Hist. of Scotland (see Index).


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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Maitland, William'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/m/maitland-william.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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