MAXWELL, the name of a Scottish family, members of which have held the titles of earl of Morton, earl of Nithsdale, Lord Maxwell, and Lord Herries. The name is taken probably from Maccuswell, or Maxwell, near Kelso, whither the family migrated from England about noo. Sir Herbert Maxwell won great fame by defending his castle of Carlaverock against Edward I. in 1300; another Sir Herbert was made a lord of the Scottish parliament before 1445; and his great-grandson John, 3rd Lord Maxwell, was killed at Flodden in 1513. John's son Robert, the 4th lord (d. 1546), was a member of the royal council under James V.; he was also an extraordinary lord of session, high admiral, and warden of the west marches, and was taken prisoner by the English at the rout of Solway Moss in 1542. Robert's grandson John, 7th Lord Maxwell (1553-1593), was the second son of Robert, the 5th lord (d. 1552), and his wife Beatrix, daughter of James Douglas, 3rd earl of Morton. After the execution of the regent Morton, the 4th earl, in 1581 this earldom was bestowed upon Maxwell, but in 1586 the attainder of the late earl was reversed and he was deprived of his new title. He had helped in 1585 to drive the royal favourite James Stewart, earl of Arran, from power, and he made active preparations to assist the invading Spaniards in 1588. His son John, the 8th lord (c. 1586-1613), was at feud with the Johnstones, who had killed his father in a skirmish, and with the Douglases over the earldom of Morton, which he regarded as his inheritance. After a life of exceptional and continuous lawlessness he escaped from Scotland and in his absence was sentenced to death; having returned to his native country he was seized and was beheaded in Edinburgh. In 1618 John's brother and heir Robert (d. 1646) was restored to the lordship of Maxwell, and in 1620 was created earl of Nithsdale, surrendering at this time his claim to the earldom of Morton. He and his son Robert, afterwards the 2nd earl, fought under Montrose for Charles I. during the Civil War. Robert died without sons in October 1667, when a cousin John Maxwell, 7th Lord Herries (d. 1677), became third earl.
William, 5th earl of Nithsdale (1676-1744), a grandson of the third earl, was like his ancestor a Roman Catholic and was attached to the cause of the exiled house of Stuart. In 1715 he joined the Jacobite insurgents, being taken prisoner at the battle of Preston and sentenced to death. He escaped, however, from the Tower of London through the courage and devotion of his wife Winifred (d. 1749), daughter of William Herbert, 1st marquess of Powis. He was attainted in 1716 and his titles became extinct, but his estates passed to his son William (d. 1 776) , whose descendant, William Constable-Maxwell, regained the title of Lord Herries in 1858. The countess of Nithsdale wrote an account of her husband's escape, which is published in vol. i. of the Transactions of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.
A few words may be added about other prominent members of the Maxwell family. John Maxwell (c. 1590-1647), archbishop of Tuam, was a Scottish ecclesiastic who took a leading part in helping Archbishop Laud in his futile attempt to restore the liturgy in Scotland. He was bishop of Ross from 1633 until 1638, when he was deposed by the General Assembly ; then crossing over to Ireland he was bishop of Killala and Achonry from 1640 to 1645, and archbishop of Tuam from 1645 until his death. James Maxwell of Kirkconncll (c. 1708-1762), the Jacobite, wrote the Narrative of Charles Prince of Wales's Expedition to Scotland in 1745, which was printed for the Maitland Club in 1841. Robert Maxwell (1695-1765) was the author of Select Transactions of the Society of Improvers and was a great benefactor to Scottish agriculture. Sir Murray Maxwell (1775-1831), a naval officer, gained much fame by his conduct when his ship the " Alceste " was wrecked in Caspar Strait in 1817. William Hamilton Maxwell (1792-1850), the Irish novelist, wrote, in addition to several novels, a Life of the Duke of Wellington (1839-1841 and again 1883), and a History of the Irish Rebellion in 1798 (1845 and 1891). Sir Herbert Maxwell, 7th bait. (b. 1845), member of parliament for Wigtownshire from 1880 to 1906, and president of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, became well known as a writer, his works including Life and Times of the Right Hon. W. H. Smith (1893); Life of the Duke of Wellington (1899); The House of Douglas (1902) ; Robert the Bruce (1897) and A Duke of Britain (1895).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)