UK Travel Guide


Caerlaverock Castle

Description: The site at Caerlaverock has been fortified for millennia. The Romans had an outpost here, and the remains of one of their camps lies just to the west. Caerlaverock Castle is first mentioned in records in the 1220’s. This was a wooden fortification some 200 metres 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. It was built by the Maxwells who were one of the most important families in Scotland at that time. In 1296 Edward I of England invaded Scotland and forced many Scots to swear allegiance 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 and Caerlaverock was one of the prime targets for his wrath. The siege of Caerlaverock is well documented by a member of the besieging army. Edward came with 87 knights and 3000 men. Siege engines were brought 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 from the castle walls and the rest were allowed to walk free. The castle remained in English hands until 1312. The keeper of the castle for this period was 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 Bruce's policy of destroying all strongholds 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 caused 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, He 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. In 1593, Robert, eighth 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 VI acceded to the English throne as James I. 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 after himself when the truce with his Scottish subjects broke down in 1640. The Earl carried on with the resistance against the Covenanting army led by Lieutenant Colonel John Hume, garrisoning his castle with 200 soldiers. They held out for thirteen weeks in the summer of that year until they surrendered with the King’s permission. After the 1640 siege, the castle was partially dismantled by the Covenanters and thereafter fell into decay.
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Notes: The castle is open to the public all year round. Telephone 01387 770244 for more details. There is also an archeological dig nearby which is exploring the site of an earlier castle on the site. It is unique in the U.K. in that it is the only castle built on a triangular plan.