School of Divinity

Expansion and castle-building

Beginning in the 15th century, Clan Campbell expanded widely and embarked on an ambitious castle-building scheme.

Expansion by sea

The Campbells were the chief beneficiaries of the suppression of the Lordship of the Isles in 1493.

In contrast to the sea-united Clan Donald, the Campbells were essentially a land-based clan, though they were happy enough to use the sea when needed.

One aspect of their expansion can be seen in the way they moved into different areas down the main internal communication routes and used strings of castles or tower-houses to maintain local control.

The Campbells of Craignish demonstrated this tendency by occupying just such a string of castles from Craignish itself up the peninsula and through the Dark Glen to Caisteal na Nighinn Ruaidhe, on Loch Avich (Argyll Inventory ii, No. 281, pp. 182-4; vii, No. 121 pp. 259-62).

That island castle linked them geographically to the major Campbell castle of Innis Chonaill which lay just over the ridge on an island in Loch Awe.

The early modern period

Although much of their expansion carried them beyond Argyll, the Glenorchy branch of the Campbells exhibited the most spectacular growth in the early modern period.

In Black Duncan's time in particular, territorial growth and the consolidation of Grey Colin's gains were accompanied by castle-building on a massive scale. This earned the 7th Laird the apposite nickname of Black Duncan of the 7 Castles.

One of these, Barcaldine Castle, was situated in Benderloch on the south side of Loch Creran and was completed in 1609 costing between 10-15,000 marks. (There are two entries in The Black Book of Taymouth one for 1601 which mentions 5,000 marks and the other for 1609 which gives 10,000 marks. It is not clear whether the later is the overall total or the two sums should be added together BBT pp.35-6).

Barcaldine is an L-plan tower-house which allowed for living accommodation in both the main block and the wing and also permitted a private room to be placed at the end of the hall on the principal floor.

The stress upon domestic comfort evident in the architecture is borne out by the 1621 inventory which gives a description of each room's permanent fittings including the doors with their locks and hinges and the glass windows.

The majority of the furniture and the soft furnishings would be moved around between the different residences of the Glenorchy family, depending upon where the laird and his household were spending most of their time. (Description and full transcript of 1621 inventory Argyll Inventory ii, No 279, pp. 176-81).

Links with the church

Using a loch setting for comfort more than security was probably the motive behind the construction of the dwelling on Loch a'Phearsain, Kilmelford, built by John Campbell of Inverliever in the middle of the sixteenth century.

Having leased the island from Archibald MacVicar, rector of Melfort, Campbell of Inverliever promised the rector and his successors one of the chambers in the house (Argyll Inventory ii, No 294, pp. 240-1; vii, p 538 n. 66; 8 March 1559, Argyll Transcripts V, 72 & 104).

The close link between the Campbells, the church and building is demonstrated most clearly by Carnasserie Castle built by John Carswell, superintendent of Argyll and Bishop of the Isles in the 1560s for the 5th earl of Argyll.

It was an extremely comfortable residence built in a Renaissance style with its large windows emphasising elegance and style at the expense of military considerations.

Above the entrance doorway, with its pilasters, mouldings and capitals reminiscent of the elegant facade of Mar's Wark in Stirling, there is a finely carved panel with the arms of the 5th earl and his first Countess, Jane Stewart, displayed alongside the motto which reads: 'DIA LE UA NDUIBH[N]E' or 'God be with Ó Duibhne'.

The designation Ó Duibhne referred to the 5th earl as chief of Clan Campbell. (Argyll Inventory vii 214-26).