Medium: Pen and ink on paper
A topographical and military account of the state of the Marches written around 1569 includes a description of Nithsdale and this painting of Caerlaverock Castle from ‘Banke Ende’. The violent life of the Scottish West March pock-marked its countryside with defensive towers and ditches, fortified farmhouses and castles. Knowledge of their position and strength was of great importance to the defenders of England’s northern borders.
The artist here seems to have been confused by Caerlaverock Castle’s distinctive triangular plan with four turrets. The castle was built on the northern banks of the Solway Firth by the Maxwell clan around 1290, though it changed hands frequently during the Anglo-Scots wars. In 1300, the English king, Edward I, laid siege to the castle with a force of 3,000 men, one of whom described it as “so strong a castle that it feared no siege before the King came there…” The castle’s strength lay partly in its coastal position and its double moat.
Text accompanying the picture emphasises the strategic value of Bank End hill: “May that way to Dumfries for England to be free, and bring all Nithsdale in subjection. It is a straight passage, and may be well kept being once fortified. Evil coming with any ordinance to it from the authority of Scotland standing in so straight ground and three score miles from Edinburgh. The fort may be victualled being so placed from Skynburne Neife, Holme Abbey, Wristie Castle and that coast…”
The anonymous writer’s strategic advice was well headed. Shortly after this drawing was made, Caerlaverock Castle was besieged and badly damaged when Thomas Radclyffe, earl of Sussex, led an army of 4,000 men into Nithsdale and laid waste to the estates of Lord Maxwell, who was a staunch supporter of Mary Queen of Scots.