The origins of Clan Campbell can be traced back nine
centuries. The clan originated on Loch Awe in Argyll, or the western
Highlands of Scotland. The ruins of the ancient Campbell island stronghols,
Innis Chonnel, are still there today.
The clan rose to become one of the most powerful
in the Highlands, and its children have dispersed to all corners of the
globe. Today it is estimated that 12 million people have the name
Campbell, or a Campbell family, or sept, name.
Our Clan Chief is His Grace, Ian Campbell, Mac
Cailein Mor, 12th Duke of Argyll. The Duke and Dutchess of Argyll,
along with their two children, live in Inverary Castle, the hereditary
home of the Campbell Chiefs since the 15th Century.
Clan Campbell Society (North America)
The name appears to derive from the Gaelic
Cam Beul, meaning Crooked Mouth; while those who bear it are called Clan
Diarmaid as the supposed descendants of the handsome Ossianic hero with
whom the wife of Fingal fell in love. In revenge, Fingal challenged Diarmaid
to slay the wild boar that harried the neighborhood, and then to measure
its carcass, against the lie of its bristles, with his bare feet.
A bristle pierced Diarmaid's Achilles heel, and Fingal refused him a draught
of his healing cup ad Diarmaid lay dying. Scotland's supreme interpreter
of Gaelic song, J. C. M. Campbell (1896-1979) is among those who have left
a recording of this ballad.
Such are the legendary origins of a clan that
was already of considerable consequence in the lands of the earliest Scottish
kingdom of Dalriada by the time these had evolved into Lorne and Argyll.
The support which their chief Sir Colin Campbell of Loch Awe and his two
sons gave to Robert Bruce was rewarded by a marriage with King Robert's
sister, and the Campbells began their rise to supremacy in the Highlands
by assisting in the downfall of Bruce's opponents. From this time
their chiefs were named as the descendants of Sir Colin of Loch Awe, Mac
Chailein Mor, Great son of Colin.
At this time their stronghold was a castle occupying
almost the whole of one of the little islands in the loch, called Innis
Chonaill. Its ruins still stand under the peaks of Cruachan Beann,
the Haunch of Hills that provided the Campbells with their war-cry.
But Colin Campbell, 1st Earl of Argyll, moved his headquarters to the burgh
of Inveraray on Loch Fyne, which he founded in 1474. He was created
Master of the Royal Household and Lord Chancellor, and he played a leading
part in destroying the power of the Lordship of the Isles; which did not
prevent him from lending his support also to the rebels who hounded the
King of Scots, James III, to his death. But the 2nd Earl died with
James IV on the field of Flodden.
The 7th Earl (c. 1576-1638) was involved with
Campbell of Cawdor in overthrowing the MacDonalds of Islay, but after his
second marriage he became a Catholic and ended his days in exile.
It was in these circumstances that his son was placed in a position of
such responsibility before he inherited the Earldom, and reacted so strongly
to Catholics himself. The 8th Earl (1598-1661) was created 1st Marquess
of Argyll and raised his name and clan to its highest pinnacle of power
as leader of the Covenanters who defended Calvinism in Scotland against
the attempts which Charles I made to introduce Episcopalian forms of worship
- and to recover Church property from the hands of the aristocracy.
The power of the 8th Earl was frequently invoked by the Synod of Argyll
against the Highland Catholics, and when the Covenanters had made themselves
the most powerful force in any of Charles I's three rebellious kingdoms,
they even tried to impose their creed upon the English.
Then Montrose arrived in Scotland in 1644 with
nothing except the King's commission to retrieve the broken royalist cause.
The victims of the Campbells rallied behind him, Catholics, Macleans, and
MacDonalds. Under the brilliant leadership of Montrose they routed
Calvinist and Campbell, ravaged Argyll as far as Inveraray, and left a
thousand killed or drowned at Inverlochy, while Mac Chailein Mor fled by
sea to his castle. Iain Lom MacDonald was present at Inverlochy and
celebrated the victory in one of his fiercest poems. And although
Argyll brought Montrose to the gallows in the end, his own power never
recovered. At the Restoration he was executed in his turn by Charles
II, and his son, the 9th Earl, was forfeited and executed in 1685 for his
treason against James VII. But fortune returned to his family in
1688 when the Catholic King James VII lost his throne to Charles I's Calvinist
grandson William of Orange. The 10th Earl was raised to a dukedom
and the family estates were restored to him.
Archibald, 3rd Duke of Argyll (1682-1761) played
so large a part in public affairs, particularly during the Jacobite uprising
of 1745, that he was known as the "King of Scotland". It was he who
built the new castle of Inveraray. The design by Roger Morris was
based on a plan sketched by Vanbrugh, while the classical interiors were
the achievement of Robert Mylne. The dormers and turret roofs were
added in the 19th century. The castle was seriously damaged by fire
in 1976 but has been restored by Ian, 11th Duke and 25th Mac Chailein Mor
(b. 1937), by whom it has been reopened to the public.
The supremacy of the Campbells of Argyll by the
time printing was invented assured their patronage of the first books to
be published in Gaelic, while their support of the reformed religion helped
to make Argyll a center of the dissemination of Calvinist literature.
So it was that, a thousand years after the mission of Saint Columba, the
very parts of Scotland to which he had brought the Christian message first
issued it in print in Columba's own tongue. The Liturgy of John Knox
was published in 1567 in Bishop Carswell's translation, and was followed
in 1631 by a Gaelic version of Calvin's Catechism. Its authorship
is uncertain, but the very fact that the translator may have been the family
bard of the Earl of Argyll is significant.
It was the Synod of Argyll which authorized the
Gaelic Shorter Catechism which was distributed in print in 1653: Dugald
Campbell, minister of Knapdale, was one of the translators. The Synod
next commissioned Gaelic verse translations of the psalms, and Dugald Campbell
undertook to provide numbers twenty through forty. His son Duncan,
minister of Glenorchy, was given the responsibility for the last fifty.
Political upheavals endangered the enterprise, but the entire collection
was found safely among the papers of the Earl of Argyll, and was published
This religious affiliation separated the Campbells
from the rich and ancient literary tradition preserved by the Beatons and
the MacMhuirichs. Even the evidence of Clan Diarmid's links with
its ancient cultural heritage was allowed to become scanty. The MacEwens
were bards to the Campbells of Argyll, yet only one of their poems survived.
It was a MacGregor who preserved a solitary Gaelic poem composed by Sir
Duncan Campbell of Glenorchy who, at the age of seventy, gave his life
in 1513 on the field of Flodden. The strictures which Carswell published
in 1567, in his Gaelic introduction of the Liturgy of Knox, are suggestive.
They roundly condemn the profane and Catholic literature, with its roots
in Ireland. Yet at the end of the day Campbells, even in the Calvinist
ministry, have been pre-eminent among those who have preserved this heritage.
John Gregorson Campbell, minister of the island of Tiree, is especially
noteworthy. In 1891 was published his Ossianic collection, called
The Fians. It was followed by Clan Traditions and Popular Tales in
1895, by Superstitions of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland in 1900,
and two years later by his work Witchcraft and Second Sight.
But it was in the great houses of the Campbells
that their achievement is without parallel. It includes the Records
of Argyll published in 1885 by Lord Archibald Campbell, and the help which
his father the 8th Duke gave to John Francis Campbell of Islay in his lifelong
study of Gaelic tradition. Campbell of Islay did on his private initiative
what no Scottish institution has succeeded in doing: he organized the collection
of folk tales all over the Highlands and Islands. The successive
volumes of his Popular Tales of the West Highlands were issued between
1860 and 1862, and two further volumes of his material have been published
since 1940. In 1872 he produced Leabhar na Feinne, the first volume
of Scotland's incomparable Gaelic ballads to be published in the country.
The successor to these devoted men belongs to
the military family of Inverneil, and descends from the elder brother of
its most distinguished soldier Sir Archibald Campbell (1739-1791).
Dr. John Lorne Campbell exchanged Inverneil for the low fertile island
of Canna, which lies southwest of the Cuillin mountains of Skye.
Hi published his Highland Songs of the Forty-Five in 1933, and since then
no Scottish university has equaled the productions of mind and pen during
the same period. His lifelong collection of songs and stories has
given us English and Gaelic texts of the Tales of Barra told by the Coddy
(1961) showing how a bilingual storyteller manipulates two such different
The Furrow Behind Me preserves the autobiography
of a Gaelic monoglot Hebridean crofter, as well as giving it to the world
in English translation. Campbell has searched out and edited neglected
manuscripts, as is Edward Lhuyd in the Scottish Highlands 1699-1700 (1963)
and A School in South Uist (1964). He has published the poetry of
Father Allan Macdonald of Eriskay in Bardachd Mhgr Ailein (1965), and exposed
the fraudulent use that Ada Goodrich Freer made of his papers in Strange
Things (1968) - a fascinating detective story. In 1981 Dr. Campbell
published the third and final volume of his great work Hebridean Folksongs,
and conveyed the isle of Canna with his library and folklore collection
to the National Trust for Scotland.
The east end of Loch Awe faces three valleys:
Glencoe of the Macintyres, which winds behind Cruachan Beann to the north;
Glenstrae of the MacGregors in the center; and Glenorchy to the south,
which the Campbells claimed to have obtained with a MacGregor heiress at
the auspicious time when they supported Robert Bruce. Glenorchy,
that early prize of Campbell greed, was bestowed by Sir Duncan Campbell
of Loch Awe on his second son Colin. Meanwhile, the lordship of Lorne,
which the MacDougalls had lost through their loyalty to the true heirs
to the Scottish crown, in opposition to Robert Bruce, had passed to co-heiresses
of the Stewart family. Sir Colin of Glenorchy married Margaret Stewart,
one of these co-heiresses, and thus obtained the properties that enabled
him to build the castle of Kilchurn in about 1440 and to found the cadet
branch of the Campbells of Breadelbane. Its chiefs are named after
him Mac Cailein Mhic Dhonnachaidh, Son of Colin Son of Duncan.
It was a later Sir Colin of Glenorchy who, by
high-handedness and trickery, engineered the proscription of the MacGregors
in 1603, thus clearing Glenstrae opposite the entrance to Kilchurn.
In 1625 Black Duncan, the 7th of Glenorchy, was created a baronet.
There followed the upheavals in church and state which occasioned such
vicissitudes in the parent house of Argyll. Of these the 4th baronet
attempted to take advantage by marrying a widow of the Earl of Caithness
and buying up the estates of the earldom when the Gordon Earl of Sutherland,
whose family had been attempting for decades to obtain it for themselves,
found himself under a clout at the Restoration of Charles II. Such
a move was rare in highland history. Although the Gordons and the
Campbells sometimes clashed in the political field, they generally confined
themselves to their own ample spheres of influence in their more private
enterprises. Neither did Sir John of Glenorchy now succeed in obtaining
the Sinclair earldom in the far north. But in 1681 he was created
instead Earl of Breadelbane.
When William and Mary became joint sovereigns
by the Revolution of 1688, commissioners traveled to London to offer them
the Scottish crown. Argyll administered the oath; when he reached
the final clause William objected, until he was persuaded that he might
take it with a good conscience. He then swore "to root out all heretics
and enemies to the true worship of God that shall be convicted by the true
Kirk of God of the foresaid crimes, out of the lands and empire of Scotland."
The Campbells had already planned the assault on their Catholic neighbors
which produced such little profit and widespread obloquy in the massacre
It was Dalrymple of Stair who persuaded King William
to take the oath, and Dalrymple's friend, the 1st Earl of Breadalbane,
who was entrusted with a fund of public money with which to buy the allegiance
of Highland chiefs. But a man who was not trusted by his friends
could not secure the confidence of his enemies. A policy of coercion
was consequently adopted instead, which lead to the massacre. The
military expedition to Glencoe was entrusted to a drunken cadet of Glenorchy,
Robert Campbell of Glenlyon. The wily Breadalbane was careful to
conceal his own part in the murder of his old enemy MacIan of Glencoe;
and this stood him in good stead when he was arrested on a charge of complicity
in the massacre.
The line of Breadalbane has suffered misfortune
since then. It has failed three times and been revived again; Kilchurn
is a ruin and the more modern seat of Taymouth Castle has been sold.
At the very time when the Gordons were conspiring
to seize the earldom of Sutherland in the far north, the Campbells scored
their most dramatic success in the Gordon sphere of influence. John
of Calder died in 1494, leaving a daughter Muriel as his posthumous heir.
The baby's maternal grandfather, Rose of Kilravock, faced a criminal prosecution
at the time for robbery, and the Justice-General was Archibald, 2nd Earl
of Argyll. By 1495 he had eased Kilravock's difficulties and obtained
the wardship of the baby heiress of Calder from James IV. A force
of Campbells then seized her by force and carried her away to Inveraray
Legend tells that her mother had time to brand
her with a red-hot key, and her nurse to bite off the joint of her little
finger, lest the Campbells should put a spurious heiress in her place.
It would have been a wise precaution. The Campbells lost many of
their men as they beat off their pursuers, and someone suggested that if
the child were to die, much blood would have been spilt in vain.
To this the leader of the Campbell party replied that the heiress could
never die so long as there was a red-haired lass on the banks of Loch Fyne.
Supposedly it was the genuine heiress Muriel who was married in 1510 to
Sir John Campbell, third son of Argyll, and returned with him to live at
Calder in the country of Nairn, now known as Cawdor.
Their castle still stands in the fertile lands
south of the Moray Firth which enjoy an exceptionally fine climate for
their latitude, and it is said that the lord of Cawdor had selected this
pleasant location in 1454 by letting loose a donkey laden with gold, and
observing the spot where it stopped to rest. The hawthorn tree beneath
which the donkey halted still stands in the vaults of the castle.
Here the heiress Muriel outlived her husband by
several decades and was succeeded by her grandson when she died in 1573.
But instead of resting content with his delightful patrimony, he sold many
of his lands in order to finance the conquest of Islay, still the possession
of Sir James MacDonald after the abolition of the Lordship. In this
operation Sir John of Cawdor was assisted by the 7th Earl of Argyll, who
became a Catholic and ended his days in exile. In 1624 Cawdor too
was converted to the Catholic faith by the Irish Franciscan Father Corneilus
Ward. Thus these two Campbells demonstrated in the end that their
convictions meant more to them than material gain. But Islay fell
under the remote dominion of the Campbells of Cawdor until 1726, when it
was purchased by another member of the same clan.
Fine additions were made to the castle by Sir
Hugh Campbell (1642-1716), who married Henrietta Stuart, daughter of the
Earl of Moray. But after their son Sir Alexander married the heiress
of Stackpole in Pembrokeshire the family gravitated increasingly to Wales.
John Campbell the heir married another Welsh heiress, and it was their
grandson John who in 1796 was created baron Cawdor of Castlemartin in Pembrokeshire.
The second Baron was created Earl of Cawdor after George IV's visit to
Stackpole in 1827.
Subsequently his kinsfolk have earned one of the
most impressive collections of gallantry awards on record in a single family,
including three Victoria Crosses. The 5th Earl, a Lieutenant Colonel
in the Cameron Highlanders during the Second World War, returned to make
Cawdor his family's principal home once more. He was also chairman
of the Scottish Historic Buildings Council and a trustee of the National
Museum of Antiquities. Since his death in 1970 his son Hugh, the
6th Earl (b. 1932) has dismantled the gigantic mansion of Stackpole and
opened that gem of baronial architecture, Cawdor Castle, to the public.