There are hundreds of castles all over Scotland, many of which are occupied by Clan Chiefs and their families. Each of these castles have an extensive history spanning hundreds of years, with stories including all sorts of battles, sieges and deaths among many other dramatic goings-on. The history of Caerlaverock Castle is one that is quite interesting, as it suffered many sieges and was re-built on a number of occasions. Today I am going to take an in-depth look into the history of Caerlaverock Castle and their connection with the Maxwell Clan.
The grounds of Caerlaverock were gifted to Sir John Maxwell in 1220 by Alexander II King of Scots, a very basic Castle was built but was shortly replaced by a much stronger version which could withstand the wrath of enemies. However, the castle was destroyed soon after this in a siege in 1312 when King Edward II and his army surrounded the building and brought it crumbling down, the incident was made extremely famous by a French poem:
Caerlaverock was so strong a castle that it feared no siege before the King came there, for it would never have had to surrender, provided that it was well supplied, when the need arose, with men, engines and provisions.In shape it was like a shield, for it had but three sides round it, with a tower at each corner, but one of them was a double one, so high, so long, and so wide, that the gate was underneath it, well made and strong, with a drawbridge and a sufficiency of other defences. And it had good walls, and good ditches filled right up to the brim with water. And I think you will never see a fore finely situated castle, for on the one side can be seen the Irish Sea, towards the west, and to the north the fair moorland, surrounded by an arm of the sea, so that no creature born can approach it on two sides, without putting himself in danger of the sea. On the south side it is not easy, for there are many places difficult to get through because of woods and marshes and ditches hollowed out by sea where it meets the river.
Another re-build occurred in 1370 and was over-looked by the second Lord of Maxwell, Robert, although lasting longer than the first castle this new build soon came crashing down in 1593 after the feud between the Maxwell’s and the Johnstone’s. These two families were the most powerful in the South-West of Scotland at the time and feud had been on-going for over a century before it eventually came to a head. The conflict resulted in the death of John Maxwell, 8th Lord, John Maxwell, 9th Lord and Sir James Johnstone, Chief of Clan Johnstone with the remains of Caerlaverock Castle left in the hands of the Johnstone family. Robert Maxwell, younger brother of the 9th Lord, eventually recovered it in 1617 and the castle was once again re-built in 1634.
It seems the biggest siege was saved until last, as in 1640 Caerlaverock Castle was destroyed for the final time in the longest battle seen on the grounds. Robert Maxwell, as well as his 200 men, were barricaded into the castle by the Covenanters for 13 weeks before Maxwell surrendered. The Covenanters were the people who had signed the National Covenant, the opposition of Stuart Kings involvement in the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. After this final battle, the castle was left to Maxwell’s son but it had been destroyed to such an extent that it could never be used for defence purposes again.
Caerlaverock Castle is extremely unique in terms of its architecture compared to other Scottish Castles, the building has a triangular shape and is almost completely surrounded by a moat, both of these features were put in place to heighten the security, but of course as you know this did not prove successful. Each of the Maxwells that were in reign of the castle made many different changes to make it both more welcoming for guests and more secure against intruders.
The castle and the grounds are open to the public all year long and you can buy tickets through the website, there are even still remains standing left over from the original castle that was built in 1220. If you’re a part of the Maxwell clan you can learn more about them and even buy some products in the family tartan over on our Maxwell Clan Page!