Castle of the Week 84 – Caerlaverock

Welcome to Caerlaverock in the south of Scotland, near the Solway Coast and 7 miles south-east of Dumfries at Bank End on the B725 road. Here slumbers the unique ruin of Caerlaverock Castle, a formidable medieval stronghold. With its triangular shape, it is one of the best examples of medieval castle architecture in Scotland. The countryside surrounding it is covered in marshy willow woods, making it difficult to access the castle. Protected by its double moats and imposing battlements, this castle was the protector of the south-west of Scotland.

Entering the imposing entrance gate accessed by the drawbridge, you pass between the two large towers measuring 26 feet in diameter. A high curtain wall, around 2 meters thick, would have gone around the castle and connected the back towers. The broad inner moat still holds water that surrounds the castle’s foundation, and earth ramparts separated it from a second moat, guarded by a higher ring of earth. You can easily see this in the aerial photo. Though providing resistance to advancing armies, the castle was not immune to the attack of trebuchets and cannon fire. The attacking force could easily destroy the castle from a distance, which history records happened more than once.

The land for Caerlaverock was granted to Sir John de Maccuswell in 1220; a first castle was started and remains have been excavated by SUAT for Historic Scotland. But for reasons unknown that first castle was abandoned and the nephew of Sir John started building the castle you see today on a rocky outcrop about 200 meters from the first building.

In 1300, Edward I of England invaded Scotland in his war against Scottish King John; Scotland bravely resisted under the leadership of Sir William Wallace. Edward attacked the castle with siege engines, 87 knights and 3000 men. Caerlaverock surrendered, and the castle was held by the English until 1312. A re-enactment of this siege was held in July 2000, marking the 700th anniversary of the siege.

The Maxwells’ loyalty to the Scottish crown was reason enough for Scottish forces to besiege the castle in 1356. The castle was rebuilt in the latter 1300s to 1400s, but by 1544 it was captured by the English and again in 1570.

After 400 years of sporadic war, Scotland and England were united by the death of Elizabeth I of England. In March 1603, James VI of Scotland becames King James I of England, and unified the two crowns under the Stewart dynasty. During this peace time Robert Maxwell, the Earl of Nithsdale, added in what must have been luxurious, three-storey living quarters. A new hall and other apartments were also added on the south side. In Classic Renaissance style, the doorways and windows were decorated with heraldic stonework associated with the Maxwell family.

But peace was not to last and, just six years after adding the quarters, the Royalist Maxwells held out against a 13 week siege by the Covenanters before they finally surrendered. The devastation caused that summer is the devastation you see today. Caerlaverock was never rebuilt.

In the late 18th century the castle became a popular site to visit, and it was given to the state in 1946. It is now under the care of Historic Scotland. Today you can visit Caerlaverock and see medieval siege engines, nature trails that go to the first castle, a children’s play park and a visitors’ center.

A sincere thank you to Marko Tjemmes, webmaster of
Pictures are copyrighted by Marko Tjemmes and used with his permission.

Write-up provided by Lady Arcola.