Perhaps the largest and most influential clan in Scottish history, the Campbells are still one of Scotland’s most significant landowners and have a long and illustrious association with the lands of Argyll in the west of the country
However, the clan were not always associated with these lands and the first recorded mention of the family in written records appeared in 1263 with the mention of Gillespie Campbell who was granted property in east-central Scotland, rather than their traditional home.
This is not to say that the clan did not already have strong links to the area and had forged a connection with Argyll through the marriage of a Campbell to the dynastic heiress of O’duines in the previous years. This marriage would give the clan their original name, Clan O’duine, and would also give the family their original clan seat as they gained the title ‘Lords of Loch Awe’ which gave them ownership of the castle of Innischonnel which sat on the banks of the loch.
Mirroring their future success, the clan’s lands would quickly spread to include Craignish, Avaslotnisk, Melfort, Strachur and Cowal as they cemented their power base within the ancient county of Argyll. However, while they gained further property, the clan were originally under the control of the more powerful MacDougals who would kill the Campbell clan chief in 1296. This situation would not last though as Sir Neil Campbell, the murdered chief’s son, became a staunch ally of Robert the Bruce during the Scottish Wars of independence and would be rewarded for his service with forfeited MacDougal lands in the aftermath of the conflict.
It was this swing in power in the region that first gave the Campbells the impetus to rise to power and from there, the family would remain one of the key power makers in the region. Sir Neil would also be rewarded with a marriage to the King’s sister and this royal connection is believed to have helped the Loch Awe branch of the Campbells become the chiefly line of the family.
The Campbells would continue to support the crown throughout the rest of the 14th and 15th centuries and this support would lead to the beginning of the clan’s famous rivalry with the MacDonalds as they supported the monarchy at a time when the MacDonalds were in staunch opposition. This support would lead to continued bad blood between the clans, especially when the Campbells replaced the MacDonald’s as the most powerful landowners in the region following the destruction of the MacDonald dominance over the Isles. The Campbells would later be rewarded for this support with Sir Duncan Campbell being raised to the title of Lord Campbell in 1445 before his grandson, Colin, was created Earl of Argyll 12 years later.
However, this significant amount of power within the family almost led to a split within the clan as other branches fought to gain the chiefship. These tensions would briefly boil over in 1592 when Campbell of Cawdor, a guardian of the young seventh Earl of Argyll, was murdered and the young Earl’s life was also threatened by a suspected poisoning attempt. However, he would survive this threat and would go onto to become an able soldier who would unite the clan.
The Campbells would continue to support the people in power during the 17th century and would be rewarded with more lands, being allowed to purchase Islay and most of Jura, however, their resolve would be testing during the civil war of the 1640s when the clan suffered their biggest military defeat at the battle of Inverlochy in 1645 and Archibald, 8th Earl, was executed for treason after trying to back both sides during the conflict.
The revolution of 1688 would, however, restore the family’s fortunes once more as William of Orange would create the 10th Earl, Duke of Argyll and Marquess of Lorne and Kintyre. The second Duke would gain a reputation as a skilled military commander and would become commander in chief of the British Army before being succeeded as the Duke by his brother, the most influential man in Scotland and one of the main supporters of the Treaty of the Union in 1707. The family would continue to be highly involved within the military following the union and would play a key role in the expansion of the British Empire throughout the subsequent years. Therefore, while the Campbells retain a strong position at home in Argyll, they are now spread out around the world.
The current clan chief of the Campbell Clan is Torquil Campbell, 13th Duke of Argyll, he lives with his family at the clan’s impressive seat, Inveraray Castle, which was restored in 1975 following a terrible fire.