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Issue 51 - Campbell of Breadalbane

Scotland Magazine Issue 51
June 2010


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Campbell of Breadalbane

James Irvine Robertson looks at another of Scotland's great families.

At the east end of Loch Tay in Perthshire lies one of the most spectacular and least known of Scotland’s castles. Completed around 1807 as a display of wealth, Taymouth Castle was the seat of the second great Campbell clan. Both Argyll and Breadalbane descend from Sir Duncan Campbell of Lochow. His grandson by his second son succeeded him and became the first Earl of Argyll in 1457. Colin, Sir Duncan’s third son, founded the family of Glenorchy which had to wait until 1681 for its earldom of Breadalbane.

The Campbells of Argyll built their great landholding in the west of Scotland; the Campbells of Glenorchy went in the opposite direction. Colin was officially Sir Colin Campbell of Glenorchy, but the locals knew him as Colin of Rome since, as well as being a Crusader, he was said to have visited that city on three occasions.

However, he still had time to marry five times. His wives brought him various estates but, from the great castle of Kilchurn that he built on an island in Loch Awe, he concentrated on building up his land holdings east from his birthplace, particularly along Loch Tay by putting together tacks – long leases – of land from absentee proprietors. In 1437, James I was assassinated.

As a reward for helping capture the killers, Sir Colin received a charter of the barony of Lawers, north of the loch, and gained possession of the Isle of Loch Tay where Alexander had founded the priory to perpetuate the memory of his queen, Sybilla, who died there. He converted it into a stronghold. Loch Tay and Glen Dochart were still the territory of ancient clans, but, with his castles, Sir Colin obtained a stranglehold of the stretch of country from Loch Awe to modern Kenmore.

Sir Colin died in 1475 and was succeeded by his son Duncan. He was appointed the King’s representative on land round Loch Tay and in Glenlyon, which gave him absolute power over those within them. Before his death at the Battle of Flodden in 1513, he had obtained Crown Charters of old MacGregor lands at either end of 15 mile-long Loch Tay and built the castle at Finlarig at its west end.

Following the Highland custom, his son, Colin the “Grey Laird”, was fostered by a family of MacGregors but became the Clan’s implacable enemy when he succeeded his father. He bought the superiority of the MacNabs in Glen Dochart in 1552. He turfed out the resident MacGregor and built Balloch Castle as his main residence on the site of modern Taymouth at Kenmore.

Sir Colin persuaded Alasdair Odhar (paleskinned) MacGregor who lived in the shadow of Finlarig Castle, to agree to follow him in time of war. For such treachery to the rest of his clan, Duncan Ladosach, the Clan’s war leader , hauled Alasdair from his house and slaughtered him. This gave Colin all the excuse he needed to capture and decapitate Duncan along with his two sons and appoint himself guardian of the young Chief.

Colin’s successor Duncan earned the soubriquet of ‘Black’. In the words of a local historian he ‘was determined to advance his power and influence by every means, whether fair or foul.’ He built a castle on Loch Dochart and others at Benderloch and Barcaldine, thus completing a chain of fortresses on his land from the heart of Scotland to the Atlantic.

For the next three centuries, Duncan’s successors built on this sturdy foundation and scattered their progeny round Loch Tay.

The most interesting laird was John, the 11th, who became the Earl of Breadalbane. He had the wisdom to marry a rich English heiress and became one of the great Highland magnates, taking a prominent role in national affairs. It was he whose Glenlyon family was implicated in the massacre of Glencoe and famously was described as being as ‘cunning as a fox, wise as a serpent, and slippery as an eel’. As an old man he supported the Rising of 1715 and, from his deathbed , mocked the officer who came to arrest him saying that he would soon be answering to a higher authority.

Towards the end of the 18th century, perhaps in fulfillment of the prophecy of the famous seer ,the Lady of Lawers, the senior line of the family failed and this continued to be a problem. John Campbell of Carwhin became the 4th Earl and he spent a fortune building Taymouth in order, it has been said, to overshadow the Duke of Argyll’s seat at Inveraray. One thousand , two hundred and thirty eight of his tenants turned out to act as his private army on the visit of Prince Leopold of the Belgians to his new castle in 1819. When Queen Victoria and Prince Albert came to stay in 1842, the Earl, by then promoted to become a Marquis, summoned them again and was upset to find that only 200 turned out. His embarrassed factor had to explain that most of the original tenants had been cleared from his lands and goneto America.

John’s son became the second Marquis of Breadalbane but debt was beginning to build.

He died without issue and was succeeded by his fourth cousin John Campbell of Glenfalloch. In his time the estate amounted to nearly half a million acres , but his son had a gambling wife and an extravagant lifestyle.

On his death in 1922 , the huge estate was broken up and sold.

Now Hungarian-born Huba Campbell, descendant of William Campbell, 1st of Glenfalloch, born around 1621, has petitioned the Court of the Lord Lyon to be recognised at the 11th Earl of Breadalbane, and Chief of the Clan.