Archibald Campbell, 9th Earl of Argyll

Archibald Campbell, 9th Earl of Argyll (c. 1629–1685) was Earl from 1663 following the restoration of the title two years after his father, the Marquess of Argyll, was executed for treason. Although he shared few of his father's political convictions, displaying little enthusiasm for the Covenants, he too was destined to be executed for treason, after leading an abortive Highland rebellion against James VII in 1685, the Scottish dimension of the rising further south by James, Duke of Monmouth.

Dangerous Inheritance

On 27 May 1661, a year after the Restoration of the monarchy, Archibald Campbell, Marquis of Argyll, was beheaded in Edinburgh by a Scottish version of the guillotine, known as the Maiden. Argyll had achieved high prominence during the 1640s as head of the Covenanter government in Scotland. As the son of an executed traitor, Archibald Campbell, Lord Lorne, was not allowed to succeed to his father's title, though his own royalist credentials were impeccable. In the 1650s he had taken an active part in the Glencairn Rising against the government of Oliver Cromwell, and never at any time showed any enthusiasm for his father's radical Presbyterian convictions. Nevertheless, the early years of the Restoration were a particularly dangerous time for Lorne; for his enemies included John, Earl of Middleton, Charles's High Commissioner to Parliament and the most powerful man in Scotland.

Middleton's ambitions were personal, as well as political. He had no territorial power in his own right, so he hoped to gain the lucrative Campbell inheritance. Although Lorne had served under him during the Glencairn Rising, Middleton was eager to ensure that he would never be restored. According to James Kirkton, the historian of the Presbyterian Church, Middleton hoped, in time, to become duke of Argyll. To achieve this Lorne would first have to be destroyed.

Lorne was in a dangerous position. He was fully aware of the schemes of his enemies, but in attempting to defeat them he walked into a trap. A letter of his was intercepted in which he expressed the hope that the king "would see their tricks.". Middleton at once brought this letter before parliament, which agreed that Lorne should be charged with 'leasing-making'-sowing dissension between the king and his subjects-a capital crime. Like his father before him, Lorne was tried and condemned to death in August 1662, although Charles had given instructions that sentence was not to be carried out. Nevertheless, many, in both England and Scotland, were shocked that what was no more than an indiscreet remark could carry such savage consequences. Even the Earl of Clarendon, Middleton's chief English ally, and no friend of the Campbells, was moved to remark that he gave thanks to God that he did not live in a country where there were such laws.


On the whim of the king Lorne's life was safe; but he remained imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle for some months. At this trying time he was fortunate in one thing; he enjoyed the friendship of John Maitland, Earl of Lauderdale, Charles' Secretary of State for Scotland, soon to be the dominant political figure of the age. In his youth Lauderdale had been a Covenanter, and favoured a moderate Presbyterian settlement at the Restoration. But above all he was a survivor, never allowing principle to stand in the way of self-interest. Middleton saw in him a great political rival, and set about laying the kind of traps that brought Lorne close to destruction. But Lorne, who lacked the political skill and the intellectual subtelty of his great father, had been a relatively easy target. Lauderdale was altogether different, enjoying the ear and confidence of the king. In attempting to encompass Lauderdale's downfall Middleton brought about his own. In the wake of this Lord Lorne was released from prison in June 1663. Soon afterwards he was created ninth Earl of Argyll. The title of marquess was to remain permanently forfeit.

War with the Macleans

The following year Argyll was admitted to the Privy Council, and was soon exercising the traditional role of his family in attempting to maintain law and order in the western Highlands, acting as an ally of Lauderdale. But he was never to be at the centre of the political stage in the way that his father had been. It is true that he lacked the ability and conviction that drove his father; but, virtually by necessity, his ambitions were more personal than public. The terms of his restoration were not overly generous. Estates formerly granted to the marquess for his services to the Covenanter state were returned to their rightful owners, although Argyll was left burdened by the extensive debts incurred. Pursued by his creditors he had little choice but to pursue his debtors, chief among whom were the Macleans of Duart on Mull.

Argyll's war with the Macleans, which reached a climax in the 1670s, had a seriously destabilising effect on the Highlands. His success against the clan had the paradoxical effect of adding to his problems. Middleton was now safely out of the way, but Argyll had many enemies, both personal and political. In his correspondence with Lauderdale he makes repeated references to the undercurrent of complaint and criticism made against him. There was even an attempt in the Parliament of 1669 to block formal recognition of his restoration, which had to be overruled by Lauderdale, now acting as High Commissioner, as well as Secretary of State. Argyll's campaign against the Macleans, although always in accordance with the strict letter of the law, added fuel to the fire being carefully prepared by his enemies. Many were only too willing to point out that here was the son of a traitor apparently trying to destroy one of the most loyal clans, which had suffered severe losses fighting for the royal cause during the Civil Wars. He was safe, however, for as long as he enjoyed the confidence of Lauderdale. The problem was that in attempting to restore the faded fortunes of his family Argyll failed to perceive how vulnerable his political position was becoming. By the beginning of the 1680s Lauderdale was declining in health and influence. In his place as High Commissioner came James, Duke of York, the king's brother and heir to the throne. Argyll was soon to be subject to the second great injustice in his life.

James the Catholic

Some years before James had converted to Catholicism. As the king's only living brother this was serious enough: it became politically explosive when it was increasingly clear that Charles was unlikely to produce a legitimate heir. In these more tolerant times it is difficult to understand the intense hostility with which Catholicism was viewed in seventeenth century Protestant Britain. It wasn't simply a question of a different faith: Catholicism was perceived to be a political and ideological threat to a whole way of life.

Feeling against James, already strong in many quarters, became positively hysterical in 1678, when an unwholesome individual by the name of Titus Oates revealed details of what became known as the Popish Plot. Amongst other things it was alleged that there was a widespread conspiracy amongst Catholics to murder Charles and replace him with James. Soon a movement took shape to exclude him altogether from the succession, to be replaced by James, duke of Monmouth and Buccleuch, Charles' bastard but Protestant son. It was headed by Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury, an irascible and intolerant man, but one of the most brilliant parliamentarians in English political history. Shaftesbury and his supporters were in time to be known as the Whigs, after an extreme sect among the Scottish Covenanters. As the Exclusion Crisis deepened in 1679 Charles sent James to Scotland.

Although feeling against Catholics was no less strong in Scotland as it was in England, the general political climate was quite different. Much of the nobility, economically impoverished, depended on court patronage. Above all, Lauderdale, in his years as Secretary of State and High Commissioner, had made Scotland generally more receptive to royal absolutism than England ever could be. James set about building on this legacy, determined to ensure that, if it ever came to a violent contest over the succession, Scotland would be firmly in his camp. To this end he introduced in 1681 a new Test Bill.

The Test

James purpose in introducing the Test to Parliament was to bind all public figures to supporting royal authority and the legitimate succession. In opposing the measure Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun proposed that the security of the Protestant religion be made part of the Test. But how was this to be defined? James Dalrymple, Lord President of the Court of Session, a man with a brilliant legal mind, immediately suggested that it take the form of the 1560 Confession of Faith, ratified by the first parliament of James VI in 1567. Few, if any, of the members present, including the bishops, had ever read this document, or were even vaguely aware of its contents; but with no pause for thought it was immediately adopted as part of the Test. Dalrymple's amendment made a mockery of the act, as he clearly knew it would. For the Confession of Faith admitted no head of the church other than the Lord Jesus, and no form of church government other than Presbyterianism. Worst of all, from James' point of view, it actively encouraged the faithful to resist tyranny. Writing later in the eighteenth century, Sir John Dalrymple, the Lord President's descendant, summarised the position:

"Thus modelled, the Test was a bundle of inconsistencies; for it inferred an obligation, on those who took it, to conform to any religion the king pleased, and yet to adhere to the Presbyterian religion; to oppose prelacy, and yet maintain the present condition of the church, which was prelacy; and to renounce and yet affirm the doctrine of non-resistance"

When this became known there were many who simply refused to take the oath prescribed by the Act. Argyll initially quibbled, but then agreed to take it, subject to the caveat that it was "consistent with itself and the Protestant religion." James initially accepted this, and the earl was allowed to resume his place on the Privy Council. But his enemies, never slow to spot an opportunity, persuaded the Commissioner that Argyll's actions had been treasonable. He was arrested, tried and condemned as a traitor. James and Charles, it was later claimed, had no intention of allowing the full sentence of the law to be carried out, merely wishing to strip Argyll of some of his extensive powers. Not willing to trust himself to royal clemency, Argyll escaped from Edinburgh Castle and fled across the border, making for London, helped on his way by Covenanter preachers and former officers of the New Model Army: for he had become what he had never intended to be-a Protestant martyr.

A Dog's Fate

For the second time in a generation the house of Argyll crashed to ruin. Sentence of death was pronounced on the fugitive earl, and his titles and estates forfeit. The obvious injustice of this was a source of both anger and amusement. In Edinburgh the boys of George Heriot's Hospital (School) decided that the school watchdog had a position of public trust and should therefore be made to take the Test. When the animal maintained a stony silence when the matter was put to it this was taken as flat refusal. However, its advocate, clearly skilled in the law, argued that this silence might be taken as assent as much as refusal. The Test was then smeared with butter, which was described as Argyll's explanation, and presented once more. As soon as all the butter was licked off the animal spat out the Test and was duly condemned to be "hanged like a dog." In recording this incident Sir John Lauder of Fountainhall says that the sentence was carried out. Happy to say the poor beast, like Argyll, made good his escape, although his office, all his assets, both heritable and moveable, and all his feudal privileges were declared to be forfeit. The parallel was taken further when £500 was offered for the recapture of "ane cutt lugged, brounish coloured Mastiff Tyke, called Watch, short leged, and of low stature", the same amount being offered for Argyll.

Whigs and Assassins

In England the political climate had changed. Charles had finally ended the Exclusion Crisis by dissolving Parliament in 1681. No other was summoned for the remainder of the reign, and thus there was no public forum to express the growing sense of dissatisfaction with Stuart rule. Shaftesbury and the Whigs took to plotting against the throne. Argyll met Shaftesbury at the beginning of 1682 to discuss the possibility of a joint rising in Scotland and England; but as neither man fully trusted the other the proposal came to nothing.

London, of course, was a dangerous place for Argyll, as his hiding place might be revealed at any time. In September he escaped to Holland. A few weeks later Shaftesbury, threatened with legal proceedings, followed, dying in exile in January 1683.

With the removal of their great leader the Whig schemes became increasingly desperate. In planning an insurrection the English became more aware of the importance of Argyll, in view of his potential base of support among his clan. Even the greatest English nobleman could never attract the kind of blood loyalty associated with a Highland chief.

The political aims of the plotters continued to be fairly nebulous, resting on little more than a desire to prevent James succeeding Charles. But beyond Argyll and the Whig grandees there were other, more desperate figures, whose schemes did not stop short of murder. Chief among these was one Richard Rumbold, a former officer in the New Model Army, who owned a property know as the Rye House, close to Newmarket. From here he and his colleagues planned to assassinate James and Charles on their way back from the races. Details of the Rye House Plot were uncovered in the summer of 1683. Soon the whole Whig underground, even those with no knowledge of Rumbold's plans, was under attack. A number of senior noblemen were executed, but Rumbold managed to evade capture, fleeing to Holland, where a community of political exiles from both Scotland and England was growing in strength. Oddly enough Rumbold, the republican fanatic, and Argyll, the conservative nobleman, were eventually to achieve a good understanding with each other. In time to come Rumbold was to be Argyll's most able lieutenant.


In February 1685 Charles died and James came to the throne. Over the next few months there was a flurry of activity among the émigré communities in Amsterdam and Rotterdam. They were an odd collection of men: old soldiers of the New Model Army, like Rumbold, as well as Whig aristocrats, republicans, extreme Presbyterians and troubled monarchists. Beyond hatred of James they had almost nothing in common, which ensured their actions had little political coherence. One of them, a Scots divine by the name of Robert Ferguson was so notorious for his endless cloak and dagger schemes that he is known to history as 'Ferguson the Plotter.' Another Patrick Hume of Polwarth, the future 1st Earl of Marchmont, was much given to delivering long and tiresome speeches. His suspicion of Argyll and his motives was to do much to undermine the earl's eventual invasion of Scotland.

The most senior of the exiles was James, duke of Monmouth, banished by his father for his associations with the Whigs. Monmouth, a man with little strength of character, had no real enthusiasm for the plan that was taking shape for a joint invasion of Scotland and England, but allowed himself to be carried along by more determined spirits; and the most determined of all was Argyll.

For Argyll the moment had come. He had managed to collect some £10000, donated by a rich widow amongst others, and had stockpiled arms as well as obtaining the services of Scots soldiers in the Dutch and German armies. He was confident, moreover, that Clan Campbell would rise in strength as soon as he appeared in the western Highlands. Hume and others were a little less sure; and when they pressed for more precise information Argyll gave assurances that were broad in scope but weak in detail. Beyond that he refused to be pressed. Time was of the essence: James could not be allowed to consolidate his hold on the throne; Argyll could not maintain his little army indefinitely.

Having gathered the money, men and materials, Argyll naturally assumed the leadership of the Scottish enterprise. But this immediately aroused the suspicion of Hume and some of his Lowland colleagues, who believed that wars were affairs best managed by committee. At a meeting held in Rotterdam on 17 April Argyll was duly appointed general, but he was to take no action without first consulting Hume and a council of management. This was bad enough, but what was worse no clear military objectives were agreed. Subsequent events make it clear that Argyll planned to fight the campaign chiefly in his own Highlands, whereas Hume was determined that the army should proceed to the Covenanter Lowlands. This fundamental division was ultimately to paralyse the whole chain of command. But the most serious weakness of all was completely beyond Argyll's control. The success of the whole enterprise depended on a closely co-ordinated attack on both Scotland and England. Monmouth, appointed to lead the English invasion, promised Argyll that he would set out a few days after his own departure; but he did not arrive on the coast of Dorset until 11 June, by which time Argyll's venture was close to ruin.

Argyll's Rising

Argyll and his party finally set sail in a little flotilla of three ships on Sunday, 2 May. favoured by the wind they managed to reach Orkney in four days. From this point forward things started to go badly wrong. The government was fully aware of Argyll's plans and movements. By the time he anchored off the coast of Mull on 11 May, he was to find matters contrary to his expectations: some of his clansmen were in prison, others cowed into submission, and still others loyal to the king. Some recruits were gathered on Islay, but most of these men deserted after a few days.

At Campbeltown more recruits were obtained, but the biggest boost came with the news that Duncan Campbell of Auchinbreck had gathered some 1200 clansmen at Tarbet, further north in the Kintyre Peninsula. With some reluctance Hume and his committee, pressing for a quick descent on the Lowlands, agreed to a rendezvous at Tarbet. Here the united force came to some 1800 men, considerably less than Argyll had anticipated, but enough to make a reasonable showing. By far the best prospect for success was offered by an immediate advance on Inveraray, only weakly held by loyal forces. If the Campbell capital fell it would probably have had a great effect on the demoralised clan. But the advance on Tarbet was as much as Hume was prepared to tolerate. There were even threats to divide the small army. With provisions at Tarbet running low Argyll had to abandon his scheme, crossing over instead to the island of Bute.

By now the Royal navy had entered the Firth of Clyde in strength, hampering the movements of the rebels. Probes were made on the eastern shores of the Clyde near Greenock, but government forces had too strong a hold for the rebels to risk a full-scale landing. Argyll crossed over to Cowal, insisting on a fresh attempt on Inveraray, in the teeth of Hume's objections. After leaving the shores of Loch Riddon, the army advanced north through Glendaruel. Richard Rumbold, who had opted to come with Argyll rather than with Monmouth, and was proving to be a particularly loyal officer, was sent ahead with the cavalry. Acting with courage and determination, he managed to capture Ardkinglas Castle, on the shores of Loch Fyne opposite Inveraray. Counter-attacks by loyalists were held off until Argyll arrived. But Inveraray itself was too strongly held to risk an assault. Seeing that the enemy could not be teased out of their entrenchments, Hume at once demanded a return to the south. With his Highlanders deserting in significant numbers Argyll had to agree.

Death and the Maiden

Back in the southern part of Cowal all that was now left was an advance eastwards across Loch Long, and then by the head of the Gareloch into the Lowlands. The final crisis came when what was left of the army made a disastrous night march, attempting to by-pass the royal troops and head on to Glasgow. When the morning came the whole force was hopelessly dispersed, no more than 500 men remaining with Argyll at Kilpatrick on the Clyde, ten miles to the west of Glasgow.

Argyll, now in a clear mood of despair, was persuaded that his only remaining course of action was to return to his own country. He agreed, riding off with a few companions, while Hume and Sir John Cochrane forced their way across the Clyde with 150 men against strong enemy fire. After parting from his colleagues Argyll changed his mind. Rather than make for Argyllshire, now swarming with James' forces, he too decided that he best seek refuge in the south. Now only in the company of one Major Fullerton, and disguised as his servant, he made to cross the ford at Inchinnan on 18 June; but he was taken by a party of local militia. In resisting arrest Argyll suffered the indignity of being hit on the head with the flat of a sword, brandished by a drunken weaver named John Riddell, who later received a reward of £50. He is said to have fallen with the words "unfortunate Argyll", but this was almost certainly added to give the story some colour. He was taken to Edinburgh for his appointment with the Maiden, which took his head on the afternoon of Monday 30 June.

Monmouth fared no better, his own endeavours coming to grief at the Battle of Sedgemoor on 6 July. But the failure of the joint enterprise had the paradoxical effect of hurrying James to his ruin. Believing himself to be unassailable, and lacking the intelligence and political skill of his brother, he began to act with increasing arrogance. By 1688 he had alienated virtually the whole of the English political establishment, both Whig and Tory, who invited William and Mary to take his place. The following year the Scottish crown was presented to them by the son of the rebel nobleman, now the tenth earl and in time to be the 1st duke of Argyll.


* Dalrymple, John, "Memoirs of Great Britain and Ireland", 1771.
* Erskine, John, "Journal", 1893.
* Fountainhall, John, "Chronological Notes of Scottish Affairs", 1822.
* Hume, Sir Patrick, "Narrative of the Earl of Argyle's Expedition", in Marchmont Papers, vol. III, 1831.
* "A Letter Giving a Short and True Account of the Earl of Argyls Invasion in the year 1685", 1686.

* Fox, C. J. "A History of the Early Part of the Reign of James the Second", 1807.
* Hopkins, P. "Glencoe and the End of the Highland War," 1986.
* Macaulay, T. B., "History of England from the Accession of James II", 1985 reprint.
* McKerral, A., "Kintyre in the Seventeenth Century," 1948.
* Paterson, R. C., "The Forgotten Rebellion", in BBC History Magazine, June 2003.
* Wilcock, J., "A Scots Earl in Covenanting Times", 1907.

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