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The Marquis of Argyll

Archibald Campbell - 8th Earl of Argyll

"The Great Marquis"

Archibald Campbell was born around 1605 at Inveraray, and sadly his mother died shortly afterwards. In 1618 his father remarried and became a Catholic and left his estates, then in a precarious financial state, to his young son. Archibald had a classical education at St Andrew’s University and was an authoritative and dynamic man who had strong beliefs and gained respect from his clan as he worked to restore their wealth and power. Archibald succeeded his father and became 8th Earl in 1638 and he signed the National Covenant in the same year.

The Earl was a leader of the Covenanting movement which defended the national Protestant religion and, always courageous, he warned Charles against his attempts to make Scotland a Catholic country again. The king consequently devised a plan to stir up the MacDonalds who supported Catholicism, and were bitter Campbell rivals. He was afraid of the power of the Campbells. The bloody civil war which raged in Scotland gave the MacDonalds, who had suffered greatly at Campbell hands, an opportunity to exact revenge. Other forces were gathering against the Earl, who by that time had such authority in Scotland that he was known as “King Campbell”. Powerful men like the Marquis of Montrose were suspicious of Argyll’s long term political plans, and they gave their support to King Charles, raising a large Royalist army.

Montrose and his followers prospered, and as a consequence Argyll suffered at the beginning of 1645 when Montrose captured the Campbell family seat at Inveraray, then inflicted a major defeat at Inverlochy when he lost only a few of his men but killed 1500 Campbells. The Earl escaped both conflicts, leaving the survivors to their fates. Argyll secured his revenge at Philiphaugh in September when Montrose’s Royalist force was utterly destroyed and the MacDonald prisoners were slaughtered by the Covenanters.

Always with an eye to backing the winning horse, after supporting the Covenanter-Parliamentary cause throughout much of the 1640s, after the execution of Charles lst, Archibald Campbell swung his support behind his heir and he invited the young man to Scotland. Argyll hoped that he would sign the Covenant to gain the Scottish throne. At the coronation at Scone, Argyll was the man who placed the crown on Charles’ head. No doubt he anticipated rewards for himself and the Campbell family, and there were even rumours that the king would marry Argyll’s own daughter.

Charles II planned to invade England and Argyll retreated to Inveraray, but again changing sides to join Cromwell. Charles would never forgive him, and, to make things worse, Argyll’s son Lorne became a committed Royalist. At Inveraray, Argyll tried to remove himself from the conflict and lived quietly but he was in deep financial trouble because of the expenses of his military efforts and was imprisoned for some time.

After being defeated by the Parliamentarians Charles was restored in 1660 and despite being advised against it, Argyll travelled to London to seek reconciliation with the king. Charles was quick to have him arrested and sent to the Tower before he was transported to Edinburgh for trial as a traitor. There were various charges of treason against Argyll, and while most of them were satisfactorily answered, new evidence that he had collaborated with Cromwell led to the sentence of forfeiture of his titles and lands, and execution. His enemies wanted him dead as soon as possible, and  he was executed by the “Maiden” at Edinburgh Tollbooth.  Campbell's head was fixed to the same spike which had borne the head of his old enemy the Marquis of Montrose 11 years before.

A deeply religious man, Archibald Campbell faced death calmly and with courage, impressing everyone. The Covenanters declared him a martyr and his final speech, despite efforts to suppress it, was printed and widely circulated. His body was eventually taken to Kilmun for burial, and some time later his son, the 9th Earl of Argyll, claimed his head to take there as well.

When restoration work to the mausoleum took place in the 1890s, in a velvet covered coffin, a skull was found which showed evidence that it belonged to the first and only Marquis of Argyll

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