Topic: Caerlaverock Castle information
posted 02-26-2001 10:33 PM
I'm writing a book series for young teens and am looking for information about Caerlaverock castle. I've searched the web, gone to my local library, and questioned people at a highland festival, with little success.
What I'm looking for is a detailed history - battles, people who lived there, etc.
This would be my second book topic with little available information. The first the Pleistocene and Smilodons.
Thank you SO much for your help!
Sonja A.K.A. Sonyfish
posted 02-27-2001 01:28 AM
The estate upon which the castle stands was granted to Sir John Maccuswell third of the Maxwell line and first of Caerlaverock, about 1220. This was adopted as the principal seat of the Maxwell family for the next four hundred years.
Sir John immediately began to build a castle on the estate. This was situated in the woods some 200m south of the present castle. Of this, only a grassy mound, surrounded by a silted-up moat survives, with small stretches of stone work hidden beneath the grass. Excavations took place on this site in 1978. There is evidence of a harbour on its south-west side, linking it with the Solway Firth. The site was only occupied for a short while, as it was found to be entirely unsuitable, being too close to the salt marshes. Within fifty years it was abandoned and work was begun on a new castle on the present site.
By this time, Sir Herbert de Maxwell had succeeded, as the fifth Maxwell and third of Caerlaverock, and it was he who began the work on the new castle around 1270. With the estate so close to the border with England, it was inevitable that the Maxwells would get caught up in the power struggle between England and Scotland, starting with the invasion of Edward I in 1296.
In the aftermath of the invasion, Edward I forced many Scots to swear allegiance to him. Among them were Herbert de Maxwell and his son John. But the Scots soon began to resist their new English overlord. Edward I was undaunted and in 1300 he invaded Galloway, one of the strongest centres of resistance. Caerlaverock was a prime target for the English King, and although it was a marginal incident in the turbulent events at the time, the siege of the castle became one of the best known military operations of the war. A member of the besieging army wrote a detailed account of it.
“Caerlaverock was so strong a castle that it feared no siege before the King came there, for it would never have 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 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 to the brim with water.
And I think you will never see a more 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 no easy, for there are many places difficult to get through because of woods and marshes and ditches hollowed out by the sea where it meets the river.”
Edward I came with eighty-seven knights and three thousand men and pitched their camp. The siege engines were sent for, which arrived from the castles of Lochmaben, Carlisle, Roxburgh, Jedburgh and Skinburness. The siege was not protracted and Lord Maxwell’s garrison of sixty men soon surrendered. Some were hanged from the castle walls, while some were allowed to walk free.
The castle remained an English stronghold until 1312, and the keeper of the castle at that time was Sir Eustace Maxwell, seventh of the Maxwell line and fifth of Caerlaverock. He demonstrated the ability to make the most from both sides of the Border. In 1312 he obtained remission of a debt from the English King of £22, no doubt considered a small price for his loyalty. This was followed by his immediate loyalty for the Scottish King, Robert the Bruce. The Scottish King later forgave Sir Eustace a debt of £32 and granted an annual rent for “demolishing the castle” in line with Robert I’s wider policy of removing all strongholds that could be used by an invading force.
The accession of David II (Robert Bruce’s son) to the Scottish throne in 1329 and the re-opening of hostilities between Scotland and England, was the signal for Sir Eustace Maxwell to change allegiance once again. The traditional loyalties of the Maxwells were to the Balliols and not to the Bruces, and when in 1332, Edward Balliol was crowned Scottish King at Scone, Sir Eustace repaired Caerlaverock and placed it at the new King’s disposal. The history of the castle thereafter is unknown, until about 1356, when Roger Kirkpatrick is recorded as having returned the whole of Nithsdale to the Scottish Crown, and in the process, captured the castles of Dalswinton and Caerlaverock by force, demolishing them to the ground.
Despite their pro-Balliol stance during the prolonged wars with England, the Maxwells retained their estate at Caerlaverock. With peace restored, the task of rebuilding the castle began, and much of what remains today dates from this time. The rebuilding was a lengthy affair and seems only to have been completed in the late 15th century. By this time Herbert Maxwell (thirteenth of the Maxwell line) had been created the first Lord Maxwell, a new inheritable title of rank below that of Duke and Earl. Robert, second Lord Maxwell, may have been responsible for completing the work. Before work finished, the gatehouse had been strengthened and the domestic accommodation greatly improved. The machicolated parapets crowning the castle walls and finely carved details in the west range probably date from this time.
Caerlaverock figured again in conflicts between Scotland and England in the 16th century. In 1542 James V visited the castle before the Battle of Solway Moss, which resulted not only in defeat for the Scots but in the capture of Robert, fifth Lord Maxwell, by the English. Released shortly thereafter, Lord Maxwell was captured again 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 by the Earl of Sussex. Although it was said that he “threw down” the castle, there is little evidence in the structure for this demolition. In 1593, Robert, eighth Lord Maxwell, was recorded as making great fortifications and having many men work at his house.
James VI accession to the English throne as James I in 1603 brought peace to the border country for the first time in centuries. At Caerlaverock, Robert Maxwell, twenty-second of the Maxwell line and tenth Lord, was created the first Earl of Nithsdale, and built a new house within the castle walls. Being a staunch supporter of Charles I, he was forced to defend himself when the truce between the English king and his Scottish subjects broke down in 1640. The Earl bravely carried on the resistance against the Covenanters, who were led by Lieutenant-Colonel John Home. The Earl’s garrison was comprised of two hundred soldiers, who gallantly held out for thirteen weeks during the summer. However, seeing the hopelessness of their position, they surrendered with the King’s permission. Caerlaverock had by now changed hands between the Scots and the English more times than any other castle, with the exception of Berwick.
After the siege the castle was partially dismantled, this time without reprieve. The castle fell into decay, becoming only a feature of interest for visitors. One such visitor was Robert Burns in 1776, who left his mark on the south wall of the hall in the gatehouse. The castle passed by inheritance through the family of Herries to the Dukes of Norfolk, and the sixteenth Duke placed it in State care in 1946. The modern bridge over the moat replaces a drawbridge, which was raised by means of a chain passing through the square hole, high above the apex of the inner arch. This was itself the replacement of an earlier drawbridge, which worked on a horizontal axis like a see-saw. The gate between the towers was recessed, the pointed arched doorway representing its original line.
The moat in front of the castle entrance was excavated in 1958. Remains of three phases of medieval bridge were found. Tree-ring dating subsequently showed that the first bridge was built about 1277, that it was repaired in the 1330s and then replaced by a new one about 1370.
The great towers that flank the gate both have their origins in the 13th century. Two-thirds of the western tower is built from the finely jointed ashlar so typical of that time. The eastern tower has few traces of earlier work, but seems to date mostly from the 15th century. The 15th century also saw the building of the outer arch of the gate, together with the chamber above for the windlass working for the portcullis. The effect was to make the facade of the drum towers and gate into a smooth line. This was complemented by the elaborate machicolations at the wallheads. The picture was completed by the addition of a caphouse over the gate in the 16th century.
The variety of openings in the towers enabled the defending garrison to cover the whole approach. The wide-mouthed gunholes were inserted in the 16th century.
The gatehouse, with its two great drum towers, fulfilled several roles. It provided an imposing entrance into the castle; the upper storeys initially housed the main residential accommodation for Lord Maxwell and his family; the remainder was used as guard rooms, storage vaults and a prison.
The entry is through a narrow passage. The approach to this is dominated by a large stone plaque bearing the arms of the Maxwells, inserted in the 17th century. Beyond this the passage was defended first by a portcullis, the slot for which can be seen behind the first arch. Immediately behind it the check for a door can be seen. Next is the pointed arch, which was the front of the gateway in 1300. Above that is a fine shovel-ended arrow slit. Behind is an earlier portcullis slot, disused since the outer one was added in the 15th century. The passage walls are essentially 13th century and although the inner end of the passage has lost its original arrangement, there would have been an inner door as the final barrier into the castle. Within the passage, doors lead off on either side to guardrooms and from them into the basements of the towers.
To the right is the west guardroom. It has a small fireplace and is largely early work, except for the round-headed doorway inserted in the 15th century to give access into the basement of the tower. The ground floor of the tower seems not to have been accessible from the guardroom originally, but was probably reached by a trap door from the floor above and possibly served as a pit prison. The floors are now missing from the tower. All the floors were originally made of timber, although the ground floor later had a stone vault added. At first floor level are the remains of three original windows. The two that looked north have been blocked with later masonry - one as a result of new additions to the gateway in the 15th century. At first and second floor levels are original doorways leading into latrine closets. All the doorways from the tower into the main part of the gatehouse tower above first floor level have been replaced at some time, probably when the upper part of the tower with its fine rib-vaulted roof was added in the 15th century.
The east tower echoes the west. It is more difficult to disentangle the building history of this tower because it has collapsed and been rebuilt at least once and possibly twice. Traces of the early build can be seen to the left of the door from the guardroom. The ground floor of this tower has also had a rubble stone vault inserted as well as the gun holes. The ancient timbers stored in this chamber are from the drawbridge found during excavations in the moat during 1958. The upper floors have all been of timber and the capping vault, although of similar date to that in the west tower is much simpler.
The inner court was the heart of the castle, always bustling with life. When the castle was first built the outer walls were lined with timber buildings. These have all been replaced with stone buildings, reflecting the increasing desire for comfort and display. Access to the first floor of the gatehouse was originally by means of a wooden stair from the inner court on the west side of the gatehouse. This was replaced in the 15th century by a stone stair tower giving access both to the gatehouse and to the west range. The existing steps are modern.
The upper floors of the gatehouse provided living space for the lord, his family and personal servants. The lord’s hall occupied the whole of the first floor. The original room is now hard to imagine for it has been much altered. The fireplace was at the east end and was larger than the present opening, which is a 17th century replacement. The hall was lit by windows onto the inner court. The western side of the west window is intact, but its eastern jamb and the entire eastern window have been altered. The low arch in the north wall is the blocked entrance to the original portcullis chamber.
The chambers above the hall were reached by a stair at the west end of the hall and the upper rooms in the two towers were entered from the chambers in the gatehouse. All these rooms provided additional private accommodation for the lord and his family.
The major reworking of the gatehouse in the 15th century provided an upgrading of the apartments. Improvements were made to the windows; a double-fronted cupboard was inserted in the west wall; the stone vault was replaced by a less lofty timber ceiling; the portcullis chamber was blocked off. The crosswall was a 16th century insertion and the final touches were added to these rooms in the 17th century when the main fireplace was again altered. A door was then added at the east end of the hall, to allow access to the new apartments built along the east and the south curtains of the castle.
The ranges along the east and south curtain walls were built about 1634 by Robert, first Earl of Nithsdale. His wish was to build a house in the modern style. Security was no longer a priority as the large windows slapped through the east curtain wall and looking over the moat, confirm. The public rooms in the south range were spacious and well lit and the chambers in the east range were designed for comfort and privacy. The contrast to the medieval rooms in the gatehouse is obvious.
The east range consists of two apartments on each of its three floors. The rooms are awkward shapes because they had to be fitted round the central chimneystack serving the kitchen on the ground floor. Each room has a fireplace, the two on the first floor being the most elaborate. Most of the chambers are provided with latrine closets.
At the south end of the range is a broad scale-and-platt stair. Although the steps are modern, its form demonstrates the grand style of the new lodging. The stair led up to the first floor of the south range, which is now almost entirely missing. The hall took up much of the ground floor of the south range, with the withdrawing room to its west.
A doorway at the bottom of the grand stair leads into the ground floor service rooms in the east range. These barrel-vaulted rooms were, in the order you pass through them, the servery, which now has a small display of carved stone from the castle, the kitchen, with its great fireplace, and lastly the bakehouse, with an oven in the corner of the fireplace and a well in the floor. The fireplace was rebuilt in modern times with an additional central pier to support the weight of the chimneystacks above.
The facade of the Nithsdale Lodging is best appreciated from the inner court. Only the east range stands to its full height but the hints of grandeur noted on the interior are confirmed in full by this magnificent Renaissance exterior. When complete, it demonstrated the perfect symmetry, which is one of the hallmarks of Renaissance design. The triangular tympana over the ground floor doorways and windows contain heraldic achievements associated with the Maxwell family, whilst the segmental tympana above the upper windows depict themes from classical mythology. The quality of all the work is very high.
At either end of the south range was a round tower. The south-east tower has largely collapsed but the south west tower, known as Murdoch’s Tower, still stands to its full height. It is said to take its name from Murdoch, Duke of Albany, who is recorded as having been confined there in 1425. The ground floor is now entered by a modern doorway but it was formerly reached only by a trap door in the floor above, suggesting its use either as a cold store or as a pit prison. The first floor was entered from a passage in the south curtain wall and the second floor directly from the wall-walk on the west curtain wall. None of these rooms has fireplaces and their function seems to have been military. The three small windows on the first floor have traces of narrow arrow slits below them. These can be best seen from outside the castle. The second floor has two similar windows, but the top floor has larger windows and a door leading into the west range which was built against it in the 15th century.
The plain facade of the west range is in stark contrast to the grandeur of the facades of the Nithsdale Lodging. It was built against the west curtain wall some time after 1450, but its southern end has largely gone. The two storey block has three rooms on the ground floor - each entered separately from the inner court - and apparently had two at the upper level. Each room has a decorated fireplace, except the larger room on the upper floor, which has two. This suggests its former use as a great hall or banqueting room. There was no internal stair linking the two floors and the upper floor was presumably reached by a stair at either end.
The west curtain wall is complete to wallhead, with few openings in its length. The section, which adjoins the west gatehouse tower, was rebuilt in the 14th century and is of slightly different character to the tower. Where the two meet, projecting latrine shoots discharged into the moats. The curtain wall itself has 13th century work in its lowest courses, below the upper, chamfered plinth, and above it is a dressed rubble wall of simple character, topped off with a wall-walk with a latrine near Murdoch’s tower. The later work is probably the result of the rebuilding necessary after the 1356 siege. Murdoch’s Tower has original masonry at the base but the tower was rebuilt early in the 14th century. The machicolations on Murdoch’s tower like those elsewhere, date from the 15th century.
The south curtain wall has almost entirely gone, but the east curtain wall survives substantially intact. It has a widely splayed base, unlike the west curtain wall and this may indicate a more thorough rebuilding in the first half of the 14th century. The upper part of the wall was heavily altered by the insertion of the large windows lighting the Nithsdale Lodging. Like the west curtain wall, the section of wall immediately south of the gatehouse tower was built in the 14th century, with its wallhead machicolations added in the 15th century.
Taken From :
Doreen Grove – Caerlaverock Castle – Historic Scotland, First Edition, 1994; Second Impression, 1995.
Nigel Tranter – The Fortified House in Scotland - Volume 3, South-West Scotland – James Thin, First Edition, 1962; Reprinted, 1986.
Mike Salter – The Castles of South-West Scotland – Folly Publications, First Edition, 1993.
The broken stones, the ruined walls,
'Tis few who know where hist'ry falls.
[This message has been edited by AJR (edited 02-27-2001).]
posted 02-27-2001 07:12 AM
Thank you very much for your help! I am truly impressed by your kindness.
posted 02-28-2001 07:08 AM
I have photos and some historical information available on the following page:
The historical stuff is nowhere near as detailed as AJR synopsis though!
posted 11-25-2006 08:36 PM
What stone was used in Caerlaverock ???
-Julie age 11