Associated with Argyll especially although Campbell fortresses dot other parts of Scotland. They came to pre-eminence after the MacDougalls power was reduced by Robert the Bruce and later after the forfeiture of MacDonald lands in 1493 even more land in the area came under their sway.
The name is strongly associated with the massacre at Glencoe, but the Campbells in question were based in Glen Lyon.
Traditional genealogies place the origin of this clan among the ancient Britons of Strathclyde, but the first Campbell in written records is Gillespie, in 1263. Early grants of land to him and his relations were almost all in east-central Scotland, although the family’s first connection with Argyll appears to have come about some generations before, with the marriage of a Campbell to the dynastic heiress of the O’Duines, who brought with her the Lordship of Loch Awe. Through this connection the clan took its early name of Clan O’Duine, a name which was later supplanted by the style Clan Diarmid, from a fancied connection with a great hero from early Celtic mythology, Diarmid the Boar. The original seat of the clan was either Innischonnel Castle on Loch Awe, which was in Campbell hands by the early fourteenth century, or Caisteal na Nigheann Ruaidhe on Loch Avich. The Campbell landholdings spread, with Craignich, Avaslotnisk, Melfort and Strachur, together with other lands of Cowal, being early additions, and the family’s power soon spread throughout Argyll.
At first the Campbells were under the domination of the Macdougal Lords of Lorne who killed the Campbell chief, Sir Cailen Mor Campbell, in 1296. (All subsequent Campbell chiefs have taken as their Gaelic patronymic, ‘MacCailein Mor’). However, this situation was reversed in the time of his son, Sir Neil, a staunch ally and companion of Robert the Bruce, by whom he was rewarded with extensive grants of land forfeited by the Lords of Lorne and other enemies in Argyll. It was this that gave initial impetus to the rise to power of the Campbells in the west Highlands. The king also gave his sister in marriage to Sir Neil, who appears to have disposed of his existing wife for this better offer, a common practice at a time when noble marriages were primarily a means of forging alliances. This royal marriage resulted in a son, John, who was created Earl of Atholl. John was killed at the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333, and with no heir to succeed, the title and lands passed out of Campbell hands. However, this close royal connection may have helped to ensure the emergence of the Loch Awe branch as the chiefly line of the Campbells. The Macarthur Campbells of Strachur may well have been senior by primo geniture, but their chance of pre-eminence failed when a projected marriage with the MacRuari heiress to Garmoran was prevented by her family. The lands later fell into the hands of the expanding Clan Donald, but not before a charter had been made out to her intended husband, Arthur Campbell, a younger son of Strachur. This gave rise to the celebrated incident in 1427 when James I executed both John Macarthur, a descendant of the disappointed bridegroom, and the then MacRuari chief in order to settle the quarrel over the right to Garmoran.
Throughout the fifteenth century the Campbells gave steady support to the Crown in an area where royal influence was under severe pressure, first from the rival Crown of Norway and then from the descendants of Somerled, former Lord of the Isles, with the eventual emergence of the Crown’s most powerful rival in the Macdonald Lordship of the Isles. The Lordship of the Isles was broken by the Crown by the end of the fifteenth century, leaving the Campbells the main power in the area. Thereafter they continued to act as the chief instrument of central authority in the region. This long struggle for supremacy, and with it, the headship of the Gael, may be said to be the real cause for the ancient enmity between the Campbells and the Macdonalds.
In 1445, Sir Duncan Campbell of Loch Awe became Lord Campbell. In 1457 his grandson and heir, Colin, was created Earl of Argyll. He married one of the three daughters of the Stewart Lord of Lorne, and through a financial deal with his wife’s uncle, he brought the Lordship of Lorne to the Campbells, with not only much land and the stronghold of Dunstaffnage, but the important dynastic significance of a title which represented the senior line of the descendants of Somerled; from then on the Campbell chiefs quartered the galley of the Isles in their Arms. His uncle, another Colin, also married another of the Stewart daughters and founded a line which was to rival that of Loch Awe in terms of power and importance – the Campbells of Glenorchy, later Earls of Breadalbane. The Earls of Breadalbane were to build themselves the palatial Taymouth Castle, at the east end of Loch Tay, which still stands to this day. It was said at one time that Breadalbane could ride for a hundred miles across his family’s possessions which stretched from Perthshire to the Atlantic.
The Campbell family held other earldoms, in the north and south of the country. As Earls of Loudoun they held land in Ayrshire and spawned a host of lairdships there; and they gained the thanedom of Cawdor from the Calders as a result of the marriage of an infant Calder heiress to one of Argyll’s sons, founding the great house of the Earls of Cawdor.
However, internal rivalry for the chiefship led to a feud which threatened to split the clan. Campbell of Cawdor, a guardian of the young seventh Earl of Argyll, was murdered in 1592 during a conspiracy by some of the other guardians, which threatened the child’s life and that of his brother. None of the principal conspirators was brought to justice, but the young earl survived a suspected poisoning attempt to become an able soldier and unite the clan.
Campbell support for central government brought rewards. In 1607 Archibald, seventh Earl of Argyll, was granted former Macdonald lands in Kintyre, while in 1615 Campbell of Cawdor was allowed to purchase Islay and most of Jura which had previously belonged to the Macleans of Duart.
The civil war and the invasion of the Irish Macdonalds into Argyll in support of the great Montrose brought wholesale death and destruction, and at Inverlochy in 1645 the clan suffered the biggest single defeat in its history. Archibald, the eighth Earl, attempted to maintain a precarious balance between his espousal of the Covenant and his support for Charles II’s attempts to win his father’s throne. But it was a balance too fine to be maintained, and the earl was executed for treason after the Restoration. His son, the ninth Earl, was staunch in his loyalty to the Protestant religion and he, like his father, was executed, this time as a result of his support for the rebellion of Monmouth against the king.
The Revolution of 1688 once more restored the family fortunes, and in 1703 William of Orange created the tenth Earl, Duke of Argyll and Marquess of Lorne and Kintyre, with a string of lesser titles. The second Duke was one of the first officers of the British army to be promoted to the rank of field marshall; his military skills were said to be equal to, if not greater than, those of his renowned contemporary, Marlborough, and he became commander-in-chief of the British army. He was succeeded by his brother, the most influential man in Scotland and a proponent of the Treaty of Union of 1707.
The success of the Campbells owed much to a remarkable succession of chiefs, although they could not have achieved what they did without the support of their people. Throughout their history the chiefs managed to combine their role of Highland clan chiefs with a strong presence at court, which insured them a leading part in the affairs of Scotland, Great Britain and the Empire. In the days when allegiances were expressed by bonds of manrent, the chiefs of a dozen clans swore allegiance to Argyll, whose superiority as lord extended to the Outer Hebrides, and his clansmen possessed great swathes of Scotland both within and without the bounds of the Highlands. They were difficult neighbours and their success, and the ways in which they achieved it, brought them many enemies, but no-one could gainsay those achievements. Shortly before 1745 the strength of Clan Campbell was put at a total of some five thousand men.
The rise of Empire opened up many other opportunities to serve the Crown, and no less than sixteen regiments of the British army were at one time or another raised by members of the clan. The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, descended from Lochnell’s 98th (later 91st) Highlanders still wear the Duke’s boar’s head as their cap badge and charge to the Campbell battle-cry, ‘Cruachan’. The intense pride of the Campbells in their ancestry was illustrated when Queen Victoria’s daughter, Princess Louise, became engaged to the Marquess of Lorne, the ninth Duke’s heir, in a marriage which was sensational in its day. The news was apparently told to an old lady in Inveraray, who is said to have replied, ‘Ach weel, Her Majesty’ll be a prood wumman the day, wat wi’ her dochter gettin’ mairrit on the son of MacCailein Mor’.
Campbells have spread out across the globe and have prospered. Geographic features throughout the world are called after the family, and although there are now fewer Campbells still owning lands in the Highlands, the family still prospers there. No less than four new Campbell peerages have been created since the end of the Second World War to add to the fifteen Campbell families who have already been distinguished in this way. Much of the ancestral lands are still in family hands, including the Castles of Inveraray, Dunstaff-nage and Cawdor. MacCailein Mor is often to be seen at great state ceremonials in his capacity as hereditary Great Master of the Royal Household. The Clan Campbell is now organised as a world-wide association with a permanent base at Inveraray Castle which is still the family home of the thirteenth Duke of Argyll and twenty-seventh chief of the clan.
The 12th Duke, Ian, rallied the clan in 1975 when Inverary was badly damaged by fire. The retoration took nearly four years and cost in excess of £1.25 million. For the first year after the blaze the family lived in the basement as 600 tradesmen worked from old pictures to recreate the interior. He was the first Lord Lieutenant of Argyll and Bute and Deputy Grand Master Mason of Scotland. he died, suddenly, in April 2001 at the age of 63.