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  Posted: 06-Nov-2006, 12:40 AM
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The Clan Maxwell

A Brief Maxwell History

The progenitor of the Maxwells, Herbert de Maccusweil, flourished under the kings Malcolm IV and William I in the second half of the 12th century. He appears to have been Chancellor either of the Abbey at Kelso or to the King himself at nearby Roxburgh Castle. The name Maccusweil is derived from Weil, a fishing pool, and Maccus, a former owner of lands to the south of the river Tweed. It is true to say that the sons of Maccus were living contemporaries of Herbert; however, there is no formal evidence to link them as related. The family of Maccus appear to have names of Norse or Anglo-Scots origin while etymological evidence seems to point to Herbert's forebears being of Norman or at least Anglo-Norman stock.

Herbert’s sons held high office in the courts of William and Alexander II, including that of Great Chamberlain of Scotland, the Sheriffdoms of Roxburgh, Teviotdale and Dumfriesshire, and the Justiciary of Galloway. Their rewards for service were equally rich: the great barony of Caerlaverock on the Solway coast and the lands of Mearns and Nether Pollok in Renfrew and Dryps and Calderwood in Lanark through the judicious marriage to the daughter and heiress of the highly favoured Roland de Mearns.

From these estates sprang the two great branches of the Maxwell family. The northern branch was headed by the Maxwell's of Pollok with their cadets of Calderwood, Newark, Stainley and Auldhouse, and, more recently, Farnham and Springkell. In the south, on the gulf stream kissed coast of the Solway firth, was the mighty Caerlaverock Castle, the great powerhouse of the Lord Maxwell, from whom all other branches of the noble name descend.

Throughout the perilous and trying times of the Wars of Independence, the Maxwells, like many other Scottish nobles repeatedly changed sides. In 1300, their great castle of Caerlaverock was besieged by a powerful English army under Edward I, the event being recorded in great detail by a contemporary chronicler under the title of the Roll of Caerlaverock. Sir Eustace Maxwell embraced the cause of John Balliol and received an allowance from Edward II for "the more secure keeping of the Fortress.” Later he threw his hand in with the Bruce and dismantled his fortress for the Scottish defense, for which he was liberally rewarded by Robert the Bruce. This knight also signed the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320 and went crusading under the good Sir James Douglas with the heart of the Bruce after his death in 1329.

As was usual with border families, the chiefs of the Maxwells were by no means consistent in their course or steady in the allegiance to the Scottish crown; however, they contrived in the end to be on the winning side, and honours, offices and estates continued to accumulate in the family. They became hereditary Wardens of the Western Marches, Stewards of Kirkcudbright and Annandale, Ambassadors to England and Provosts of Edinburgh. About 1445, Sir Herbert Maxwell of Caerlaverock was created a Lord of Parliament, and in 1455, on the forfeiture of the Douglases, he was granted Eskdale and Carlisle, the second title being somewhat dubious as Carlisle remained steadfastly in English hands.

In 1513, John the fourth Lord Maxwell and three of his brothers fell at Floddon, and he was succeeded by his eldest son Robert who grew to be one of the most prominent and ablest men of his age. He certainly stood high in the esteem of King James V, for he was created an Extraordinary Lord of the Session in 1532. In 1536, he was appointed a member of the Council of Regency, and in the following year he was one of the Ambassadors to the French Court who negotiated the marriage of James to Mary of Guise and for whom he espoused as proxy. It was this Lord Maxwell who introduced and secured the bill in the parliament of 1542 that gave the Scottish people the right to possess and read the Bible in the common tongue.

His eldest son was Robert, sixth Lord Maxwell, and it was during his time that the greatly ruinous feud between the Maxwells and their neighbors, the Johnstones, escalated. Johnstone was courted on all sides: by the English, fearful of Maxwells power on the border; by the Regent, who harbored a claim to the lands of Morton; and by the thieves and brigands of the Middle Marches whose activities were curtailed by Maxwell in his Warden role. Under such pressure, Johnstone was finally induced to break his bonds of manrent with the Lord Maxwell and the feud intensified.

Lord Maxwell's younger brother was Sir John Maxwell of Terregles, who, like his father, was a very able man and one of Scotland greatest nationalists. As a young man he had held Lochmaben Castle against the English during Henry VIII's rough wooing. Later, while holding true to the reform church, he became one of Mary Queen of Scots staunchest supporters, which subsequently cost him greatly. Following his brother's early death, he became tutor to his nephews, the infant sons of Lord Maxwell, and was then known by the title “Master of Maxwell,” wielding the mighty forces of the family. During the reign of the Queen and the regency that followed, Sir John called them to arms many times. He married Agnes Herries, eldest daughter and heiress to Lord Herries, and through her came the vast estates of that family to the Maxwells. In 1566, Sir John became Lord Herries, and two years later Queen Mary spent her last days on Scottish soil under his protection.

Lord Maxwell, Sir John's brother, had been married to Beatrice Douglas, granddaughter of James III, daughter and co-heiress to the fourth Earl of Morton. From this alliance, the second and posthumous son, John, eighth Lord Maxwell, was able to push home his legitimate claim to the Earldom, which he secured in 1581. John Maxwell, Earl of Morton, was a less judicial man than his uncle and was often in trouble for his open defiance of the Regent and later King James VI. He was a devout catholic at a time when most of his church were very discreet in their devotions. His untimely adherence to the popish cause lead him to travel to the Low Countries and thence on to Spain where great preparations were being made for the Armada. On his return to Scotland, he roused his loyal followers around his new banner which now incorporated the double headed imperial eagle of the Holy Roman Empire, it being his belief that Spain would attack England through Scotland and so re-establish the old faith in both the kingdoms. Alas for Morton, King James did not share his views and summoned him to Edinburgh where he was imprisoned in Blackness Castle. After the fiasco of the Armada, Morton was released to return home to the feud with the Johnstones which cost him his life at the battle of Dryfe Sands.

His son, also John, was even less disposed to leading a quiet life than his father and greatly endangered the family's estates by his relentless pursuit of revenge for his fathers death. This eventually led him to murder the Johnstone chief, an act for which he was eventually executed. His younger brother Robert was restored in 1620 to the "lands, rents living, teinds, offices and dignities" that belonged to his predecessors. This last patent set forth that Maxwell should go by the title of Earl of Nithsdale. Unlike his brother, Nithsdale was a man of peace. He ended the feud between the Maxwells and Johnstones when he "choppit hands" with Johnstone on 17th of June 1623 before the Privy Council.

The Earl of Nithsdale zealously supported the Royalist cause during the Civil War, and he garrisoned his castles of Caerlaverock and Thrieve in the Kings name, holding out to besieging forces for thirteen weeks. When no relief could be sent, the Earl, with King Charles' approval, surrendered on very favourable terms. However, the nobleman was siezed in 1643, the following year, and he died in exile on the Isle of Man. His son Robert, second Earl of Nithsdale, was restored in 1647 by an Act of Parliament, but the estates of the family were so heavily burdened from losses sustained during the Civil War that he was forces to sell parts of the vast inheritance. The second Earl had no children, and the Earldom passed to his kinsman John Maxwell, Lord Herries, great grandson of the great John, Lord Herries.

William, Fifth and last Earl of Nithsdale was a Jacobite supporter. He "came out" in the 1715 rebellion and was taken prisoner after the capitulation at Preston. He was taken to the Tower of London and brought to trial for High Treason in the House of Lords. After pleading guilty, he was sentenced to death by the Lord Chancellor. On the night before his execution he escaped from the Tower wearing women’s clothing, in a daring plan devised and carried out by his devoted wife. He died in the exiled Jacobean court in Rome in 1744. His only son was restored to the now heavily indebted estates but not the dignities. When he died without male heirs in 1776, the chiefdom passed via the Maxwells of Breconside to a distant cousin, the George Maxwell of Carruchan, who's line died out with his grandson William in 1863. Since then the Maxwells have remained a family without a chief.
Titles and dignities bestowed on the Maxwells:

The Earldom of Morton
The Earldom of Nithsdale
The Earldom of Dirleton
The Earldom of Farnham.

Lord Maxwell
Lord Eskdale & Carlisle
Lord Herries of Terreagles
Lord Elbottle
Lord Farnham.

Maxwell of Pollock
Maxwell of Monreith
Maxwell of Orchardton
Maxwell of Calderwood
Maxwell of Cardoness
Maxwell of Springkell

Castles & Tower Houses owned and warded by Maxwells (some no longer standing):

Dumfries and Galloway
Annan Tower
Barend Tower
Castlemilk Castle
Cardoness Castle
Caerlaverock Castle
Corra Castle
Cowhill Tower
Four-merk-land Tower
Friars Carse
Hills Tower
Hoddom Castle
Langholm Tower
Lochmaben Castle
Maxwells Castle (Dumfries)
Myreton Tower (Monreith).
Orchardton Tower
Preston (Wrieths Tower)
The Isle
Thrieve Castle

And in Strathclyde
Nether Pollok now Pollock House
Mearns Castle
Haggs Castle
Calderwood Castle
Newark Castle
Stainley Castle
Dargavel House

Allied and Dependent Families

On the borders of Scotland, as elsewhere during the turbulent Middle Ages, survival often depended on the protection afforded by the allegiance given to a powerful local noble. In this way, families with claims of ancient heritage to their lands could prevent falling prey to more powerful predatory neighbors. The price of such protection often involved military service with the noble in his quarrels or feuds or if he was required to provide armed service to the crown.

In this way, many families who lived on lands in areas dominated by the Maxwells became associated with them for generation after generation. Thus we would find families traceable to Dumfrieshire or Nithsdale or parts of Galloway or areas in Ayror around present Glasgow who would have ridden to war under the Maxwell banner.

For this reason, Clan Maxwell USA has chosen to include in our Society those families whose roots can be traced to those areas where Maxwell influence was dominant for many centuries. Each family has a notable history of its own, and it is from their collective strength that the power of the Maxwells was derived.

This page links to brief historical narratives on each of the Society’s allied and dependent families.

Pollock (Pollok)

Caerlaverock Castle

Caerlaverock Castle is perhaps more readily identified with Clan Maxwell than any other historical site. Located just a few miles Southeast of Dumfries, Scotland, Caerlaverock was owned by Maxwells and their descendants from the time when the lands were first acquired by John de Muccuswell early in the 13th century. In the later Middle Ages, it was the Maxwell stronghold when the family served as Wardens of the West March. Over the years it was besieged five times, changed hands time and again, and was at least once almost totally destroyed. Yet today its ruins tell of its fascinating past and epitomize the medieval stronghold.

The first castle on the site was built around the 1220s, an earthwork fortification surrounded by a moat in the marshes to the south of the present building. That very basic defensive structure was replaced by a substantial castle, built by Sir Herbert de Maxwell around 1277. It was that structure which was besieged by King Edward I in 1300, the castle’s most famous event.

The castle drawbridge and moat

The siege of 1300 became famous mainly through an epic French poem which told:

“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.”

The old account of the castle’s construction could just as easily be a description of the present structure. And there are still in the castle some remains of that structure which stood in 1300. But most of the “second” Caerlaverock was destroyed about 1312, when Sir Eustace Maxwell, having declared for Robert Bruce, king of the Scots, was besieged by Edward II’s forces and, in keeping with Bruce’s policy of denying the enemy any stronghold which might be useful to him later, demolished Caerlaverock when forced to abandon it.

When the castle was rebuilt is not known, but history tells that Herbert of Maxwell delivered hostages at the castle after submitting to Edward III in 1347. In return, Maxwell received letters of protection for himself, his men, and the castle.

In 1355 or 1356, Roger Kirkpatrick brought all of Nithsdale under the Scottish Crown once more. He captured Caerlaverock and, according to a chronicle of the time, reduced it to the ground; however, the same chronicle contains an entry from the following year saying that the same Roger was killed “at the castle of Caerlaverock. So it is hard to tell specifically when the structure was again destroyed, but signs of a partial destruction are still evident in today’s structure.

Evidence suggests that the next rebuilding of the castle started about 1370. Other additions and changes were made through the years, such as the completion of the bartizan of Caerlaverock by Robert, second Lord Maxwell, who succeeded his father Herbert, the first Lord, in 1452 and lived until 1488.

While the mid-1400s saw the construction of manor houses by the Lords in England, the relative insecurity of the Scottish countryside led to construction of tower houses by the Scottish Lords. The gatehouse at Caerlaverock served this purpose, with a great chamber on the first floor and rooms on the second floor and in the towers.

By the mid-15th century, other buildings rose in the courtyard containing fireplaces and windows. These provided accommodations for guest, while Lord Maxwell’s rooms were closer to the entrance where, when needed, he could command the castle’s defense.

In the turbulent 16th century, the castle changed hands several times between the English and the Scots. Although James V was a guest at the castle in 1542, Caerlaverock was surrendered by negotiation to Henry VIII three years later. It was later besieged and recovered by the Scots, only to be taken in 1570 by the English under the Earl of Sussex who “threw down” the castle. That damage must have been relatively slight, however, because Lord Maxwell was recorded as making “great fortifications” in 1593, having “many men working at his house.”

The 17th century saw even more construction at the castle, with Robert Maxwell, first Earl of Nithsdale, erecting buildings designed for comfort rather than for military fortification. The “Nithsdale Apartments,” as they are now known, are dated by the inscription of “1634” on a window-head of the Renaissance style buildings which are embellished with much fine detail. This was to be the Maxwells’ fine house, but it was not to be enjoyed very long.

Nithsdale apartments inside Caerlaverock Castle

When the truce broke down between King Charles I and the Covenanters in 1640, the king warned the Earl of Nithsdale, who was one of the king’s staunch supporters, to “look to himself.” Accordingly, the Earl gathered 200 soldiers in the castle and withstood a siege for 13 weeks before finally, with the king’s permission, capitulating.

It was following that loss that Caerlaverock was partially destroyed with the intent of rendering it unfit either as a fortress or a residence. The castle has remained a ruin ever since, passing by inheritance through the family of Herries to the dukes of Norfolk. The 16th Duke of Norfolk placed it in the hands of the state in 1946, and it is operated today by Historic Scotland, a government agency which maintains many of Scotland’s historic properties.

The Border Reivers

The period from the War of Scottish Independence, about 1315, until the union of crowns, in 1603, was one of conflict along the border between England and Scotland. Both sides resorted to the use of wardens — royally appointed overseers — to keep things under control. It was seldom a very firm grip on either side of the border.

The term “reiver” probably applies best to the latter part of that period, the mid to late 16th century. This corresponds to a period which included the rules of Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and Mary Queen of Scots. It was the term applied to mounted raiders who stole livestock and goods and engaged in a highly organized “protection racket.” The term “blackmail” in the English language dates from this period.

The term reivers was applied collectively to a number of families who were classed as “riding families:” i.e., they habitually raided on horseback. To “reive” was “to lift” or in the more modern term “to steal.” In the American west, the term “rustle” was used in a similar way. An excellent look at the border culture of the period can be found in the book, The Steel Bonnets, by George MacDonald Fraser. The most notorious of the riding families lived in the Middle March of Scotland, east of the area administered by the Maxwells. As a warden, the Maxwell chief would be charged with keeping the peace and redressing any wrongs charged to people under his jurisdiction. There is no record of Lord Maxwell going reiving, but one can certainly wonder if some of his tenants went along for the rides (and the booty).

Nicknames or bynames may give us an inkling of what colorful characters they were. How would you like to meet a man called “Archie Fire-the-Braes” or “Out-with-the-Sword” or “Cleave-the-Crune (Crown)” on the other end of a 13 foot steel tipped lance? These border riders were a colorful lot. Steel helmets or bonnets, body armor, and propensity for risk-taking made them a fierce and contentious lot.

— Larry Long, Kingsport TN

More on the Border Reivers

Have you ever thought about researching your family tree and joked about finding a bunch of cattle rustlers? Welcome to the Scottish Borders and Border Reivers!

The “Borders” stretch across Scotland from the Solway Firth in the west to Berwick-Upon- Tweed in the east. There, along the borders, you will find the Cheviot Hills and more than a few rivers with names such as Nith, Annan, Esk, Teviot, and Tweed. This is a landscape that varies from salt marshes to the fertile plains of the Merse and from Moss bogs to the bleakness of nature’s own barrier, the Cheviot Hills.

The Borders are divided into three Marches: West, Middle, and East. The Marches were established by the “Laws of the Marches” agreement in 1249. An “appointed” March Warden administered each March, and “appointed” really meant “self-appointed.” The Scottish Warden was usually the Chieftain of the home family, and his principal duty was to keep the peace. He also conducted diplomatic talks with his opposite number or other senior court officials, and he would sometimes lead his Wardenry’s men to war. Often he was first in the fray simply because of geographical position. Running intelligence networks also came within his powers, and as local governor he acted as judge, administrator, inspector and sometimes executioner.

The West March consisted of Stewardries of Kirkudbright and Annandale, and the Sheriffdom of Dumphries. The Warden of the West Marches was most often a Maxwell, with the Dumphries serving both as judicial center of the West March and the Warden’s headquarters. The Maxwells frequently held the Wardenship because of their castles at Caerlaverock, Lochmaben, and Langholm. Caerlaverock, built around 1280, was the Maxwell stronghold, located at the mouth of the Nith River. Langholm Castle was the home of the “Keeper of Annandale,” who was a Captain of the March Warden.

And just what is a Reiver? George MacDonald Fraser best answers the question in his book, The Steel Bonnets:

“The great border tribes of both Scotland and England feuded continuously among themselves. Robbery and blackmail were everyday professions; raiding, arson, kidnapping, murder, and extortion were an accepted part of the social system. While the monarchs of England and Scotland ruled the comparatively secure hearts of their kingdoms, the lance and the sword dominated the narrow hill land between. The tribal leaders from their towers, the broken men, and outlaws of the mosses, the ordinary peasants of the valleys, in their own phrase, ‘shook loose the Border.’ They continued to shake it as long as it was political reality, practicing systematic robbery and destruction on each other. History has christened them the Border Reivers.”

A little wild, a little rambunctious? Hey, they brought new meaning to “free enterprise.” For all of the negatives said about the Reiver, he was a unique persona. The Reiver did not belong to any specific social group, but rather came from all social classes. Reivers were laborers, gentleman farmers, peers of the realm, fighting men, and professional cattle rustlers. The Reiver perfected the “Protection Racket” three hundred years before Al Capone and enriched the English language with words such as “blackmail” and “kidnapping.” Reivers were accomplished at tracking, hiding, and ambush. They could hide a 1,000 head of cattle in one of hundreds of glens and wait for a “Hot Trod” to end.

A “Hot Trod” was a process allowed under Border rules for pursuing one’s pilfered livestock across the border. Riding around in the daytime was dangerous enough, but a posse riding around at night after the rustlers could end up starting a full-scale war. The victim had two avenues of recourse. He could file a complaint with his Warden who was lawfully bound to investigate the crime; however, a more common road was to gather a posse of friends to pursue the thieves. This was colorfully known as “hot trod,” and this is where the rules came in. To insure the safety of the posse, the leader rode at the head displaying a piece of burning turf on a lance, and the pursuers had to inform the first person they met over the Border that they were on a “hot trod” foray. This was supposed to insure their safe passage across the border and back. If the posse caught the rustlers within 24 hours, they could fight to retrieve their livestock. If the posse was unsuccessful, the Reivers went free and the livestock was theirs.

— Philip Johnson, Madison AL

For more information about Border Reivers, point your web browser to: www.reivers.com

Source: Clan Maxwell USA

Mike F.

May the Irish hills caress you.
May her lakes and rivers bless you.
May the luck of the Irish enfold you.
May the blessings of Saint Patrick behold you.

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