School of Divinity

The rise of the Glenorchy Campbells

The first Campbell of Glenorchy was called Colin. His long and important career established the family's fortunes and demonstrated many of the characteristics that brought success for subsequent generations.

Colin lived from c 1395 to 1475, during which his reign set a pattern for:

  • the acquisition of land
  • advantageous marriages
  • a leading role within Clan Campbell
  • a long life
  • an adult male successor

The first Colin

The first Colin was a younger son of Duncan, first Lord Campbell, the main branch of the Clan who later became the earls of Argyll.

In 1432 his father established Colin in northern Argyll by granting him the lands and lordship of Glen Orchy, which became the new branch's territorial designation.

An advantageous marriage helped Colin acquire a share in the lordship of Lorn, in northern Argyll. As tutor (guardian) to his great-nephew, the first earl of Argyll, Colin became a major power within Clan Campbell during the middle of the 15th century, building Inveraray Castle for the earl and Kilchurn (also known as Glenorchy) Castle for himself.

The first Colin was much travelled, with his visits to Rome providing the by-name Black Colin of Rome (Cailean Dubh na Roimh). When fighting the Turks in Rhodes alongside the Knights Hospitallers, according to tradition he was protected by the Glenorchy charm stone (now in the National Museum of Scotland).

He died in 1475 at Strathfillan, where he had built a tower, and was buried at Kilmartin, in Argyll.

The second Duncan

His son, Duncan (c.1443-1513) had an equally long career, during which he made major territorial acquisitions in the Breadalbane region, in particular securing the strategically vital holdings at the east and west ends of Loch Tay.

He was helped by the military power of his allies, the MacGregors, who expanded east alongside the Campbells.That alliance later disintegrated with a bitter feud between the kin groups starting when Grey Colin was laird.

Duncan's considerable literary and artistic skills placed him at the centre of the Gaelic literary circle. He patronised the Fortingall MacGregors who compiled 'The Book of the Dean of Lismore' to which Duncan contributed nine humorous and bawdy poems.

For many years he worked closely with his cousin, the 2nd earl of Argyll, and when both were killed at the battle of Flodden (9 September 1513) they were buried side by side at Kilmun, Argyll.

The third laird

The third laird, another Colin (c.1468-1523), was a mature forty-five years of age when he inherited after Flodden.

His ten-year lairdship saw a shift away from the Campbell heartland of Argyll and Glen Orchy into Perthshire and a new base in Breadalbane.

Colin built a chapel to the Blessed Virgin Mary at Finlarig and when he died, on 8 August 1523, he was buried there, as were all his successors. He was most probably the owner of the illustrated Glenorchy Psalter, now in the British Library.

Succession and stagnation

Duncan (c.1486-1536) succeeded his father and during his lairdship gains were consolidated but expansion did not continue at the previous pace.

His son predeceased him and he was succeeded as 5th laird by his brother, John (c.1496-1550). Possibly because of his ill-health, the Glenorchy Campbell drive diminished and under John the lairdship seemed to stagnate.

With no surviving sons much rested on his younger brother, Grey Colin, who took an increasingly active part in running affairs in Breadalbane.

When he succeeded Grey Colin was a widower with two daughters and in 1550 the dynasty's survival seemed to hang on a very slender thread.

The Black Book of Taymouth

'The Black Book of Taymouth,' the family history of the Campbells of Glenorchy was written between 1598 and 1648 to chronicle the deeds of the noble lineage and record the ways they had advanced their house.

Having been begun under Black Duncan, Grey Colin's son, it was not surprising that it portrayed Grey Colin and Black Duncan as the most successful of their line.