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Castles of Scotland
Caerlaverock Castle

Caerlaverock Castle8m SE of Dumfries on the B725. Tel: 01387 770244

Caerlaverock (Lark's Nest), one of Scotland's finest castles, is everyone's idea of a medieval fortress. The scene of two famous sieges this moated castle has a children's adventure park, model siege engine and nature trail in its grounds.

Caerlaverock Castle is first mentioned in records in the 1220’s. This was not the castle we see today but a wooden fortification some 200 meters to the south. This was abandoned probably because of the unsuitability of the ground and the new castle was built on its present site around 1270.

The Maxwell’s who built it were one of the most important families in Scotland at this time. In 1296 Edward I of England, ’Hammer of the Scots’ invaded Scotland and forced many Scots to swear fealty to him in the Ragman Roll. Among these were Herbert de Maxwell and his son John.

But the Scots soon began to rebel against Edward. In 1300 he invaded Galloway, one of the centres of resistance, and Caerlaverock was one of the prime targets for his wrath. The siege of Caerlaverock is one of the most well known incidents of this time because of a detailed written account by a member of the besieging army.

Edward of England came with 87 knights and 3000 men. Siege engines were sent for from the castles of Lochmaben, Carlisle, Roxburgh, Jedburgh and Skinburness. The siege didn’t last long and Lord Maxwell’s garrison of 60 men soon surrendered. Some were hanged form the castle walls and the rest were allowed to walk free. The castle remained in English hands until 1312.

The keeper of the castle was none other than Sir Eustace Maxwell, demonstrating the borderer's remarkable ability to make the most from both sides. In 1312 he declared for Robert Bruce, King of Scots. He was besieged in the castle but held out. Robert I granted him a charter of annual rent for demolishing the castle in line with Robert Bruces policy of destroying all stronghold that could be used by an invading force.

The accession of David II to the Scottish throne in 1329 and the re-opening of hostilities between Scotland and England was a sign for Sir Eustace to change his allegiances once again. The Maxwells were loyal to the Balliols and not to the Bruces and when in 1332, Edward Balliol was crowned King of Scots at Scone Sir Eustace repaired and garrisoned Caerlaverock and placed it at Balliols disposal.

The story is obscure until about 1356 when Roger Kirkpatrick is recorded as having returned the whole of Nithsdale to the Scottish Crown. Much of the castle as it is today was completed in the late fifteenth century by Herbert Maxwell,first Lord Maxwell and his son Robert second Lord Maxwell. Caerlaverock Castle once again figured in the conflicts between Scotland and England in the sixteenth century.

In 1542 James V visited the castle before the Battle of Solway Moss, which resulted not only in defeat for the Scots, but also in the capture by the English of Robert, Fifth Lord Maxwell. He was released shortly thereafter, Lord Maxwell was again captured in May 1544 and his castle surrendered to the English.

In the following year it was retaken by the Scots. In 1570 it was again besieged, this time it is said that the Earl of Sussex threw down the castle although there is very little evidence he did. In 1593, Robert, eight Lord Maxwell, was recorded as making ‘great fortifications and has many men working at his house’. Peace was brought to the borders for the first time in centuries when in 1603 James IV’s accession to the English throne as James I.

This tranquillity led to a new confidence among the marcher lords. Robert Maxwell, created first Earl of Nithsdale, set about building a new house within Caerlaverock's walls. The result was an elegant modern mansion. Within six years his confidence was betrayed.

The Earl of Nithsdale was one of Charles I’s staunchest supporters, but the king told him to look to himself when the truce with his Scottish subjects broke down in 1640. The Earl carried on resistance against the Covenanting army led by Lieutenant Colonel John Home, garrisoning his castle with 200 soldiers. They gallantly held out for thirteen weeks in the summer of that year until, seeing the hopelessness of their position, they surrendered with the king’s permission. After the 1640 siege, the castle was partially dismantled by the Covenanters and thereafter fell into decay.

See Burke's Peerage & Gentry for additional information

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