The Siege of Caerlaverock Castle: A Herald’s Eye-Witness Account

Whilst out on my castle hunting road trip a few weeks ago through southern Scotland and northern England, I took the time to visit many historic sites relating to the fourteenth century, and Edward I and II in particular. Caerlaverock is just one of them with a particularly exciting story.

Caerlaverock castle sits in a strategic position on the Scottish border with England just north of the Solway Firth. Edward I exerted his claim of English overlordship of Scotland in the early 1290’s, and after subsequently removing king John Balliol in 1296, Edward spent intermittent years campaigning there attempting to secure English rule by subduing any remaining Scottish resistance. That resistance was greatest in Dumfries and Galloway. By 1300, the king was determined to bring those who opposed his direct rule to heel and headed, with his sixteen year old son the Lord Edward who later became Edward II, and an English army of 87 knights and 3,000 men-at-arms, north to conduct a campaign of subjugation. Caerlaverock castle and it’s garrison was one of the first to meet Edward’s wrath. Defence of the castle owned by Herbert Maxwell, who was not in residence at the time, fell to Robert de Cunningham, valet of the Steward of Scotland with a garrison of just 60 men. Edward ordered siege engines from Lochmaben, Carlisle, Roxburgh, Jedburgh and Skinburness.(1) What happened next in the summer of 1300 was inevitably bloody.

Rather amazingly, the detailed events were recorded by a herald in the king’s army. His account, or poem, remains the most detailed of all accounts of a medieval siege in fourteenth century Britain. Below is some of that poem and it’s a fascinating read.

A Herald’s Account

‘In our Lord’s year thirteen hundred on St John’s day at Carlisle Edward held great court, and ordered that all men in [a] little while should prepare to march on Scotland, ‘gainst his foemen of the north. Ready were they to the hour, and the good king led them forth. Not in coats and surcoats rode they, on their chargers dearly-bought, but well armoured and securely, wary of surprise assault. There were richly broidered trappings of Or silk or satin made, many a lovely lance-head pennon, many a banner proud displayed. Far was heard the horses neighing; far-flung o’er hills and vales were the sumpter beasts and wagons bearing stores and tents in bales. Through fair days, by easy journeys, moved the host in squadrons four. Hear the roll of the companions, and the banners which they bore.

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‘Shield-shaped, was it, corner towered, gate and draw-bridge barbican’d, strongly walled, and girt with ditches filled with water brimmingly’.

…Mighty was Caerlaverock castle. Siege it feared not, scorned surrender wherefore came the king in person. Many a resolute defender, well supplied with stores and engine, ‘gainst assault the fortress manned. 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. There the host, at the king’s bidding, was reformed in squadrons three, which the harbinger best suited; there the banners could see bravely spread; and many a warrior trying out his horse’s pace; there stout men-at-arms three thousand; and aglow was all that place with gold, silver and rich colours. Those who watched us from the tower well might think that greater peril never faced them till that hour. Where the Marshal set quarters, houses on all sides appeared not by carpenters and masons builded, but of cloth upreared; many were their forms and colours, and by many a taut cord held; many a peg in earth was driven; many a tree for huts was felled; and to strew within the lodgings; eaves and herbs and flowers were culled. Timely came the ships with stores and engines; then the foot-men bold forward with discharging arrows, bolts and stones against the hold; but so fiercely the defenders sent these tokens back again that in one short hour were many maimed and wounded, many slain.

When the warriors saw the footmen in their onslaught so dismayed, with all haste, for speech not staying, ran they – let they to their aid. Then were seen such hurtling stones as cap and helms would pound to dust, shatter shields, and batter targets; kill and wound was now their lust; and great shouts arose whenever any damage was revealed. First came Bertram de Montbouchier, who on shining silver shield bore three pitchers, red in colour, in a bordure black, with bezants; with him Gerard de Gondronville, active knight of handsome presence – wholly vair the shield he carried. Not in idleness remained these, but many a stone cast upwards, many a heavy blow sustained. Some were Bretons, some Lorrainers-none the other recreant found, and from their example courage did in others hearts redound. Then FitzMarmaduke with banners and a full forceful tail of good bachelors and chosen, came the castle to assail. Robert Willoughby, I saw there, bearing gold and fretty blue; also Robert Hamsart ready, with a gallant retinue – scarlet with three stars of silver bore he on his shield. Henry Graham showed a saltire argent on a blood-red field, and therewith a chief of silver charged with three red scallop-shells. Thomas Richmond bore on scarlet a gold chief and two gemells. He, too, raised a force of lances, but they showed not sense nor care, and, as though inflamed by arrogance and blinded by despair, to the very bridge advancing there admission loud did claim. Straightaway in huge stones and heavy defenders answer came! Shield disdaining, Willoughby received a bolt within his breast. Resolute FitzMarmaduke endured as much as all the rest, standing like a stock, his banner marred by many a stain and tear. Hamsart fought so fierce that fragments of his shield flew in the air. Upwards these their missies hurtled, while with many a heavy blow rained upon their heads, the castle’s guardians sought to lay them low. Graham’s men returned not scatheless, for unhurt or shields unbroken were but two. With these were mingled many king’s men, but unspoken be their names and gallant actions, or my tale were never done.

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Strengthened were they by the meinie well-equipped of the king’s son, with new-painted shields and splendid, burnished caps and helmets ashine, gambesons of divers fashions with silk, cloth and cotton fine. And I saw there Ralph de Gorges, new-dubbed knight and high of heart, struck down and again by boulders, yet disdaining to depart – mascally of gold and azure were his harness and attire. Robert Tony sorely harassed, often forcing to retire those who on the walls were posted; with him, Richard Rokeley bravely fought; his shield was painted red and ermine mascally. Well and strongly were the walls assailed by Adam de la Forde, showering stones like heavy rainfall, whereby many men were gored; he bore three crowned lions rampant gold upon a field of blue. Many a blow the Lord of Wigtown suffered that the marvel grew how he stood unstunned – was none more resolute or dismayed; he in an indented border three gold stars on black displayed. One de Kirkbride was by many great and crushing stones assailed, but he set his shield before him, white with a green cross engrailed. Stoutly, he and his the portal smote as smiths their hammer wield, while huge stones and bolts and arrows rained upon them till they reeled, wounded, wearied, and scarce able to find strength to crawl away.

Respite none the foe affording, Clifford then without delay sent his banner, and therewith Bartholomew de Badlesmere, John de Cromwell, and such others as would best behave them there; these, while breath they had, stooped, gathered, and cast upward stone on stone, but their presence the defenders of the keep would not condone. Badlesmere, who well and bravely bore himself the whole day through white, a fess ‘twixt two red gemelli carried with a label blue. Dodging through the flying missiles, Cromwell – handsome man and bold – sure, bore a white lion rampant double-tailed and crowned with gold; battered and defaced, his shield was, by the stones ere he withdrew. Next La Warde and John de Grey came, the contention to renew; ready found they the defenders with their bows and springals charged.

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‘The Roll of the Siege of Caerlaverock’ held by the British Library

Bravely then the Lord de Bretagne’s people to the onslaught surged; fierce as mountain lions were they, and their weapons wielded well, gaining soon the castle gateway – but could not so quickly quell those who kept it that none others in the labour had a share. After them, Lord Hastings’ forces rallied to the fight and there saw I John de Creting’s peril when one crept beneath his steed stabbing at it with an arrow – him the rider struck with speed; on his white shield Creting painted a red chevron with three molets. Bearing in an azure shield a dancette or and golden billets, John Deincourt rushed to the onset, and his duty well achieved. There the galant brothers Berkeley many grievous blows received; and the brothers Basset – ermine, chief indented gules, they bore, with three moles gold the elder, and the younger scallops or. Great the press, but the defenders stubborn still the portway kept,for as one fell out exhausted, to his place leapt; never thought they of surrender, and the fray continued fierce day and night and morn ensuing, even to the hour of tierce. All day long did Brother Robert those within the castle fret grievously with stones incessant hurtled from the robinet, while against the walls he lifted three more engines of great power, devastating in their action, such that neither fort nor tower could withstand their mighty pounding. Still the foe unflinching stood until lifeless some were smitten; then at last their stubborn mood wavered, and dismay possessed them; for that man a missile found, not steel cap nor wooden target could protect from grievous wound. Now no longer could they suffer and a pennon held aloft, sign that they for peace would parley; but an archer sent a shaft piercing him who held the pennon through the hand into the face; and he begged them to forbear him, for he sought to yield the place to the king, and all within it to his mercy and his grace.

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. Joyous was the host in conquest; and the king his banner bade, with St Edmund’s and St George’s and St Edward’s be displayed; and with them, by right established those of Segrave, Hereford, and him trusted with the keeping of the castle – Lord Clifford. Then the war-wise king directed how the army should be led, by what roads and by what passes, through the hostile land ahead. Here finishes the siege of Caerlaverock.’

Despite it’s capture, Caerlaverock remained in English hands until 1312, falling under Scottish ownership held by Sir Eustace Maxwell during the reign of Edward II. Ultimately, English claim to overlordship would fail as the fourteenth century played out.

 

Notes

‘The Roll of Arms of the Princes, Barons and Knights who attended King Edward I to the siege of Caerlavrock castle in 1300’ – British Library. Cotton Caligula A VXIII f.23 V30

Translation by C.W. Scott-Giles for The Heraldry Society (1960)

(1) Caerlaverock Castle Guidebook, Historic Scotland (1995), 26

Images

Feature and Image One – under Creative Commons

Image Two: ‘Side View’ (Author’s Collection)

Image Three: ‘Roll’ – (Author’s Collection)

 

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Twitter: @SpinksStephen


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