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date: 28 February 2024

Campbell, Archibald, ninth earl of Argyllfree


Campbell, Archibald, ninth earl of Argyllfree

  • David Stevenson

Archibald Campbell, ninth earl of Argyll (1629–1685)

by unknown artist, 1660s [with his first wife, Lady Mary Stuart]

Campbell, Archibald, ninth earl of Argyll (1629–1685), politician and clan leader, was born on 26 February 1629 at Newbattle Abbey, Edinburghshire, the son of Archibald Campbell, Lord Lorne and later eighth earl and marquess of Argyll (1605x7–1661), and his wife, Lady Margaret (1610–1678), daughter of William Douglas, earl of Morton (1582–1648). At the age of four he was, in accordance with Gaelic tradition, fostered with a kinsman, Sir Colin Campbell of Glenorchy, living mainly at Balloch, Perthshire. After his father had inherited the earldom in 1638 he was known by the courtesy title Lord Lorne, and he returned to his family at Inveraray Castle in 1639. He was sent to the University of Glasgow in 1642, but he did not graduate.

The emergence of a royalist

Being the son of the dominant figure in the covenanting regime which had seized power in Scotland through rebellion against Charles I, it was thought appropriate that when Lorne was sent abroad to continue his studies he, his friends, and followers should have the protection of letters of commendation from the Scottish parliament, and these were issued under the great seal in the king's name (January 1647). Lorne's travels in France and Italy lasted until late in 1649, and it was perhaps in this period that his royalist sympathies began to emerge. Some time after the execution of Charles I in January 1649 he wrote (presumably to someone accompanying the exiled Stuart court) expressing his dismay at Charles II's harsh opinions of Argyll. His father, he urged, was a loyal subject, and a well-wisher to the dynasty. But Lorne then proceeded to distance himself from his father and from events in Scotland by asserting that if his father was disloyal he would not support him. For two years he had heard so little from Scotland that he had seldom even heard of 'the state of my parents health' (Firth, Commonwealth, xlvii).

Lorne returned to Scotland in late 1649, and completion of his education was followed by marriage, on 13 May 1650, to Lady Mary, daughter of James Stuart, earl of Moray. He had been given a place in March on the committee of estates, which ruled Scotland in the name of the absentee Charles II, and after the king and covenanters reached agreement and Charles went to Scotland, Lorne was commissioned (6 August) by him to be captain of his foot life guard. As the king's guards were chosen for their dedication to the covenanting cause, Lorne's task was as much to supervise his movements and contacts with royalists as to protect him, and the story that Lorne refused to accept a commission from parliament and insisted on one from the king himself is dubious—parliament was not sitting at the time. How Lorne treated the king he was guarding depends on whether the much later account of a friend or an enemy is believed. The earl of Clarendon claimed Lorne 'had so strict a care of him [the king] both night and day that he could not go any whither without his leave' (Clarendon, Hist. rebellion, 5.149), and that he 'had treated his majesty with that rudeness and barbarity, that he was much more odious to him than his father' (E. Hyde, Life of Edward, Earl of Clarendon, 3 vols., 1827, 2.277). Gilbert Burnet said the opposite: Lorne 'made his court more dextrously' to Charles than his father did, allowed access to the king to all men he wished to see, 'and was in all respects not only faithful but zealous' (Burnet's History, 1.106). Probably, in view of the commitment to the king that Lorne was soon to show, Burnet comes closer to the truth than the vindictive Clarendon, though, as with many other Scots, Lorne's attachment to the king may have grown after the disastrous defeat by Cromwell at the battle of Dunbar (3 September 1650) which discredited the extreme kirk party covenanters. As for the king himself, at a time when his eagerness for Argyll's support led him to consider the idea that he should marry Argyll's daughter, he no doubt sought good relations with Lorne.

When Argyll's influence in Scotland collapsed and Charles embarked on his 1651 invasion of England, Lorne followed his father in refusing to have anything to do with the venture, but when, after its failure, the English moved towards the completion of the conquest of Scotland and Argyll accepted their rule, Lorne refused to submit. Early in 1653, when preparations were being made for a royalist rising in the highlands, it was reported that 'he hath been without the meerest shadow of complyance of any kind [with the English] most invincibly constant and faithfull to your Majesty's service and interests' (Firth, Commonwealth, 134). His father warned him that if he joined the royalists, then 'let all the curse and judgements pronounced in God's word against disobedient children to parents come upon you' (Firth, Commonwealth, 167), but Lorne refused to listen and joined the royalists in July. It has been argued that Lorne's royalism was a matter of collusion between father and son, designed to ensure that whichever side won there would be a Campbell leader to protect family interests, but such suspicions seem unfounded. None the less, they meant that Lorne met with distrust from the other leaders of the rising, who were already deeply divided among themselves. Many of the highland royalists sought not just the restoration of the king but also the downfall of the Campbells, and obviously for them co-operation with whatever forces Lorne raised from his clan was difficult. Lorne himself was never a tactful man and was determined that his high rank be acknowledged. He soon quarrelled with the earl of Glencairn, appointed commander-in-chief by Charles II, and other senior officers. In September, Lorne and Lord Kenmure commanded several hundred royalist troops camped in Menteith, west of Stirling, but they were forced to retire west into Argyll by English forces. Argyll made little attempt to hinder his son's recruiting activities, and most of the population sympathized with Lorne, but it was known that some lowlanders recently settled in Kintyre were hostile to the royalist cause. Lorne and Kenmure therefore advanced against them, forcing them to submit after some skirmishing. On their return to join Glencairn in Badenoch squabbling again broke out among the royalist commanders, culminating in Lorne fleeing in October to escape arrest.

It was hoped that the arrival of Lieutenant-General John Middleton in February 1654 to take over command from Glencairn might restore some unity among the royalists, but if anything the quarrels intensified. Lorne continued active in Argyll but was as much concerned with cattle raiding to support his men as with action against the English, and though in September he captured a ship laden with English supplies for Inveraray Castle, this provoked his father for the first time into joining the English in military action against him. English advances led most royalists to accept that they had no hope of success, and by late 1654 many were negotiating terms of surrender. Middleton urged Lorne to follow suit, writing to him on 31 March 1655 to 'loose no tyme in taking such course' for the good of himself, his family, and his estate, and praising his conduct during the rising (Willcock, 72–3). On 17 May terms were agreed, with Lorne undertaking to live peaceably under the government of Cromwell as lord protector, and to find £5000 sterling of 'good Lowland security' to do so. But ill feeling between him and his father continued to make 'both their lives bitter and uncomfortable for them; and the great burthen of debt puts their verie house in a hazard to ruine' (Letters … Baillie, 3.288).

Moreover, the regime remained deeply suspicious of Lorne, and intelligence reports, though seldom reliable, suggested he was involved in plans for a new royalist rising, and his continued 'insubmissiveness' to his father (Willcock, 76) also indicated that he was not reconciled to royalist failure. In early 1657 it was resolved to smoke out closet royalists by imposing on suspects an oath renouncing allegiance to the Stuarts and specifically accepting the protectorate. Lorne refused the oath, and was imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle. But the suggestion that he was so dangerous a threat that he should be moved to a prison in England was not acted upon, and by March 1658 the conditions in which he was held were sufficiently relaxed for him to be 'playing at the bullets' with an officer of the castle garrison (Willcock, 80). The game involved throwing cannon balls, and almost had a fatal ending. One of the officer's shots, ricocheting off a stone, struck Lorne on the head, knocking him unconscious for some hours. After being trepanned he recovered, but it was said the incident left him with a tendency to irritability and a lifelong need to sleep for at least an hour every afternoon. He was released in July 1659, on £10,000 sterling security for good behaviour, and moved to Bog of Gight (Gordon) Castle, on the estates of the first marquess of Huntly which had been forfeited and awarded to Argyll. He agreed not to travel more than 25 miles from the castle, and to return to prison after twelve months, but in the event the collapse of the protectorate and the restoration of monarchy cancelled such obligations.

Forfeiture and recovery

After Charles II's arrival in England in May 1660 Lorne hastened to London and was well received by the king, but his father, who followed him, was arrested and sent back to Scotland to be tried for treason. In due course Argyll was condemned and his titles and estates forfeited, and he was beheaded on 27 May 1661. Lorne had been consistent in support of his father during the trial but, given the credentials as a royalist he had acquired during the 1650s, Charles II and his Scottish secretary, the earl of Lauderdale, favoured a restoration of his family's titles and lands. Campbell power in the western highlands had long been seen as a bulwark of government control, and, in spite of the marquess of Argyll's treason, arguments of expediency doubtless suggested that retaining it would be far less disruptive than destroying it. But counter-arguments were also strong. It had been demonstrated in the 1640s that Campbell strength was a threat to the crown, and the many royalists who had suffered under Campbell domination of Scotland in the 1640s wanted revenge and compensation out of the family estates. Further, the family's huge debts could only be paid if the family property was dispersed. Intrigue at court over who should benefit from the fall of Argyll was intense, and the hopes of the wronged, of those owed money, and of the simply greedy would all be strengthened if Lorne shared his father's fate. A pretext was found in a letter from Lorne which was intercepted, in which he expressed hope that the king would see through 'the tricks' of his enemies in the Scottish parliament, and revealed that he had found an English nobleman who, for a bribe of £1000 sterling, would persuade the earl of Clarendon, lord chancellor of England, to abandon his hostility to Lorne (Willcock, 119). Parliament seized upon this to accuse Lorne of leasing-making, the crime (punishable by death) of causing dissension between the king and his subjects, and requested that he be arrested and sent to Scotland for trial. Charles, who believed Lorne indiscreet but not guilty of any crime, agreed to the trial, though Lorne was allowed to return to Scotland voluntarily rather that have the indignity of being arrested. On his appearance before parliament on 17 July 1662, however, he was committed to Edinburgh Castle. In his defence, he pleaded that in writing the words for which he was being tried he had been reacting to gross provocation, and that he had not sought to harm anyone but simply to defend himself from malicious lies. None the less, he was condemned to death, sentence being pronounced on 26 August. The king had ordered that any sentence should not be carried out until he had been consulted, but parliament sought to prevent his intervening to pardon Lorne by passing an act forbidding anyone to urge the king to favour the children of attainted persons.

The vindictiveness of the Scottish parliament in harrying Lorne was orchestrated by his commander in 1654–5, Middleton, now earl of Middleton and the king's commissioner in parliament. He headed the most vengeful of the royalists, more royalist than the king himself, but his determination to destroy Lorne was also driven by the hope of getting a generous grant from the forfeited Campbell estates. However, Middleton's disruptive policies soon led to his dismissal, and one of the first results of his fall was the release of Lorne from imprisonment on 15 June 1663. On 16 October the title of earl of Argyll was restored to him along with most of his father's estates, though his father's title of marquess was withheld. Political rehabilitation was completed by the new earl's admission to the Scottish privy council on 9 June 1664 and by his restoration to the hereditary sheriffship of Argyll in 1666. The estates not returned were intended to pay off the earl's debts, but in reality they only satisfied a fraction of his creditors. Moreover, Argyll was made accountable not only for his father's and his own debts, but also, as an added burden, for all the debts of the Huntly estates, although they had been returned to the Gordons. By one account 'this was the true occasion of all the hardship that [Argyll] was afterwards put on which raised such a clamour against him' (Supplement to Burnet's History, 6). Altogether he owed almost £600,000 Scots (£50,0000 sterling), and much of his time and energy in the years that followed were devoted to using all means available to keep his creditors at bay and to squeeze payment out of those who were in debt to him. In this he was much assisted not only by his rank but also by his positions as sheriff and hereditary justice-general of Argyll and the Isles, and by his remaining a close ally of Lauderdale, who was emerging as the king's chief Scottish minister. In his fight for financial survival, forced on him by the terms his restoration, Argyll quickly won an evil reputation for being harsh and unscrupulous, using his public offices in his own interests and exploiting the financial and other difficulties of neighbours. In particular, he sought to extend Campbell influence far beyond its former bounds by manipulating the indebtedness (both to him and to the state) of the clan Maclean. From 1665 to 1680 he also sought to restore his family fortunes by attempting to salvage the treasure which had supposedly sunk with a Spanish Armada galleon near Tobermory. However, the earl also found time at Inveraray to concern himself with the planting of trees and the development of gardens round his castle, and, with his wife, to supervise the lives of their six children who survived infancy. She died in childbirth in May 1668, and he paid her a heartfelt tribute:

I need not tell you what an excellent persone shee was, nor what a comforter to me in all my troubles, a supporter of my spirite, a discreete adviser, a pleasant yokfellow, without repining or grudging, and never troublesome … and a serious, diligent, constant seeker of God.

Willcock, 156

Argyll was also active in public affairs, working closely with Lauderdale, but hatred of his family and memory of his father's career meant that he was constantly the subject of suspicion. Thus when in 1666 he raised men to oppose the Pentland rising of presbyterian dissidents, James Sharp, the archbishop of St Andrews, feared that he intended to join rather than suppress the rebels. Argyll himself stated that though he had been brought up under presbyterianism, he had been influenced by experience abroad to believe that details of church government were not so important as many Scots believed them to be. At heart he had some sympathy for moderate dissidents who faced persecution, but like many others of his generation he believed that obedience to the king in matters of church government was essential to maintain order. After the 1666 rising had been crushed he stated that preachers who had been involved 'deserve torture' (Letters from … Argyll to … Lauderdale, 56), and that all who refused a sweeping oath never to rise in arms should be 'without hesitation transplanted' (Laing MSS, 1.356), though it may be suspected that in mouthing such hard-line sentiments Argyll was to some extent seeking to allay suspicion of his being sympathetic to rebels. His second marriage, to Lady Anne or Anna Mackenzie, dowager countess of Balcarres (c. 1621–1707), clearly indicates that presbyterian inclinations were no bar to his affections. Her first husband, Alexander Lindsay, earl of Balcarres (1618–1659), had been strongly royalist but staunchly presbyterian, and she herself was well known for similar views. She had befriended and supported Argyll during his imprisonment in 1662–3, and though Lauderdale opposed the union, Argyll, 'being engag'd in an amour' (Mackenzie, 181) rather than a marriage of convenience, went ahead and the marriage took place on 28 January 1670.

Loyalty to the regime brought reward when Lauderdale went to Scotland as king's commissioner to parliament in 1669. There had been many delays in finalizing the details of Argyll's 1663 restoration to titles, lands, and offices, and his enemies made a determined effort to prevent its ratification by parliament. But Lauderdale's bullying manner subdued protests over the matter, and indeed he insisted that even voting on the matter would be inappropriate: ratification was a matter for the king alone. It was rumoured, however, that Lauderdale pushed through the measure to maintain his own credibility (he having been the main proponent of restoring Argyll) rather than through continuing friendship, and that he swore 'that he should never own [uphold] Argyll for the future' (Mackenzie, 179). Argyll also fell out temporarily with one of Lauderdale's closest allies, the earl of Tweeddale, who opposed Argyll's confirmation as justice-general of Argyll and the Isles. Argyll, 'who was naturally violent … burst out into passionate railings against Tweeddale' (Mackenzie, 180).

Turning his attention back to his financial affairs, Argyll intensified his campaign to have debts due to him—and taxes due to government—paid. Judgment had been obtained in the court of session against the Macleans of Duart. In 1674 Argyll raised about 2000 of his own men and occupied Mull. The Macleans submitted, but again payment failed to follow, and a new expedition to the island was organized in 1675, this time supported by some government troops. However, the earl's fleet was scattered by storms before it sailed, and resistance was strengthened when other highland enemies of the Campbells supported the Macleans, though Duart Castle was occupied by the government forces. A visit to Edinburgh failed to gain the privy council's support for his plans, and on proceeding to London he was referred back to Scotland, where the case was judged by three members of the council. Hearings began in June 1676, but judgment in Argyll's favour only came a year later, after all attempts to reach a compromise settlement had failed. Again enforcement had to rely on invasion: three companies of regular soldiers were assigned to Argyll as reinforcements, and Mull had effectively passed into his possession by the end of 1678. Sporadic resistance to Campbell expansion continued, though Argyll was again able to secure government support by claiming (on the basis that some of his Macdonald opponents were Catholics) that he was fighting popish rebels. The supposed Popish Plot in England having caused panic, service in suppressing their supposed machinations in Scotland was most welcome.

When the 'highland host' was assembled in late 1678 to overawe religious dissidents from the opposite end of the religious spectrum, the presbyterians in the south-west, no contribution from Argyll was ordered, indicating that he was regarded as fully occupied in dealing with the 'popish' rebels in the highlands. Thus when the disarming of all Scottish Catholics was ordered, he was commissioned to enforce the order against the Macleans and Macdonalds (12 April 1679). However, the defeat of a government force by the dissident presbyterians at the battle of Drumclog (1 June) changed the regime's priorities, and Argyll was ordered to march his men south to deal with this new threat. In the event the rising was suppressed without his help.

Forfeiture and ruin

The Catholicism of James, duke of York, Charles II's brother and the heir to the throne, having made him a political embarrassment in England, he was sent to Scotland as king's commissioner in 1679. On arrival he took his seat on the privy council without taking the oath of allegiance which denounced Catholicism. Argyll was one of five councillors who protested. They were overruled but, according to Gilbert Burnet, James decided that Argyll's power was dangerously great and it 'was necessary for him either to gain or to ruin' Argyll to avoid trouble in the future in Scotland (Burnet's History, 2.303). Thus there was no deep-laid plan on James's part to destroy Argyll, but rather a recognition that his position and family background made him a key figure in Scottish politics. If he could be relied on, his support would be a major asset, but any opposition from him would need to be dealt with sharply to prevent him becoming a figurehead for protestant backlash against favour to Catholics. Argyll was shown the benefits that enjoying continued favour would bring him. James's plans for pacifying the highlands included making Argyll one of four king's lieutenants in the region, and when in the 1681 parliament Argyll again came under fierce attack over his unscrupulous judicial and financial activities, and the legality of his 1663 restoration was again questioned, James made no attempt to support his enemies. Perhaps this led to over-confidence on Argyll's part at a time when he should have realized that he was becoming politically isolated. For twenty years the support of Lauderdale had been central to his success in resisting his enemies, and in 1678 he had shown his commitment to their alliance by a double marriage: Argyll's eldest son had married Lauderdale's stepdaughter, and his daughter had married Lauderdale's nephew. But Lauderdale's influence had then already been in decline, and by 1681 it had vanished.

The story that James had visited Argyll in February 1681 and told him he would be 'the greatest man in Scotland' if he would change 'the worst of religions for the best' (Willcock, 249) is not implausible in the light of the pressure that James put on others to convert to Catholicism, but it was not refusal to convert but Argyll's opposition to one of James's key policies that brought about his downfall. By the Test Act it was proposed to impose on all office-holders an oath that attempted to reconcile the inconciliable in pursuit of James's determination to make the legitimacy of his right to succeed to the throne unassailable. On the one hand the act demanded that signatories swore that they were, and would always remain, protestants and would defend the protestant church, on the other that they accepted the absolute power of the king and would obey him in all things—which obviously could mean obeying a Catholic king pursuing pro-Catholic policies. Argyll refused to vote on the act in parliament, taking a prominent part in arguing that the oath was unnecessary, and, as John Paterson, bishop of Edinburgh, put it (Willcock, 254), he 'fired the kiln' of fear about the oath's purpose by stressing that it was being proposed that James himself should be exempted from it.

By leading opposition to the Test Act, Argyll both drew upon himself the hostility of the regime and revived the hopes of personal enemies and rivals. It was proposed that there should be a commission of inquiry to review his right to the offices he held and to force him to pay his creditors, this clearly being intended to make him think about the consequences of his conduct. James overruled Argyll's protests, and though he at first agreed that he might go to court to plead his case, this was then made conditional on his first taking the Test Act oath. Argyll's submission would be an important propaganda victory, and as a further warning he lost office as an extraordinary lord of session (a post he had held since 1674). The Test Act specified that all office-holders should swear the oath by 1 January 1682, but it was ordered that Argyll should take it immediately. An interview with James led to heated argument, intensifying the crisis. Argyll appeared before James and the privy council on 3 November 1681 and took the oath, but he also made a statement explaining that he only took the oath 'as far as it is consistent with itself and the Protestant religion'. This made a mockery of the test oath, the swearing of it a nonsense. Yet, remarkably, at first the significance of Argyll's ‘explanation’ was not noticed by James and the council. It was only after the meeting ended that it was realized how damaging it was. However, it was possible for James to recover from this set-back because though Argyll had now taken the oath in his capacity as a councillor, he was also due to take it as a commissioner of the Treasury. He was therefore summoned to swear again on 4 November. Argyll saw the trap, and though he insisted on his explanation he sought to avoid repeating it by saying simply that he now swore 'as before' (Willcock, 262). But James demanded that he explain what he meant by giving the full explanation, and handing in a written copy. This he did. He was then warned that his action would have severe consequences, and on 8 November the council ordered his imprisonment in Edinburgh Castle and his trial for leasing-making, perjury, and treason. The embarrassing fact that the council had originally accepted Argyll's explanation without question was now explained as being owing to the fact that he had spoken in so low a voice that he had not been properly heard.

James had evidently hoped, up to the last minute, to force Argyll to withdraw his explanation, thus breaking opposition to the oath. He wrote of Argyll's second taking of the oath that he had 'spoiled all again' (Burnet's History, 2.317n). The earl's stubbornness now meant that he had provided an example of resistance rather than submission, and if the oath was not to be discredited severe punishment was necessary to deter others. Trial before the court of justiciary began on 12 December with Argyll protesting his lifelong loyalty to the crown, and his defence pleading that the actions and words attributed to him were not criminal, let alone treasonous. The judges ruled that the libel (accusation) was relevant, and the case was submitted to a jury which found him guilty of leasing-making and treason. On the orders of the king no sentence was to be passed until he was consulted, but the widespread belief was that the usual sentence for these crimes—execution and forfeiture—would be imposed. Argyll acted accordingly, escaping from Edinburgh Castle on 20 December 1681 with the help of his stepdaughter Sophia Lindsay, the success of his disguise as a page no doubt being helped by his short stature. Meanwhile it had been pointed out to the king that lack of sentence meant the legal process against Argyll was technically incomplete, and he had therefore agreed that sentence should be pronounced, though stressing that it must not be put into effect until he had further considered the matter. His orders arrived on 22 December, and the sentence of death and forfeiture was pronounced the following day. The sentence, imposed for a verbal attempt to stand up for protestantism, caused widespread shock, and it was commented that if James (who was blamed for the trial) could treat subjects so harshly when merely heir to the throne, he would be a hard master when he became king. The earl of Halifax is said to have told the king 'that he knew not the Scots law, but by the law of England that Explanation could not hang his dog' (Lauder, Historical Observes, 55). Lauder of Fountainhall, one of Argyll's lawyers, was also horrified to see Scots law used in this way, and attributed the determination to destroy Argyll to his being 'overrun by the violent malice of his enemies', to which the regime had only given way when he 'appeared to be a valiant assertor of the Protestant interest', though he accepted that there was justice in the hatred Argyll's oppressed creditors had for him (Lauder, Historical Observes, 54).

Helped by presbyterian sympathizers, Argyll made his way to London. The anonymity of the large city was attractive to the fugitive, but the decision not to flee abroad immediately suggests that he still hoped to find some solution to his problems. Possibly he had a lingering hope that he could find someone to approach the king on his behalf. But any such hope must have been slight, for to the crime of showing up the absurdity of a key official policy had been added his escape, a further mockery of royal authority. Moreover, the widespread reaction against the condemning of him to death on what was seen as a trumped up charge meant that he was already being depicted as a presbyterian—indeed general protestant—hero. The mantle of his father, which he had spent his life trying to escape, was insistently draping itself around his shoulders, and a pardon for him would have been seen as indicating a weakening of the policy of guaranteeing James's right to the throne. Yet the story that King Charles made sure that no real attempt was made to track Argyll down in London may be true. He was already ruined, and actually executing him held the danger of making him a martyr.

Argyll's real hopes for the future therefore came to lie in collaboration with extreme English whig politicians, whose prolonged attempts to have James excluded from the succession to the throne had recently failed. Some of the most committed were now plotting to prevent a Catholic succession by force, and Argyll met secretly with one of their leaders, the earl of Shaftesbury, during the summer of 1682, and with Lord Granard, who planned a rising in Ireland. Reports that Argyll was now actively involved in treason led to the renewal of attempts to trace and arrest him, and in the autumn of 1682 he fled to the Netherlands to join the Scottish and English exiles gathering there. In June 1683 the Rye House plot (to assassinate Charles and James) was exposed, and evidence emerged that Argyll had proposed to lead a rising in Scotland, and had asked for a subsidy of £30,000 sterling and 1000 cavalry to undertake this, though he later accepted reduced totals of £10,000 sterling and six or seven hundred horse [see also Rye House plotters].

After the death of King Charles and the accession of King James in February 1685 Argyll moved from Friesland, where he had been living (near Leeuwarden, according to tradition), to Rotterdam, and then to Amsterdam, where he had a series of meetings with Scottish exiles. Their talks were stormy. Most of these men were committed to constitutional reform in Britain, reducing royal power, whereas Argyll was a staunch royalist who had had no qualms about supporting absolute monarchy. His interests lay in the restoration of own position and the protection of protestantism, and he tended to see the rebellion he proposed to lead as traditional assertion of the rights of a feudal magnate against a king who had failed to recognize his rights. His fellow exiles he saw not so much as comrades as underlings who should accept his leadership and obey. He showed himself determined on action, 'very forward without delay to take shipping for Scotland', having already purchased arms and a frigate (Hume, 12), but his lack of forethought was extraordinary. The general assumption among exiles was that a landing by Argyll in Scotland would be co-ordinated with an English expedition by the duke of Monmouth (Charles II's illegitimate son and the figurehead of the plotters). The idea evidently surprised Argyll, and in 'tart expressions' he showed his jealousy of the duke (Hume, 12). On the Scottish gentry, led by Sir Patrick Hume of Polwarth, refusing to contemplate rebellion without co-operation with Monmouth, 'the Erle was high, peremptory, and passionate … and parted in that temper' (Hume, 17), though he quickly reconciled himself to the idea. Further trouble was caused by his assumption that he would be general of the expedition, whereas constitutionalists among the exiles insisted that it must be made clear that he was acting not just for himself and against Catholicism, but in the name of the nation. 'Argyll now fancied Scotland was his own, and was very insolent in all his discourses with the other gentlemen, who really thought his brain turned' (Supplement to Burnet's History, 156). None the less, he agreed to the formation of a council of gentlemen for managing war against King James in the name of protestant religion and the liberties of the British kingdoms, and this council then formally chose Argyll as general.

In military matters as in political ones Argyll found himself at odds with his fellow conspirators. The extent of his ambition was to raise his supporters in the west highlands, presenting a threat to the regime that would prevent Scottish troops being sent south against the army Monmouth would land in England. He seems to have had no thought of what sort of settlement would follow success—except that it would restore his own fortunes and protestantism. Many urged that his landing would be most effective if it took place in the western lowlands, to encourage the dissidents there to rise in arms, but Argyll saw himself as a chief who would first raise his clansmen in arms, and vehemently asserted that he could muster five or six thousand men in the highlands if he landed there. The claim was, rightly, greeted with scepticism, but he got his way. By Argyll's own account he had spent much of his time in exile in prayer and meditation. Whatever their merits, they were not the best preparation for a military adventure requiring daring, clear-headedness, and decision.

Argyll had been supported in the Netherlands by contributions sent from Scotland by sympathizers, and a donation approaching £10,000 sterling from a rich English widow in the Netherlands provided most of the finance for the tiny expeditionary force he assembled. About 300 men in three ships sailed at the beginning of May. After touching at Orkney—thus giving the regime advance warning of his approach and allowing it to assemble troops to oppose him—he sailed for Argyll. Arriving at Tobermory on 11 May, the earl had the ‘fiery cross’, the traditional summons to his men to rise in arms, sent out, but it quickly became clear that the thousands of eager clansmen Argyll had expected were not flocking to his standard. The countryside had been ravaged by government forces under the marquess of Atholl after the earl's 1681 forfeiture, and Atholl had now returned to enforce loyalty. Moving slowly south, delayed by contrary winds, Argyll's original force of 300 men had at most only doubled by the time he reached Kintyre, where he expected the support of lowland protestant settlers. At Campbeltown on 20 May he issued a proclamation detailing the oppressions of government in Scotland since 1660, the risks to protestantism of a Catholic king, and the unjust treatment of himself and his father. But while this might stir up indignation, it was not designed to steel men to commit themselves to rebellion, for although the intention to overthrow King James was clear, no indication was given of what would happen after that. The following day a declaration to his own vassals rebutted claims that his rebellion was motivated by desire to further his personal interests, as all he sought was peaceful possession of what he and his father had enjoyed before forfeiture—which amounted to admitting rather than refuting the charge that he was acting for selfish reasons—and to uphold protestantism. In a speech he explicitly argued that James had forfeited his right to the throne by becoming a Catholic, but again offered no alternative.

Meanwhile the earl and his council squabbled bitterly about military priorities, a matter which should have been settled before the expedition sailed. Argyll remained committed to raising a strong army in the highlands before thinking about intervening in the western lowlands, but the council tended to favour an immediate move to raise the dissidents there. But when a rendezvous at Tarbet produced over a thousand clansmen, Argyll proposed to advance to recover the Campbell heartland around Inveraray from Atholl's troops, arguing that the rest of his clan would be unwilling to march into the lowlands until this was done. After several changes of mind he moved instead to the island of Bute. The campaign was now well on its way to collapse. Moving back to the mainland, Argyll began to construct a fort on Eilean Dearg, while marching some of his men north to attempt to take Inveraray Castle after all. This failing, he changed his mind yet again, resolving to march on the lowlands, but, in a way which could now be recognized as typical, delayed in the hope that more men would join him. With the arrival of English naval ships the garrison he had left at Eilean Dearg fled, leaving arms and other stores landed there to the enemy. Even his standard, proclaiming (comprehensively though clumsily) 'For God and Religion against Poperie, Tyrrany, Arbitrary Government, and Erastianisme' (Lauder, Historical Observes, 177), fell into enemy hands. After blundering through Dunbartonshire as his force disintegrated, Argyll crossed the Clyde into Renfrewshire, hoping to find help from lowland dissidents. When this failed to materialize the officers and men who remained scattered. Argyll disguised himself and, armed with three loaded pistols, attempted to make his way back to the highlands, but on trying to cross the Clyde at Inchinnan the bedraggled fugitive was arrested as a suspect by John Riddel, a weaver, and his identity revealed. The ignominy of the manner of his capture, in view of his status and the expectations of others, must have been as clear to him as it was to observers: the 'dulnesse and sillinesse of the manner of his taking is very od' for 'every on reputed Argile waliant and witty' (Lauder, Historical Observes, 186).

On 12 June, for the third time in his life, Argyll was imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle. Under the sentence of death passed against him in 1681 it had been specified that the implementation of the sentence was a matter to be determined by the king, and on 29 June a letter was received by the privy council from James ordering that the earl be executed within three days. Argyll seems to have been bewildered by his failure, having put his faith in providence, the righteousness of his cause, and the facile argument that as the government had been oppressive the people were bound to join him in revolt. He complained bitterly that 'the generality [of the people] have perverted their way' in failing to rise in arms with him, while his fellow rebels had been 'not governable' (Wodrow, 4.298). There is truth in that, but he failed to see that he had shown himself totally unfit to govern. 'It seemeth, the Lord thought me not fit to be an instrument of his work' he concluded (Wodrow, 4.301). He proceeded to write his own epitaph, complaining that he had failed 'More by friend's fraud' than enemy action, but expressing confidence that the cause he had fought for would triumph, while he himself was about to 'enter endless glory' (Wodrow, 4.307).

A painting by E. M. Ward (1854), The Last Sleep of Argyll, was commissioned for the Commons corridor at Westminster, commemorating the fact that on 30 June 1685, shortly before he was to be taken to execution, the earl was found peacefully sleeping. The incident had come to be interpreted as demonstrating his remarkable serenity in the face of death, the fact that he had had to sleep for a time each day since his accident in 1658 being overlooked. Legend also stressed his composure by claiming that when he mounted the scaffold he noted that the Maiden (the Scottish beheading machine) was set up unevenly, whereupon he took out a ruler, measured it, and had it properly adjusted, but a contemporary recorded that in fact he was 'somewhat appaled' at the sight of the device and had his eyes bound before he approached it (Lauder, Historical Observes, 193). He made a short speech, largely composed of biblical quotations about suffering meekly endured but ending with a denunciation of oppression and popery. He may too have at last made it clear that he was specifically committed to presbyterianism by declaring his 'heart-hatred of popery, prelacy, and all superstition whatsoever' (Wodrow, 4.306), though this may be myth. As his head fell, his body, in a macabre spasm, jumped upright on its feet, spouting blood 'like a cascade or jette d'eau' before being held down by the executioners (Lauder, Historical Observes, 194). His head, like that of his father before him, was displayed on a spike on the top of Edinburgh Tolbooth, while his body was buried at Newbattle Abbey, where he had been born. The head was reunited with the body in 1689 when his eldest son, Archibald Campbell (d. 1703), was restored as tenth earl, and in 1704 they were taken to his family's burial place at Kilmun.


In terms of the immediate political situation King James's order for the execution of Argyll without a new trial made sense. Monmouth had landed in England and had proclaimed himself king. It was a time when swift and exemplary action against a leader of a rebellion was needed. But just a week after Argyll's death Monmouth was defeated and captured, and the precipitate execution quickly became damaging to the regime. Few had supported Argyll, and most accepted that he deserved death for rebellion against the crown. But he had never been tried for rebellion, being executed under his 1681 conviction relating to the test oath. The sentence had been seen as grotesque in relation to his offence, the result of a show trial designed to deter others from standing up for protestant interests. By executing him under it, it became possible to depict Argyll as having died not for rebellion, but for having made a peaceful and discreet protest against the Catholic menace to protestantism. Thus, in the eyes of many, Argyll became a martyr. Then, with James's overthrow in the 1688–9 revolution, use of armed force to overthrow a Catholic monarch was vindicated. Argyll's rebellion could now be hailed as a gallant forerunner of the ‘glorious revolution’.

While Argyll in death became a hero to presbyterians, others pointed out his defects in life. Gilbert Burnet commented that he 'had not behaved himself in his prosperity like a man that thought he might at some time or another need the affections of his people' (Supplement to Burnet's History, 158), assuming in 1685 that he would have his clan's support in a crisis though he had never sought to ensure his men's loyalty. Fountainhall remarked that his death could be seen as divine judgment for his 'cruall oppression' of creditors, but, he added: 'He had all his life been the ludibrium [plaything] and tennis ball of fortune' (Lauder, Historical Observes, 184, 194), suggesting that Argyll's life had been shaped by events outside his control. To some extent this was true: being the son of 'the great marquess' brought him many enemies. Yet through his royalism in the 1650s he had chosen his own path, and from 1660 to 1681 he fought a long and successful battle for the survival of himself and his family. Given the strength of enmity towards him, his conduct seems well judged—defending his interests, retaining royal favour, and playing in full the political role to which his status entitled him, but never seeking political power in a way that would rouse fears of his ambition. Only on one matter was he potentially vulnerable—his commitment to protestantism and resistance to growing Catholic influence. At first, at least, his resistance was not specifically presbyterian: for thirty years he showed himself willing to accept episcopalianism. Even during his 1685 rebellion, which relied on presbyterians for support, his declarations at first avoided mentioning the issue of church government, and his refusal to put his fortunes in the hands of the presbyterians of the south-west contributed to his failure. Yet his bringing ruin upon himself over the Test Act in 1681 indicates the strength of his protestant convictions.

Though successful up to 1681, Argyll was not well liked. He was short-tempered, and never sought popularity. Perhaps he accepted that his family's past meant that he could never have it, and his struggle for financial survival made ruthlessness in asserting his rights essential. The preparations for the 1685 rebellion show a man used to assertion and obedience who found it hard to adjust to cicumstances in which he had to negotiate with lesser men and seek to win their support. While such inflexibility might have been predictable, his indecision once the rebellion began contrasts strongly with his previous career. He knew what he had to do, but was at a loss as to how to do it, relying too much on divine providence. Fountainhall suggests a degree of eccentricity in his behaviour: 'Tho Argile was very witty in knacks, yet it was observed, he hes never been very solid sen [since] his trepanning of his scull [in 1658] … he was so conceitty he had neir 20 severall pockets, some very secret, in his coat and breeches' (Lauder, Historical Observes, 195). None the less, Fountainhall was bewildered by Argyll's conduct in 1685, for he 'had alwayes the reputation of sence and reason' (Lauder, Historical Observes, 166). John Evelyn, who had met Argyll in 1662, had thought 'he seem'd a man of parts' (Evelyn, Diary, 3.318). In personal appearance Argyll was noted mainly for being short. In 1685 an astrologer's prediction that 'a little Highlandman' would triumph was taken to refer to him (Hume, 18), and he once wryly referred to himself as the shortest officer in his regiment. To the exasperated duke of York in 1681 he was 'that little Lord' (Willcock, 274), yet perhaps the clash between the two men in 1681 was in part owing to the fact that they had something in common, an inflexibility—or determination to adhere to principle—that led both to disaster.


  • J. Willcock, A Scots earl in covenanting times: being life and times of Archibald, 9th earl of Argyll (1629–1685) (1907)
  • Reg. PCS, 3rd ser., vols. 1–10
  • J. Lauder, Historical observes of memorable occurrents in church and state, from October 1680 to April 1686, ed. A. Urquhart and D. Laing, Bannatyne Club, 66 (1840)
  • Historical notices of Scotish affairs, selected from the manuscripts of Sir John Lauder of Fountainhall, ed. D. Laing, 2 vols., Bannatyne Club, 87 (1848)
  • Calendar of the Clarendon state papers preserved in the Bodleian Library, ed. O. Ogle and others, 5 vols. (1869–1970)
  • Fourth report, HMC, 3 (1874)
  • Sixth report, HMC, 5 (1877–8)
  • A. Lang, Sir George Mackenzie (1909)
  • P. Hume of Polwarth, ‘A narrative of the events which occurred in the enterprize of the earl of Argyl, in 1685’, in G. Rose, Observations on the historical works of … Charles James Fox (1809)
  • R. Wodrow, The history of the sufferings of the Church of Scotland from the Restoration to the revolution, ed. R. Burns, 4 vols. (1828–30)
  • Journal of the Hon. John Erskine of Carnock, ed. W. Macleod, Scottish History Society, 14 (1893)
  • C. H. Firth, ed., Scotland and the Commonwealth: letters and papers relating to the military government of Scotland, from August 1651 to December 1653, Scottish History Society, 18 (1895)
  • C. H. Firth, ed., Scotland and the protectorate: letters and papers relating to the military government of Scotland from January 1654 to June 1659, Scottish History Society, 31 (1899)
  • Letters from Archibald, the earl of Argyll, to John, duke of Lauderdale, ed. G. Sinclair and C. K. Sharpe (1829)
  • G. Mackenzie, Memoirs of the affairs of Scotland (1821)
  • A supplement to Burnet’s History of my own time, ed. H. C. Foxcroft (1902)
  • The letters and journals of Robert Baillie, ed. D. Laing, 3 vols. (1841–2)
  • F. D. Dow, Cromwellian Scotland, 1651–1660 (1979)
  • A. I. Macinnes, Clanship, commerce, and the house of Stuart, 1603–1788 (1996)
  • J. Maidment, ed., Argyll papers, 1640–1723 (1834)


  • BL, papers relating to his preparations for invasion of Scotland, Add. MS 41822
  • Buckminster Park, Grantham, corresp.
  • Inveraray Castle, Argyll, Argyll MSS
  • LUL, authorization to seize contraband beef
  • NL Scot., corresp. and papers
  • BL, letters to Charles II, duke of Lauderdale, etc., Add. MSS 23118–23138, 23245–23247, passim
  • NL Scot., letters to duke of Lauderdale


  • double portrait, oils, 1660–69, NPG [see illus.]
  • attrib. L. Schuneman, oils, 1670, Scot. NPG
  • attrib. D. Loggan, miniature, oils, 1680, Scot. NPG
  • R. Arondeaux, silver medal, Scot. NPG
  • Goupil & Co., photogravure (after E. M. Ward), NPG
  • A. Haelwegh, line engraving (after unknown artist), BM, NPG
  • oils, Scot. NPG
  • oils, Bowhill, Scottish Borders
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