Clan Campbell was one of the largest and most powerful of the Highland clans. MacCailean Mór, the Chief of Clan Campbell, held extensive lands across Argyll and his descendants exercised political influence at the highest levels for five centuries in Scotland and, from 1707, in Britain.
See our trip planner of Clan Campbell sites.
The Earls and from 1701, Dukes of Argyll were canny, well connected and politically astute. As a result they acquired positions of power and responsibility and further grants of land, becoming the major landowner in Argyll. Argyll itself is a huge area 100 miles long and slightly less in width, with dozens of inhabited islands and over 2,300 miles of coastline. By the 18th century the family owned the lands of Inveraray, Rosneath, Kintyre, Tiree, Mull, Iona, Morvern, Lismore and Scammadale, with lands and houses elsewhere in Scotland and England.
The Campbells rose to prominence in the 14th century, from relatively modest origins. Argyll was then under the domination of the Lords of Lorne, the descendants of Somerled, who were chiefs of Clan MacDougall. The chief Cailean Mór (Big Colin Campbell) was killed in a border dispute with the MacDougalls in the 1290’s and the two clans became enemies. The Campbells aligned themselves with Robert the Bruce (they were probably relatives on his mother’s side) and fought alongside him during the Wars of Scottish Independence. Sir Neil Campbell was rewarded with marriage to the King’s sister, Mary, and was granted extensive lands seized from the forfeited MacDougalls and other enemies of the Bruces in Argyll. In the following decades they rapidly expanded their lands and power. Their ability, at all levels, to find land for younger sons ensured their power base.
In 1432 Duncan, 1st Lord Campbell, moved the clan seat from Lochaweside to Inveraray on Loch Fyne, where it has been ever since. His son was created 1st Earl of Argyll in 1457. As the Stewart monarchs set about destroying the MacDonalds, Lords of the Isles, the Campbells, by now closely related by marriage to the Stewarts, were their able allies.
The Chiefs of Clan Campbell have held important roles within the government of Scotland and, in many cases, Great Britain. The 5th Earl of Argyll played a leading role in the Reformation in Scotland, encouraging the introduction of protestant worship throughout Argyll and sponsoring the earliest translation of John Knox’s liturgy into Gaelic. Both the 8th and 9th Earls, father and son, were executed for their involvement in the complicated political and religious events of the 17th century. The 10th Earl however, was restored to favour under King William III and was created 1st Duke of Argyll in 1701, and Clan Campbell supported the Hanoverians during the Jacobite rebellions of the 18th century.
The reputation of the Campbells has been unfairly tarnished by the Massacre of Glencoe in 1692. This sad event has been portrayed as part of the long-running feud between the Breadalbane Campbells and Glencoe MacDonalds. It was in fact a Government reprisal on the MacDonalds for their failure to swear allegiance to King William within the allotted time. Government soldiers, led by Captain Robert Campbell of Glenlyon, a professional soldier and a member of the Breadalbane Campbells, committed the attack. It was a major affront of Scots Law and Highland tradition, but it was instructed by the Secretary of State, the Lowland Earl of Stair.
The ancestral seat of the Dukes of Argyll, Chiefs of the Clan Campbell whose family have resided in Inveraray since the early 15th century, Inveraray Castle was designed by Roger Morris and decorated by Robert Mylne. Its fairytale façade house's an equally enchanting interior. The castle’s priceless collection of china, silver and family heirlooms spans generations which are illustrated by the fascinating genealogical display in the Clan Room.
Glen Coe is located within the awe-inspiring Lochaber Geopark in the Highlands, the deep valley and towering mountains of Glen Coe were carved out centuries ago by icy glaciers and volcanic explosions. Glencoe village is picturesquely located between the banks of Loch Leven and the mouth of the famous glen, making it the perfect base for exploring the area of Lochaber, known as the Outdoor Capital of the UK.
This romantic Highland castle is the 14th century home of the Thanes of Cawdor. The current castle was built around a 15th century tower house which originally belonged to Clan Cawdor before passing into the hands of Campbells in the 16th century. Although famed for its literary connection to Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the actual 11th century events upon which the play is based to place many years before the castle was built. According to legend, the castle is built around a thorn tree, which has since been identified as a holly dating from 1372, which visitors can still see today in the dungeon.
Kilchurn Castle/Loch Awe
Set in a stunning location on the banks of Loch Awe, Kilchurn Castle was built in the mid-1400s by Sir Colin Campbell, 1st Lord of Glenorchy. Colin’s descendants, the Campbells of Glenorchy (later earls of Breadalbane), were the most powerful of the numerous cadets of Clan Campbell. Kilchurn remained their powerbase for 150 years. It was not abandoned until the 1700s.
It’s said the Campbells were split in term of support of the Jacobite uprisings, with some families loyal to the Jacobite cause with others against. A visit to this atmospheric site will allow you to imagine the heat of the 1745 battle that effectively put an end to Prince Charles Edward Stuart’s hopes of gaining the Scottish throne.
Another atmospheric battlefield, Bannockburn is the site of the great victory of Robert the Bruce in gaining Scottish independence. The Campbells were subsequently richly rewarded for their loyalty to Bruce during this turbulent period of Scottish history.
Argyll’s Lodging, Stirling
Regarded as 'the most important surviving town-house of its period in Scotland' Argyll’s Lodging became a museum at the end of the 20th century. Standing on Castle Wynd on the approach to Stirling Castle, its principal rooms have been restored to replicate their 1680 state.
Castle Campbell and Gardens
Formerly known as the Castle of Glooms, this castle is beautifully sited upon a narrow bridge overlooked by the Ochil Hills. Castle Campbell was once the home of the powerful Campbell earls of Argyll, and has connections with historical figures such as John Knox and Mary Queen of Scots.
See our trip planner of Clan Campbell sites.