The name comes from a pool on the river Tweed near Kelso and is thought to be named after Maccus, son of Undewyn, a Saxon lord who was given a grant of land on the Tweed by King David I> before 1150. The fishery attached to it was called Maccus's Wiel (from the Old English "wael" or whirlpool). Not far away, in Roxburghshire, the town (and surname) of Maxton may have come from the same Maccus. His grandson, John of Maccuswell was Chamberlain of Scotland. John's brother, Sir Aymer, was also chamberlain and it is from him that a number of the Maxwell branches are descended.
In the Wars of Independence the Maxwells recognised John Balliol as king and Sir Aymer's grandson held Caerlaverock for the English. Later, however, he joined Robert the Bruce> and was one of the signatories to the Declaration of Arbroath> (Scotland's predecessor to the US Declaration of Independence).
As the Black Douglas> family declined in power in the 15th century, the Maxwells rose in stature and held the title Lord Maxwell from 1424. John, the 4th Lord Maxwell was killed at the Battle of Flodden in 1513.
The Maxwells were frequently wardens of the Western Marches although at times they were in conflict with the Johnstons> who also held the title at various times. The 6th Lord Maxwell (who was also Earl of Morton after the execution of the Douglas holder of that title and who was linked to a number of plots to restore Mary Queen of Scots to the throne) was killed in a battle with the Johnstons> near Lockerbie in 1593. The 7th Lord Maxwell later killed Johnston of that ilk in 1608 and was executed for that in 1613.
The 8th Lord Maxwell was created Earl of Nithsdale and the 5th Earl of Nithsdale supported the first Jacobite Uprising in 1715. He was captured and sentenced to death for treason but his wife helped him escape from the Tower of London on the eve of the execution, disguised as a maidservant .
A number of other branches of Maxwell rose to prominence - including those of Cardoness, Monreith, Sprinkel and Pollok. The world-famous Burrell Collection> of art is in the grounds of the Maxwell-owned Pollok House (pictured here) in Glasgow.
The Maxwell clan motto is "Reviresco" which means "I will grow strong again".
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