CAMPBELL, John (1634-1717)

CAMPBELL, John (1634–1717)

cr. 28 June 1677 earl of Caithness [S] (patent annulled 1681); cr. 13 Aug. 1681 earl of BREADALBANE [S]

RP [S] 1713-14

First sat 31 Mar. 1714; last sat 12 May 1714

MP [S] Argyll 1661-3, 1669-74

b. 29 May 1634, 1st s. of Sir John Campbell, 4th bt., of Glenorchy, and 1st w. Mary, da. of William Graham, 7th earl of Menteith [S]. m. (1) 17 Dec. 1657 (with £5,000), Mary (d. 8 Feb. 1666), da. of Henry Rich, earl of Holland, 2s.; (2) 7 Apr. 1678, Mary (d. 4 Feb. 1691), da. of Archibald Campbell, mq. of Argyll [S], wid. of George Sinclair, 6th earl of Caithness [S], 1s. d.v.p.; ?(3) Mildred Littler (d.1746), 1da. (?illegit.). suc. fa. as 5th bt. June 1686. d. 19 Mar. 1717.

PC [S] 1685-8, 1692-6, 1703-8; commr. treasury [S] 1692–6, auditing accts. of treasury [S] 1694, 1695, justiciary, Highlands [S] 1702.1

Lt.-col. of ft. Perth 1689.2

Commr. supply Argyll 1667.

Associated with: Stronmillochan, Glenorchy, Argyll; Taymouth Castle, Kenmore, Perth.

Likenesses: oil on canvas by J.B. de Medina, 1696, National Galleries of Scotland, PG995.

As a Highland magnate, able to put a force of clansmen into the field, Breadalbane possessed an obvious attraction to governments in Edinburgh and London, but his position was by no means as formidable as some observers thought.3 Governments were just as likely to regard him with suspicion, while his influence over his followers was dependent on leading them in a direction in which they wanted to go. He was also subordinate to the duke of Argyll, his clan chieftain; he faced competing magnate interests in the counties in which he enjoyed influence, Perthshire and Caithness; and he was chronically short of money. Throughout his career he sought to accommodate these varying pressures and steer a course that would advance his own interests. Hence he appeared devious and slippery. Those who had dealings with him rarely knew what to make of him; they thought him ‘mighty cunning’, amoral, and self-interested, and in one striking phrase, a man who ‘walks in the clouds’.4

During the prince of Orange’s invasion in 1688 Breadalbane [S] at first acted as a loyal supporter of King James, but when sent to London to explain to James the actions of the Scottish Privy Council (of which he was a a member) he arrived to find the Orangists in control. He made the best of it and signed the address of the Scottish nobles asking William to rule Scotland until a convention met, then returned north and retired to his stronghold at Kilchurn in Perthshire. There he made favourable noises to King James and the local Jacobite commanders, but once James’s armies were defeated, took the oaths to the new king and queen. His position remained difficult: he was suspected by both sides and his estates were, he claimed, ravaged by Jacobite forces.5 In response, he pursued a double game: on the one hand involving himself on the Jacobite fringes of the ‘Montgomerie Plot’, and on the other making promises to ministers in England through his friend Sir George Mackenzie, Viscount Tarbat [S], to deploy his influence to promote the pacification of the Highlands.6 In the spring of 1691, assisted by £12,000 from the English treasury, he concluded secret agreements with Jacobite commanders, which were then ratified by the king.7 The settlement was by no means watertight, and soon broke down. Moreover, not everyone in the Scottish ministry was happy to trust Breadalbane.8 Nonetheless, he pocketed £2,000 in expenses, and in the following year, with the support of Tarbat and the Dalrymples, was restored to the Scottish Privy Council and made a treasury commissioner.

The Scottish parliamentary inquiry of 1695 into the Glencoe massacre upset Breadalbane’s applecart: his previous negotiations with the Highlanders were exposed, he was indicted for treason and imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle. The hue and cry was led by the secretary of state, James Johnston and his allies, Breadalbane’s opponents in recent ministerial infighting.9 Breadalbane was in fear of his life, but was supported by the Argylls, and eventually released under royal warrant.10 However, he lost office, and retired to the Highlands, fearing arrest for debt, and leaving his second son, John Campbell, styled Lord Glenorchy, the future 2nd earl of Breadalbane, to take charge of the family’s affairs as the designated heir to the peerage (Breadalbane’s right to nominate an heir having been specifically provided for in his patent). 

Breadalbane’s political fortunes improved at the start of Queen Anne’s reign, especially in 1705 when John Campbell, 2nd duke of Argyll [S], became parliamentary commissioner. He was more than once considered for high office, Argyll proposing him for the treasury commission, only to be vetoed by the ‘old court party’ headed by James Douglas, 2nd duke of Queensberry [S].11 At the same time Breadalbane was in contact with Jacobite agents, although he prudently avoided signing a letter to Louis XIV in 1707.12 During the Union debates he absented himself from the Scottish parliament.

In April 1708 Breadalbane learned from the master of the ordnance, David Melville, 5th earl of Leven [S], one of Queensberry’s associates, that he was to be arrested and taken to London on suspicion of involvement in Jacobite conspiracy. He answered that he had

made it my work all my life to preserve the peace of my country, and for my actings pursuant thereto I was made your lordship’s prisoner in the castle of Edinburgh in the year [16]95, by amiss representation as your Lordship knows … I am 73 years of age, it may be thought very strange, that I who at that time did concern myself so much to bring and recover the peace of the country should now at this age be any instrument to disturb it, when I am not able to go over the door to prosecute or to prevent it, on the one hand or the other.13

Breadalbane forwarded to Leven a certificate testifying to his inability to travel, together with suggestions that he might be able to assist the court in the forthcoming election of representative peers. He was told to qualify himself, sign a proxy and ‘send it blank’.14 But his votes were also being solicited by others; in fact, a flurry of letters was descending on Taymouth from peers across the political spectrum.15 The most insistent voice came from the leading opponent of the court party, James Hamilton, 4th duke of Hamilton [S], who expected that Breadalbane would assist the cavalier interest and claimed that ‘we want an old wily fox like you … to give good advice and help put it in execution’.16 However, Hamilton knew that he would have to overcome strong complaints about his own opportunistic alliance with the Squadrone, the political heirs of the very politicians who had contrived Breadalbane’s arrest in 1695. To Leven, Breadalbane confessed that this ‘sudden change’ had left him thunderstruck: ‘to find ... [Hamilton] among the republican Squadrone ... is the world turned round’.17 Nevertheless, Hamilton was confident that he could explain himself satisfactorily, and he suggested that Breadalbane would be released if he joined forces with the Squadrone.18 Leven was soon writing to express his concern that Breadalbane had included Hamilton and his two brothers in his list. He warned Breadalbane that he was making a mistake:

I dare say if you bring in some folk you will see the error of it when out of time for they are so engaged with a certain set of men in England that they must go throw stick with them and I am sure your principles and theirs can never agree.19

More immediately, there was the prospect that Breadalbane would not in fact be released from custody. Eventually Breadalbane bowed to pressure: at the election he voted by proxy, and although he still included the three Hamiltons, ten of his votes went to court nominees.20 On 21 June he heard that the queen had ordered his release.21 Leven subsequently wrote that there would be a parliamentary enquiry to discover who had given the order that Scots suspected of Jacobite sympathies should be arrested. Allegations had been made by Hamilton and the Squadrone that the decision had been Queensberry’s. Leven tried to placate Breadalbane by insisting on his own innocence.22 In the end, the responsibility for the instructions was never firmly established.

When Parliament met the Lords enquired into the conduct of the 1708 election of representative peers. Objections had been made to Breadalbane’s list because it did ‘not bear the designation of writer and witnesses nor are there witnesses signing’.23 The House was informed of these omissions on 17 Jan. 1709, and after counsel had been heard Breadalbane’s list was declared null and void on the 29th. Before the 1710 general election Leven counselled him to oppose any ‘Squadrone man’ in the next election to the Commons; and as in 1708 the earl duly supported the interest of his friend John Murray, duke of Atholl [S], in Perthshire.24 Once more he received numerous appeals for support in the election of representative peers, including a heartfelt appeal from the Jacobite George Lockhart, that it was ‘necessary … for honest men to stand to one another’.25 Atholl was going to insist that Breadalbane himself might be put on the court list but was dissuaded.26 This time Breadalbane went to Edinburgh to cast his vote in person. ‘I am come to this place’, he wrote to Laurence Hyde, earl of Rochester, on 31 Oct., ‘to serve the queen in voting and influencing others to vote such peers as will be of a piece (if possible) to support her majesty, her crown and the Church’.27 As a cavalier, he was fully in sympathy with the Tory ministry, and contributed to the unopposed return of the court list.28

Over the next few years, and using Glenorchy as an intermediary, Breadalbane cemented his allegiance to the chief minister, Robert Harley, earl of Oxford.29 The good relations he established with Oxford survived even Breadalbane’s expressions of support in the early summer of 1713 for the attempt to dissolve the Union. He informed Atholl in the summer that, after consultation, the Scottish Jacobite peers had agreed to vote only for hard-line anti-Unionists in the next election of peers, but as the election approached, he contacted Oxford to argue that the best course that could be taken in Scotland was ‘to use our best endeavours for returning a nomination of peers to the ensuing Parliament who may be most forward to serve her Majesty’.30 He also raised the issue of the government of the Highlands: ‘knowing how much your lordship is inclined to oblige the Highlanders for her majesty’s service’, he sent Oxford ‘my thoughts of a scheme to answer your design in that affair’.31 An agent of Oxford’s reported in July 1713 that ‘my Lord Breadalbane ... has dependence upon no party, nor upon any great families, and let the world go as it shall please God he is much indifferent, for he is in a condition to defend himself and his own interest from the oppression of any whatsoever’. If the treasurer had ‘a mind to take him by the hand and your interest be the monarchy and church he is willing to come up on that lay’. On the other hand it was clear that the Scottish secretary, John Erskine, 22nd earl of Mar [S], did not want to see Breadalbane at Westminster: it was suspected that ‘my Lord Mar may be for some pleasing of him other ways by giving him some compliment, but they had best beware that they do not sour him which if they do they may come to repent it, for he is too old a cat to draw a straw before his nose’.32 But thanks to Oxford’s support, Breadalbane’s name appeared on the court list.33 His new enthusiasm for parliamentary politics had in fact stretched to devising a list of his own preferred candidates. Mar reported that Breadalbane was ‘resolved to have the honour of seeing the queen before he die, and there is no pleasing of him, nor indeed of several others who are concerned for him, if he be not one of the 16’, and added that he ‘was so youthful to-day at the election that he would not so much as read his list with his glasses, and his eyes alone served him very well’.34

Nevertheless, once elected, Breadalbane was in no hurry to make the long journey to London from his Highland lair. He had been proposed, with other Scottish ‘poor lords’, for a pension but Oxford had not acted on this suggestion.35 On 23 Jan. 1714 James Ogilvy, 4th earl of Findlater [S], wrote to urge him to come up.36 Breadalbane admitted that this ‘was indeed my first alarm of having thoughts of going to London I have had since an advertisement from the earl of Mar to make all haste’. Now aged 80, he was determined to obey the queen’s summons. He told Mar’s brother, James Erskine, Lord Grange, that he hoped to reach Edinburgh by 18 Feb., ‘which is the soonest I can promise’, though while he remained in Scotland he was co-ordinating measures with other Jacobite sympathizers and passing advice across to St Germain.37

Breadalbane’s parliamentary career at Westminster proved to be brief but, despite his advanced age, not uneventful. He did not take his seat in the Lords until 31 Mar. and attended only for a further 13 days, being named to no select committees and appearing for the last time on 12 May. Soon after his arrival he had caused a stir by appearing to admit to a Jacobite allegiance in conversations with other peers, but although there was talk of his being ‘attacked’, nothing transpired.38 His last recorded contribution came in a debate on the address to the queen for a proclamation to put a price on the head of the Pretender, when he joined other High Tories in objecting to the provision that the reward should be paid dead or alive.39 He registered his proxy in favour of Mar on 6 and 9 Apr. 1714 (vacated on the 8th and 20th respectively) and again on 14 May. Having thanked Oxford ‘for all the honours and favours you were pleased to confer on me’, Breadalbane ‘with all his Highland crew’ returned to Scotland, reaching Edinburgh on 4 June.40 After arrival at Taymouth he immediately called together ‘several of the chieftains of the clans’ and reported to Oxford what would be necessary to secure their support, placing particular emphasis on the secure passage of the militia bill and the bill to resume bishops’ rents for the benefit of the Episcopalian clergy.41 He had been forecast as being in favour of the schism bill and it is probable that Mar exercised his proxy in support of the bill.

Breadalbane’s presence amongst the Jacobites brought only confusion and uncertainty into their schemes the following year. He took up arms for the Pretender but, once the rebellion collapsed gave himself up and spent the last year of his life under house arrest.42

Breadalbane died on 19 Mar. 1717.


  • 1 CSP Dom. 1691-2, pp. 166, 167; 1694-5, p. 445; 1702-3, pp. 353, 571.
  • 2 Douglas, Scots Peerage, ii. 204.
  • 3 Seafield Letters, 130-1; HMC Laing, ii. 45-47.
  • 4 Macky Mems. 199-200; CSP Dom. 1691-2, pp. 202, 258.
  • 5 Leven and Melville Pprs. 530.
  • 6 CSP Dom. 1690-1, pp. 8, 93.
  • 7 CSP Dom. 1689-90, pp. 537, 550; CSP Dom. 1690-1, pp. 209-10, 458, 489-92, 496; CTB, ix. 1505–6; xvii. 653; Luttrell, Brief Relation, ii. 237.
  • 8 CSP Dom. 1691-2, pp. 202, 258, 540.
  • 9 P.W.J. Riley, K. Wm. and Scot. Politicians, 86, 89, 92-93, 95.
  • 10 CSP Dom. 1694-5, pp. 500, 508; CSP Dom. 1695 and Addenda, pp. 126-7; HMC Johnstone, 80.
  • 11 HMC Laing, ii. 45-47; Seafield Letters, 23.
  • 12 Add. 70075, newsletter, 6 Mar. 1703; N. Hooke, Secret Hist. (1760), 26, 174-5; HMC Portland, iv. 276.
  • 13 NAS, GD 112/39/216/23/1.
  • 14 NAS, GD 112/39/216/15.
  • 15 NAS, GD 112/39/216/ 25, 26, 27; GD 112/39/217/7, 9, 13, 16.
  • 16 NAS, GD 112/39/216/22.
  • 17 NAS, GD 26/13/151/3.
  • 18 NAS, GD 112/39/217/5, 17.
  • 19 NAS, GD 112/39/217/8, 41.
  • 20 NAS, GD 112/39/217/20, 22, 23, 25, 26; Add. 61628, ff. 114-17; NLS, ms 1026, ff. 11, 33, 56.
  • 21 NAS, GD 112/39/217/33.
  • 22 NAS, GD 112/39/217/35.
  • 23 NLS, ms 1026, f. 11; NAS, GD 158/1174/18-21, 44-46, 48.
  • 24 HP Commons, 1690-1715, ii. 875-8.
  • 25 NAS, GD 112/39/242/13, GD 112/39/243/1, 2, 12, 26, 37; Lockhart Letters, 40-41.
  • 26 Riley, Eng. Ministers and Scot. 156.
  • 27 NAS, GD 112/39/245/5.
  • 28 NLS, ms 1026, f. 62.
  • 29 Add. 70028, ff. 190-1; 70215 Glenorchy to Oxford, 17 Aug. 1713.
  • 30 D. Szechi, Jacobitism and Tory Pols. 150; HMC Portland, x. 208.
  • 31 HMC Portland, x. 208-9.
  • 32 HMC Portland, x. 298-9; Riley, Eng. Ministers and Scot. 250.
  • 33 Add. 70215, Breadalbane to Oxford, 8 Oct. 1713; Glenorchy to Oxford, 8 Oct. 1713; NLS, Advocates’ mss, Wodrow pprs. letters Quarto, 7, ff. 181–2.
  • 34 HMC Portland, x. 208, 303.
  • 35 HMC Portland, v. 314.
  • 36 NAS, GD 112/39/271/6.
  • 37 NAS, GD 112/39/41/3, pp. 197-8; Scottish Cath. Archs. Blairs College mss BL 2/188/9.
  • 38 Lockhart Letters, 94-95.
  • 39 Szechi, 172.
  • 40 Add. 70032, f. 287; Wodrow pprs. letters Quarto 8, f. 116; HMC Portland, v. 455-6.
  • 41 HMC Portland, v. 461.
  • 42 Add. 61161, ff. 195-6, 212-13.