Origins of the Clan

The name is taken probably from Maccuswell, or Maxwell, near Kelso, Scotland, in the barony of Holydean. The name Maxwell originates from Maccus, a Norse chief and son of Undweyn, who gave his name to Maccuswell, a pool of the river Tweed near Kelso bridge. A grandson of Maccus, John Maxwell, became chamberlain of Scotland before dying in 1241, to be succeeded by his brother Aylmer. From Aylmer sprang many branches of the family throughout the south-west of Scotland.



Wars of Scottish Independence

Sir Herbert Maxwell won great fame by defending his Caerlaverock Castle against King Edward I of England in 1300. During the Wars of Scottish Independence the Clan Maxwell supported King Robert the Bruce and fought at his side at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, under the clan chief of Eustace Maxwell. Herbert, the succeeding clan chief was knighted by King James I of Scotland for his services to the crown. Another Sir Herbert Maxwell was made a lord of the Scottish parliament before 1445.



16th Century Anglo Scottish Wars & Clan Conflicts

His great-grandson John, 3rd Lord Maxwell, was killed at the Battle of Flodden Field fighting against the English in 1513 during the Anglo-Scottish Wars. The fifth Lord Maxwell intrigued with King Henry VII of England, although by 1542 King James V of Scotland had appointed him warden of the marches and an Extraordinary Lord of Session. Maxwell was captured by the English at the Battle of Solway Moss in the same year.

The Clan Maxwell fought on the side of Mary, Queen of Scots at the Battle of Langside in 1568.

Robert’s great-grandson John, 7th Lord Maxwell (1553-1593), was the son of Robert, 6th Lord Maxwell (d. 1554), who was son of the 5th Earl and his wife Beatrix, daughter of James Douglas, 3rd Earl of Morton. After the execution of the regent James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton, in 1581 this earldom was bestowed upon Maxwell, but in 1586 the attainder of the late earl was reversed and he was deprived of his new title. He had helped in 1585 to drive the royal favorite James Stewart, Earl of Arran, from power, and he made active preparations to assist the invading Spaniards in 1588.

His son John, 8th Lord Maxwell (c. 1586-1613) succeeded as chief of the clan. The Clan Maxwell was often at feud with their neighbours the Clan Johnstone who had killed his father in a battle. The feud came to a head on the 7 December 1593 at the Battle of Dryfe Sands near Lockerbie. The Clan Maxwell army approached the Clan Johnstone town of Lockerbie. Johnston kept most of his men hidden, just sending a handful of men out on horse back to taunt and provoke the Maxwells. The Johnstones attacked taking the Maxwells by surprise. The Clan Maxwell fared badly that day and their chief Lord Maxwell who was one of the most powerful people in southern Scotland was slain. It is said that 700 Maxwells were killed but this may have been an exaggerated number. Many were wounded by downward sword strokes known as “Lockerbie Licks”.

The Maxwells were also at feud with the powerful Clan Douglas over the Earldom of Morton, which he regarded as his inheritance. After a life of exceptional and continuous lawlessness he escaped from Scotland and in his absence was sentenced to death; having returned to his native country he was seized and was beheaded in Edinburgh.



17th Century & Civil War

In 1618 John’s brother and heir Robert (d. 1646) was restored to the lordship of Maxwell, and in 1620 was created Earl of Nithsdale, surrendering at this time his claim to the earldom of Morton. He and his son Robert, afterwards the 2nd earl, fought under James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose for King Charles I during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. Robert died without sons in October 1667, and his cousin John Maxwell, 7th Lord Herries (d. 1677), became third earl.



18th Century & Jacobite Uprisings

William, 5th Earl of Nithsdale (1676-1744), a grandson of the third earl, was like his ancestor a Roman Catholic and was attached to the cause of the exiled House of Stuart. In 1715 he joined the Jacobites and was taken prisoner at the Battle of Preston; he was sentenced to death and imprisoned in the Tower of London. However with the assistance of his wife, he disguised himself as a serving woman. The couple fled to Rome where the earl died in 1744.




      Carlaverock Castle was the seat of the chief of Clan Maxwell.

      Threave Castle was owned by the Clan Maxwell between 1526 and 1640.

      Maxwell Castle was built in 1545 but destroyed by the English in 1570.

      Newark Castle, Port Glasgow was built by the Clan Maxwell in the 15th century.

      Haggs Castle was owned by the Maxwells from 1585 to 1972.

Pollok House, the seat of the Maxwell Baronets of Pollok, is now of international importance, as it houses the world-famous Burrell Collection in its grounds.

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