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Thirslestane Castle
Thirslestane Castle

John Maitland, 1st Lord Maitland of Thirlestane, lived from 1537 to 3 October 1595. He was a nobleman who became Lord Chancellor of Scotland and did much to develop Thirlestane Castle into the palace you see today. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.

John Maitland was the second son of Sir Richard Maitland of Thirlestane and Lethington He was educated abroad and lived mainly at Thirlestane Castle, which his father had given to him. In 1567 he became Commendator of the Priory of Coldingham: in effect he was the secular laird who acquired the rights to the priory estates after the Reformation.

On his father's death on 20 April 1567, he succeeded to the title of Keeper of the Privy Seal of Scotland. After the abdication of Mary, Queen of Scots, he served under the Regent, James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray.

In the struggle for power that followed James Stewart's assassination in 1570, Maitland was removed from office and took refuge in Edinburgh Castle. After it surrendered in 1573, he was imprisoned in Tantallon Castle. He was restored to favour in 1574 and returned to public life. In April 1581, Maitland was reappointed Keeper of the Privy Seal of Scotland, and in May 1584 he was appointed Secretary of Scotland. He was appointed Lord Chancellor of Scotland by James VI in 1586.

Maitland was among those who accompanied James VI to Norway to collect his bride, Anne of Denmark, in 1590. On their return, James VI made Maitland a Lord of Parliament with the title Lord Maitland of Thirlestane. He responded by rebuilding Thirlestane Castle. He needed something grander than the Old Tower of Thirlestane to reflect his new position in society, so built an enormous three storey rectangular stone keep with a circular drum tower at each corner. John Maitland died in 1595 and was buried in St Mary's Church in Haddington, commemorated by aan imposing monument, complete with an epitaph composed by King James VI.

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