The Complete History of Clan Campbell: Origins, Castles and Stories

Article by: Aly Wight


Time to read 11 min

Looking for an introduction to the history of Clan Campbell? Want to see some stunning photography of the landscapes and castles they inhabited? Then we've got you covered!

This post will guide you through the basics and set you on the path to understanding Clan Campbell's rich heritage.

Do You Belong To The Scottish Clan Campbell?

If your surname is Campbell or you know of a Campbell in your family tree, then you're in! But did you know there are also many other Scottish family names that are historic septs (families that associated themselves with a larger clan)? Below is a list of the names that are associated with Clan Campbell.

Septs (associated names) of Campbell

Campbell Identity

With admissions out of the way here are a few important features of Campbell identity you'll want to know...

What Is The Clan Campbell Motto?

The Campbell motto is "Ne Obliviscaris" which means "Never Forget"

What Is The Campbell War Cry?

The war cry of Clan Campbell is "Cruachan!"Contrary to popular belief, it does not refer to the prominent mountain overlooking Loch Awe and the wider Argyll region. Instead, it points to a farm bearing the same name situated on the western shore of Loch Awe, directly across from Innes Chonnell Castle, most likely the rallying point for the clan.

What Is The Campbell Crest?

The Clan Campbell crest shows the clan's boar symbol. It likely originated from their Gaelic name, Clann Diarmaid, linking them to the mythical warrior Diarmuid who killed a deadly giant boar but died when he accidentally stepped on its poison bristle.

Whether or not there is a real Campbell connection to this 4th Century hero, the iconic boar was designed to represent the fierce strength of the Campbells.

As we will see this strength is not just legend but a very real and demonstrable part of the history of Clan Campbell.

The Clan Campbell crest is an important part of the identity and history of Clan Campbell
Image from Wikipedia

What Is The Clan Campbell Tartan?

The Clan Campbell tartan, here shown as the "Ancient Campbell" is a green and blue colour design. It originated from the tartan of the 42nd Regiment of Foot, later renamed the Black Watch.

Dating back to around 1749, it's a key part of Scottish history and the history of Clan Campbell, even used by the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders. This traditional pattern, officially named "Government 1," symbolises the rich heritage and military traditions of Clan Campbell

The Clan Campbell tartan is an important part of the identity and history of Clan Campbell
Image from Wikipedia

What Is The Campbell Plant Badge?

The bog myrtle is proudly worn as the plant badge of Clan Campbell. It holds deep roots in Scottish Highland tradition. This native plant, abundant in the Highlands, has been intertwined with the clan's identity for centuries. Beyond its symbolic significance, bog myrtle boasts natural properties, once used by Highlanders for its aromatic scent, insect-repellent qualities, and even as a flavouring agent in traditional brews like Scottish ale.

The Clan Campbell plant badge is an important part of the identity and history of Clan Campbell

What Are Clan Campbell's Scottish Origins?

In Clan Campbell's traditional tales, they trace their origins back to the ancient Britons of Strathclyde. The earliest Campbell on record is Gillespie, noted around 1263. Gillespie and his kin mainly received land grants in east-central Scotland.

The clan's tie to Argyll goes back generations when a Campbell married the heiress of the O'Duines, bringing the Lordship of Loch Awe into the family. Initially known as Clan O'Duine, they later adopted the name Clann Diarmaid, traditionally linked to Diarmuid the Boar, a Celtic hero.

So you may be wondering where the name Campbell came from. It is believed to have originated as a descriptive nickname, the Gaelic "cam" means "crooked" or "bent," while "beul" means "mouth." Over time, the name evolved into "Campbell,"possibly referring to a "crooked mouth" belonging to an early chief. 

Where Are Clan Campbell's Lands In Scotland?

Their primary seat was Innes Chonnel Castle on Loch Awe. From here the Campbells' influence soon spread across Argyll, though initially, they were under the rule of the Lords of Lorne, chiefs of Clan MacDougall.

Trouble struck in 1296 when the MacDougalls killed the Campbell chief, Cailean Mór (Colin Campbell), in the Battle of Red Ford.

In honor of their fallen leader, all subsequent Clan Campbell chiefs adopted MacCailean Mór as part of their Gaelic name, ensuring his legacy lived on within the clan's leadership.

The wound inflicted by Clan MacDougall would not go unpunished. The Campbells motto of "Never Forget" really came into play in the early days of the history of Clan Campbell. They would go on to side with Scottish history's winners so consistently that their power grew rapidly.

This conflict in the early history of Clan Campbell, set their enduring motto, 'Never Forget,' into motion. The Campbells' knack for siding with history's winners propelled their rise, solidifying their power.

Clan Campbell History: Power Through The Centuries

History of Clan Campbell in the 14th Century: The Rise to Power

In the 1300s Clan Campbell solidified their influence by supporting Robert the Bruce in his campaign for the Scottish crown, culminating in their pivotal role in the victory at Bannockburn in 1314.

Their loyalty was rewarded with lands and noble marriages from the grateful king, leading to rapid expansion across Argyll and the western Highlands throughout the 1300s.

History of Clan Campbell in the 15th Century: Growing Power

By the 15th century, Clan Campbell leveraged their connection to Scotland's royalty to dominate the Argyll region and become prominent figures in Highland affairs.

They aligned themselves with the reigning Stewart dynasty, securing strategic marriages and acquiring lands from rival clans such as the MacDougalls and MacDonalds. However, this expansion wasn't without conflict, as evidenced by the notorious Massacre of Monzievaird in 1490.

History of Clan Campbell in the 16th Century: Losses and Gains

In the 16th century, Clan Campbell faced both triumph and tragedy. While they suffered losses, such as their leader falling at the Battle of Flodden in the early 1500s, strategic marriages bolstered their authority.

They also capitalised on the decline of the MacDonald Lords of the Isles to expand their holdings. Yet, they also faced defeats, like the Battle of Glenlivet in 1594.

History of Clan Campbell in the 17th Century: Shrewd Game Playing

During the 17th century, Clan Campbell navigated the tumultuous Civil Wars by playing both sides to expand their influence.

They engaged in religious and political conflicts, seizing titles through legal manipulation and eliminating rivals to control more land in the west Highlands.

History of Clan Campbell in the 18th Century: Defeating The Jacobites

In the 18th century, Clan Campbell found themselves embroiled in war once again, this time aligning with the British Government against Jacobite insurrections.

However, internal dissent, exemplified by the 'Campbell of Glenlyon' branch's involvement in the 1745 Rising, showcased fractures within the clan.

Despite this, Clan Campbell ultimately played a decisive role in defeating Charles Stuart's army at the Battle of Culloden in 1746.

What Clan Campbell Castles Are In Scotland?

Given the power and influence they gained throughout their ups and downs it will come as no surprise that Clan Campbell held a lot of castles! Among them are some of the most impressive examples of Scottish architecture you could hope to see.

Today, these monuments stand as tangible links to the history of Clan Campbell. If you're drawn to Campbell landscapes and castles, Clanscape's collection of Campbell landscape photography prints has been created for you.

Below are some short descriptions the most prominent Campbell castles, alongside stunning photo prints available from our store.

Innes Chonnel Castle

Innis Chonnel Castle in Loch Awe sits on a small island, just off the eastern banks of the loch. It was a pivotal Campbell stronghold from the early 14th century.

It was probably their earliest castle and is widely accepted as the clan's original historic seat.

Inveraray Castle

Inveraray Castle, constructed by the 3rd Duke of Argyll, is an imposing fairytale castle on the banks of Loch Fyne.

The castle as we see it now is built in the Gothic Revival style, but there was an earlier stronghold here from the 1400s, and since the 1800s it has stood as the ancestral seat of the Dukes of Argyll, chiefs of Clan Campbell.

Within its walls, a designated 'clan' room showcases a vast Campbell family tree, displaying the lineage of the chiefs and their heraldic shields.

Kilchurn Castle

Kilchurn Castle was constructed in the 15th century by Sir Colin Campbell, 1st Lord of Glenorchy. It was one of the clan's primary seats and played a pivotal role as a military stronghold. It is located at the north of Loch Awe in Argyle.

Sir Colin Campbell's descendants expanded and remodelled the castle, reflecting the clan's growing status and power.

The area around the castle was originally associated with Clan MacGregor and as Campbell power increased there were ongoing skirmishes and hostilities between the two clans.

Castle Campbell

Castle Campbell, towering high above Dollar Glen in Central Scotland, is an impressive fortress. Encircled by rugged hills and a rushing stream, it was originally named Castle Gloom.

In 1489, it was renamed in honor of the Campbell Clan, who were close to the reigning Stewart monarchy. During the 15th and 16th centuries, the castle played host to notable figures, including Mary, Queen of Scots, who was a visitor in 1563.

Castle Stalker

Castle Stalker is perched on an islet in Loch Laich. This charming little castle was a stronghold of Clan Campbell during the 17th and 18th centuries.

Originally in the hands of the Stewarts of Appin, it was reputedly acquired by the Campbells in a wager during a drunken bet, whether this account is legend or fact remains in question, but the Stewart loss was indeed a Campbell gain.

Castle Sween

Castle Sween is a grand fortress set upon the shores of Loch Sween and was once under the control of Clan Campbell in the late 15th century.

It was a strategic location for the Campbells, positioned directly across the waters from the stronghold of their fierce rivals, Clan MacDonald, on the Isles of Islay and Jura.

Mingary Castle

Mingary Castle, initially constructed by the MacIains of Ardnamurchan, became a focal point of power struggles among Scotland's clans. In 165, the castle fell under the control of the Earl of Argyll from Clan Campbell, heralding an era of Campbell dominance in the area.

The strategic significance of Mingary Castle was keenly understood by the Campbells, who captured it to bolster their influence and support the Crown amid complex political shifts in Scotland.

Duntrune Castle

Duntrune Castle is beautiful castle in a stunning setting on Loch Crinan's north side in Argyll, it was originally a MacDougall stronghold built in the 13th century. The Campbells took control of it in the 17th century.

The castle walls witnessed a 1644 MacDonald siege led by Alasdair Mac Colla, known as Colkitto, a MacDonald warrior renowned for his military prowess.

During this siege, a piper allied with Colkitto used his music to send a warning to his master, who escaped, but the piper was caught by the Campbells. As punishment, they chopped off his hands, eventually leading to his death.

The discovery of a handless skeleton centuries later at Duntrune has supported the story of the piper's loyalty and tragic end. To this day, music is said to resonate from the castle!

Dunstaffnage Castle

A monumental fortress near Oban, Dunstaffnage Castle was a seat of Clan Campbell's power in the mid-15th century. The castle's imposing presence and historical connections to key figures like Sir Duncan Campbell make it an integral part of Clan Campbell's rich heritage.

Cawdor Castle

Cawdor Castle, situated near Nairn in the Highlands, is a majestic tower house surrounded by magnificent gardens.

This castle, famous for its literary association with Shakespeare's Macbeth, has deeper historical roots connected to Clan Campbell of Cawdor.

It was in the late 15th century that the Thane of Cawdor passed the castle to his heiress, who married a Campbell.

Do Clan Campbell Exist Today?

Yes, Clan Campbell continues to thrive and maintain its strong sense of identity to this day. The clan has a worldwide diaspora, with members living in various countries around the globe. Clan gatherings and events are held regularly to celebrate the clan's heritage and foster a sense of community among its members.

There are Clan Campbell Societies across the world to help you connect with your Scottish roots. These societies serve as a wealth of information in history, education, genealogy, and social events.

For further details, please visit any of the following society websites:

Clan Campbell Wall Prints By Clanscape

Did you know, here at Clanscape, you can buy stunning wall prints of Clan Campbell Castles and landscapes in Scotland? They make perfect gifts for Clan Campbell enthusiasts and are a beautifully visual way of celebrating your Scottish Heritage and immersing yourself in the history of Clan Campbell.

We also feature 100+ other Scottish clans and surnames in our collection of 200+ landscape photography wall prints, so check out our print store to see the full collection.

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