Caerlaverock Castle

I spent some time in the Dumfries and Galloway region of Scotland last week, and whilst I was there I took the opportunity  to visit Caerlaverock Castle. It’s an unusual castle as it is triangular in shape.

It is the second castle at Caerlaverock. An earlier castle was situated slightly nearer to the coastline and was a traditional rectangular shape. It was built by Sir John de Maxwell on the site of a timber manor house. In 1266, Sir Herbert de Maxwell, John’s nephew, became Lord of Caerlaverock and he began the building of the new castle.

Caerlaverock was besieged by Edward I in 1300. Although it was a relatively minor incident in the wars between England and Scotland, it is well known because of the account written by a herald in Edward’s army.

Shield-shaped, was it. corner-towered, gate and draw-bridge barbican’d. strongly walled, and girt with ditches filled with water brimmingly. Ne’er was castle lovelier sited : westward lay the Irish Sea, north a countryside of beauty by an arm of sea embraced. On two sides, whoe’er approached it danger from the waters faced; nor was easier the southward — sea-girt land of marsh and wood: therefore from the east we neared it, up the slope on which it stood.

This description sums up its situation beautifully and is still relevant today. The approach by road is from the eastern side and you’d still be hard pressed to reach it any other way.

The poem also includes descriptions of all the heraldic flags carried by the English. It is in the Caerlaverock Roll, that Henry de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln is described: Henry the good Earl of Lincoln, heart aflame with valour sure, led the van, his silken banner saffron with a lion purpure. I think this is the first written evidence of the de Lacy lion.

The account also says that 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.

However, when Edward’s army attacked in 1300 there was a garrison of just 60 men, led by Robert de Cunningham, valet to the Steward of Scotland. The Maxwells were not in residence at the time. Edward’s army numbered 87 knights and 3000 men. So it’s not surprising that within two days the garrison surrendered. Word to cease the fight was given by the Constable and Marshal, and the garrison submitted, and delivered up the Castle. Of all ranks, but sixty left it — marvelled we they were so few; life and limb the good King spared them, and gave each a garment new.

For a full translation of the poem and illustrations of the heraldic banners this is an excellent link: https://www.theheraldrysociety.com/articles/the-siege-of-caerlaverock/

3 thoughts on “Caerlaverock Castle

  1. Purple is a Royal color. Could you comment on how Henry de Lacy was able to use that color on his standard?

    1. Purple was certainly a colour only the wealthy could afford and it showed status. It is associated with royalty but it was later kings who introduced sumptuary laws that forbade anyone but royalty to wear it. The royal heraldic banners have never used purple as far as I’m aware. They are mostly red and gold. But it wasn’t only the purple on the de Lacy banner that denoted wealth. It was the yellow too. It was ‘saffron dyed’ and saffron was very, very expensive.

      1. Thanks, it caught my attention but makes sense now.

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