Sunday, 9 December 2012

The Maitlands of Thirlestane Castle


During my research, and search for another worthy heroine [!] it struck me how often names and places crop up repeatedly. The 1600’s were an almost incestuous time where all the prominent families were related to each other somewhere along the line.  The hero of my book was John Maitland, 2nd Earl Lauderdale, whose great uncle was William Maitland of Lethington, the renowned, ‘Secretary Lethington’ to Mary Queen of Scots.  

Mary Queen of Scots
Maitland married Mary Fleming, one of the "Four Marys" who attended Mary, Queen of Scots, in France and accompanied her to Scotland in 1561. As an ambassador at Elizabeth I's court, he was also involved in the conspiracy to murder David Rizzio (the private secretary and rumoured lover of Queen Mary) by her King consort, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley and his supporters. 

William accompanied Mary into the Scottish Highlands against the powerful Earl of Huntly, who led his troops at the Battle of Corrichie in 1562 where he was killed. William regained the Queen's favour and continued in her service until Mary surrendered herself to Sir William Kirkaldy, another accessory to Rizzio’s murder, and the insurgent nobles at the Battle of Carberry Hill. William then openly joined them and was present at the Battle of Langside, which finally ruined Mary's cause in Scotland.  


Sir John Maitland was created the 1st Lord of Thirlestane and married Jean Fleming, the heiress of Lord Fleming, Lord High Chamberlain of Scotland during Mary’s reign.

When Mary fled to England in 1567, Maitland joined with the new government, but acted in Mary’s interests and formed a party to restore her to power. In 1573, Kirkaldy, held Edinburgh Castle for Mary, along with William and his elder brother, John.

Elizabeth I sent troops to quell the uprising, the defences of the castle were demolished and John, 1st Lord Maitland of Thirlestane was imprisoned in Tantallon castle, while William was held at Leith prison where he died, either from illness or, some said, suicide.


The Maitlands were notorious for playing both sides in their own interests, a tradition continued when John Maitland, 2nd Earl Lauderdale, a staunch Covenanter up to 1647, then he rode south and attempted to help Charles I escape his captors at Hampton Court. When that plan didn’t go quite the way he wanted, he joined the young Charles II and was eventually to become part of his famous Cabal when the king was restored to the throne in 1660.

The Maitlands came from France with William the Conqueror in 1066, and settled in Northumberland. In about 1250, Sir Richard Maitland married Avicia, the daughter and sole heiress of Thomas du Thirlestane. Their Norman name, originally spelled Mautalent, Matulant or Matalan, translates as ‘evil genius’, a name the men of that family seemed to live up to through the centuries.

Thirlestane Castle, Lauder, Scotland
Their ancestral home is Thirlestane Castle at Lauder on the Scottish borders which dates back to the 13th century, when a Border fort was built on the site to defend the approach to Edinburgh from the south. The central part of the present Castle was completed in 1590, remodelled in the 1670s, and then again in the 1840s.

The 2nd Earl was made Duke of Lauderdale by Charles II and he and his second wife, Elizabeth Tollemache, renovated Thirlestane in the 1670’s, and turned it into a magnificent residence fit for their king to visit, as they did with Ham House in Richmond. The stone surround on the front door at Thirlestane bears the entwined initials of the duke and Elizabeth, who was Countess of Dysart in her own right.

Early in 1680, Lauderdale suffered a stroke and resigned his posts, although he had quarelled with Charles II before that. He retired to Tunbridge Wells to take the waters and died there in August 1682. The Dukedom died with him and his brother Charles became the 3rd Earl of Lauderdale.
Duke and Duchess of Lauderdale 1679
Much of the furniture in the Castle today is from the 19th century, mainly because the earlier contents were removed on the Duke's death by Duchess Elizabeth who dispatched fourteen wagon loads of furniture to Ham House in Richmond, before the people of Lauder grew so incensed that they prevented the last wagon from leaving.

Duchess Elizabeth was at heart a Scot, a tradition she maintained when her daughter by Lionel Tollemache, another Elizabeth, married Archibald Campbell, 1st Duke of Argyll in 1678, who was the son of James Stuart, 4th Earl of Moray, a direct descendant of a daughter of the Regent James Moray, half brother to Mary Queen of Scots.

Prince Charles Edward Stuart, Bonnie Prince Charlie, stayed at Thirlestane in 1745 after victory at the Battle of Prestonpans when he led the clan armies south through Lauder, and the troops camped in the Castle Parklands.  

A dividing arch in the dining room contains a bust of Captain Sir Frederick Maitland, to whom Napoleon surrendered on board HMS Bellerophon after the Battle of Waterloo.

3 comments:

ellaquinnauthor said...

Wonderful post. Due to the ability to marry 1st cousins, the tradition of close connections was alive and well in the Regency. It was a time where everyone knew or ws related to everyone else.

Lauren said...

Ham House is on my to-see list. Sounds like I need to add Thirlestane Castle. Interesting family--I was really only familiar with the 1st duke because I studied parliament during the Restoration at university.

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