Robert Maxwell, 5th Lord Maxwell

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Robert Maxwell, 5th Lord Maxwell (1493–1546) was a member of the council of Regency (1536) of the Kingdom of Scotland, Regent of the Isle of Arran and like his father before him patriarch of the House of Maxwell \ clan Maxwell. A distinguished Scottish nobleman, politician, soldier and in 1513 Lord High Admiral, Lord Maxwell was a member of James V of Scotland's royal council and served as Lord Provost of Edinburgh in 1524, 1527 and 1535. He was also an Extraordinary Lord of Session in 1533. In 1537, he was one of the ambassadors sent to the French Court to negotiate the marriage of James to Mary of Guise, whom he espoused as proxy for the King.


He was the eldest son of John Maxwell, 4th Lord Maxwell, killed at the battle of Flodden, 9 September 1513, his mother was Lady Agnes Stewart, illegitimate daughter of James Stewart, 1st Earl of Buchan, second son to Sir James Stewart, the Black Knight of Lorne, and Joan Beaufort, Queen of Scots (c. 1404 – 15 July 1445), the widow of James I of Scotland. Lady Agnes Stewart was later legitimized by Queen Mary of Guise, on 31 October 1552, under the Great Seal of Scotland. This made Joan Beaufort, Robert's great grandmother because of his mother's legitimization

After the battle of Flodden Robert was returned heir to his father on 4 November 1513. Around this time he was also bestowed as Regent of Arran the largest island in the Firth of Clyde. Making the 5th Lord Maxwell essentially Monarch of the Island. Although others would achieve other highly respected noble titles in the distinguished line of the House of Maxwell none would match that of 5th Lord Maxwell's success. Not much is known about his reign as Regent other than he didn't spend much time on the Island. At the time of Flodden he was admiral of a fleet, which it was proposed to France, but which on the voyage was driven back, and arrived at Kirkcudbright on the day after the battle. Maxwell immediately afterwards seized Lochmaben; and on 26 November he was appointed captain and keeper of Thrieve. On the forfeiture of Alexander Home, 3rd Lord Home in 1516 he acquired part of his lands, and in the following year was made warden of the west marches.

After the return to Scotland of Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus, husband of the dowager queen Margaret Tudor, Maxwell became one of the queen's party. He was concerned in the removal of the young king James V from Stirling to Edinburgh, 26 July 1524; and on 18 August made lord Provost of Edinburgh; he then took part in the scheme for the king's nominal assumption of the government in November, with the advice of the Kings mother. He was then appointed as one of the council to assist her in the government. The queen's divorce from Angus changed the attitude of Maxwell as well as other nobles towards her; and on the king attaining his majority, fourteen years, 21 June 1526, Maxwell became one of the council appointed to assist Angus in the guardianship of the king and management of affairs, he was in company with the king at the Battle of Melrose on 25 July, when an unsuccessful attempt was made by Walter Scott of Branxholme and Buccleuch to get possession of him. The same year he was appointed steward of Kirkcudbright and keeper of Thrieve.

On the escape of the king from Falkland Palace to Stirling in July 1528, Maxwell separated himself from the party of Angus, and was chosen one of the new council. Having accompanied the king to Edinburgh he was again made lord provost of the city, and on 26 August frustrated an attempt of Angus to take possession of it. He was one of the jurors on the trial of Angus, and on his forfeiture received a portion of his lands.

Like most of the southern nobles, Maxwell gave his indirect countenance to the border raiders, and engaged in raids on his own account. In 1528 he had been compelled by Angus to make compensation to the English for burning Netherby, and this probably was the reason of his hostility to Angus. In the following year, when the king determined to make a progress southwards to punish raiders, it was deemed advisable to place Maxwell and other sympathisers with them in ward in Edinburgh Castle, but after the king's return they were released on giving pledges for their allegiance. The execution of John Armstrong, who was partly under his protection, was specially distasteful to Maxwell, but he afterwards became reconciled to the king, and on 17 November 1533 was appointed an extraordinary lord of session. During an excursion into England in 1536 he burned Penrith. The same year he was appointed one of the ruling regents during the absence of King James on his matrimonial expedition to France; and after the death of the king's first wife, Madeleine of Valois, was sent in December 1537 with other ambassadors to conclude a treaty of marriage with Mary of Guise.

Maxwell as high admiral commanded an expedition to the Orkney Islands in 1540. He joined the army which assembled on the Borough Muir of Edinburgh in October 1542, and having in vain urged that battle should be given to the English, he after its disbandment took the principal part in raising a force for a new expedition. In command of ten thousand men he proceeded to the western borders, but just before the encounter with the English at the Battle of Solway Moss a warrant was produced by Oliver Sinclair, authorising him to assume the chief command. In the confusion little resistance was made to the English, and Maxwell was captured, perhaps deliberately. Along with other captive nobles he was sent to London; Eustace Chapuys wrote that Maxwell and 23 Scottish gentlemen were brought to the Tower of London on 20 December and the next day were released to be billeted in houses of London gentry.[1]

The death of James V in December somewhat changed Henry VIII's policy. The captive nobles were permitted to return to Scotland on paying a ransom, and on entering into a bond to aid the English king by force if necessary in his scheme for a marriage of Prince Edward with the young queen, Mary Stuart. Maxwell was at Carlisle in March 1543, and was able to write to the King's widow, Mary of Guise, and arrange the passage of her French servants who took messages on to the Duke of Suffolk at Newcastle. Suffolk was told that Guise was favourable to the marriage plan.[2]

Cardinal Beaton, who opposed the marriage to the heir of a Protestant country, was detained. Maxwell showed his hostility to him by proposing and getting passed an act that all should have liberty to read the Bible in the Scots and English tongue. Along with Hugh Somerville, 5th Lord Somerville he was one of the chief agents of Angus in his intrigues with Henry VIII. On the last day of October 1543 Maxwell and Somerville were captured by John Hamilton, the Abbot of Paisley, while proceeding with letters to Gilbert Kennedy, 3rd Earl of Cassilis and William Cunningham, 4th Earl of Glencairn, Maxwell being sent to the castle of Edinburgh.

On obtaining his liberty he joined Matthew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox in Glasgow Castle, and was taken prisoner at its capture during the battle of Glasgow, 1 April 1544. He was released on 3 May 1544, on the approach of the English fleet to Leith roads, in case his friends or followers should ally with the English.

Having now excited the suspicions of Henry as to his fidelity, he was taken prisoner and sent to the Tower of London. Thereupon he offered to serve under the Earl of Hertford, with a red cross on his armour as a symbol of his devotion to England; but in August 1545 he remained imprisoned at Pontefract Castle,[3] only in October 1545 he was allowed to return to Scotland, on delivering Caerlaverock Castle into English keeping. Early in November his castles were captured by Beaton, and he was conveyed a prisoner to Dumfries; but having affirmed that he had only made terms with Henry in fear of his life, he on 12 January 1546 received a remission, and was at the same time made chief justice of Annandale. On 3 June 1546 he was appointed warden of the west marches. He died on 9 July of the same year.


By his first wife, Janet Douglas, daughter of Sir William Douglas of Drumlanrig, he had three children:

Depictions in popular culture

Portrayed by the actor James Sutherland, Robert Maxwell, the 5th lord Maxwell makes a brief appearance in the television series The Tudors. He appears in season 4 episode 6 entitled "You Have My Permission". In the show he is only ever referred to as Lord Maxwell.


  1. Calendar State Papers Spanish, vol.6 part 2, (1895), pp.221-222, no.94.
  2. Cameron, Annie I., Scottish Correspondence of Mary of Lorraine, SHS(1927), 1-7.
  3. Letters & Papers Henry VIII, vol.20 part 2 (1907), no.118.


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