The Lords Maxwell

The twenty or so generations of direct male lineage known as the Lords Maxwell were the chiefly line of the Maxwell family from the birth of the name in the twelfth century with Herbert de Maccusweil to the fifth Earl of Nithsdale and William his son in the eighteenth century. We have looked at Herbert and his son Aymer elsewhere on this site so we now deal with Sir Herbert de Maxwell of Maxwell, Caerlaverock and Mearns. This noble was firmly in the camp of John Balliol who was his overlord in the Southwest. He was also Judiciary of Galloway and to further complicate things he was also the Sheriff of Dumfries. These powerful posts enriched Herbertís power but pulled him in two opposing directions during the wars of independence.  John Balliol became the puppet King of Scots in 1292 under the auspices of Edward I, but went to war with the English in 1295,. The Ďrebellioní was put down by the English king with alarming speed as the Scots nobles fought amongst themselves

Herbert and his son John were amongst the many who swore fealty to Edward in 1296 which was true to their Anglo sympathies in light of their only being two or possibly three generations removed from the Norman/English court themselves.  In 1300 the English besieged Caerlaverock. It is not known if the Maxwells were in command of it at the time but some six years later they were compensated by the new King Robert the Bruce for it being disabled. Sir Eustace Maxwell was head of the family by this time. He was still uncertain as to where his loyalties lay. He had on one side of him the English in Annandale under the Earl of Northampton and the deposed king, John Balliolís family and supporters on the other. King Robert I eventually prevailed and the country was again at an uneasy peace. Sir Eustace was one of the knights who accompanied Ďthe goodí Sir James Douglas when he took the heart of Robert the Bruce to the Holy land after his death in 1329 and is reputed to have been the knight who recovered the heart in its silver casket from the battlefield in Spain where the mission floundered and Sir James was killed.

In 1333 King David IIís army was defeated by Edward III of England at Halidon Hill. The English army was supported by Edward Balliol, son of the deposed King John, who Edward had crowned King of Scots. After the defeat, Sir Eustace Maxwell sided with his old overlords family and for some years supported the usurperís crown but when David returned to Scotland in 1340 he reverted to his former loyalty. He died in 1342 and was succeeded by his brother Sir John. Sir John Maxwell was with King David at his defeat at Nevilles Cross in October 1346 and was taken prisoner with his king. He died in captivity within the year and his son Sir Herbert became Lord of Maxwell.  Herbert was restored to Caerlaverock by the English king in 1347 having first sworn fealty. In 1353 William, Lord Douglas invaded Galloway and crushed the Balliol supporters finally. Sir Herbert quickly reversed his loyalty to the captive King David and died a few weeks later. He was succeeded by his brother Sir John and the Maxwell Lords were ever loyal to the line of Bruce thereafter. The Balliols then disappear from history and the Douglas family became the principle power in the south-west with an adherent Maxwell family in their train.

Archibald Douglas the Grim, a son of the good Sir James Douglas was conferred in the Lordship of Galloway when Robert II mounted the throne in 1371. Under Archibald, Sir Johnís son Robert Maxwell became, Steward of Kirkcudbright and with Archibald and the Earl of Douglas threw the English out of Annandale in February 1384. The English army returned to Scotland later that year under John of Gaunt and burnt Edinburgh and other towns on the Eastern border. But a huge army under Douglas countered and burnt Carlisle and Durham, two cities of greater value than all those in Scotland. Sir Robert Maxwell rebuilt Caerlaverock and fortified it again reprisal attacks but the English were on the run and the Scots under the Douglasís raided into England on a regular basis despoiling the land and returning with a great wealth of booty. The Lords of Maxwell gained greatly under their warlike overlords in an uncertain time in dangerous lands.

It is probably a good time to explain something of the rank and title of the Lords of Maxwell. Up until this time the head of the Maxwell family is known as Lord of Maxwell. That is, that he is the Lord of the lands of his paternal barony of Maxwell in Roxburghshire. He was also the Lord of Caerlaverock, the barony and castle of that name in the county of Dumfries, but sometimes he was deprived of this holding and so is not always known as such. These lordships are not however Lords of Parliament or Barons as in the modern sense of the word but are old Scottish Baronies and Lordships. In addition to these two principle baronies they were lords of the lesser baronies of Mearns in Renfrewshire and Pencaitland in the county of Haddington. All young men of rank were knighted and therefore know as Sir John or Sir Robert etc. This said, Sir Robert Maxwell of Maxwell, Caerlaverock, Mearns and Pencaitland was a very important Scottish noble of the first order and amongst the thirty most powerful men in Scotland.

Sir Robertís son Sir Herbert, was created a Lord of Parliament around 1440 as Lord Maxwell. In the 1420ís the Douglas power in the Southwest was beginning to fail as jealous Lords close to King James took advantage of the absence of the Earl of Douglas who had ventured to France at the head of 10,000 men for the service of the French king, Charles. There he was killed in battle in 1424 and Galloway came under the power of his mother, Margaret, sister of James I. The powerful Douglas family had many cadets but as each came to lead the mighty house they were cut down by the power hungry courtiers that surrounded the monarch. William, the eighth Earl of Douglas was the last of his house to hold absolute power in the Southwest in 1452 he was summoned to Stirling by James II and murdered by James and his supporters at a banquet. Upon the ashes of the fallen Douglas family the Lords Maxwell rose to power.

Copyright © 2001 Maxwell World Web & George Anthony Maxwell

This article is as yet unfinished and will be completed in due course.