POLLOCK AND MAXWELL

JOHN F. POLK
CLAN POLLOCK HISTORIAN
FROM THE POLLAG, JUNE 2000

There is an ancient association between the Pollock and Maxwell families. They have been allied since the 12th century through marriage, feudal bonds, military alliance and simple physical proximity within the Barony of Pollok in Renfrewshire.

This association is the reason for Clan Pollock selecting its tartan as a variant of the Maxwell tartan. Like any enduring, real relationship, fact and myth has become irretrievably mixed in the mists of time so there will never be a complete or final telling of this story. Nonetheless, the basic outline of the Pollock and Maxwell association is known with some certainty and we present a brief account here, hopefully without adding to the confusion.

Both families trace back to the time of David I, King of Scotland. David, whose mother Margaret was a daughter of Edward the Exile of England, was sent as a youth to the English Court and learned the Norman feudal system of lords and vassals at first hand. When he later became King, David began to institute a similar system in Scotland and invited a number of the Norman families into his court, investing them with lands, mostly in the Scottish lowland and border areas, which they held as vassals to himself as overlord and sovereign. The best known of these are of course the Stewarts and Bruces who eventually rose to kingship themselves. Many of the great families of Scotland, some but not all of Norman lineage, trace their origins back to this time. The Pollocks and Maxwells are among them.

The principal Pollock (Polloc) line of descent from Fulbert, which had lordship over Upper Pollock, became known as Polloc-of-that-Ilk to distinguish it from other Pollock lines (Pollock of Belgray, Pollock of Hatton). This lineage is described in detail in Crawfurd’s History of the Shire of Renfrew, and a transcription of his text appeared in the previous issue of The Pollag. The hereditary name of “de Polloc” was certainly in use by 1208. A seal of that date may be found in the British Museum with the words “Sigillum Roberti de Polloc” inscribed about the family emblem - a wild boar.

The progenitor of the Maxwell family was Undewyn, or Undwain, a Saxon lord, who lived in the area of Kelso by the River Tweed. Like our Fulbert, little is known of him - just than he was the father of Maccus from whom the family name of Maxwell derives. “Wael” is a pool or whirlpool and “Maccus Wael” referred to the site along the Tweed where they dwelled. Maccus is much better know than his father and was cited in various charters and donations such as the donation by David I of the lands of Melrose Abbey where he appears as “Maccus filius Undwain”.

The Maxwell family was prominent in the Scottish court and sometime after 1200 Sir John de Maccuswell, grandson of Maccus, was granted the lands of Carlaverock in Nithsdale which in due course became the principal seat of the Maxwell family. In the 15th century the head of this branch was granted the title Lord Maxwell and in the 17th they were given the title Earl of Nithsdale - and there is a long and bloody history behind this occurrence.

One branch of the Maxwells was granted lands in Renfrewshire around 1270 and the close association between the descendants of Fulbert and of Undwain begins at this time. The early history is described in “Memoirs of the Maxwells of Pollock” by Sir William Fraser as follows:

(The lands of) Pollok formed part of the extensive estates which were granted by King David I to Walter the High Steward about the year 1124. The grant of David was confirmed by his grandson, King Malcolm IV, in 1157-58. A part of the lands of Pollok, forming the upper division, appears to have been bestowed by the High Steward on Peter, son of Fulbert, who was one of his followers, and whose immediate descendants adopted the territorial designation of Pollok. They were vassals of the Steward, who continued to be the Superior of Upper Pollok. This superiority was acquired by Rolland de Mearns, along with the barony of Mearns, and afterwards by the Maxwells of Carlaverock, on their succeeding Rolland. The Polloks of Upper Pollok thus became vassals of the Maxwells as Lords of Mearns, and this vassalage continued until the seventeenth century.

The lower division of Pollok, commonly called Nether Pollok, was, about the year 1270, given by Sir Aymer Maxwell to his younger son, Sir John Maxwell, whose territorial designation thenceforth became of Pollok, or of Nether Pollok, and whose lineal male descendant is the present Sir John Maxwell of Pollok.

Thus the Maxwells of (Nether) Pollock and the Pollocks of that Ilk, of upper Pollock, were near neighbors in Renfrewshire and of equal stature as vassals to the Maxwells of Carlaverock. With this physical and social proximity it was inevitable that there would be strong ties, and at time strong rivalries, between these families over the centuries. It cannot be said that the relationship was always rosy - there were feuds and conflicts.

In fact the lands of Polloks of that Ilk were confiscated by Robert the Bruce in 1314, because of their adherence to Baliol and support of Edward I, and assigned to Sir John Maxwell of Carlaverock.

However these were restored in due course with the marriage of Robert de Polloc and Agnes, daughter of Sir John Maxwell of Carlaverock, sometime prior to 1372. The lineal descendants of Pollock-of-that Ilk until quite recently have held some portion of these lands. Later descendants of this line can thus claim both Fulbert and Maccus as ancestors.

The course of Scottish history was very turbulent and bloody over succeeding centuries until the Act of Union in 1707 provided the basis for a more stable and peaceable relationship with England, though things didn’t completely settle down until after the Battle of Culloden in 1746. The Maxwells were the dominant family in the Western Marches of the frontier and major participants in the border reiver conflicts of the 16th century. Their castle at Carlaverock was a key stronghold during this period and the inevitable focus of military stratagems and outright battles.

The Polloks and Maxwells of Renfrewshire were certainly involved in supporting the Maxwells of Carlaverock in their ceaseless struggles in the border wars but we have little specific information on this. It has been cited in Crawfurd and other histories how Polloks fought with the Maxwells for Queen Mary at Langside, 1568, and against the Johnstones at Lockerbie, 1593.

During the plantations of Ulster in the 17th century, both Maxwells and Pollocks can be found transplanted into various locations in the North of Ireland. The lowlands of Scotland, especially Ayrshire and Renfrewshire, were a primary source of recruits for such settlements, so this is to be expected. Their names can be found sporadically in muster rolls, hearth rolls, church records and other documents of 17th century Ulster, but there is no authoritative genealogical treatment of their connections with the families back in Scotland. Unambiguous records of descent from that era are sparse and widely dispersed so it is not likely that this will change anytime soon.

In fact, looking at surviving records such as those published in the volumes of the Scottish Records Society it becomes clear that there were a large number of Pollocks and Maxwells scattered throughout Scotland and Ulster, not all of whom can be assigned to the principal family lines.

Nonetheless, considering the recent explosion of interest in genealogy and the growth of information processing technology, we may hope that long buried information may continue to emerge and shed new light on our ancient family ties.

References:

  • A General Description of the Shire of Renfrew, George Crawfurd, 1710; revised by George Robertson, 1818
  • Memoirs of the Maxwells of Pollok, Sir William Fraser
  • The Book of Carlaverock, William Fraser, 1873
  • A History of the County of Renfrew, Wm. Metcalfe, DD, 1905
  • Old Days and Ways in Newton Mearns, A. Boyd Scott, 1939
  • Eastwood District History and Heritage, Thomas C. Welch, 1989
  • The Surnames of Scotland, George F. Black, 1993
  • The Steel Bonnets, George MacDonald Fraser, 1971
  • Pollock Letters, Queries and Notes, from letters notes, documents and pedigrees collected together by Alex Pollock of 1939, compiled by E. A. Langslow Cock and enlarged by the late Kennet Pollock, 1996