School of Divinity

Grey Colin's networks

Grey Colin’s extensive range of contacts, as revealed in the Breadalbane Letters, was crucial to his ability to maintain and expand power.

The long arm of Grey Colin

The key to his success lay in the geographical spread of his contacts since his network stretched far beyond Breadalbane along a broad corridor from the Argyll coast in the west to Perth in the east and, crucially, south to the royal court.

Despite the expansion of the Glenorchy Campbells into Breadalbane, their interest in their ancestral lands of Glen Orchy and in Lorn affairs never flagged. To preserve his influence in the Argyll heartland, Grey Colin relied upon the MacDougalls of Dunollie (GD112/39/2/4; 7/18; 10/1) and to a lesser extent upon the Stewarts of Appin (GD112/39/6/16 & 7/19).

As well as political and military power in the area, Grey Colin wanted to keep ecclesiastical patronage within his grasp and he made an agreement with the 4th earl of Argyll in 1553 dividing the ecclesiastical patronage of Lorn between them (25 Mar 1553, GD112/1/837).

Amassing a network

Kate and Colin's close relationship with John Carswell, superintendent of Argyll and bishop of the Isles, was important (GD112/39/10/5 and see Kate). Grey Colin also employed the Lorn learned orders and clergy as his servants and agents, especially the medical family of the MacLachlans of Craiginterve (GD112/39/6/27; 12/16; 14/2).

In one case the parson of Lochawe, Neil Malcolm, appears to have been spying on his behalf (GD112/39/12/3).

His Lorn base made Grey Colin's interested in events in the Isles, particularly the Inner Hebrides. He was on good terms with the MacLeans of Duart and received news of happenings on the West Highland coast and Isles (GD112/39/1/4; 5/19). Lochaber was especially significant for Grey Colin’s contacts and political manoeuvrings. Despite tensions with the Stewarts of Appin and the Camerons of Lochiel, he employed a cadet branch, led by Donald McEwan Cameron, as a military captain (GD112/39/9/2; 12/15). When he was at feud with the MacGregors, Grey Colin cast his net wider for military assistance and hired the MacDonalds of Keppoch and of Glencoe (GD112/39/5/21).

Tensions with neighbours

Grey Colin's relations with his immediate neighbours were tense and sometimes hostile because he was trying to increase his hold over Breadalbane and the letters are full of the problems he encountered. The long-running rivalry with Menzies of Weem added an abrasive edge to his letters to James Menzies (GD112/39/2/5 & 12/5) and their hostility turned into a bitter dispute which went to the Privy Council in 1580 (GD112/39/15/1; 15/5; 15/7). However, because there was regular personal contact between the parties, there are few letters in the collection from Breadalbane's inhabitants.

Expanding his territory

The Glenorchy Campbells push eastwards had brought them to the borders of Atholl's influence. Through his mother, Grey Colin was Atholl's cousin german and the two men became personal friends and most of the time worked amicably together. Blood and marriage ties brought Grey Colin into contact with other Perthshire lairds, such as the Murrays both of Tullibardine and of Tibbermuir.

These links were reinforced by his marriage to Kate which brought an alliance with the extensive Ruthven family (see Kate). With its combination of Highland and Lowland territories, acceptance into the regional politics of Perthshire gave Grey Colin strong Lowland connections.

The national stage

Friendships cemented during the Reformation crisis proved important in widening his links with figures of national importance. Moray, Morton and the duke of Châtelherault were warm correspondents of Kate and Grey Colin (GD112/39/1/5 & 6; 3/3; 4/16&17; 4/22; 5/14; 10/8). The personal friendship between Kate and William Maitland of Lethington, the Queens Secretary, is striking.

At a lower social level, court officials such as John MacGill of Nether Rankeillour, Clerk Register (GD112/39/3/1), John Fentoun, Comptroller Clerk (GD112/39/15/9), and John Wood, Moray's secretary (GD112/39/4/7), were all willing to provide information or assistance to Kate or Grey Colin.

The written link with the royal court was particularly vital for Grey Colin because, unusually for an ambitious laird, Glenorchy was a reluctant traveller to Edinburgh. He relied instead upon the visits to the royal court of his wife or his older sons, Black Duncan and Colin of Ardbeich (GD112/39/15/5 & 8).

He was also dependent upon the news and help he received from Argyll, Atholl, Ruthven and other friends. Without such assistance at the centre, Grey Colin's local influence would have been severely diminished.