–––––– Castle of the Month February 2017 ––––––
Caerlaverock Castle is a romantic and picturesque ruinous old medieval stronghold, set in a peaceful location some miles from Dumfries in the south of Scotland and long held by the powerful Maxwells for hundred of years until finally besieged and slighted in 1640.
Dumfriesshire: About 7.5 miles south and east of Dumfries, on minor road south of B725, about 0.5 miles north of the Solway Firth, at Caerlaverock Castle.
HES NY 026656 OS: 84 DG1 4RU
OPEN: Open all year: Apr-Sep, daily 9.30-17.30; Oct-Mar, daily 10.00-16.00; closed 25/26 Dec and 1/2 Jan; last ticket sold 30 mins before closing. Tearoom in castle visitor centre (open same days
as castle, except closed Tue & Thu from Nov-Mar). Weddings.
Tel: 01387 770244 Web: www.historicenvironment.scot
Caerlaverock estate. Tearoom and shop at Glencaple.
Colour photo as captioned © Tom Wolf, www.tom-wolf.co.uk
Once a formidable fortress and still a magnificent ruin, Caerlaverock Castle consists of a triangular courtyard with a gatehouse at one corner, round towers at the others, and ranges of buildings between, all still defended by a wet moat with ditches and embankments beyond the moat.
The gatehouse has two tall round towers, pierced by many gunloops, flanking the entrance, and was reached by a drawbridge over the moat. It was given heavy machicolations in the late 15th century. The basement is vaulted, and a tall late 15th-century stair-tower has been added. A fine vaulted hall occupied the first floor.
One of the round towers, Murdoch's Tower – so called because Murdoch, Duke of Albany, was imprisoned here before execution in 1425 – remains to its full height, but the other was demolished to foundations. The curtain wall, on this side, was also dismantled.
There were ranges of buildings on each side of the courtyard. Little remains of one side, but the other ranges survive to the wallhead. A fine Renaissance range, the Nithsdale Lodging, built in 1634, has two large chambers on the first floor over barrel-vaulted cellars. The windows are large and are surmounted with elaborate carvings.
‘Carlaverock’ is marked on Blaeu’s map of Nithsdale.
Near the castle are the late 12th-century foundations of a rectangular castle [NY 027655] with corner towers on a mound and defended by a ditch.
The present castle was built in the 13th century by the Maxwells, and was captured by the English in 1300, after a siege by Edward I of England, the event being commemorated in a poem in medieval French ‘Le Siege de Kalavreock’. The Scots fought bravely but were still all executed, according to one version. The castle was held by the English until 1312, when the keeper Sir Eustace Maxwell joined the Scots. He successfully resisted an English attack, but afterwards slighted the castle.
In the 1330s, the castle was repaired. Herbert Maxwell submitted to Edward III of England in 1347, and in 1357 Roger Kirkpatrick captured the castle for the Scots, although Kirkpatrick was later murdered here. In 1425 Murdoch, Duke of Albany, was imprisoned in one of the towers which now bears his name, Murdoch’s Tower. There was further rebuilding in 1452-88 by Robert, 2nd Lord Maxwell. He added the machicolated parapets to the towers, and remodelled the gatehouse. John Maxwell, 4th Lord Maxwell, was slain at the Battle of Flodden in 1513.
Sir Robert Maxwell, 5th Lord Maxwell, was made Warden of the West Marches in 1515, and was Captain of the Guard and Provost of Edinburgh in 1524, as well as Gentleman of the Bedchamber. James V visited the castle prior to defeat at Solway Moss in 1542. The castle was surrendered to the English in 1545, as part of the negotiated settlement, but was later recaptured by the Scots. Maxwell was captured at the battle, although he was soon released, but died the following year. Caerlaverock was recovered but was slighted by an English force led by the Earl of Sussex in 1570.
The Maxwells had a bitter feud with the Johnstones, and this came to battle in 1593 near Lockerbie and the Maxwells were routed and John Maxwell, 8th Lord, was slain. His eldest son, John Maxwell, 9th Lord Maxwell, was executed in 1613 for murdering Sir James Johnstone, chief of the Johnstones, and his property was forfeited. It was recovered by Robert Maxwell, his younger brother, in 1617 and he was made Earl of Nithsdale in 1620. The castle was remodelled again in 1634.
In 1640, Maxwell and his garrison of 200 men surrendered the castle to a force of Covenanters after a siege of 13 weeks. The castle was then reduced by demolishing much of the curtain wall and one corner tower, and unroofing the rest. Maxwells died two years later, but his son Robert Maxwell, recovered the property and earldom in 1647. The Maxwells moved to Terregles, then to Traquair House. The estate passed by marriage to the Herries family, then to the Dukes of Norfolk.
By the late 18th century, the ruin was already popular with visitors, and the Duke of Norfolk transferred it to the care of the State for consolidation in 1946. There is a nature trail around the castle.
The castle was used as a location in the 2011 film The Decoy Bride, starring David Tennant, Alice Eve and Kelly Macdonald (sigh).
The Caerlaverock estate, covering some 5,200 acres and encompassing a National Nature Reserve, has a range of activities including bird watching, wild fowling, cycling, walking, and there is a tearoom and giftshop at Glencaple. The estate is owned by Lady Mary Mumford, who was given the estate by her father, Bernard Fitzalan- Howard, 16th Duke of Norfolk.