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The Lacock Cup

During a recent trip to London I visited the Medieval Europe gallery at the British Museum – I thoroughly recommend it. I was particularly glad to see the Fishpool Hoard at last (even though a couple of items are currently on loan elsewhere). I was also very taken with the Tring Tiles and a striking morse from Warden Abbey. Another object that caught my eye was the Lacock Cup: a rare and precious survival with a long and intriguing story.

Lacock Cup
The Lacock Cup (British Museum)

A fine example of late medieval craftsmanship, the Lacock Cup was made in the fifteenth century. Its first owner was almost certainly an English aristocrat – possibly one of the more prosperous members of the county gentry. While it was intended for use in a noble household, it later came into the possession of St Cyriac’s Church at Lacock, Wiltshire (hence its name). It has been displayed at the British Museum since the early 1960s, with occasional returns to Lacock, and it was officially acquired by the Museum in 2013.

The Cup is mostly made of silver, but it is also partially gilded; this involved the application of thin layers of gold. Other similar examples would have been far more expensive (one might compare it, for instance, to a gold cup made for the French duke of Berry), yet of course the Cup was an object that would have been beyond the reach of most English people. The quality of the workmanship, especially the decoration, suggests it was made by a highly skilled goldsmith. Given that many of the best goldsmiths were based in London’s Cheapside – one Italian visitor was astonished by their ‘shops so rich and full’ – it seems plausible that it might have come from there.

The Lacock Cup is of a type which would have been common in noble households of the later Middle Ages. At table it would have been filled with wine and passed from person to person; as one fifteenth-century guide to dining etiquette explained, one should ‘drink and then turn the bowl to thy neighbour, so that his lips are not placed where thine were’. Evidently cups played an important role in late medieval dining rituals – as they have done in most human societies. Moreover, whereas a lord’s guests would bring their own cutlery, he would be expected to provide cups (as well as a salt cellar). This offered a nobleman a chance to demonstrate his status, refinement and largesse. Contemporary illustrations of elite dining tables (such as the one shown below) give a prominent place to splendid drinking vessels, including depictions of silverware that strongly resemble the Lacock Cup.

roundel.jpg
Stained glass roundel, ca.1450-1475 (Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

Valuable cups could sometimes serve another purpose, as they could be seen as a form of investment. There are numerous examples of late medieval people using their gold or silver items as collateral for debts. In times of crisis they could even be melted down as a ready supply of bullion – a sacrifice once made by the Black Prince, for instance, in order to help fund his famous Spanish campaign. Other precious metal objects were melted down in order to make new pieces, as fashions changed.

The Lacock Cup survived, at least in part, because it became the property of the Church. Presumably it was donated to St Cyriac’s by a wealthy parishioner – perhaps one of the Baynards of Lackham, who were prominent in the area between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries. Could it be significant that Sir Robert Baynard (1563-1636) inherited a ‘broad cuppe of silver parcel guilte’ from his mother, whereas he no longer seems to have owned this at the time of his death? Sir Robert was the last Baynard of Lackham to bear the name, as his estate passed to his married daughter. He might therefore have given the Cup as a way to commemorate his family at St Cyriac’s (he also commissioned splendid monuments to his father and his wife). Moreover, if Sir Robert donated the Cup towards the end of his life, the timing would fit with Archbishop Laud’s campaign to restore beauty to England’s churches, reversing some of the effects of the Reformation.

The Lacock Cup was used as a communion vessel at St Cyriac’s, albeit perhaps only on the most important occasions of the year. While it was previously restricted to the use of a noble family and their guests, it now came to serve the community as a whole. By the nineteenth century the Cup was widely recognised as an object to be treasured, although its remarkable state of conservation suggests that it has always been cherished and cared for. As part of the terms of the sale to the British Museum it was agreed that a replica should be made to be used at St Cyriac’s, thereby ensuring that its connection with Lacock will be preserved.

Further Reading:

Lloyd de Beer and Naomi Speakman, The Lacock Cup (London, 2014)

John Cherry, Medieval Goldsmiths (London, 2011)

James IV of Scotland, the Pilgrim King

James IV was one of Scotland’s most colourful kings, who lived life to the full. He sought glory through the pursuit of warfare, although this ultimately led to disaster; he was killed by the English at the Battle of Flodden, in 1513, when he was still only forty. In spite of the awful end to his reign, several modern historians have presented him as an effective ruler – not least because he offered more than military leadership. He was assiduous in the exercise of justice; he lived up to late-medieval ideals of kingship through his interest in learning and patronage of the arts; he excelled in the management of his fractious nobility, many of whom eventually followed him to the death. James also conformed to contemporary expectations in his personal brand of piety, which he expressed most notably through pilgrimage.

James IV
James IV, King of Scots (National Galleries of Scotland)

James succeeded to the Scottish throne in 1488, at a time when pilgrimage was an important aspect of European religious life. Large numbers of pilgrims made trips to holy places in the belief that this could bring them a range of benefits, both in life and after death – especially through contact with the relics of saints. Saints, of course, were not seen as gods, but they were thought to have the power to intercede on people’s behalf. Some pilgrims therefore hoped for miraculous cures; others sought to atone for sins which they believed would imperil their immortal souls. Presumably many pilgrims also appreciated more commonplace benefits of pilgrimage – such as the opportunity to see new places, and a welcome break from the daily routine – although of course they would not have given these as their primary concerns!

People from all levels of society became pilgrims, and kings were no exception. But James was unusual in the frequency of his pilgrimages, and the survival of his treasurer’s accounts has enabled historians to reconstruct his movements in remarkable detail. From 1491 onwards we can be sure that James took part in at least one pilgrimage each year – and almost always more regularly than this.

In the mid-1500s James made tentative plans for a journey to the Holy Land (he also expressed some interest in joining a crusade), but ultimately all of his pilgrimages took place in Scotland itself. James visited a variety of holy places (such as St Adrian’s shrine on the Isle of May and the Cross Kirk at Peebles), but two locations stand out above all the others: the shrine of St Ninian at Whithorn and the shrine of St Duthac at Tain. Whithorn was probably James’s favourite place of pilgrimage, which he tended to visit in the spring or summer; his journeys to Tain were usually reserved for the autumn (although by no means exclusively so).

Whithorn was then Scotland’s foremost centre of pilgrimage (its most obvious rival, St Andrews, had recently experienced a decline in popularity). While the details of his life are still debated by scholars, St Ninian was almost certainly a real man who lived and worked at Whithorn in the early fifth century. His cult appears to have developed shortly after his death, and by the end of the Middle Ages the saint had gained an international reputation. Whithorn attracted pilgrims from various parts of Europe, as well as from Scotland. Visitors included several members of the Scottish royal family, perhaps most famously Robert the Bruce.

By James’s time there was a large priory church at Whithorn which included St Ninan’s beautiful shrine (the surviving ruins give little indication of the church’s former splendour). In the first years of the sixteenth century further building work took place; this included a remodelling of the ancient crypt, which had once housed Ninian’s tomb. During his visits to Whithorn James regularly gave ‘drink silver’ to the masons. He also provided support in other ways, for example by commissioning new reliquaries to hold St Ninian’s bones (or at least the ones which still survived). A silver reliquary to hold St Ninian’s arm bones was apparently particularly impressive; in the wake of the Reformation this found its way to Douai, although unfortunately it did not survive the French Revolution.

In his devotion to St Duthac, James was also following existing custom, but in this case the cult was not so well established. Duthac is an even more obscure figure than Ninian (he was perhaps active in northern Scotland during the eleventh century), and Tain did not really begin to flourish as a pilgrimage centre until the late fourteenth century. By this time, however, Duthac’s cult had developed a substantial following in the north, both in the towns of the eastern seaboard and also amongst the Highland clans. In the early fifteenth century there was a campaign for Duthac to receive official canonization (intriguingly, this was led by a prior of St Andrews), and pilgrimage to Tain became more popular as the years progressed.

St Duthac
St Duthac’s Kirk, Tain (Anne Burgess)

It is worth noting that Tain can be found in a region that had often proved troublesome to the Scottish kings, and this might well explain a growing royal interest in the site – at least in part. Several historians have suggested that James IV’s northern pilgrimages provided a non-confrontational way to assert royal power in the area – not only through a projection of his ‘majestie’, but also by demonstrating to his northern subjects that he shared their interests and appreciated their traditions.

Most of James’s pilgrimages must have presented something of a spectacle. He almost always travelled with a large entourage, sometimes including a party of Italian musicians and an African drummer. News of the king’s plans would surely have drawn people to the roadside, as well as to the places at which the royal party stayed en route. And doubtless James’s eventual arrival at Tain or Whithorn would have been a source of great excitement, eagerly awaited by people in the area – particularly once it had become apparent that this would be a regular addition to the calendar. James’s presence was a boost to the local economy, as it naturally entailed payments to innkeepers, ferrymen and others who helped to sustain the king and his company. He also made generous gifts to people who crossed his path: especially the poor and sick, including fellow pilgrims.

Medieval pilgrimage was generally expected to involve a degree of hardship, but it must be said that James often took advantage of various comforts along the way. During his pilgrimage to Whithorn in 1503, for example, James stopped off at Bothwell Castle to visit his mistress Janet Kennedy – whose nickname of ‘Janet bare ars’ leaves little to the imagination! James also spent evenings while travelling playing cards – like his contemporary Henry VII of England, he frequently lost large sums – and on some occasions he took the opportunity to indulge his love of hunting. During one of his trips to the Isle of May, for instance, the local lairds arranged a pleasure cruise in which the king enjoyed shooting at seabirds with guns.

At other times, however, James’s pilgrimages were deliberately more arduous. February 1507 saw the birth of his first legitimate child (another James), but the boy was soon ailing – as was his mother, Queen Margaret. According to the later writer John Lesley, King James ‘grevit him sa sair that he wald not be comforted’. St Ninian had a reputation for healing, and on 10 March James set off on foot from Edinburgh towards the shrine at Whithorn: a distance of over 120 miles. The journey took him just over a week – although this did include a two-day rest at Penpont (where he paid a cobbler 16d to re-sole his shoes). The last leg from Wigtown was completed overnight (with the assistance of a local guide), which enabled James to arrive at Whithorn on 18 March in time for morning mass.

James’s prayers were only partly answered, as his son did not survive infancy, but the queen was soon restored to health. Lesley tells us that Margaret attributed her recovery to ‘the pietie and devocions of her housband throuch the help of St Ninian under God’. Later in the year she joined James on yet another pilgrimage to Whithorn, in order to give thanks.

Whithorn Crypt
The crypt at Whithorn Priory (Billy McCrorie)

Norman Macdougall has argued that James was sincerely troubled by his conscience around this time, ‘dreading God’s judgement on his house as a response to his sins’. Apparently he felt a deep sense of guilt about the death of his father, King James III, who was murdered after the Battle of Sauchieburn in 1488. James IV was not directly implicated, but the old king’s downfall was certainly the result of a rebellion in which he was personally involved. Thereafter he reputedly wore a heavy iron chain as a form of penance, adding a new link every year. While his behaviour on some of his journeys might suggest otherwise, it remains very likely that James similarly saw pilgrimage, above all, as a means of atonement.

James’s last pilgrimage was a visit to St Duthac’s shrine at Tain. This took place in August 1513, shortly before he invaded England. The Scots were initially very successful, although James eventually met a terrible fate in battle; hacked and pierced by numerous blows, his body was so mangled that it was difficult to recognise. The English later claimed that St Cuthbert had come to their aid at Flodden. As Peter Yeoman has observed, ‘it is ironic that the death of Scotland’s pilgrim king was attributed to the intercession of another saint [as opposed to St Duthac], taking his enemies’ part’. But of course if we wish to understand James, he should also be remembered for how he lived, not only for how he died. His devotion to pilgrimage reveals a different – though equally significant – facet of a complex and intriguing man.

Further Reading:

David Ditchburn, ‘‘Saints at the Door don’t make Miracles’? The Contrasting Fortunes of Scottish Pilgrimage, c.1450-1550’, in Sixteenth-Century Scotland: Essays in Honour of Michael Lynch, ed. Julian Goodacre and Alistair A. Macdonald (Leiden, 2008), pp. 69-98.

Norman Macdougall, James IV (Edinburgh, 1989).

Tom Turpie, ‘Our Friend in the North: The Origins, Evolution and Appeal of the Cult of St Duthac of Tain in the Later Middle Ages’, Scottish Historical Review, 236 (2014), pp. 1-28.

Peter Yeoman, Pilgrimage in Medieval Scotland (London, 1999).

A Brief History of Conisbrough Castle

I grew up in Doncaster: perhaps not the most obvious place to inspire a budding medieval historian. Yet in fact the town has a rich history, and in the wider Doncaster area there are still quite a number of medieval buildings. These include a castle at Tickhill and several wonderful churches. (My personal favourite is quirky little St Oswald’s in Kirk Sandall.) However Doncaster’s most significant medieval building is surely Conisbrough Castle, which dominates the skyline for miles around. It is probably best known for its connection with Sir Walter Scott, whose famous novel Ivanhoe was apparently inspired by the castle, although of course it does have a much longer story.

Conisbrough Castle
Conisbrough Castle from the south-east (Rob Bendall)

The name Conisbrough is derived from the Anglo-Saxon Cyningesburh, meaning ‘the king’s borough’. Very little is known about the early history of Conisbrough, but it appears to have been an important place; parts of the church there can be dated back to the eight century. In 1066 the lordship of Conisbrough was held by the last of the Anglo-Saxon kings, Harold II. After the Norman Conquest it was granted to William de Warenne, who was one of William I’s most trusted supporters. Warenne was responsible for the building of the first castle at Conisbrough: a rapidly built structure of timber and earth.

The Norman Conquest changed life for the people of Conisbrough, as it did throughout England. Conisbrough appears to have escaped the effects of the ‘Harrying of the North’ – King William’s devastating punishment for a later northern rebellion – but the local people did suffer in other ways. The evidence from Domesday Book suggests that many people in the area were reduced to serfdom (which was not previously the case). Norman castles like Conisbrough were not only built for defence. They were also statements of authority, reminding an oppressed people of their conquered status.

In the late twelfth century the castle passed into the hands of Hamelin Plantagenet (an illegitimate half-brother of King Henry II), who held the Warenne lands through his wife. The life of a medieval nobleman was peripatetic, but Hamelin did spend a considerable amount of time at Conisbrough. He set about making the castle a splendid residence fit for royalty – and indeed his nephew King John stayed here in 1201. Hamelin was responsible for the building of the imposing stone keep. His successors continued to make improvements to the castle, completing its construction in stone.

In the late fourteenth century the castle was granted to Edmund of Langley, Edward III’s fourth son. Edmund’s children included Richard of Conisbrough, Earl of Cambridge, who was born at the castle in 1385. He continued to spend much of his time at Conisbrough as an adult, although his life was not a happy one. He was eventually executed as a traitor, in 1415, after he became embroiled in a conspiracy against Henry V. His son would enjoy a more illustrious career – albeit one that also ended in failure. This boy, also called Richard, would eventually go on to become Duke of York and a major figure in the Wars of the Roses.

The Duke of York’s heir was Edward IV, who took the throne in 1461, so the castle became the property of the crown. Some repairs were carried out towards the end of Edward’s reign, but the castle seems to have been neglected thereafter. During the reign of Henry VIII it was reported that much of the stonework had started to collapse, and that one floor of the keep had already fallen in. Elizabeth I granted the castle to the Carey family – although it cannot have been much of a prize! The castle remained in private hands until 1949, when it was purchased by Conisbrough’s local council. It is now in the care of English Heritage.

Much of the castle is ruined today, but its most important feature – the cylindrical keep, which is supported by six semi-hexagonal buttresses – is still remarkably intact. The keep was built to an unusual design, one that has no exact parallel anywhere else in Britain. Rising almost 100 feet from its substantial base, it conveys an extraordinary impression of power and strength. There is a flash of delicate beauty, though, in the tiny chapel, which offers testimony to the accomplished skills of a medieval mason.

conisbrough castle chapel
The chapel in the keep (Richard Croft)

Other features remind us that this seemingly austere building would once have been regarded as a comfortable and even luxurious place; its elite residents would have enjoyed large fireplaces, private privies and fresh running water (supplied by a rainwater cistern on the roof). It is also worth making the steep climb to the top of the keep. On a clear day the battlements offer spectacular views of the surrounding landscape.

I first visited the castle with my primary school class. This outing inspired one of my own first efforts at historical writing: a ‘time-travel’ story which saw me and several of my friends transported to medieval Conisbrough. Naturally I assumed we would all adapt well to the life of a medieval knight (having diligently practiced with plastic swords in each other’s back gardens), and in my story we successfully defeated a tough force of rebels on behalf of the king. These days I feel rather less convinced about my aptitude for medieval combat, but my interest in medieval history has endured.

When I visited as a child the keep was still a shell, but its roof and floors were restored in the late 1990s. It now houses an interpretative exhibition, which is focused on Hamelin Plantagenet and his world, and other steps have been taken to improve the visitor experience. School trips are still very much encouraged – hopefully some children will feel the same spark that I did – although I would recommend a visit to people of all ages. More information about the castle is available here.

The Siege of Caerlaverock Castle

Edward I was one of England’s most formidable kings – he is respected by historians for his legal reforms as well as his wars – but he is remembered rather differently in Scotland. In the last years of his reign he waged a series of bloody campaigns, seeking to impose his rule over the Scots by force of arms. In 1298 he won a crushing victory at the Battle of Falkirk, avenging an English defeat at Stirling Bridge, although this failed to bring him the ultimate outcome he craved. Thereafter the conflict became a war of attrition, as many Scots continued with dogged opposition.

In the summer of 1300 Edward summoned an army to assemble at Carlisle. The plan was to establish English control in the south-west of Scotland – traditionally a volatile region which was then proving especially troublesome. There was a centre of Scottish resistance at Caerlaverock Castle (to the south-east of Dumfries), whose garrison enjoyed regular skirmishes with English forces. Scottish lords who were influential in this area included members of the powerful Comyn family, who were Edward’s foremost enemies at this time.

Caerlaverock 3
Caerlaverock Castle (Gernot Keller)

An important source for the ensuing campaign is an anonymous poem, The Song of Caerlaverock, which describes the early part of Edward’s expedition. The poet, who was probably a herald, took pains to record the names of the leading men who took part, along with their arms. His work is therefore a useful source for the composition of the English army. The poem also includes brief pen portraits of some of Edward’s commanders, such as Nicholas Segrave, whom ‘nature had adorned in body and enriched in heart’.  Special praise is reserved for Robert Clifford: ‘If I were a young maiden, I would give him my heart and person, so great is his fame’. King Edward’s followers are presented here as if they were the heroes of a chivalric romance. That is not to say, however, that the author could not also be a keen observer of military events.

Edward himself arrived at Carlisle on 25 June, and the army marched north in the first week of July. Here is a translation of the Caerlaverock poet’s description of the scene, as the campaign now began in earnest:

There were many rich caparisons embroidered on silks and satins; many a beautiful pennon fixed to a lance; and many a banner displayed. And afar off was the noise heard of the neighing of horses: mountains and valleys were everywhere covered with sumpter horses and wagons with provisions, and sacks of tents and pavilions. And the days were long and fine.

Edward and his army advanced into Scotland via Annandale, stopping off at the royal pele of Lochmaben. At length, on 9 July, the English forces bore down upon Caerlaverock, where Edward laid siege.

Tents and huts were put up for the soldiers, enhanced by ‘leaves, herbs and flowers gathered in the woods, which were strewed within’.  As usual, the Caerlaverock poem conveys an impression of splendour: ‘and one saw gold and silver, and of all rich colours the noblest and the best, entirely illuminating the valley’.  One might well imagine there is more than a pinch of poetic license here, although other sources do suggest that a military encampment could be an impressive sight – at least before mud and perhaps rain had quenched some of its glamour.

The tents of noble warriors could be spectacular, embellished with beautiful embroidery and distinctive features such as cloth towers. They could also be very expensive. In preparations for his first campaign, in 1307, Edward’s grandson Gilbert de Clare spent the large sum of £39 on five tents: these included a hall (which was forty feet long); a wardrobe chamber; a combined pantry and buttery; and two stables. Having set up camp, servants would work hard to ensure their masters were well catered for; we also know that Gilbert travelled with a wide range of cooking utensils, including bronze pots, a gridiron and two enormous cooking pans. Of course, though, despite the provision of certain comforts and welcome flashes of colour, life on campaign was still a long way removed from the existence the elite enjoyed in times of peace.

Caerlaverock 2
An aerial view of the castle (Simon Ledingham)

In 1300 Caerlaverock Castle was a still a recent addition to the local landscape. It had been constructed in the 1270s, when the lords of Caerlaverock, the Maxwells, had abandoned a smaller site nearby which was prone to flooding. The new castle was unusually shaped – as our poet describes it, it was a fortress in the shape of a shield – and it incorporated some of the latest facets of design. There were round towers at two points of the triangle, which enabled enfilade shooting along the length of the wall, but these were dwarfed by Caerlaverock’s most significant feature: its formidable twin-towered gatehouse (which also housed the lord’s apartments). A powerful gatehouse of this type was also a feature at Kildrummy Castle, which was later strengthened on Edward I’s orders, as well as at his great castles in Wales.

Caerlaverock, it must be stressed, was not one of Scotland’s largest castles, but it was well-sited for defence. The Caerlaverock poem explains that it could only be approached from the east, because on the other sides it was protected by the sea, woods and marshes. After drawing our attention to the ‘good walls’ and deep moat, the poet tells us it was a ‘strong castle, which did not fear a siege’.  The defences at Caerlaverock appear to have been further strengthened by a brattice, or hoarding: this was a wooden shed-like structure, providing additional protection and shooting opportunities for the defenders, which was attached to the top of the walls and projected outwards.

At the beginning of the siege a parley took place. None of the Maxwells were present (the current lord was at that time a prisoner in England), but the constable, Walter Benechafe, was prepared to seek terms. The defenders offered to give up the castle if they would be permitted to depart unharmed with their goods (including their arms and horses). But as the chronicler Rishanger tells the story, Edward responded to this suggestion ‘like a lioness whose cubs have been taken from her’. Given that the Scots were facing overwhelming odds, the king was infuriated by what he saw as Benechafe’s effrontery, and no agreement for surrender could be reached. Thereafter the English onslaught began.

Edward did not risk his own person under the walls of Caerlaverock, but his men-at-arms were keen to prove their valour; whilst a frontal assault might seem foolhardy, a successful escalade could bring great honour to the men who affected an entrance to the castle. English exploits were diligently recorded by the Caerlaverock poet, as the garrison provided a stubborn defence. We learn, for example, of the fortitude of Ralph de Gorges, ‘a newly dubbed knight’: Gorges was knocked to the ground several times by stones hurled from the walls, but ‘he would not deign to retire’.

Gorges, of course, was not acting alone: many others, we are told, braved arrows or bolts from crossbows. As the poem depicts the English attack, there would seem to have been a strongly competitive element; the author took great pains, again, to record the arms or banners of the knights and nobles involved. From a more practical perspective his work appears to suggest that Edward’s men focused most of their efforts on the gatehouse, although it is not clear what methods they employed. This is largely due to the poet’s emphasis on the deeds of great men. There is no mention, for instance, of Englishmen using crossbows or longbows, although these must surely have been in evidence.

We do learn that the castle was also subjected to a bombardment from Edward’s siege machines. The engineering corps was under the direction of ‘Brother Robert’, who was perhaps a Dominican friar. Evidently this bellicose clergyman knew his business, as records show that he was employed by Edward for several months.

Brother Robert’s efforts began with a machine called ‘the Robinet’, which hurled stones against the castle, although at the same time he was also supervising the fabrication of three much larger weapons.  The parts for these engines were landed at Caerlaverock’s small harbour (the sea has now retreated from the castle), along with a welcome replenishment of supplies. These weapons were almost certainly trebuchets: the most formidable machines that could be deployed by a besieging army before the introduction of cannon.

Trebuchet
Replica trebuchets at Château de Castelnaud (Luc Viator)

Brother Robert’s siege engines wreaked havoc on the castle’s defences. The wear and tear on the mechanism ensured that it was not possible to maintain a continuous rate of fire – medieval sources suggest that trebuchets might launch between ten and twelve missiles over the course of a day – and few trebuchets possessed the capability to smash their way through strongly built walls. Nevertheless, a well-directed trebuchet would make short work of wooden hoardings or other additional structures; the key role played by such machines was to undermine the effectiveness of the defences as fighting platforms, making the castle more vulnerable to escalade.  It is also very likely that the majority of missiles were sent over the walls, rather than against them directly. Apparently Brother Robert’s most significant achievement was to bring down the roof of the gatehouse. According to the poet, the beleaguered garrison saw this as a decisive moment.

After a day and a half of gruelling punishment, the defenders now considered their position was untenable, and they could take no more. The sixty-strong garrison put themselves completely at Edward’s mercy, and their surrender was now accepted. The Caerlaverock poem implies the defenders had won Edward’s respect: not only were the garrison granted ‘life and limb’, they also each received a ‘new robe’.  For the author of the poem, with his clear emphasis on chivalric mores, Edward’s generosity provided a fitting end to the siege. Unfortunately, however, modern historians have been unable to find any evidence of Edward’s largesse in administrative records.

Other sources suggest the Caerlaverock garrison was harshly treated. The constable and twenty-one others were imprisoned in northern England; the Lanercost Chronicle tells us specifically that ‘many’ of the defenders were hanged. Moreover, whereas the Caerlaverock poet presented the siege as a marvellous spectacle, Peter Langtoft was rather less impressed. His account provides a rather less heroic impression of the siege. He tells us that heavy rain caused flooding, which caused Edward to go a different way to the one planned. It was thus the English came to Caerlaverock, which Langtoft describes as a ‘poor little castle’. In Langtoft’s work the stalwart defenders of the Caerlaverock poem become ‘ribalds’, who were ‘vanquished at the entrance’.

In truth, Caerlaverock Castle was no match for the English royal army, but Langtoft surely underestimated the importance of Edward’s victory. Today Caerlaverock is a pleasant backwater, but in the Middle Ages the sea-lanes were more important and the castle’s coastal location was significant. We have also seen that its garrison had hindered English attempts to establish secure control of the wider area. It is therefore very likely that Caerlaverock was a key target. That said, it can be safely assumed that Edward hoped for further gains, although a skirmish by the River Cree was inconclusive. The English campaign of this year achieved little else of note.

Later campaigns did lead to the submissions of most of the Scottish leaders, and by 1305 it must have appeared that Edward had won. The execution of William Wallace was probably intended to mark a symbolic end to the conflict (at least in part), but Robert the Bruce’s rebellion meant the war began again. Edward made a final attempt to subdue the Scots in the summer of 1307 – he set out from Carlisle on yet another campaign – but the effects of age and illness were now increasingly clear. He died at Burgh by Sands on 6 July, bitterly aware that a final victory remained as elusive as ever.

Adapted from The Hammer of the Scots: Edward I and the Scottish Wars of Independence