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Sir William Maitland

(c. 1527—1573) courtier and diplomat


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(c. 1528–73). Maitland of Lethington began his career in the service of Mary of Guise, regent for Mary, queen of Scots, but in 1559 denounced the French alliance and urged an understanding with the English. His embassy to Elizabeth resulted in the treaty of Berwick in 1560. Mary's return from France placed him in jeopardy but he was employed to persuade Elizabeth to recognize Mary as heir. Though unsuccessful, he continued to be employed in English negotiations, informing Elizabeth of Mary's intention to marry Darnley. He had complicity in the murders of Rizzio and Darnley, opposed Bothwell, and encouraged a marriage between Mary and Norfolk. He was now one of Mary's leading supporters and, surrounded by enemies, took refuge in Edinburgh castle in 1571. Two years later the castle was besieged, largely by English troops. Maitland was forced to surrender and, already ill, died shortly afterwards. He had a high reputation as a diplomat and was an accomplished man of letters, but it is not easy to perceive much consistency in his policy. Maitland's younger brother John exercised great influence with James VI in the 1580s.

From The Oxford Companion to British History in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: British History.


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