Archibald Campbell, 1st Marquis of Argyll, c.1607-61

Powerful Scottish statesman, leader of the Covenanters and chief of the Campbell clan. He crowned Charles II King of Scots at Scone, but was beheaded when Charles regained the throne of England.

Portrait of the Marquis of ArgyllArchibald Campbell was the eldest son of the 7th Earl of Argyll, also called Archibald Campbell, and his first wife Lady Anne Douglas, daughter of William Douglas, 6th Earl of Morton. His mother died when Campbell was a child. As was customary with the heir to the earldom of Argyll, he was granted the courtesy title Lord Lorne.

In 1619, Lorne's father forfeited his title and rights, firstly by marrying a Roman Catholic, then by converting to Catholicism himself in order to enter the service of the King of Spain. The administration of the Campbell estates passed to Lorne. Aged only twelve, he was placed under the guardianship of his cousin William Douglas, 7th Earl of Morton.

Lorne attended St Andrews University then took over management of his estates, working to restore the disordered Argyll finances. In 1626, he married the daughter of his former guardian Lord Morton, Lady Margaret Douglas, with whom he had two sons and three daughters. He inherited the title 8th Earl of Argyll when his father died in October 1638.

As MacCailein Mor, the chief of the Campbell clan, Argyll was one of the wealthiest and most powerful noblemen in Scotland.

Covenanter Leader

King Charles I sought Argyll's support when he attempted to enforce his religious reforms in Scotland. In 1638, Argyll was summoned to London with the lords Traquair and Roxburgh to discuss the implications of the Scottish National Covenant. Argyll boldly warned the King against pursuing his reform of the Kirk. As a result, the King encouraged the Earl of Antrim to invade the lands of the Campbells. The scheme miscarried, alienating Argyll from the King and driving him to side with the Covenanters. Argyll openly indicated his support for the Covenanters for the first time at the Glasgow Assembly of 1638, which defied the King's representative the Marquis of Hamilton and abolished bishops from the Scottish Kirk. The confrontation led to the outbreak of the Bishops' Wars between England and Scotland (1639-40) during which Argyll emerged as a natural leader of the Covenanters.

When King Charles ordered the prorogation of the Scottish Parliament in May 1640, Argyll was prominent among those who resisted his command. In June 1640, he was granted a commission of "fire and sword" to lead a force of Campbell clansmen in plundering and burning the territory of Royalist clans in the Highlands. Argyll's ruthless campaign effectively suppressed Royalist support in Scotland before the outbreak of the Second Bishops' War in August 1640. While General Leslie led the main Covenanter army into England, Argyll stayed in Scotland to secure the fortresses at Dumbarton and Edinburgh. However, some of the Covenanter leaders disliked Argyll's ruthlessness and mistrusted his motives, in particular James Graham, Earl of Montrose, who became his bitter enemy.

With civil war threatening in England, King Charles came to Scotland in the summer of 1641 hoping to win Argyll's support against the Long Parliament. The King created him 1st Marquis of Argyll, granted him money and property, and commissioned him to defend the Highlands and Islands against possible attack by Irish rebels. Despite "The Incident"—a muddled plot against Argyll and Hamilton perpetrated by over-zealous Royalists—the King left Scotland believing that the Covenanters were his allies. Meanwhile, Argyll consolidated his hold over the government of Scotland. In close consultation with Presbyterian elders, he extended Covenanter authority over the Highland clans and imposed a strict moral code on the Kirk. Covenanter troops were sent to fight the Catholic rebels in Ireland, including a regiment raised by Argyll and commanded by his kinsman, Sir Duncan Campbell of Auchinbreck.

Argyll versus Montrose

As the English Civil War intensified, Parliament also made approaches to Argyll, proposing a military alliance against the King. Sensing better opportunities to extend Presbyterian influence into England, he sided with Parliament. Argyll dominated the sessions of the Convention of Estates that resulted in a military and religious alliance between Scotland and England under the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643.

Argyll accompanied the Army of the Covenant on its march into England in January 1644, but two months later he hurried back to Scotland when Royalist lords and gentry gathered at Stirling and Lord Huntly seized Aberdeen. Argyll easily suppressed these stirrings of Royalist activity, but on 30 August 1644, the Marquis of Montrose raised his standard as King's Deputy in Scotland and began his spectacular campaign against the Covenanters.

The nucleus of Montrose's army was a marauding band of MacDonald clansmen, traditional enemies of the Campbells. In February 1645, Montrose inflicted a grievous defeat on Argyll at Inverlochy where 1,500 Campbells were slain and the power of the clan was severely diminished. Argyll also headed the Committee of War that accompanied the Covenanter army defeated at Kilsyth in August, which left Montrose master of Scotland for a short time. Argyll was finally delivered from his terrible adversary when David Leslie defeated Montrose at Philiphaugh on 12 September 1645. When Montrose agreed to go into exile, the Covenanters moved against his supporters. Argyll ordered the slaughter of all the MacDonalds who had surrendered to General Leslie.

The Engagement

In 1646, Argyll travelled to London to take part in the negotiations that followed the defeat of the Royalists in the First Civil War. He attempted to mediate between King Charles and Parliament—always with a view to strengthening Presbyterianism in England, enforcing the Solemn League and Covenant, and promoting a political union of the two nations under a regulated monarchy.

In 1648, the Covenanter movement was split by the Engagement with King Charles. Argyll lost political authority to his rival the Duke of Hamilton. He opposed the Engager invasion of England during the Second Civil War but was unable to prevent it.

After Cromwell's victory over the Engagers at the battle of Preston, Argyll supported the Whiggamore uprising of September 1648, which drove the Engagers from power in Scotland. Backed by the generals Leven and Leslie, he established himself at the head of a new government in Scotland under the fundamentalist Kirk Party. Argyll welcomed the victorious Cromwell on his arrival at Edinburgh in October 1648 and readily agreed to have all supporters of the Engagement removed from office. Cromwell marched away leaving a contingent of the New Model Army to protect Argyll and his supporters. Argyll's dominance of the Scottish Parliament enabled him to pass the Act of Classes in January 1649, which excluded Engagers from holding public office or a seat in the Scottish Parliament.

Argyll and Charles II

The alliance between Argyll's Covenanters and the Westminster Parliament collapsed following the execution of King Charles I in January 1649, which was regarded with universal horror in Scotland. Charles II was immediately proclaimed in Edinburgh. Rumours alleging that Argyll had conspired with Cromwell in plotting the old King's death were damaging to his reputation and authority.

Meanwhile, Charles began negotiations for Scottish military support to regain the throne. In a devious scheme to coerce the Covenanters, he ordered the Marquis of Montrose to lead an army into Scotland in 1650. The Covenanters moved swiftly against Montrose who was defeated at the battle of Carbisdale and taken prisoner soon afterwards. In May 1650, Argyll was a witness when Montrose was hanged and dismembered in Edinburgh. Charles cynically disavowed all Montrose's actions and finally agreed to sign the Covenant, which prompted a Parliamentarian invasion of Scotland led by Oliver Cromwell in the summer of 1650. When Cromwell defeated the Scots at the battle of Dunbar, Charles kept Argyll's support by promising him a dukedom and the Garter when he was restored to the throne. Hints were dropped that Charles might even consider marriage to Argyll's daughter Ann.

In January 1651, Argyll officiated at Charles' belated coronation as King of Scots, but his power was declining as the Royalists gained ascendancy. The new King was eager to unite all the Scottish factions in his service. As soon as Charles had secured the crown, Argyll was manoeuvred out of the way. The Act of Classes was repealed in June 1651 and the Engagers regained their former influence. Refusing to support Charles' plan to invade England, Argyll withdrew to his castle at Inverary in the Highlands.

Decline and Fall

Charles II and the Scots were decisively defeated at the battle of Worcester in September 1651. Argyll submitted to the English Commonwealth on behalf of himself and his clan in August 1652. His estate was in debt and his power greatly diminished. His son and heir Lord Lorne defied him in 1653 to support Glencairn's Uprising. In 1654, Argyll was forced into the humiliating position of having to ask for government troops to be garrisoned on his estates for protection from his own son. He was briefly imprisoned for debt after travelling to London in 1656.

At the Restoration in 1660, Argyll presented himself at Whitehall hoping for a reconciliation with the new régime. Charles II had him arrested and thrown in the Tower until December 1660, when he was sent back to Edinburgh to stand trial for treason. Argyll was acquitted of any involvement in the death of Charles I, but his correspondence with General Monck and Colonel Lilburne was produced in court, which showed the extent of his collaboration with the Commonwealth, particularly his role in the suppression of the Royalist uprising of 1653-4. He was found guilty of treason, sentenced to death and beheaded on 27 May 1661. His head was fixed to the same spike at the Edinburgh Tolbooth as that of his old enemy Montrose eleven years before.

Execution of the Marquis of ArgyllExecution of the Marquis of Argyll in Edinburgh, May 1661
The Marquis was beheaded by a guillotine-like machine called the Maiden

The earldom of Argyll was extinguished for two years after the 8th earl's execution. The title was restored in 1663 and inherited by Argyll's eldest son, also called Archibald Campbell (1629-85).


David Stevenson, Archibald Campbell, Marquis of Argyll , Oxford DNB, 2004

David Stevenson, The Scottish Revolution 1637-44, 1973

David Stevenson, Revolution & Counter-Revolution in Scotland 1644-51, 1977

C.V. Wedgwood, The King's Peace, 1955


Images of Argyll's tomb and effigy in St Giles High Kirk, Edinburgh