Caerlaverock Castle

A Scottish Masterpiece – Caerlaverock Castle

Caerlaverock Castle

Caerlaverock Castle in Scotland is certainly a sight to behold that will capture the imagination of absolutely everyone. It’s unique and never seen before shape is enough to leave any person in a state of awe considering how unique and prosperous it seems. People describe Caerlaverock Castle as something out of a movie and say it is essentially a triangular masterpiece set right on the southern coast of beautiful Scotland.

To make this stunning castle even more impressive than it already is, the entirety of the castle is surrounded by a rugged green moat which definitely makes Caerlaverock castle fairy tale quality. On top of all of the beauty already there, Caerlaverock Castle has another beautiful and poet take on it, this time regarding its name. Caerlaverock means ‘fort of the skylark’ (from caer meaning fort; and the old English laewerce meaning lark).

The history of an ever-winding tale of two castles that began many, many centuries ago. It stands perfectly right on the frontier of Scotland and England and is considered to stand on an incredibly turbulent spot due to the long-lasting rivalry of both countries. 

Caerlaverock Castle in Scotland surrounded by a mote of water
Caerlaverock Castle in Scotland. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Caerlaverock Castles history

Contrary to popular belief, Caerlaverock Castle was not the first fortification built on the land it currently stands on. In fact, fortifications on that exact spot have been recorded from around 950 when the Romans finally withdrew from Scotland.

The area of Caerlaverock was then controlled by the lords of Nithsdale who then proceeded to build a small fort near the site of the present castle. However, the earliest mention of the lands of Caerlaverock was back in 1160 when they were given to the monks of Holm Cultram Abbey. Caerlaverock became a fortress in the 12th century and controlled access to the Scottish territory when the Scots lost control of their Cumbrian possessions.

Then, around the year 1220, Alexander II of Scotland granted the lands to Sir John Maxwell, which, in turn, made him Warden of the West March. From 1231 to 1233, Sir John Maxwell also served as the Chamberlain of Scotland and soon got to work on building the ever so stunning Caerlaverock Castle in Scotland.

The early history

Caerlaverock Castle in Scotland was first built many centuries ago in the 13th century on the very edge of the Caerlaverock National Nature Reserve. The beautiful Caerlaverock Castle was a stronghold of the Maxwell Family from the inception of the castle right up until the 17th century. When Sir John Maxwell began building the beautiful castle, he built it in a fairly basic timber form that really wasn’t very impressive, it was essentially just a timber manor.

Unfortunately, the new castle he had proudly built was prone to flooding and was very small, so soon after, it was abandoned for a newer castle to be built several hundred metres away from the original. There are talks that the early remains of the castle may have been abandoned before completion in favour of a rock outcrop some 200 metres (660 ft) to the north.

It was after this time that Sir John Maxwell’s brother Sir Aymer Maxwell, began construction of the beautiful and eerily romantic castle that stands grandly up until the current day. Sir Aymer Maxwell also served as Chamberlain between the years of 1258 until 1260 and was also Justiciar of Galloway in 1264. It had a beautiful moat with an amazing bridge facing to the north, however, only the rugged foundations and the remains of a wooden enclosure around the area from the previous castle still remain to this day.

Then, in the 1270s the new Caerlaverock Castle was finally completed and Sir John Maxwell’s nephew, Herbert Maxwell, began to occupy Caerlaverock Castle.

Turmoil begins

No great castle is complete without a history of turmoil, and Caerlaverock Castle certainly didn’t leave out that part of its rich history. In 1292, Edward I of England successfully invaded Scotland and leading Scottish nobles swore oaths of loyalty. Sir Herbert Maxwell, nephew of Sir John Maxwell was one of them, however, it didn’t take him long at all to become tired of being ordered around by Edward I and resent all that he had brought to the table.

Aerial view of Caerlaverock Castle in Scotland surrounded by a mote of water and green grass
Aerial view of Caerlaverock Castle in Scotland. Source: Wikimedia Commons

In 1300, Edward I of England decided to invade the south-east of Scotland and Caerlaverock Castle, unfortunately, became a target of his for an assault. There was a possibility that the remembrance of this siege could have forever been lost in history, however, luckily, a certain English herald, who remains unnamed, decided to keep a sufficient, real-time, colourful, and descriptive account of the event and anything that unfolded. Thankfully, that is the only reason that these days we have a recollection of the siege of Caerlaverock Castle.

Edward wasn’t ever willing to come over and lose any battles, so with him, he brought an army containing 87 knights and over 3,000 soldiers with him to the large siege of Caerlaverock Castle. The Maxwells, who had been given advice under their chief Sir Eustace Maxwell, had begun to mount a vigorous defence of the castle which successfully repelled the English several times. The English certainly came prepared and for two days straight, they stood outside Caerlaverock Castle and launched projectiles throughout the castle and also attacked the gates several times.

There was no point for the garrison to continue fighting, so instead, after the siege, they had to surrender reluctantly. Afterwards, everybody found out that it was only a group of sixty men who had been withstanding the entirety of the English army for a considerably large amount of time. The English successfully held Caerlaverock until the year 1312.

In more recent years, performances go forth and re-enact the siege to give people an insight as to what would have happened back then and because it is one of the most fascinating sieges ever to be recorded for any castle in the British Isles.

Another siege begins

After the siege was finished, possession of the castle was once again restored to the Maxwell family, this time to Sir Eustace Maxwell who was Sir Herberts son. Sir Eustace Maxwell was the one who at first embraced the cause of John Ballio and then in 1312 received an allowance of £20 for the more secure keeping of the castle from Edward II. Afterwards, he gave in his adherence to Robert Bruce which then meant that his castle underwent a second siege by the English which has thankfully unsuccessful.

There was then fear that began to arise around the stronghold falling into the hands of the enemy which would, in turn, enable them to make good their hold on the district. This made Sir Eustace Maxwell dismantle what was left of Caerlaverock fortress, service and sacrifice for which he was liberally rewarded by Robert Bruce. Sir Eustace Maxwell once again switched sides and began to support Edward Balliol in around 1337 when the castle was inhabited again.

Dismantling the castle seemed to be of interest to a lot of people because, in 1355, Sir Roger Kirkpatrick of Closeburn successfully captured Caerlaverock in honour of David II of Scotland and went forth to dismantle the castle even further.

Rebuilding Caerlaverock Castle

Once the Wars of Independence had finally ended in the 14th century, the Maxwells once again took back possession of the ever so beautiful Caerlaverock Castle and Sir Robert Maxwell then went forth and rebuilt most of the castle between 1373 and 1410. Then, in the 15th century, even more work was done to the castle by Robert, 2nd Lord Maxwell which likely involved the reconstruction of the gatehouse, though this hasn’t ever been confirmed. Then, in around 1500, a new west range was added within the walls.

Mary, Queen of Scots. Source: Wikimedia Commons

After Mary, Queen of Scots had her forced abdication in 1567, the Catholic Maxwells then took up the cause. Once again, Caerlaverock Castle fell on unfortunate times when it was once again besieged by an English Protestant force led by the Earl of Sussex. During this time, it was again partly demolished, which included the sad destruction of the gatehouse using gunpowder. Again, in 1593, it underwent even further repairs by John, 8th Lord Maxwell who done a great job of fixing up the castle which involved building up the gatehouse for defence against the Johnstones of Annandale, with whom the Maxwells were feuding.

Unfortunately, it was the Johnstone’s who would then kill the 8th Lord during a big fight at Dryfe Sands. Then, in 1613, the 9th Lord Maxwell sought out to kill Sir James Johnstone as a form of revenge, he was then executed for this terrible revenge murder. After this, there was one last pinch of misery for Caerlaverock Castle and it was once again besieged. The second siege which was in 1640 came out of Lord Maxwell’s loyalty to Charles I during his struggles with the Covenanters. Before surrendering, the garrisons held out for around 13 weeks.

Once this was all over, Caerlaverock Castle was stripped of all its valuable fixtures, fittings, and also its large curtain walls so that it would never again be used as a place of defence.

Highlights of Caerlaverock Castle

With Caerlaverock Castle being as beautiful as it is, there is no doubt that it has some amazing highlights! Let’s take a look at some of its most fascinating, intriguing, and simply awe-inspiring highlights of this stunning castle that will broaden your mind and make you add Caerlaverock Castle to your bucket list.

  • Caerlaverock Castle Wedding– Caerlaverock Castle acts not only as a beautiful steppingstone in Scotland’s history but also as a stunning wedding venue for all of those castle lovers around the world. Caerlaverock is one of Scotland’s finest historical ruins, so there are many reasons as to why you should use this beautiful space as your wedding venue. Imagine your bridal party arriving over a beautiful drawbridge, yes, please!
  • Caerlaverock Castles Corner Campsite– If you are somebody that enjoys peace, tranquillity, and a sense of freedom, the Caerlaverock Castle Corner Campsite could be exactly what you are looking for right now. It is ideal for anyone looking for a simply delightful getaway to a glorious place where there are no worries or stresses, only peace. It is away from all of the other commercial campsites, so it is far more stress-free and much less noisy.
  • The surrounding areas of Caerlaverock Castle– If you though this beautiful castle couldn’t get any better, it is also surrounded by a town full of rich history and other sightseeing opportunities that you definitely don’t want to miss out on. It is a beautiful historical experience for the whole family.

You may enjoy reading about other castles in Scotland such as Glamis Castle.

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