This horse harness pendant was probably part of a suite of similar items which decorated horse equipment including the cheekpiece, headband, reins, breastplate, or caparison. These items were a visual way for medieval nobles to display their wealth and status, both on their own horses and on those of their households. They would have been brightly coloured and jingled as the horse moved.

The pendant is shield-shaped, with a loop at the top and a broken hinged attachment at the bottom from which another pendant would have hung. The design of the shield is heraldic, with a pattern of squares known as ‘chequy’. Alternate squares are raised and sunken. The sunken portions probably contained coloured enamel. Heraldic pendants like this were used in the 1200s and 1300s.

The pendant was recovered during excavations at Caerlaverock Castle, Dumfries and Galloway, between 1955 and 1966. It may have belonged to John de Warenne, 6th Earl of Surrey, whose heraldry it resembles. His coat of arms was a gold and blue check pattern. De Warenne played a leading role in Edward I’s siege of Caerlaverock in 1300, where he commanded a division of the English army. By 1300 he was sixty-nine years old and an experienced military commander. The pendant may have been lost by him or a member of his household.

Caerlaverock Castle

Caerlaverock’s triangular shape is unique among British castles. A walk around the castle gives a sense of its strength, economy of form and pleasing geometry.

Three lengths of defensive curtain wall are linked at their three angles by high corner towers. On the north side is an impressive twin-towered gatehouse, where the Maxwells had their private rooms.

The Maxwells repaired and upgraded Caerlaverock over the years. The impressive machicolations (slotted defences) at the top of each tower date from the late 1300s or early 1400s – by which time the Wars of Independence with England had taken their toll.

Inside the castle walls is the remarkable Nithsdale Lodging, built in the 1630s by Robert Maxwell, 1st Earl of Nithsdale. Its attractive façade, with its ornate Renaissance stone carvings, is a sharp contrast to the severe castle walls.

Tale of two sieges

Caerlaverock was besieged and captured on numerous occasions, but two sieges in particular stand out.

The first, in July 1300, involved Edward I himself. The small garrison surrendered within two days of facing the full might of the English king’s army. A contemporary account of the siege is one of the most fascinating recorded for any castle in the British Isles.

The second siege, in 1640, was the castle’s last. It was brought about by Lord Maxwell’s loyalty to Charles I during his struggles with the Covenanters. The garrison held out for 13 weeks before surrendering.

Afterwards the castle was stripped of valuable fixtures and fittings and its great south curtain wall demolished so that Caerlaverock could never again be used as a place of defence.

Natural history

Many rare animals and plants live in the castle grounds, which lies next to Caerlaverock Nature Reserve.

There are 15 habitats in the grounds, including:

  • semi-natural ancient woodland
  • swamp and ponds
  • unimproved grassland

That so many nationally important habitats survive is testament to Caerlaverock’s protection as a significant historical site.

Find out more about Caerlaverock Castle


33 x 15 x 2mm
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Caerlaverock Castle
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