NEWARK CASTLE

Catherine Maxwell

This is a portrait of Catherine Maxwell.

The land on which Newark Castle is built originally belonged to the Denniston  family but became part of the Maxwell estate in 1402 when Elizabeth Denniston married Sir Robert Maxwell, of Calderwood in Lanark-shire.
At that date Newark  was part of the barony of Finlaystone and if the Dennistons had a castle it would have been at Finlaystone itself, a little to the east of the present town of Port Glasgow.
In 1478, George Maxwell acquired the barony of Finlaystone from his father John Maxwell,and by 1484 he was being styled 'of Newwerk and Finlanstone'. From this we conclude that George Maxwell was the first to build a castle at Newark ( his 'new wark). Certainly all the architectural evidence in the older parts of the present fabric - the tower house and the gatehouse - points to a late fifteenth century date for its erection.
An early visitor to George Maxwell's new house was James IV in May 1495. The King was bent on putting down disturbances in the Western Isles and ordered his lords of the 'westland', 'eastland' and 'southland' with a force of gunners to rendezvous with him on the Clyde. His Majesty would undoubtedly have been entertained in the great hall (now gone but very probably on the site of the present north range) and been given exclusive use of the laird's own private suite of rooms in the tower
house throughout the duration of his stay. On his departure, he boarded his ship, the Flower, captained by Admiral Sir Andrew Wood, and headed for Mingary Castle in Argyllshire. In addition to white stockings, green breeches, a red and black coat without sleeves, a great 'sea-coat' and a russet-coloured hood lined with white lambskin, the king took on board with him a camp bed of scarlet cloth to make his voyage more comfortable.

SIR PATRICK AND LADY MARGARET
George Maxwell's descendants were a powerful and influential family in Renfrewshire. The most notable, and notorious, member of the family was Sir Patrick, who became laird in the 1580s. Like others of his time, he was a cultured and enlightened rascal. On one hand he was a pillar of society, a justice of the peace, a friend of James VI, and the builder of a very fine house; on the other he was a murderer and a wife-beater who contrived through his high connections to avoid getting the punishment which by all accounts he thoroughly deserved.

Patrick Maxwell was fond of quarrelling with his neighbours, and a particularly bitter feud was had with the Montgomeries of Skelmorlie, near Largs. He murdered two members of that family on one day in 1584, the laird himself and his eldest son. The story goes that the younger son, Robert Montgomery, who became the new laird of Skelmorlie, hid in one of the corner turrets in Patrick Maxwell's new mansion while searching for his sworn enemy. Patrick, on discovering his whereabouts, called out to him: "Robin, come
doon tae me, wha bas done you sae gude a turn, as to mak you young laird and auld laird of Skelmorlie in ae day." Apparently the two men ended their feud and became good friends thereafter. Patrick was also not averse to feuding with his own kin and was implicated in the murder of Patrick Maxwell of Stanely Castle, near Paisley.
But his most sorry victim was undoubtedly his own wife, Lady Margaret Crawford. Patrick's tendency to violence in the family is on record as early as 1595 when his own mother, Marion, complained to the Privy Council about his conduct. It went unheeded. Only in later years did it become apparent that Lady Margaret's life with Patrick must have been wretched. In the end, after 44 years of marriage and having presented her husband with 16 children, she deserted him and retired to Dumbarton, across the Clyde, where she lived in great poverty.

Lady Margaret had tried to have her "unkind and unnatural husband" restrained earlier. Sir Patrick's response had been to continue to mistreat her. In 1632, the family was apparently dining in the hall with the minister and other guests when Lady Margaret was struck so badly about the face that she was confined to her bed for six months. No sooner had she recovered than Sir Patrick attacked her again, this time with a sword. He then had her confined once more to her bedchamber where she was allowed only a little drink and half an oat-loaf each day. Her son, Alexander, and his wife, Ann Houston, attempted to look after her but they were thrown out of the house. Shortly after this Lady Margaret made her escape. Sir Patrick, having contrived for some time to avoid being brought to trial, was by now evidently too ill to travel to Edinburgh to answer his wife's charges and must have died soon afterwards.
This sad tale of a family in turmoil unfolded in the elegant surroundings created by Patrick Maxwell himself in the 1590s. The date 1597 is inscribed over his new front door. Patrick Maxwell downgraded the former family accommodation in the old tower house and had a splendid new range built between it and the gatehouse to serve as the focus of his new residence. At the same time new formal gardens and orchards were created around the house to enhance its setting.

This page last modified on Friday, April 02, 2010

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