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Clan Campbell

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 stronghold, 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 as 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.

Ian Grimble
Scottish Clans and Tartans