John Maitland of Thirlestane (1543-1595) was the son of Sir Richard Maitland of Lethington (1496-1586) and brother of Sir William Maitland of Lethington (1525x30-1575), both of whom were known for their service to the crown under Mary Stewart. Maitland enjoyed some influence during the ascendancy of Esmé Stewart, Duke of Lennox (1579-1582) but his real rise to power occurred during the regime of Captain James Stewart, earl of Arran (c.1545-1596). He became a privy councillor in August 1583 and royal secretary in April 1584. Maitland survived Arran's fall in November 1585 and played a leading role in the negotiation of the Anglo-Scottish league ratified in July 1586. Just prior to this, on 31 May, he was awarded keepership of the Great Seal, and on 29 July 1587 he rose to the office of chancellor. Maitland was the most powerful man in Scotland between 1587 and 1592, and according to Maurice Lee he used this period of influence to enact a range of legislative measures - most notably at the July 1587 parliament which also saw him rise to the position of chancellor - to curtail the privileges and power of the upper nobility and make them more accountable to law and the crown, as well as to create a class of 'middling' administrators akin to the French noblesse de robe. Maitland's fall from grace was triggered in February 1592 by the murder of James Stewart, the second earl of Moray at the hands of George Gordon, the sixth earl of Huntly, who argued that he was acting under the power granted to him by a royal commission to track down the rebel Francis Stewart, fifth earl of Bothwell. Maitland was blamed for this turn of events, and left court on 30 March, ending his ascendancy. Lee has argued that Maitland was largely politique in his attitudes towards religion, but as Arthur Williamson has noted Maitland was known for the 'speciall frindschipe' which he 'keipit trew and honest till the day of his deathe' with the Melvilles and the minister Robert Bruce, Maitland's wife (JMAD, p. 271). Maitland's wife, Jean Fleming (1554-1609), was also a supporter and friend of the kirk, even after her husband's death in 1595. Both Melville and David Hume of Godscroft honoured Maitland's memory with epitaphs. See Maurice Lee jun., 'Maitland, John, first Lord Maitland of Thirlestane (1543-1595)', ODNB; Maurice Lee, John Maitland of Thirlestane and the Foundation of the Stewart Despotism in Scotland (Princeton, NJ, 1959); Paul J. McGinnis and Arthur H. Williamson, 'Politics, prophecy, poetry: the Melvillian moment, 1589-96, and its aftermath', in SHR 89:1 (2010), pp. 1-18. An edition of Maitland's epigrams in the DPS by Dana F. Sutton, including a discussion of his literary career, can be found at The Philological Museum. Metre: elegiac couplets.
Tumulus Ioannis Metellani, Scotiae Cancellarii (1595)
Tumulus Ioannis Metellani, Scotiae cancellarii
Ille Metellanus cui regni inclaruit ingens
annulus et regis mensque manusque sui:
cui rex incubit regni dum versat habenas,
quo duce tanta fuit pax foris atque domi:
qui claris prognatus avis, et sanguine prisco,
laude nova veteres nobilitavit avos:
hac urna situs in parva, tibi surdior aula
intonat hoc: 'si vis vivere, disce mori'.
A monument to John Maitland, chancellor of Scotland
Maitland was that man whose massive royal seal-ring a and the mind and hand of his king made famous: whom the king relied on, while he steered the reins of the kingdom: and under whose leadership there was such peace abroad and at home: a descendant of renowned ancestors, with ancient blood, who ennobled aged ancestors with new praise: placed in this small urn, a more silent court thunders this forth for you: 'if you have strength to live, learn to die.'
a: The Great Seal.