Origins of the Campbells
- NO NORMANS
- A BRITISH ORIGIN
- THE EARLY RECORDS
- EARLY NAME O’DUIBNE
- A 17TH CENTURY PEDIGREE
- THE CRAIGNISH VERSION
- DUMBARTON LEGENDS
- THE EARLY CAMBELS
- THE CARRICK BRIDE
- CAILEIN MOR
- SIR NEIL OF LOCHAWE
- THE GAELIC GENEALOGIES
- A COMPARISON BETWEEN THE THREE EARLIEST SURVIVING CAMPBELL GENEALOGIES
- THE BRITONS
- DIARMID QUESTIONABLE
- MACTAVISH AND MACIVER
- A LENNOX ORIGIN
- LEGENDARY BRITONS
- IN CONCLUSION
David Sellar, the eminent Scottish lawyer and historian, wrote a paper in the 1970s titled "The Earliest Campbells - Norman, Briton or Gael?". Published by the School of Scottish Studies at Edinburgh University, the paper has since been widely quoted and accepted as a authoritative work. Sellar's effort was primarily an academic style analysis of the three surviving Gaelic pedigrees of the Campbells and of later accounts derived from them. His paper offers the most recent conclusions and conjectures about the descent and provenance of the early Campbell ancestors.
Sellar begins by listing all the different theories about the origins which had been outlined or hinted at by earlier writers, many of them clearly apocryphal. Among these was the most patently fabricated tale of a Norman origin born of earlier political trends which derived Campbell from `de Campo Bello' even although this was not Norman French.
Later in his paper Sellar debunks the Norman issue more specifically:
"In fact, the name `Cambel' - the intrusive `p' does not appear until the latter half of the fifteenth century - almost certainly originated as a nickname meaning simply, in Gaelic, `twisted mouth': according to MacFirbis (infra, p.117) the first `Caimbel' was Dugald, grand-father of Colin Mor ..."
Then, quoting Skene, the best respected of the 19th century Scottish historians who investigated the Highland families, Sellar continues:
"Skene, in his Highlanders of Scotland (1837), repudiated the `de Campo Bello' story, saying that there was no early authority whatsoever for it ... Skene's later opinion in "Celtic Scotland," was that the original seat of the Campbells was the district of Lochow and Ardskeodnish, that is, Lochawe and Kilmichael Glassary (Skene 1886-90:3.330-1)."
"However, the tradition of a British origin has not been entirely without support ... Alexander MacBain ... commented significantly, `If the Campbells did not originally belong to Argyle, we must go no further than Dumbartonshire for their habitat. The old genealogies trace them back to the British ... a tradition which may indicate that the Campbells originally lived on the borderland of the Strathclyde Briton and the Gael ...' ... (MacBain 1902:421) ... Finally, professor Barrow has written in his Robert the Bruce: `The precise origins of the Campbells is not known. There is no doubt that their greatness as territorial lords dates from King Robert's reign, But they were certainly not landless adventurers' (Barrow 1965:406)."
Sellar then moves on to establish a foundation of fact from which to begin his discussion by considering the accepted record evidence for the earliest Campbells.
"The earliest Campbell of whose existence contemporary record survives is one Gillespic Campbell, whose name appears in 1263 in connection with the lands of Menstrie and Sauchie ... and again in 1266 as a witness to a charter granted at Stirling by King Alexander II (Exch. Rolls: ... Lindores liber 1841:8)"
"Next on record appears Gillespic's son Colin (otherwise Nicholas) who witnessed a charter c.1281 and thereafter figures quite prominently in Scottish affairs for some 15 years - for example, in 1291 he acted as one of the auditors of Bruce the Competitor (Lennox Cartularium 1833:21)."
"Next named in point of time is Colin's son Neill (otherwise Nigellus) who witnesses, in 1282, during his father's lifetime, a grant to the Abbey of Cambuskenneth, by Stirling (Cambuskenneth 1872:70). This is the Neill Campbell who later became one of King Robert Bruce's most constant supporters and intimate companions and who is described by Barrow as `one of that small band of noblemen without whose help in 1306 and 1307 Robert Bruce would hardly have survived, let alone recovered the kingdom' (Barrow 1965:406-7). He died about 1315."
"The relationship of these three men, Gillespic, Colin and Neill to each other is well vouched by the record evidence, and the descent of the later family of Argyll from them undoubted. Colin is usually taken to be - I believe rightly - the original Cailein Mor, from whom the style `MacCailein Mor' derives."
Sellar then goes on to clarify how Nicholas and Nigellus, used in turn for Colin and Neill in the latin of those early documents, had confused earlier writers. He then mentions Sir Neill's Campbell contemporaries on record including Sir Arthur, Neill's father's first cousin and the ancestor of the Campbells of Strachur, and Donald who he believes was Sir Neill's brother and certainly the ancestor of the Campbells of Loudoun.
Turning to the Gaelic use of the name O'Duibne for the Campbells, Sellar continues:
"Apart from the early record evidence for individuals named Campbell, it may also, I think, be accepted that the earlier and original name of the family was O'Dhuibne or O'Dhuibne."
"The last and oldest example occurs in the well known charter granted in 1369 by David II to Gillespic (Archibald) Campbell. There Gillespic is granted various lands `with all the liberties of the said land as freely as Duncan M'Duine, progenitor of the said Archibald Campbell did enjoy in the barony of Lochow or any other lands belonging to him' (Hist. MSS Comm: 4.477)."
"This charter clearly shows that in 1369 the Campbell connection with Lochawe was believed to date back at least to the time of one Duncan - of whom there is no contemporary record, but who must have lived earlier than the Gillespic of 1263 - and that this Duncan was believed to be the descendant of one Duibne."
"Like Skene in Celtic Scotland, I am inclined to believe that Duibne, the eponym of the clan, was a historical character, indeed ... I doubt if it can be shown that the eponym of any highland family is a fictitious character."
Next Sellar outlines the efforts of the 17th century and later writers on Clan Campbell whose works were based upon the old Gaelic pedigrees but were salted with some politically appropriate additions. These formed the sources for the later writers on the clan who were reviewed at the start of the paper.
"All these accounts derive, as they usually acknowledge explicitly, from two earlier, seventeenth-century manuscript histories, the one compiled by Neill MacEwen, the last of the hereditary sennachies of the family of Argyll, and the other by Alexander Colville or Colvin, a strong and bloody man who sat as Justice Depute in Edinburgh for the best part of fifty-seven years from 1607 until 1664."
One of the accounts derived from the 17th century writings was the manuscript history of the Campbells of Craignish written by Alexander Campbell in about 1720 and edited by the 20th century Campbell genealogist Herbert Campbell for the Scottish History Society. Sellar continued:
"Let the Craignish history tell the tale:
's well known ... that every considerable family in the Highlands had their Bards and Sennachies. The Bard was a family poet and the Sennachie their prose writer, but very often the Bard supplied the place of both. These Offices were heritable, and had a pension, commonly a piece of land annexed to that Office ... Aarne or Saturn McEune, who lived in Earl Archibald Gruamach's time and had for pension the lands of Kilchoan in Netherlorne, and his son Niel mac Aarne vic Eune were the heritable Genealogist of the Family of Argyll. This Niell dyed about the year 1650, and was last of them. Printing of Hystorie becoming then more frequent, the necessity of maintaining these Annalists began to wear off.
Mr. Alexr. Colvin ... who was much with the late Marquis of Argyle, revised these Genealogies as the McEunes left them betwixt the years 1650 and 1660 and his Second Edition of them is it that goes by the name of Colvin's Genealogy of the Campbells (Campbell 1926:190-1)."
Sellar then quotes the Craignish history as mentioning another 17th century writer of a Campbell genealogy called Mr. Robert Duncanson, who died as minister of Campbeltown. This, Sellar found, was a more convenient version for the purposes of his discussion than that of Colvin (or Colville). Duncanson's version was titled "Ane Accompt of the Genealogie of the Campbells" and he began his pedigree several generations before a man named Arthur whom he called a Briton. However Sellar chooses to begin with this Arthur:
"For our purposes, however, it will suffice to begin with Arthur. Arthur is given a son Smerevie or Merevie (called Mervin by Buchanan), described as `a great and famous person of whom diverse and strange things are spoken in the Irish traditions; it is said that he was born in Dumbarton on the south syde thereof, in a place called the redd hall or in Irish (Gaelic) Tour in Talla Dherig ... he was a wild undauntoned person'."
'Duibne family name of the Campbell's ancestors and Diarmid O'Duibne, the Fenian hero. This appears to be the earliest evidence so far uncovered as a source for calling the Campbells `Clan Diarmid'.
Duncanson even contrived a visit to France for one of the family in a further vain attempt to incorporate the British, the Gaelic and the Norman traditions of ancestry into one direct male line descendant.
Sellar relates the full descent with all the padding given by Duncanson. However, recognizing that in the later generations Duncanson may have had better information, he then asks:
"How reliable is Ane Accompt regarding the collaterals and descendants of Gillespic of 1263?"
"In making Arthur Campbell a cousin and not a brother of Colin Mor ... I believe Ane Accompt to be correct. At any rate there is some record evidence for the existence of Arthur's reputed father, Duncan Dow: thus, it seems, Duncan `Dow' (i.e. `Dubh'), ancestor of Strachur, is to be identified with the `Duncan Duf' who appears in 1293 as a landowner in Balliol's newly-created sheriffdom of Kintyre (APS:I.447) ..."
"More interesting is the account of Gillespic's marriage with `Efferic', daughter of Colin of Carrick. This has been generally disbelieved , the reason being, in the words of The Scots Peerage `there was no Colin of Carrick known to history' (Scots Peerage:I.319). A record of Colin of Carrick under that name there may not be, but a Nicholas of Carrick appears on record more than once, and this Nicholas, there can be no doubt, was a son of Duncan Earl of Carrick ... Chronologically Nicholas fits."
"Unfortunately, as in the case of Colin Mor Campbell and his son Neill, a mistaken assimilation of the names Nicholas and Neill has led to confusion. Duncan of Carrick was succeeded in his Earldom by his son Neill, and this Neill, Earl of Carrick, and his brother Colin, otherwise Nicholas, have been taken (e.g., Scots Peerage: 2.246) to be one and the same."
"The story of Gillespic's marriage (to Efferick) is then feasible. More than that it is probable. Colin Mor is the first Campbell to bear that christian name .... It is quite probable that he took his name from his mother's father."
"Similarly the clerical Master Neill Campbell appears to be the first Campbell to bear that christian name. He must, I think, be a brother of Colin Mor and a grand nephew of Neill, the last Celtic Earl of Carrick."
"When one discovers that both Master Neill and Colin Mor have associations with the Country of Ayr, the case is virtually complete: as mentioned above ... Master Neill Campbell was an envoy of the Earl of Carrick in 1293, while he appears in the Ragman Roll in 1296 as `Mestre Neel Cambel ... del counte de Are' (Cal.Docs.Scot.:2.199). Colin Mor was involved in 1293 in a transaction concerning the lands of Symington in Ayrshire (Newbattle Registrum 1849:137-42)."
"I would suggest, then, that the christian names `Colin' and `Neill' came into the Campbell family from the family of the Celtic Earls of Carrick by way of a marriage contracted about the middle of the thirteenth century. If this conjecture is correct, then the mother of King Robert Bruce, Earl of Carrick, and the mother of Colin Mor were first cousins, and the strong and consistent support given to Bruce by the family of Campbell is partly explicable on a kinship basis."
"What credence is to be given to the earlier part of the pedigree, to the generations before Gillespic of 1263? I believe that an examination of the later approved Campbell tradition, based as it is on MacEwen and Colville, viewed in the light of some older, shorter and altogether less corrupt genealogies leads inescapably to the conclusion that the original Campbell tradition of ancestry was neither Gaelic nor Norman, but British." "The older, shorter, and less corrupt genealogies relied on are three in number, the same three in fact relied on by Skene in Appendix VIII to Celtic Scotland."
"The first is the early genealogical account of various Scottish clans known usually as `MS 1467', after its supposed date, but which, it now appears was probably written rather earlier in the ... century."
"The second is the Kilbride MS c.1550, edited in Collecteana de Rebus Albanicis in 1847 but now lost (MacKinnon 1912:217-19) ..."
"Thirdly there is the Campbell pedigree given by the great seventeenth-century Irish genealogist Duald MacFirbis but certainly dating from before his time."
Sellar then set out side by side, from each of the three Gaelic genealogies listed above, the ten generations from before Cailein Mor who died in 1296. The MS 1467 only gives ten generations but for these ten generations a strong similarity can be seen between the three, making obvious Duncanson's later padding in his 17th century Ane Accompt of the Genealogie of the Campbells.
MS 1467 Kilbride MSMacFirbis ?IUBUR AMBROSIUS IOBHAR | | | ARTHUR ARTHUR ARTHUR | | | MEIRBIS MERBIS MEIRBE | | | ?EIRENAIA FERADOIG FERADOIGH | | | DUIBNE DUIBNE DUIBNE | | | MALCOLM MALCOLM MALCOLM | | | GILLESPIC DUNCAN DUNCAN | | | DUNCAN GILLESPIC EOCHAN | | | DUGALD DUGALD DUGALD | | | GILLESPIC GILLESPIC GILLESPIC | | | COLIN COLIN COLIN
The MS 1467 only goes back to the Arthur's father whose name is difficult to read in the original MS but probably intended to be `Uther'. The Kilbride MS goes back beyond the Arthur through a number of generations of Arthurs and others to one `Briotain', the eponym of the British race. MacFirbis is more interesting as there is no attempt to do the impossible and equate the (c.10th century) Arthur with the legendary dark age figure of that name, and beyond him appear a string of curious names like `Coiel' and `Catogain', which, in Sellar's words "have an archaic Welsh or British look about them."
These `Welsh' names would seem to lend a significant sense of authenticity to this version, given the Britonic origins which all three genealogies indicate. In understanding the reference to `Welsh' it should be remembered that the Strathclyde and Welsh Britons were Celts who may have moved to the periphery of the Roman occupied lands in Britain so as to retain their freedom during the Roman occupation. The `Mabinogion' ballads describe the life of one group of these peoples who moved from Scotland to Wales. But there appears to have been some who remained in Strathclyde and who retained the Celtic language which later became called `Welsh'. They are generally called `Britonic' peoples. The Mabinogion makes clear that the two languages were close enough for the `Welsh' speakers in Wales and the Gaelic speakers from Ireland to understand one another. However these issues were not discussed in Sellar's paper.
Sellar continues with his analysis of the comparison between the three earliest Campbell genealogies:
"Now there are some obvious points to be made about these pedigrees. In the first place, they do give substantially the same account of the eight generations or so before Colin Mor. Secondly there is no hint of a Norman descent. Third ... no Diarmid O'Duibne at all appears."
"A Duibne appears, however, and all the accounts give this Duibne a grandson or great grandson called Duncan, who corresponds well enough with the Duncan (mentioned in) the 1369 charter (vide supra)."
"Fourth, and most significant, each of these pedigrees unquestionably claims a British ancestry for the Campbells ... "
Sellar then adds, "although the particular descent from King Arthur is, of course, incredible." The word `incredible' is used here in the same sense as `not credible' i.e., unbelievable.
Sellar then goes on to discuss the question of how the name Diarmid later came to be associated with the pedigrees since it also does not appear in the original versions. He considers the name Eirenaia given in one of the original pedigrees for Duibne's father. Since Jeremy and Jeremiah have been recognized equivalents for Diarmid, he suggests that this Eirenaia may have evolved from Ieremaia which could originally have been a Diarmid, Jeremaia being a name almost unknown among early Celtic families in the period in question.
"Once the MacEwan/Colville account has been purged of Diarmid O'Duibne, of the Norman descent, of the (padding), ... we are left with a basic pedigree remarkably like that in the 1467 MS. However, some additional information remains:"
"The information that Smerevie or Merevie figured in various tales and was born at a place called the Red Hall in Dumbarton; and the belief that the MacNaughtons, `the Clanuilins', and the Drummonds, were of the same stock as the Campbells."
"These traditions are helpful in the attempts to assess the likelihood of a British descent for the Campbells. Again, there is the tradition that Lochawe came to the Campbells through the heiress of one Paul an Sparain, and there are the accounts of the descent of the MacTavish Campbells, the MacIver Campbells and the Campbells of Craignish. On these last, for the purpose of this paper, I would only affirm without elaboration my belief that the MacEwan/Colville account is substantially correct."
In a footnote to this paragraph Sellar adds; "Principal P.C. Campbell in his Account of the Clan Iver in 1837 was of the view that the MacIvers were not originally Campbells. The proofs he adduces, however, are quite unconvincing. There can be no doubt that by the fourteenth century the MacIvers were already closely associated with the family in Argyll. The Malcolm MacIver who appears in Balliol's sheriffdom of Lorne in 1293 may be of this family. Also appearing in the same record, in Lorne, are Dugald of Craignish and Colin Campbell; and, in Kintyre, Duncan Dubh and Thomas Campbell, conceivably the MacTavish eponym."
Sellar then continues with an analysis of evidence supporting there having been a Britonic remnant in the Lennox, the westerly part of Strathclyde adjacent to the eastern borders of Argyll. He cites the Galbraiths of that area, still known as `Clann a Bhreatannaich' and their castle on Loch Lomond called Inchgalbraith, or island of the Gal (lowland or outland) Briton. "Further, the suggestive christian name `Arthur' was used by the thirteenth-century Galbraiths, as it was by the thirteenth-century Campbells."
"The record evidence for the Campbells before 1300, sparse though it is, also discloses a connection with the Lennox. Thus the first appearance of Colin Mor, c.1281, is as a witness to a charter by the Earl of Lennox; in 1289 Dugald Campbell together with William Flemming, a burgess of Dumbarton, gives the Exchequer returns for the sheriffdom of Dumbarton on behalf of the sheriff; in 1294, a third member of the family. Donald, inter alia, is warned by the Bishop of Glasgow not to take the part of the Earl of Lennox in the longstanding dispute between the Lennox family and the Church over the lands of Old Kilpatrick, (Lennox Cartularium 1833:21; Exch.Rolls: I.38; Paisley Registrum: 203)."
In addition Sellar quotes two examples of the extremely rare name `Duibne' appearing in the records of the Lennox, once in c.1131/1132 and the other in the beginning of the thirteenth century.
"Then there is the account of Smerevie or Merevie ...born in An Talla Dearg, the Red Hall. The Galbraiths too are associated with An Talla Dearg in the Gaelic saying,
Bhreatunnach o'n Talla Dheirg
Uaisle `shliochd Albann do shloinne
- 'Britons from the Red Hall, the noblest race in Scotland' (Black 1946:285). In fact, the name `the Red Hall' occurs in Gaelic folk tales associated with the Arthurian cycle as the name of Arthur's capital: `King Arthur's capital is not Camelot but "Dunadh an Halla Dheirg", the fortress of the Red Hall, using the English word "halla", though no English source for the name has been established' (Bruford 1966:22). Thus the British descent of the Campbells is further emphasized."
Sellar, in a footnote, suggests a connection between Smerevie, who is stated to have been born in the Red Hall, and `Myrddin' associated with the various `Wild Man of the Woods' tales considered by Professor Jackson in `The Motive of the Threefold Death in the story of Suibne Geilt' (Feil-sgribinn Eoin Mic Neill, Dublin 1940, 535-550).
In considering the reference to the MacNachtans or MacNaughtons being of similar descent to the Campbells, Sellar suggests that this needs further investigation. He quotes their close association on Lochawe and mentions an Arthur in the traditional ancestry of Clan Nachtan. Their grant of the keepership of Fraoch Eilean castle on Lochawe by Alexander III in 1267 might indicate that they had come into the area from the Lennox at the same time as the Campbell ancestors.
Finally, Sellar reviews the mention in Ane Accompt of a common ancestry with the Campbells for `the Clanuilins in Ireland' and the Drummonds. He provides proof of connections to the Lennox for them both, so reinforcing a probable connection to the Britonic ancestors of the Campbells:
"The Drummonds, like many other Scottish families, claim a Hungarian descent ...there appears to be not a word of truth in the Drummond claim. The earliest ancestor whom the Drummonds can point to with any degree of conviction is one Malcolm Beg, an early thirteenth-century character who was steward to the Earls of Lennox ..."
"`Of Corcaruo descended the Clanuilins in Ireland' says Ane Accompt. The name `Corcaruo', that is `Corc Ruadh', or `Corc the red', immediately establishes another Lennox connection, for the Celtic Earls of Lennox claimed descent from the Irish Conall Corc, reputed ancestor of the Dark Age Eoganacht Kings of Munster (Chadwick 1949:97-9; Byrne 1973:176-99). The christian name `Corc' was used by the family of the Earls of Lennox in the thirteenth century (Scots Peerage: 8.330)."
"But who are the Clanuilins? I would suggest that they are the MacQuillans of the route, in County Antrim ... the MacQuillans' own tradition was that they were of Welsh, or British descent ... an interesting parallel to the Campbell genealogy in the Kilbride MS ..."
Having laid out his information, his proofs and conjectures, Sellar summed up his conclusions:
"It is submitted that the original tradition of the Campbell's derived them quite clearly from British stock and that there exists considerable circumstantial evidence to support this claim. It is submitted further that the origins of the family are to be looked for within the confines of the old Kingdom of Strathclyde in the district of the Lennox."
"The archaic names in the MacFirbis pedigree may reflect an older particularized descent including a North Briton named Arthur who could have flourished in the tenth century."
Sellar then repeats his conclusion that the connection to King Arthur, to Diarmid O'Duibne and to the Normans were added later as fashionable garnish or for political leverage and have, of course, no validity in fact. "The persistent tradition that the Campbells acquired the lands of Lochawe through a marriage of two ancestors of Colin Mor with heiresses, one of them the daughter of one Paul an Sparain, is, I believe, entirely credible, even if not susceptible of proof."
"This paper also raises the question of the standing of the Campbells before Robert Bruce's reign. As Professor Barrow remarks, in the quotation already cited, `they were certainly not landless adventurers'. As holders through several branches of the family of large tracts of land in Argyll, as landowners also in Clackmannanshire and, one presumes, in Dumbartonshire and Ayrshire, allied by marriage to the Earls of Carrick, were they not already great territorial lords?"