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Campbell, John, second duke of Argyll and duke of Greenwichlocked

  • Alexander Murdoch

John Campbell, second duke of Argyll and duke of Greenwich (1680–1743)

by William Aikman, pubd c. 1720–25

Campbell, John, second duke of Argyll and duke of Greenwich (1680–1743), army officer and politician, was born on 10 October 1680, according to the inscription on his memorial at Westminster Abbey. His place of birth was Ham House, Petersham, Surrey, the residence of his maternal grandmother. He was the eldest son of Archibald Campbell, tenth earl and first duke of Argyll (d. 1703), and his wife, Elizabeth (d. 1735), eldest daughter of Sir Lionel Talmash (Tollemache) of Helmingham, Suffolk, and Elizabeth, countess of Dysart in her own right, and, by her second marriage, countess and later duchess of Lauderdale.

Early military and political career

Campbell was tutored by Walter Campbell of Dunloskin, afterwards minister of Dunoon, and by John Anderson, later minister of Dumbarton, who completed his career at the Glasgow North-West parish formed in 1718. The portrait by John Medina of Lord Lorne (as Campbell was then styled) with his father and his brother Lord Archibald Campbell, later third duke of Argyll (J. Holloway, Patrons and Painters: Art in Scotland, 1650–1760, 1989), gives an indication of the military ambitions of his father, who in 1694 persuaded William III to commission his fourteen-year-old son as colonel of the regiment raised by the Argyll family for the king's service after his acceptance of the crown of Scotland in 1689. Lorne was 'likewise to be Captain of a Company in the same Regiment' (Dickson, 22). The regiment had been involved in black deeds at Glencoe in February 1692 but was on its way to the Low Countries for service in William's war against France. Before Lord Lorne joined them he was placed under the supervision of a third tutor, Alexander Cunningham, who had accompanied William and the tenth earl of Argyll from the Netherlands to England in 1688 and acquired a position of trust with both. Cunningham tutored Lorne and his brother in the classics, and until the separation of their parents in 1696. Cunningham then took Lorne to join his regiment on the continent; he wrote to William Carstares from Bruges, after news of the treaty of Ryswick had reached him, that:

My Lord Argyle has not yet written anything concerning his son; he was gone from this place to his regiment before I came here, which I was glad of for I know his Lieutenant-Colonel will take care of him. He is mightily concerned for his regiment. Everybody tells him it will be broken.

McCormick, 360

Lorne was right to be concerned, for the regiment was disbanded: Cunningham subsequently took him on a European tour in 1699–1700, during which they visited Paris and Rome. In 1701 Lorne's father was raised to a dukedom in the peerage of Scotland by William, thus marking the completion of a remarkable resurgence in the family's fortunes.

With the renewal of war between Britain and France in 1702 Lorne once more turned to his military career, and became involved in Marlborough's campaigns in the Low Countries. He was active in the campaign of 1702, at the head of the 10th regiment of foot. During the winter of 1702–3 he was in Hanover, before his return to the war, but he was recalled to London and Scotland by his father's death on 25 September 1703. His father's friend the king had already died, and had been succeeded by his sister-in-law Anne in March 1702; but the new second duke of Argyll was given command of his father's regiment of Scots horse guards and sworn of the privy council, in succession to his father. Six months later he was invested with the Order of the Thistle. There was some delay in making him an extraordinary lord of session, due to his youth and lack of legal training, but these objections were overcome by the time that the new duke found himself called upon, at the age of twenty-five, to take a leading role in determining the future of his ancestral nation. The Scottish parliament elected on the accession of Anne refused to follow the lead of the English parliament in determining the succession to the throne of Scotland, using the issue as a means of drawing attention to problems of government in Scotland, which had grown worse during William's reign. In desperation the English court turned to Argyll, who demanded a high price: promotion to general and an English peerage. He got the first before meeting the Scots parliament in 1705; the second would become his eventual reward. Argyll distrusted the older Scots court politicians, such as the duke of Queensberry, but really he distrusted all politicians and, having inherited his father's place as head of one of the largest aristocratic interests in Scotland, he behaved almost as a monarch in his own right, threatening to resign as lord high commissioner if his recommendations were not accepted. It was a defining moment in his life. The court had no one else to turn to in dealing with the recalcitrant Scots parliament, despite the queen's feeling that:

it grates my soul to take a man into my service that has not only betrayed us, but tricked me several times, one that has been obnoxious to his own countrymen these many years and one that I can never be convinced can be of any use.

Letters from Queen Anne to Godolphin, ed. G. Davies, SHR, 19, 1922, 191–2

Argyll was certainly obnoxious to Scots court politicians, although it is clear from contemporary accounts that he exuded a quasi-monarchical quality that persuaded many that this young man of great family and certain purpose held the key to the future of the country. 'Argyll's commissionership was conducted on military lines with a heavy emphasis on discipline' (Ferguson, Scotland's Relations with England, 227). He was:

indifferent to the political outcome. Whatever the ultimate result (settlement of the succession, an incorporating union, a federal union, or even continued deadlock), he simply meant to win a personal campaign in parliament, reap the rewards of victory, and move on to where the real glory was, with the army in Flanders.


Argyll's Jacobite contemporary and childhood playmate George Lockhart of Carnwath wrote a sketch of Argyll's character published in 1714 (Memorials Concerning the Affairs of Scotland, 132–3) which has often been quoted and reflects many other contemporary accounts in its balance of criticism and grudging admiration. Argyll was not a reasonable man but he was someone who could win his way by making a grand gesture, whether it was in persuading his audience to risk their lives on a battlefield or risk their future by surrendering the political sovereignty of their nation. Lockhart wrote that Argyll:

was not, strictly speaking, a Man of sound Understanding and Judgement; for all his natural Endowments were sullied with too much Impetuosity, Passion, and Positiveness, and his Sense rather lay in a sudden Flash of Wit, than a solid Conception and Reflexion … He was extremely forward in effecting what he aimed at and designed, which he owned and promoted above Board, being altogether free of the least Share of Dissimulation, and his Word so sacred, that one might assuredly depend on it. His Head ran more upon the Camp, than the Court; and it would appear Nature had dressed him up accordingly, being altogether incapable of the servile Dependency, and flattering Insinuations requisite in the last, and endowed with that cheerful, lively Temper, and personal Valour, esteemed and necessary in the other.


Evidence of this character can be found in Argyll's conduct in the Scots parliament of 1705, where he appears to have persuaded the obvious leader of the opposition, the duke of Hamilton, to move that the Scots commissioners to negotiate the union would be chosen by the queen rather than by parliament. It was a key victory, but Argyll had promised Hamilton that he would be appointed one of the commissioners; when the queen denied this appointment Argyll refused to continue as lord high commissioner in 1706. He did obtain his English peerage, as earl of Greenwich, on 26 November 1705 and his brother Lord Archibald became one of the union commissioners (as did Lockhart, despite his Jacobitism). A year later, after completion of the union negotiations but before their acceptance by the Scots parliament, Argyll was made major-general and his brother a peer of Scotland, as earl of Ilay. His future Jacobite opponent the earl of Mar, at that time supporting the court in working for union, wrote that Argyll had some reason to insist on this:

for his being a peer of England himself, he will not have a vote in choosing his peers for Scotland who are to sit in the Parliament of Britain, and it's fit for him to have one of his family to take [care] of his interests here in that case.

Dickson, 102

In all manner of Scottish politics Argyll's plan was to delegate to his younger brother, in whose favour he resigned his place as extraordinary lord of the court of session while he pursued fame on the field of battle.

From 1708 to 1710 Argyll acted as one of Marlborough's principal generals in his wars, acquiring a reputation for bravery if not conspicuous military talent. Marlborough encouraged him and supported his being sworn of the British privy council in 1708, his promotion to lieutenant-general in 1709, and the awarding to him of the Order of the Garter on 22 December 1710, which increased his sense of importance to the point that he felt that he was the equal of Marlborough himself. This led to a quite public and bitter break between the two even before Argyll had received the Garter; according to Jonathan Swift's well-known report, when Argyll was consulted about refusing Marlborough's demand that he be made general for life, he offered to return to Flanders and seize Marlborough if there was any threat of disloyalty on account of refusal. Marlborough wrote to his wife on 25 March 1710: 'I cannot have a worse opinion of any body than I have of the duke of Argyle, but what is past cannot be helped' (Coxe, 3.136 and n., 165).

The making of a whig politician

His rivalry with Marlborough sent Argyll back to London to pursue his interests at court, where his brother Lord Ilay entered the service of the new first minister, Robert Harley, in managing Scottish politics while Argyll struck public poses at court. On 25 December 1710 he attended the queen in full costume as a knight of the Garter while she received visitors at St James's Palace. Argyll had supported censure of the whig ministry for failures in the war effort in Spain. In the spring of 1711 he was sent to Catalonia as ambassador-extraordinary to Charles III, claimant to the Spanish throne, and as commander-in-chief of the British forces in that kingdom, having been promoted to full general. His campaign was not distinguished by its success, the duke claiming lack of supply from Britain, the ministry keeping its own council while it pursued private peace negotiations with France. By November 1712 Argyll had evacuated his army from Barcelona for Minorca, where he was appointed governor, and promptly surrendered his responsibilities to a deputy while he set out to return to court once again.

In London, Argyll found his brother discontented at being sidelined in Scots affairs and joined with him in opposition to the attempted extension of the malt tax to Scotland, deferred until time of peace under the terms of the treaty of Union. This included supporting the Scottish MPs in their motion to dissolve the treaty of Union brought before the House of Lords by the earl of Seafield on 1 June 1713, which failed narrowly. Argyll, speaking as an English peer through his title of earl of Greenwich, admitted that he had been a leading advocate of union but argued that the protestant succession could best be secured by other means, and that from a Scottish perspective union had not brought any benefit to that former kingdom. For this and other expressions of opposition he was dismissed from his command of the Scots horse guards, the governments of Edinburgh Castle and Minorca, and the command of the army in Scotland on 4 March 1714, as intrigue thickened over the succession to the queen as she entered her final illness. Though many accounts emphasize Argyll's role in ensuring that the privy council safeguarded the Hanoverian succession, this has been somewhat exaggerated (Shaw, 54); yet the common currency of these accounts indicates how completely Argyll, by 1714, was identified with such a succession, despite his earlier flirtation with the tories.

With the arrival of George I from Hanover all changed again for Argyll, who was restored to his offices. His former ally and colleague the earl of Mar did not fare so well at court and soon raised the Stuart standard in Scotland in rebellion, capitalizing on continued Scottish discontent with the union. For Argyll it was another call to the colours in defence of what he had done so much to create ten years before and had questioned so recently in 1713. He took up command in Scotland, centralized the small number of available troops at Stirling to keep the rebels in the north, and later foiled an attempt to take Edinburgh by a Jacobite detachment, sent over the Forth estuary to take advantage of Argyll's immobility at Stirling. Hearing of the threat Argyll mounted some foot soldiers on commandeered horses, took what dragoons he had, and—by repute—reached the West Port of Edinburgh just as the Jacobites approached the Nether Bow gate at the opposite end of the city. In November he advanced from Stirling, aware that after much delay the numerically superior Jacobite army at Perth was moving against him. At Sheriffmuir, near Dunblane, both armies blundered into each other but Argyll managed to hold his force together while the superior Jacobite army retreated towards Perth. It was no Blenheim or Malplaquet, but Argyll had prevented the Jacobites from reaching the central lowlands of Scotland and saved the Hanoverian cause in that country and by extension in Britain. Not everyone saw his actions in quite so admiring a light. General Cadogan, an old rival of Argyll's, arrived with a force of Dutch troops after the battle and was quick to accuse Argyll of lack of zeal against the rebels, writing to Marlborough on 4 February 1716:

the duke of Argyle grows so intolerable uneasy, that it is almost impossible to live with him any longer; he is enraged at the success of this expedition, though he and his creatures attribute to themselves the honour of it.

Coxe, 3.612

Argyll left the army to the command of Cadogan after it had reached Aberdeen. He was fêted at Edinburgh on his way south but met with a less enthusiastic reception at court. Apparently he gravitated towards the English-speaking prince of Wales rather than the king, and in a telling phrase 'fell first victim to the curious domestic relationships of the Guelf family' (Ferguson, Scotland: 1689 to the Present, 139). He lost his restored governorship of Minorca, the lord lieutenancy of Surrey (where he lived in his splendid house at Sudbrook), and the command of Scotland in 1716.

Brother and landowner

Britain was now entering a long period of peace, although this was not evident to contemporaries, and Argyll was a man of war. His brother the earl of Ilay took the lead in politics and law; nevertheless Argyll, by privilege of his English peerage, was a frequent and influential speaker in the House of Lords. As ministerial rivalry in London increased between 1717 and 1721 Argyll, with his brother's help, found his way back to favour. He was appointed lord steward of the household on 6 February 1719 and on 27 April achieved what he had hoped for since 1707: he was created duke of Greenwich in the peerage of Great Britain. There has never been a systematic study of Argyll's role in the House of Lords, but clearly he played to a public such as the private gentleman who left £500 towards erecting his memorial at Westminster Abbey and those who read and believed the poetic tributes of Alexander Pope and other poets circulating at the time. Yet with the emergence of Sir Robert Walpole as leading figure in the ministry Argyll's pomp and circumstance began to lose influence to his younger brother Lord Ilay's political dexterity (or subservience). Though Argyll supported extension of the malt tax to Scotland at a lower rate than that levied in England in 1725, he was less energetic than his brother in ensuring that it was collected. It appears to be about this time that friction began to increase between the duke and his brother. Their grandniece recorded a subsequent family tradition whereby Ilay recalled 'I wanted to discuss such an affair with my brother but all went wrong. I saw the Tollemache blood beginning to rise, so I e'en quitted the field' (Stuart, 16). Lord Hervey recorded that when the brothers were not on speaking terms they could still co-operate in what in Scotland became known as the Argathelian interest [see Argathelians]: 'by the means of a Mr. Stewart [identified by John Simpson as the MP William Steuart of Orkney] (who went between them), a Scotch gentleman, an adroit fellow and a common friend to them both, they acted as much in concert as if they had been the most intimate and most cordial friends' (Simpson, 65, quoting Hervey, Memoirs of the Reign of George the Second, 2 vols., 1848, 1.336). Lady Louisa Stuart, daughter of the third earl of Bute, for whom both brothers acted as guardian after the death of his father, recalled that 'when he was a boy under their joint direction, he could remember occasions where (non-intercourse chancing to prevail) all arrangements respecting him were to be made by letter' (Stuart, 15).

Argyll has been described as 'too much the monarch in the west Highlands to make a good courtier in London' (Ferguson, Scotland: 1689 to the Present, 145) yet he seldom visited his highland estates and in the 1730s embarked on an ambitious programme of commercialization by letting out farms to competitive tender, which seriously disrupted the operation of the estate (Cregeen, 13–17). There was a regal or at least vice-regal aspect to his public mien that many Scots and non-Scots resented but that others were willing to accept in pursuit of their own ends or those that they associated with their country's. In 1729 Robert Wodrow recorded an encounter between the duke and the magistrates of Glasgow, in which 'they lamented that the town for some time had been under his Grace's frouns, which they wished to have removed. The Duke said, he had no reason to take rubs and affronts upon his family and name well.' Upon protesting that they had opposed Campbell of Shawfield politically as an MP but not the Argathelian interest the magistrates appealed 'to the Laird of Blythswood [a Campbell], standing by his Grace … The Duke seemed struck with this, and said “Colin was it so?” He said it was. “Then,” said the Duke, “never man was more abused than I have been.”' He subsequently insisted on taking a memorial that had been prepared regarding the burgh's grievances himself, and some time later the magistrates were invited to Edinburgh to discuss its contents with Lord Ilay, who promised his support in attempting to remedy them (Wodrow, 4, 74–5).

Opposition to Walpole

Argyll sympathized with the opposition to Walpole's excise tax but largely followed his brother in supporting the ministry. He was restored in 1733 as colonel of the Royal Horse Guards, a regiment that he had lost in 1717, and on 14 January 1736 he was promoted to the rank of field marshal. The aftermath of the famous Porteous riot of 1736 in Edinburgh, however, led him to break with the ministry over its attempts to appease the crown by obtaining punitive legislation directed at Edinburgh and the Church of Scotland. Argyll proclaimed his disinterest: 'I never was a minister, and I never will be one … and I thank God I had always too great a value for those few abilities which nature has given to me, to employ them in doing any drudgery' (Douglas, Peerage of Scotland, ed. Wood, 1.110). He claimed that the legislation was in breach of the treaty of Union, as he had in 1713 against the malt tax:

I was in the Parliament of Scotland when that Part of the Treaty of Union relating to the Privileges of the Royal Boroughs [sic] was settled; and … they were not alterable by any subsequent Parliament of Great Britain. … The Nation of Scotland in all the Proceedings at that Time treated with England as an independent and free People; and as that Treaty, My Lords, had no other Guarantee for the due Performance of its Articles, but the Faith and Honour of a British Parliament, it would be both unjust and ungenerous should this House agree to any Proceedings that has a tendency to infringe it.

Campbell, 313

Argyll blamed the riot on 'a few fanatical Preachers lately started up in that Country, who by their Sermons, and other Ways, instill into the Minds of the Vulgar and Ignorant such Enthusiastical Notions as are inconsistent with all Government' (ibid., 317).

While his brother Ilay remained loyal to the regime Argyll set himself at the head of opposition to Walpole's government in Scotland in particular. He wrote to his nephew James Stuart Mackenzie in January 1741, regarding family differences in politics, that 'tho your Relations differ in Publick affairs they live in civility with one another', yet he was quite clear about how deep these differences were:

My Brother, Ilay, wants to make all his friends Tools to Walpole because he finds his ends in so doing your Brother Bute & I would have all Our friends Independent of Walpole & all Other Ministers Whatsoever, My Brother Ilay prefers his places to all other Considerations, friendship Honour Relation gratitude & Service to his Country seem at present to have no weight with him.

Bute MSS

The Walpole ministry lost the election of 1741 in Scotland, the only election between the union and the Reform Act of 1832 in which a ministry did not win a majority of Scottish MPs and representative peers. As a result Walpole could not cling to his majority in the House of Commons and Argyll became central in opposition efforts to replace him. When the king sent for William Pulteney to begin discussions on ministerial change he told him: 'I rather chose to come to you, because I knew your aim was only directed against my minister, but I did not know but the Duke of Argyll wanted to be King himself' (Owen, 92, citing BL, Add. MS 18915, fol. 28). Argyll was convinced that party distinction had to end and that the only way to do this was to admit members of the opposition associated with the tory party to office. He failed utterly to convince the king and as a result resigned in March 1742 the offices that he had received in the previous month, including that of commander of the forces in England and Scotland, something to which he had aspired since at least 1715. He intended retirement, and this decision was confirmed emphatically when he received a letter from the Jacobite James VIII and III in June expressing admiration for his role in the downfall of Walpole. Shaken at the thought that he might be accused of treason Argyll communicated the letter to the privy council and very likely promised the king, in a subsequent audience, to refrain from all future opposition. His public career was over. The most sensitive assessment of his career has noted that 'it is hard not to sympathize with a man so evidently designed for a brilliant part, yet eternally at odds with the script, with his fellow players, and with himself' (Simpson, 57).

Argyll was twice married. His first wife was Mary (d. 1717), daughter of John Brown and niece of Sir Charles Duncombe, sometime lord mayor of London. They married on 30 December 1701 and soon separated; Mary died on 16 January 1717 and was buried at Westminster Abbey on 19 January. Argyll married, second, Jane (d. 1767), daughter of Thomas Warburton of Winnington, Cheshire, formerly a maid of honour to Queen Anne and to Caroline, princess of Wales. They married on 6 June 1717 and so sealed a love match. They had five daughters, four of whom lived to adulthood, among them Lady Mary Coke, letter writer and noblewoman. As adults the daughters were known for their 'loud shrill voice common to the four, which gained them a variety of nicknames, such as the Screaming Sisterhood, the Bawling Campbells, and so forth' (Stuart, 43). Argyll's eldest daughter, Caroline [see Townshend, Caroline (1717-1794)], married Francis, earl of Dalkeith, eldest son of the second duke of Buccleuch, on 2 October 1742. Argyll died on 4 October 1743 at Sudbrook, having suffered a debilitating paralysis that had affected him in the final months of his political activity, and was buried at Westminster Abbey on 15 October. He left to Caroline his property acquired in his own right, Caroline Park, near Edinburgh, at what today is called Granton; Adderbury in Oxfordshire; and Sudbrook in Surrey. His English and British titles became extinct. The Argyll dukedom passed to his younger brother, Archibald, previously earl of Ilay, who became third duke.


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  • GEC, Peerage, new edn
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  • State papers and letters addressed to William Carstares, ed. J. M'Cormick (1774)
  • The manuscripts of his grace the duke of Portland, 10 vols., HMC, 29 (1891–1931), vols. 4–5
  • letters from John, second duke of Argyll, to James Stuart Mackenzie, Mount Stuart Trust, Isle of Bute, Bute MSS
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  • Beds. & Luton ARS, letter-books
  • CUL, letter-book
  • NL Scot., corresp. and papers
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  • Hunt. L., letters to earl of Loudon
  • NL Scot., letters to Lord Godolphin
  • NRA, priv. coll., letters relating to Jacobite rebellion


  • J. de Medina, oils, 1692, Inveraray Castle
  • J. Closterman, oils, 1704, Melbourne Hall, Derbyshire
  • R. Williams, mezzotint, 1704 (after J. Closterman), BM, NPG
  • G. Kneller, oils, 1717, priv. coll.
  • C. F. Zincke, enamel miniature, 1719, Scot. NPG
  • W. Aikman, oils, pubd 1720–1725, NPG [see illus.]
  • J. Houbraken, line engraving, 1735 (after W. Aikman), BM, NPG
  • T. Bardwell, oils, 1740, NPG
  • J. Faber, mezzotint, 1740 (after A. Ramsay), BM, NPG
  • J. A. Dassier, bronze medal, 1743, Scot. NPG
  • L. Roubiliac, monument, 1748, Westminster Abbey, London; terracotta model, V&A
  • W. Aikman, oils, second version, Royal Collection
  • B. Cole, engraving, repro. in Campbell, Life
  • A. Ramsay, oils, Inveraray Castle
  • J. Simon, mezzotint (after W. Aikman), BM, NPG
  • T. Woolnoth, mezzotint (after W. Gush), NPG
G. E. C. [G. E. Cokayne], , 8 vols. (1887–98); new edn, ed. V. Gibbs & others, 14 vols. in 15 (1910–98); microprint repr. (1982) and (1987)
Historical Manuscripts Commission