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Ferniehirst Castle
Chapter VIII - Border Families, Houses & Names
Maxwell


The West March (now Dumfries-shire) was the stamping-ground of the Maxwells, who are probably descended from Maccus, son of Undwain, living near Melrose in the reign of St. David I. (d. 1153). Herbert de Maccuswell, his son, seems to have been Sheriff of Roxburghshire about 1241. Herbert’s son John acquired Caerlaverock Castle (subsequently the family fortress), but was buried at Melrose in 1241, and was succeeded by his brother Aymer, who was still alive in 1265. Aymer was in turn succeeded by his son Sir Herbert Maxwell. who may have been killed at Falkirk in 1298, or possibly died a couple of years later from the consequences of a wound suffered there. His grandson Sir Eustace Maxwell was among the signatories of the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320. By now the family were established at Caerlaverock; the first of them to hold a peerage was Sir Herbert Maxwell about 1440-45. One of the 2nd Lord Maxwell’s sons came to a strange end: he was "slain by the Lord of Cockpool at the football". It is not clear whether they were both playing or whether they supported opposite sides, became overexcited and drew their swords with fatal results. The latter seems more probable, even though football was a more "physical" game than it is today, with more players (up to 500 on either side!), uncertain boundaries and fewer rules.

Death in battle or on the scaffold was a more characteristic fate for the Maxwells and for other Borderers: the 9th Lord Maxwell was beheaded for murdering the Laird of Johnstone and for other offences. The 10th Lord Maxwell became Earl of Nithsdale in exchange for surrendering the Morton title which had been temporarily awarded to the family after the attainder and execution of the Regent Morton, and reverted to the Douglases when the attainder was cancelled. The 5th Earl took part in the Fifteen’ and was sentenced to death, but was rescued by his wife through a remarkable stratagem. She came to pay a last visit the night before his scheduled execution (though it is possible he may have been reprieved by George I and she did not know about it), with two women attendants, one of them somewhat overdressed. The overdressed woman then shed her surplus clothing, which the Earl put on, and four "ladies" left instead of three (the warders must have been bribed or made drunk or quite possibly both!). Lady Nithsdale then returned for a last tearful and noisy farewell, and swooned at the cell door as convincingly as one might expect of any prospective widow. Eventually, after many hardships, she found her way to France and was re-united with her exiled husband. Many other Maxwells remained in Dumfries-shire, however; one of them being the physician and friend of Robert Burns.

The sixth Earl of Nithsdale (son of the escaped Jacobite and of his enterprising Countess) married Catherine Stuart, daughter of the fourth Earl of Traquair (who himself had married a sister of the fifth Earl of Nithsdale, mentioned above). Through his marriage Traquair, the oldest inhabited house in Scotland, passed to the Maxwell-Stuarts when the direct line of Stuarts of Traquair died out in 1875 with the 99-year-old Lady Louisa Stuart, daughter of the seventh Earl of Traquair and sister of the eighth and last Earl.

Though there is some doubt as to whether they should be regarded as "Borderers", since their home lay well out of normal raiding distance from the Line. the Stuarts of Traquair should also be mentioned here. They were descended from "Hearty James" Earl of Buchan, uncle of James III, who bought Traquair House from the musician and royal favourite William Rogers, to whom it had previously been granted by the "culture-vulture" King. No doubt Buchan was glad of this new acquisition, but he had no compunction about helping to lynch Rogers, along with Cochrane and others, at Lauder Brig a few years later. The house itself, or parts of it, had stood there since about 1100, probably replacing an earlier and rougher tenth-century structure, and had been a royal hunting-lodge, on and off, for several centuries. The best-known member of the family was the first Earl of Traquair, also known as "The Trimmer", who was one of the leading signatories of the Solemn League and Covenant of 1637 (resisting Charles I’s attempts to align the Kirk with the Church of England), but later sent his son, Lord Linton, to join Montrose a few days before the battle of Philiphaugh (now part of Selkirk). Linton and his men, however, were withdrawn on the eve of the battle, and Traquair later refused hospitality to his fleeing kinsman Montrose. As a result he came to be generally distrusted and died in great poverty just before the Restoration. His son, the second Earl, became a Catholic, successively marrying the daughters of two Catholic houses, Lady Henrietta Gordon and Lady Anne Seton. Traquair thus came to be equipped with one of the few "hiding-holes" for priests in this country, and its owners have adhered to the old faith ever since. They have also maintained their loyalty to the Jacobite tradition, practical until 1745-46 and sentimental thereafter. An "amen glass" at Traquair is engraved with the Jacobite version of the Royal Anthem:

God bless the Prince of Wales
The true-born Prince of Wales
Sent us by thee:
Send him soon over
And kick out Hanover
And soon we’ll recover
Our old libertie.

Bonnie Prince Charlie was well-received there (unlike the luckless Montrose); after his visit the Bear Gates or "Steekit Yetts" were closed, to await the return of a Stuart King of Scots.

The wife of Michael Ancram, formerly Jane FitzAlan Howard, is the youngest sister of Baroness Herries, a senior representative of the Clan Maxwell.


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