The Roll of Caerlaverock/Preface

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THE Castle of Caerlaverock was situated on the northern shore of the Solway Frith, at the confluence of the rivers Nith and Locher, about nine miles south of Dumfries. It was from an early period the seat of the Maxwells, but very little is known of its history, for it was a place of no great importance. When King Edward I. invaded Scotland in the year 1300, as he crossed the border by this route, he found htis Castle of Caerlaverock in his way, fortified against him, and he thought it necessary to lay siege to it. The date of this siege is fixed to within a few days by the evidence of contemporary records. By the writs, tested on the 29th of December, 1299, those who owed military service to the Crown were summoned to attend at Carlisle on the feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist next ensuing (the 24th of June), and the English army quitted Carlisle about the 1st of July. For the reasons stated by Sir Harris Nicolas, there can be little doubt that the siege began on the 10th or 11th of that month; and, as the record printed in the present volume informs us, it was not of long duration, for it surrendered on the second day. Although the capture of Caerlaverock was the principal event of this campaign, two only of our old chroniclers mention it; Pierre de Langtoft, who (in the words if his English translator) calls it "a povere hamlete"[1] and the Chronicle of Lanercost, the compiler of which tells that, in the year 1300, "about the feast of St. John the Baptist, the lord Edward King of England, with his nobles and magnates, came to Carlisle, with whom came the lord Hugh de Veer, and lodged at Lanercost, and thence the king passed into Galloway, as far as the water of Grithe, and took the Castle of Caerlaverock, which he gave in charge to the lord Robert de Clifford, and he caused several of those who were found in the castle to be hanged, and it was then the year of jubilee in the sixth year of the pontificate of Pope Boniface."[2] This account seems to contradict Edward's clemency as stated in out ext, but the victims were perhaps individuals who has merited the king's vengeance by some act of treason.

The castle, after its surrender, was given, as just stated, into the Custody of Robert de Clifford, and it evidently continued in the possession of the English for some years. In 1309 measures were taken to strengthen it against the attacks of the Scots, and similar precautions are recorded as late as 1312. Eustace de maxwell, who represented the family here at that time, was then in the English interest, but he soon afterwards joined the standard of Robert Bruce, and defended the castle for several weeks against the English. At lengths, foreseeing that it must ultimately fall into their hands, he entirely demolished its fortifications, in order that they might be of no use in the hands of the enemy; for which patriotic sacrifice he was rewarded with a pension by king Robert Bruce. After the death of Sir Eustace Maxwell, his son Sir Herbert Maxwell, in 1347, swore fealty to the king of England, and the Castle of Caerlaverock appears at that time to have been rebuilt, or another castle built near it. The castle is said to have been taken by the Scots under Roger Fitzpatrick in 1355, and again levelled with the ground. The present castle is supposed to have been built towards the end of the fourteenth century. According to Camden, the Castle or Caerlaverock was again, in the month of August, 1570, ruined, or at least its fortifications destroyed, in the Earl of Sussex's invasion. It was again fortified by the Earl of Nithsdale in 1638, on the eve of the civil wars, and it was obstinately defended by the nobleman for the king until 1640, when he was obliged to surrender it, and it was again and finally dismantled.

The very remarkable document here printed was composed at the time of the first siege, that of the year 1300, no doubt by a herald who accompanies the army of Edward I., and who intended to give in it a list of the arms of all the nobles and knights bannerets who attended on this important occasion. It was the fasion at than time to compile in verse a great variety of literary compositions which seem to have no connection to poetry, but a metrical form was considered a convenient, and therefore a fashionable, shape for whatever it was desired to carry in the memory; and it is hardly necessary to say that the French language as then used in England was that of the court, and therefore of heraldry. This poem, if we can properly call it a poem, has an especial interest for us, as, I believe, the earliest roll of arms we possess; but it also claims out attention on several other grounds. As well as describing the arms of most of the leading barons and distinguished knights of that time, it very frequently describes their persons also, and gives us traits of their personal character which makes us more intimately acquainted with the moving personages of that period than any of the ordinary sources of information. We have here also a singularly curious picture of the method of arraying an army, and of the whole process of the siege of a castle.

I have said that this poem was probably the work of one of King Edward's herald, because I am perfectly convinced that the notion of Sir Harris Nicolas, to whom we owe the previous edition, that it wad written by a monk named Walter of Exeter, who was the author of the early French, or Anglo-Norman, romance of Guy of Warwick, originated in a mere blunder. In speaking of Guy Earl of Warwick, Pierre de Gaveston's "black dog of Arden," the writer uses the phrase, as printed by Sir Harris—

Coment ken ma rime de Guy.

which he translates as intimating "that he had alluded to him in his 'rhyme of Guy.'" This "rhyme of Guy," Sir Harris Nicolas supposes, was the Romance of Guy of Warwick, and therefore he assumes that these two works are by the same writer, Walter of Exeter. This would be a reasonable supposition enough if the line would bear the interpretation here put upon it; but this it certainly will not; and, in fact, as thus read and explained, the line presents no grammatical construction. If the de be not a mere error of the copyist, the reading of the old manuscript from which the text is now printed is certainly the best—

Coment ke en ma rime le guy.

The phrase is still somewhat cramped, but it seems to be correctly translated—

However I may bring him in my rhyme.

At all events there is no allusion in it either to Guy of Warwick, or to the writer of the romance of that hero.[3] We can only look upon this roll of arms as an entirely anonymous production. There is no reason whatever for ascribing the metrical roll of Caerlaverock to Walter of Exeter, nor is there any similarity between the style in which this roll is written and that of Walter's romance.

This roll is preserved in one early—in fact, sufficiently near to be called a contemporary—manuscript on velum, now in the Cottonian Library in the British Museum, which is marked Caligula A. XVIII.; but Glover, the celebrated herald of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, made two copies from what was evidently another manuscript, which would appear, by this description, to have been of hardly less antiquity than that in the Cottonian Library, but which appears to be now lost. One of these copies is preserved in the library of the College of Arts in London; the other in the office of the Ulster King of Arms in Dublin. It was from the first of these that the text was edited by Sir Harris Nicolas; in the present edition I have given the text of the Cottonian manuscript, the various readings of which I find to be nearly always better than those of Glover's copy, and I should judge that they are those of a manuscript of older date. Moreover, we can place no trust in the philological accuracy of a copy made in the reign of Elizabeth, as such things were then little attended to. Glover would, no doubt, attend carefully to the heraldic and historical information contained in the record, but he is not likely to have studies its verbal accuracy, and especially the forms of words and grammatical constructions of which he could know little. In thus printing from Glover's transcript, Sir Harris Nicolas has actually omitted the two first lines of the poem, and begun it in the middle of a sentence.

Sir Harris himself, indeed, did not possess that knowledge of the language in which this record is written, which would qualify him either for editing or translating it. His translation is extremely faulty, and is, in fact, the least satisfactory part of his volume. It must, however, be said, in his excuse, that at the time when he published this book, there were few, and perhaps we may say nobody, in England, who studied the language grammatically; while many parts of the Roll of Caerlaverock, written in a debased form of the French language, are very cramped and obscure, from the difficulty of treating such a subject in such a form, and perhaps by a not very skilful writer. THere are several passages of the exact meaning of which I feel doubtful. The best part of Sir Harris Nicolas's edition is, no doubt, his valuable biographical sketches of the personages mentioned in the poem, which almost exhaust the subject, and the praise of these needs no qualification. The notes to the present edition are merely abridged from them.

  1. "Sir Edward sauh tho paynes, and tok the gate agayne;
    The more he forsoke, the fotemen ilk a flok
    A povere hamlet toke, the castelle Karelaverok." — Hearne's Edit, p. 87.
  2. "A° MCCC. Anno eodem, circa festum sancti Johannis Baptistæ, dominus Edwardus rex Angliæ cum proceribus et magnatibus Angliæ venit apud Karleolum, cum quo venit dominus Hugo de Veer, et fecit moram apud Lanercost. Et inde transivit rex in partes Galwithiæ usque ad aquam de Grithe, ceptique castrum de Carlaverok, quod dedit Domino Roberto de Clifforde, et fecit plures inter castrum inventos suspendi, fuitque tunc annus Jubilæi anno pontificus Bonifacii papa vj°." — Chron. de Lanercost.
  3. It is perhaps but right to state, that in the text of his translation Sir Harris Nicolas has given a totally different reading and translation of the passage, though equally incorrect; but it contains no allusion to Guy of Warwick. The other was, therefore, adopted after the book was printed.