Account of the Scottish Marches


This topographical and military account of the state of the Scottish Marches was written around 1569, and includes a description of Nithsdale and a painting of Caerlaverock Castle from ‘Banke Ende’.

The longevity and ferocity of the Anglo-Scots wars, and related border skirmishes during the medieval and early modern eras shaped the landscape of the Scottish West March with defensive towers and ditches, fortified farmhouses and castles. Knowledge of the position and strength of these defences was of great importance to the English Crown and the military forces at England’s northern borders.

Caerlaverock Castle

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 (1239–1307), 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 heeded: shortly after this drawing was made (1570), Caerlaverock Castle was besieged and badly damaged when Thomas Radclyffe, earl of Sussex (c. 1525–1583), 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 (1542–1587).

Full title:
Account of the Scottish marches (imperfect)
c. 1550-1569
Manuscript / Illustration
Usage terms

Public Domain in most countries other than the UK.

Held by
British Library
Cotton Titus C XII

Full catalogue details

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