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History of the Burgh of Dumfries
Chapter XVIII


WHEN the news of King James’s death reached his royal uncle, that scheming potentate hit upon a new device for extending his rule over Scotland. This was to unite in marriage his only son, Prince Edward (then little more than five years old), to the infant Queen of Scots. Henry gained over to his views the Scottish lords taken at Solway Moss. To them the prospect of a long captivity in England was the reverse of pleasant; and, in order to avoid it, they came under a written obligation, not simply to promote his matrimonial project, but his desire, through that means, to become the virtual master of Scotland. [Sadler’s State Papers, vol. i., pp. 69, 74, 75.] They were liberated on these degrading conditions, engaging at the same time upon oath to the return to their prisons if they failed in their object, or if required to do so by the King. The terms imposed on Lord Maxwell seem to have been peculiarly harsh. Henry, knowing that he could obtain no permanent hold of southern Scotland unless the Castles of Carlaverock and Lochmaben were garrisoned by English soldiers, pressed their prisoned owner to give them up – plied him alternately with threats and entreaties, but at first without effect; and Maxwell, without submitting to these superadded obligations, was set at liberty. He proceeded to the Court of the Regent Arran, remaining there for some months, and forming at least a nominal member of the English party, whose objects were to promote the ascendancy of Henry and help on the Reformation, as opposed to the Catholic party under Cardinal Beaton, who aimed at maintaining the old corrupt faith and the old French alliance.

The State Paper correspondence of the period supplies a revelation of the compulsory influences brought to bear upon Maxwell when in England – and of the finesse with which he tried to foil the machinations of King Henry. One of the papers, entitled, “The Confeschyon of the Lord Maxfyld,” brings out the curious facts, that Maxwell was allowed to pass into Scotland in the interests of the King, on giving his word of honour to return; that, when there, Arran and his Council strove to induce him and the Earl of Angus to take part against the English army that had crossed the Border; and that the Nithsdale chief, resisting the tempting offers made to him, remained true to his plighted word. They offered, we are told, a thousand pounds in spiritual benefices, and a pension of three thousand francs from the French King, to the Earl; and a thousand merks of benefices, and the money named for his ransom (a thousand merks sterling), to Lord Maxwell. Whereupon the latter answered, “I am the Kingis Majestyis prisoner, trusting ye wyll not have me dysonneryd. But, if I do go, what are you the wekar? But here my frendis do tarry: ye may command them to do seche servys as ye wyll have them; for they be undur youer powyr.” [State Papers, vol. v., p. 428.]

Angus, who, false to his blood and country, was the paid agent of King Henry, declined to be patriotic on such terms; and both of the noblemen were placed in ward, but liberated after the lapse of five weeks – Maxwell, in spite of a requisition made to him by the Regent, declaring that he would return to England, and reasoning thus: “Ar not you Governer? Do I not leve behynd me all my servauntes, all my tenauntes, my landes, and my goodes: what need you fere, whethur I go or tary?” [State Papers, vol. v., pp. 429, 430.] He appears to have advocated the marriage scheme, and in other respects to have fulfilled his promise; but Henry rated his services at little value, and gave him no credit for good faith.

There was another scheme, of lasting interest, which Maxwell seems to have done his utmost to promote – the diffusion of the Holy Scriptures in the vulgar tongue. During his enforced sojourn in England, he acquired a bias towards Protestantism; and if, on his temporary return to Scotland, he had had full liberty of action, the likelihood is, that he would have fairly cast in his lot with the Reformation party, and the house of Maxwell would have been divorced from the old creed, to which in after times it clung so persistently. The period of his return was a critical one, the spring of 1543, when the ecclesiastical edifice was beginning to totter, and men of all ranks to determine whether they would aid in trying to keep it up, or lend their influence to pull it down. Lord Robert Maxwell was ranked with the most reckless of the latter class, when, on the 15th of March, he submitted to the Estates a revolutionary proposal, making it lawful for all “our Soverane Ladyis lieges to possess and read copies of the Bible in Scotch or English.” [Appendix G.] Arran, the Regent, approved of the measure, so did the Lords of the Articles. Beaton would have opposed it to the uttermost, had he been outside the prison to which Arran had consigned him; and, in his absence, Gavin Dunbar, Archbishop of Glasgow, cried it down as a pernicious device. A reference was made to Tyndale’s English version, with the view of showing that it, at all events, was free from any poisonous ingredient; and all the answer made by the Most Reverend Father was, that Tyndale had corrupted the text by using the word “love,” instead of the canonical term, “charity,” in the well known passage, “Now abideth faith, hope, and love.” With feeble argument, but bitter hatred, the prelates opposed Lord Maxwell’s bill. It was sanctioned by Parliament in spite of them; and soon a Government proclamation, read to the Market Cross of Edinburgh, announced that it had become law. By this act the fountain of truth was unsealed, and its refreshing waters were made free, for a time at least, to all. “This was no small victory of Jesus Christ,” says Knox, “fighting against the common enemies of his verity; no small comfort to such as before were holden in such bondage, that they durst not have read the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, nor the articles of the faith, in the vulgar tongue, but they should have been accused of heresy. Then might have been seen the Bible lying almost upon every gentleman’s table. The New Testament was borne about in many men’s hands. We grant that some, alas! prophaned that blessed Word; for,” adds the historian, with a flash of the peculiar humour that sometimes lights up his page, “some that perchance had never read ten sentences in it, had it most common in their hand, they would chap their familiars on the cheek with it, and say, ‘This hath lien under my bed-feet these ten years!’ Others would glory, ‘O how oft have I been in danger from this book! how secretly have I stolen from my wife at midnight to read upon it!’ And this was done, we say, of many to make court and curry favours thereby: for all men esteemed the Governor to have been one of the most fervent Protestants that was in Europe. Albeit we say that many abused that liberty granted of God miraculously, yet thereby did the knowledge of God wonderfully increase, and God gave his Holy Spirit to simple men in great abundance: then were set forth works in our own tongue, besides those that came from England, that did disclose the pride, the tyranny, and the abuses of that Roman Antichrist.” [History, p. 77.]

We learn from Keith, that though the Earl of Arran took certain steps for promoting the success of Lord Maxwell’s wise measure, he could not summon up sufficient courage to identify himself thoroughly with the leaders of the Protestant movement – the Lords of the Congregation. [Keith, p. 37.] Soon afterwards he fairly deserted them – “turning his tippet” (to use a phrase then in vogue), and appearing as a flaming Romanist.

From Lord Maxwell as the enlightened advocate of religious freedom, to the same nobleman the pining captive of a tyrant king, there is a painful transition. Before the year ended, Maxwell was again in durance, experiencing the exactive demands of the English monarch. The correspondence already specified shows that he resisted them resolutely for a lengthened period, till a threat of sending him to the Tower was tried, under which he fairly broke down. The Earl of Hertford, writing to Secretary Paget, on the 29th of July, 1545, states that the harassed prisoner was reduced to so great “a perplexitie and hevynes, that he coulde neyther eate, drynke, nor sleepe” – that he was ready to serve as a red-cross English soldier, if required, rather than be sent southward, from which, if once there, “he knewe well he shuld never returne on lyve.” [State Papers, vol. v., p. 479.] The threat was not enforced, as its mere emission served the purpose for which it was designed.

It was arranged that Lord Maxwell’s second son, John, who held Lochmaben Castle, should at once give it up to the English, and that, on a future day that was fixed, the liberation of Lord Maxwell, and the surrender of his other fortress, Carlaverock, should take place contemporaneously; the eldest son, Robert, giving personal security for his father’s good faith. But Robert Maxwell, instead of fulfilling the bargain, made a raid across the Border, accompanied by his uncle, John Maxwell of Cowhill; and both had the ill-luck to be captured by the enemy. The next step was to despatch Cowhill with letters from Lord Maxwell to his second son, John (afterwards the celebrated Lord Herries), soliciting the latter to repair to Carlisle, and lie in pledge for his father, and enjoining him to deliver the house of Lochmaben into his uncle’s hands.

The result is narrated by the Earl of Hertford, in a letter to Sir William Paget, dated Newcastle, 5th October, 1545. He refers the Secretary to an inclosure from Wharton, conveying the unpalatable information that Lord Maxwell’s practices for the surrender of his houses “cometh to nothing” – his second son declining to give them up, or become hostage for his father. Not only so, Cowhill, safe on the Scottish side, a willing captive among his countrymen, refuses to come back. “So,” says the wrathful Hertford, “can I judge non otherwise of the same, but that yt is a mere practice and devise of the said John Maxwell of Cowhill, whereby, being a prysoner, and appoynted to retorne agayne into England furthwith, in case John Maxwell, sonne to the Lorde Maxwell, wold not accomplishe the tenour of his letter, he may nowe excuse his entrée, and saye that he ys taken and holden against his wille.” The noble Earl proceeds to express his belief that the Scottish Lord himself is privy to all this deceit, and is selfishly bent on acquiring his liberty, and at the same time keeping his castles.

In a second letter, dated a few days afterwards, addressed by Hertford to the Privy Council, he expresses more confidence in Lord Maxwell, and repeats a statement made by him, to the effect that the house of Carlaverock, being his own inheritance, and in keeping of a priest his kinsman, he doubteth not, with the help of Lord Wharton, so to handle the matter that the said priest shall deliver the place to any one duly authorized to receive it for the King’s Majesty’s use; and that, this being done, should his Highness send him home, he feels assured that he will be able to put him possession of Lochmaben also, and reduce the whole country to his obedience.

Hertford consulted with Wharton on this important business; and his report of their interview is so interesting, that we must introduce its principal passages. “To the first he [Wharton] said the, that uppon the West Marches of Scotlande, the countrey of ytsilf being a wylde and waste grounde, there is no exployte to be don uppon that frontier nerer than Drunfreys, whiche is twentie miles within Scotlande, except that he shuld make a rode yn to overthrowe and caste downe a certen chirch and steple called the Steple of Annandale, which is a thinge of litle importaunce and lesse annoyanunce to the enemye. And to go to Drunefreyes, he sayeth the countrey is so stronge of nature, and the passages thither so straight and narrowe, that he thinketh yt over harde and dangerous to be attempted with a Warden’s roode. So that, by his saynge, the West Marches of Scotlande being so bareyn a countrey, and alredy wasted by the conteynenance of the warres, ther is non exployte to be don there other then aforsaide. To the seconde poynt: for Carlaverok we have also devised with the said Lord Wharton and the Lord Maxwell howe that matier may be accomplished. And after some reasonyng and communication therof, wherin outwardly the said Lord Maxwell showeth himsilf very ernest, he hath taken uppon him that, yf he might have lycence to go to Carlisle with the said Lorde Wharton, that in case the priest that kepith the house for him woll at his sendyng comme to him to Carlisle (whereof he putteth no doubte), that then he will so handell the matier, as he doubteth not but the house shal be delyvered into the Kinges Majestes handes.”

Accordingly, Maxwell and Wharton proceeded to the Border city; “and,” Hertford goes on to say, “because the said priest had the charge of the said house of Carlaverok commytted unto him by Robert Maxwell, and for that yt may be that he woll do as moche or more for Robert Maxwell then for his father, as the Lord Maxwell himself doth also suppose, the said Robert was therefore called to this matier; and showyng himself no les desirous to serve the Kinges Majeste, both in this matier and all other wayes to his power, then his father, he hath by the devise to me wrytton to the said priest one letter, requyrying him furthwith to make his entrée to Carlisle for the discharge of his band, because he is a prysoner, and the said Robert Maxwell bound for his entrée whensoever he shall be called; and an other letter he hath also wrytton to be delyvered by his father to the priest at his commyng to Carlisle, whereby the priest shall perceyve that the said Robert ys bothe willing, prevye, and consenting to do in all things as his father woll devise for the delyvere of the said house of Carlaverok to the Kinges Majestie. An nowe, because you shall knowe what ys thought emonges us here to be the best waye to come by the said house, yt is devised, that ymediatly uppon the commyng of the said priest to Carlisle there shall be a convenyent nombre appoynted to go with him furthwith to Carlaverok in the night tyme, to receyve the house; and the priest shall never be out of theyr handes till the house be delyvered, wherin yff he shall make any staye of difficultie, he shall be sure to dye for it – which is also a pece of the Lorde Maxwelles owne devise.”

On the 28th of October [In the Duirnal of Occurrents, a manustcript of the sixteenth century, in possession of the late Sir J. Maxwell of Pollok, Bart., and printed by the Bannatyne Club, the following entry occurs under date 28th October, 1545: - “The Lord Maxwell delyvert Carlaverok to the Inglishmen, quhilk was great discomfurt to the cuntrie.”], the banner of England once more floated above the turrets of Carlaverock; an adventurous soldier, Thomas Carleton, of whom we shall afterwards hear much, being entrusted with its defence. His office was no sinecure, as we learn from a report sent by Wharton to the King, dated on the 28th, in which he informs his Majesty that the Lairds of Johnstone, Drumlanrig, and Lochinvar had, with the countrymen of Nithsdale, Annandale, and Galloway, beleaguered the fortress, and that he had in vain tried to relieve the garrison. Wharton, in a second letter, dated on the following day, furnishes his royal master with a curious, but not very correct, topographical sketch of the great Border stronghold and its vicinity. “It may please your Highness to understande,” he says, “that the Castle of Carlaverok standdithe from your Highness citie of Carlisle 28 myllis, as the same must be passid with a powre [army], wherin er many strait passagies, amongst which one is called Lokermosse, thorowe whiche mose is maid a way with earthe, whereupon ther may pase foure men in renk, and not above; and within fyve houres, no gret nombre of folkes may cutt the same earthe and dam the passage; and if that may be dammyd, then the powre must be carried 8 mylles about. The same mosse standdith 4 mylle of the sidde Dunfreis. The powre must pase within a mylle of the town of Dumfreis: so that, albeit the Castle of Carlaverok standithe nerer Carlisle then Dumfreis, yet the passaig of the wayes, having noon other by lande thene is aforsaid, makithe the same furder from Carlisle then Dumfreis is. And if the weyther chaunce so contagious [stormy] as at this present it is in these parties, ther can no watters be passid for a day or twoo, having dyvers great rivers between Carlisle and Carlaverok.” Wharton further informs the King that he had engaged a number of boats capable of holding from four to six men each, or three hundred in all; but that they “can not cume nere the lande at Carlaverok by more than a mylle, except at a hie springe and a full sea;” and the owners of the little craft did not care to venture on the troubled waters of the Solway at that time of year.

In a third communication, dated the last day of the same month, Wharton tells his Majesty that a spy from Carlaverock had informed him that the Laird of Johnstone and his colleagues had received a letter from the Scottish Regent, thanking them for their services against the defenders of the castle, and exhorting them to continue in good cheer, as he meant to join and reward them on the following Tuesday. Wharton also intimates that he intended, at the head of two hundred horsemen, “within three or foure nightes, to prove ane enterprise for the comfort and relief of Thomas Carleton, and the others that servythe your Majestie in the holde.”

We know, rather by inference than from any direct statement, the result of all these machinations on the part of King Henry, and of the operations to which they gave rise. Wharton succeeded in reinforcing the garrison of Carlaverock: the castle was held by the English during the whole winter and spring; it surrendered to the Regent in May, 1546, and was eventually restored to Maxwell. That unfortunate lord did not long survive the harsh treatment given to him by the King, and the torturing abasement to which he had been brought. When set at liberty with his friends, a written instrument of protection was furnished to them, available “so long as they should serve the King truly;” and the next glimpse we get of him is in the “Diurnal” [Diurnal, p. 41.], which states that, about the close of October, the Regent held a council with Cardinal Beaton, the bishops and abbots, where it was resolved: “That all maner of men should meet the Governour at Carlaverok, with ten days’ victuall,” on the 2nd of November; that, on the army going thither, it was found to have been vacated by the English; that, on the 21st of November, the Scottish force captured Lochmaben (which had, like Carlaverock, been given up to the enemy), and set siege to Thrieve, which latter hold “was in my Lord Maxwell’s handis,” and “was gevin over tua or thrie dayes after, be appointment;” that Lord Maxwell was had to Dumfries, with certain Englishmen, as a traitor; and that the Laird of Garlies had been made Captain of Thrieve, and the Laird of Lochinvar, Captain of Lochmaben.

Traitor, undoubtedly, Lord Maxwell was; but his new captors, knowing the trying circumstances in which he had been placed, showed him great forbearance. He executed an instrument of protest, dated at Dumfries on the 28th of November, 1545, declaring that his surrender of his castles, and his engagements with the English, had been wrung from him under terror of his life; that he was truly loyal at heart; and that he would live and die a faithful subject of Queen Mary. [Terregles Papers.] All his faults were freely forgiven; and, as a proof of the renewed confidence placed in him by the Scottish Government, he was soon after appointed Chief Justice of Nithsdale, Annandale, Kirkcudbright, and Wigtown, and received commission again as Warden of the Western Marches, on the 3rd of June, 1546. [Ibid.] What availed the honours thus heaped upon him? His lease of life, shortened by the sufferings he had undergone, was about to close. On the 9th of the following month, Robert, the fifth Lord Maxwell, was numbered with the dead. The elements of his nature were “antithetically mixed,” and his life was full of inconsistencies; but his services to Protestantism must be accepted as a set-off against his political faults. As the first of Scottish statesmen to recognize the right of his countrymen to read God’s revealed Word in their own language, he occupies an honoured place in history. The Scottish army at Solway Moss was emphatically a Papal host; but the conquerors there did less harm to Romanism that the captives taken by them after their return to Scotland. From this point of view, the rout, which in the long run promoted the cause of the Reformation, was the reverse of disastrous; though in other respects, as we have seen, it was ruinous and disgraceful.

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