Subject: What You Should Know about Lord Maxwell
From: Jeffrey Johnstone <>
Date: 3/4/2021, 4:28 PM

What You Should Know about Lord Maxwell

Lord Maxwell was a Complex Character

     This newsletter provides a brief overview of the life of John, eighth Lord Maxwell, the ambitious and combative scion of a wealthy and powerful Scottish family and opponent of the Johnstones.

Dryfe Sands

A Novel of Scotland's Bitterest Clan Feud

Now available as hardcover, e- book and paperback on Amazon

Buy it on

Buy it on



John, 8th Lord Maxwell   

     John Maxwell was born on April 24, 1553, seven months after his father's death. He was the second son of the sixth Lord Maxwell and was not expected to succeed to the title. However, his older brother, Robert, died at age four and John became the eighth Lord Maxwell at the age of two. He died at the Battle of Dryfe Sands on December 6, 1593, at the age of forty.

     In 1581 Lord Maxwell was created Earl of Morton when his maternal uncle, the Regent fourth Earl of Morton, was attainted and executed on the Maiden, a form of guillotine which Morton himself had introduced to Scotland. In 1586 the title was restored to to the executed earl's family, the Douglases, and the eighth Earl of Angus was created Earl of Morton. However, Maxwell continued to use the title Earl of Morton and when the Douglas Earl of Morton died in 1588, Maxwell continued to contest the title with the successor, William Douglas.

     Lord Maxwell was first appointed Warden of the Scottish West March in 1573, when he was only twenty years old. After that, and throughout his career, he was alternatively March Warden or in jail for defiance of the Crown.

     In 1585 Lord Maxwell was declared a rebel and Sir John Johnstone of that Ilk, Chief of the Johnstones,  was given a commission to apprehend him. The government sent two bands of hired soldiers to assist him, but the Maxwells destroyed the reinforcements. Then the Maxwells captured and wantonly burned Lochwood Castle, the primary seat of the Johnstones, “so that Lady Johnstone would have light to put on her hood,” in the words of the Maxwell gallows humor. Sir John Johnstone was defeated and died not long afterward.

     Lord Maxwell got into trouble for openly practicing Roman Catholicism and in 1587 went to Spain, not to return without the King's permission. In April 1588 he returned to Scotland without permission and began to fortify Caerlaverock,  Threave,  and several other castles in support of the invasion of the Spanish Armada. The King's forces captured and imprisoned him.

     Subsequently Lord Maxwell regained the King's good graces and was again appointed Warden of the Scottish West March.

     Although the Maxwells and the Johnstones had been at feud for almost a century, Lord Maxwell and the young Johnstone Chief, Sir James Johnstone of that Ilk and Dunskellie, eventually became on good terms, and in March 1592 they signed an agreement that the enemy of either was the enemy of both. Johnstones now felt free to engage in reiving with impunity, as long as they did not harm the dependents of the Maxwells. The Douglases, Crichtons and other Nithsdale barons who hated the Johnstones urged Lord Maxwell to move against the Johnstones, but were initially rebuffed because of Lord Maxwell's agreement with Sir James Johnstone. To change his mind, the barons agreed to become Lord Maxwell's vassals and signed a bond of manrent to him. According to the Historie and Life of King James the Sext, supposedly written by John Colville,  they also purchased a commission from King James directed to Lord Maxwell to pursue the Johnstones, which King James agreed to sign in part because of Sir James's support for the rebellious Earl of Bothwell. This was enough to overcome Lord Maxwell's agreement with Sir James Johnstone. Lord Maxwell now believed he had the power to exterminate his family's hereditary enemy once and for all.

     In December 1593 Lord Maxwell invaded Annandale, the territory of the Johnstones, and he was killed at the Battle of Dryfe Sands. The Historie and Life of King James the Sext comments on his death as follows:

"The great judgments of God are here to be remarked, for although this tragic end was violent, yet the breaking of his promise [to Sir James Johnstone] can in no way be excused, neither the abuse of his body in willful harlotry against the godly bond of wedlock, in manifest contempt of his virtuous Lady, whereunto he was addicted by the space of three or four years before his death." (spelling modernized)

     His body remained unburied until 1597 when the Privy Council ordered the burial of the bodies of Lord Maxwell and the Bonnie Earl of Murray.


Eighth Lord Maxwell (Wikipedia)

Eighth Lord Maxwell (Dictionary of National Biography)



Jeffrey Johnstone | 62 Babcock Drive, Rochester, NY 14610
This email was sent to | Unsubscribe | Forward this email to a friend
Powered by MailerLite