A brass jetton made in Nuremberg, Germany, in the early 16th century. This example was found in the moat at Caerlaverock Castle during digs carried out from 1955 to 1966.
The Virgin and Child are shown on the front of the disc, along with the Lombardic letters “+SA+SA+SA+SA+SA+AS+A+”. On the back is an eagle, its wings spread, and more lettering.
Jettons were not currency but counters used on a board to perform sums. The castle chamberlain, who was in charge of finances, may have used this example to keep track of tenants’ rent payments and debts.
Alternatively, a mother-to-be may have used or worn this jetton as a charm or amulet. She may have sought the aid of the Virgin Mary for protection during pregnancy and childbirth and to deliver a healthy heir.
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.
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.
- Date Made
- Early 16th century
- dia 26mm (dia 1")
- Metal/BM Processed
- Time Period
- 16th century, Post-medieval
- Property Information
- Caerlaverock Castle
- Object Number
- Access Status