Glen Discovery in GlenLyon
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The Campbell feud with Clan Gregor

By Peter Lawrie, with much thanks to Professor Jane Dawson, University of Edinburgh


Ask a MacGregor or a MacDonald today about their history and the evil machinations of the Clan Campbell will figure prominently.

I am grateful to Professor Jane Dawson of the University of Edinburgh for much of the narrative and interpretation which follows, and for her work in publishing the letters of Grey Colin Campbell (Cailean Liath) of Glenorchy in the Breadalbane papers (GD112 at the National Archives of Scotland). The letter transcripts and her interpretation are at Edinburgh University's School of Divinity. I have listed all the letters in date sequence which mention the Clan Gregor or individual MacGregors, or otherwise have a bearing on the feud here.

For the Clan Gregor the feud which became open warfare with Cailean Liath or Grey Colin Campbell of Glenorchy beween 1562 and 1570 is of the greatest significance. Following the execution of Griogair Ruadh, the MacGregor chief, in 1570 by Cailean Liath in person, it reduced to a simmer but would return to a boiling conflict with even greater vehemence after 1590 under Black Duncan of Glenorchy. This would ultimately result in the proscription in 1603 of the entire Clan Gregor by the Privy Council of Scotland; the abolition of the very name 'Gregor' and 'MacGregor'; the execution of the chief, Alasdair ruadh in Edinburgh in 1604; and carte blanche for the killing of any MacGregor with full forgiveness of the crime by the State.

The proscription of Clan Gregor would last until the Restoration of 1660 when it was lifted as a reward for resistance against the Commonwealth regime. Lands and influence however were not restored. Following the first Jacobite rising of 1689, Clan Gregor was singled out for punishment with renewed proscription of the name which lasted until 1774.

And why mention the MacDonalds? - As a reward by James VI for his success in hunting down surviving MacGregors, in 1609 the Earl of Argyll was rewarded with the lands of Clan Donald South - resulting in a whole new chapter of Highland Warfare and the centuries long resentment of the Campbells by MacDonalds everywhere. This would find an outlet in the winter of 1644 when Alasdair MacColla led his MacDonalds from Antrim to devastate Argyll, destroying almost every house and killing at least 900 Campbells.

The Campbells had been the principal beneficiaries of the suppression of the Lordship of the Isles by James IV in 1493. Unlike the Clan Donald, whose symbol was the birlinn, or hebridean galley, the Campbells were a primarily a land-based kindred. Their expansion can be charted as they moved into different areas using land communication routes, building castles and tower-houses to maintain their control. The Campbells of Craignish typified this by erecting castles from Craignish itself up the peninsula and through the Dark Glen to Caisteal na Nighinn Ruaidhe, on Loch Avich. That castle connected them to the major Campbell stronghold of Innis Chonaill which lay on an island in Loch Awe.

As the Campbells of Glenorchy expanded out of Argyll, they demonstrated the most spectacular growth of all the lineages. Black Duncan who followed Cailean Liath built castles on an unprecedented scale, earning him the nickname of Black Duncan of the Seven Castles.
He repaired and extended the 15th century Kilchurn Castle, now ruinous, on Loch Awe - illustrated on right;
Barcaldine Castle, completed in 1609, in Benderloch on the south of Loch Creran in Lorn and costing 15,000 marks. [1]   Barcaldine is an L-plan tower-house which is still in use as a residence;
Finlarig Castle near Killin had a similar plan to Barcaldine but is now in ruins;
Edinample Castle is on the shores of Loch Earn, and was extended in the 18th century but fell into a state of dereliction by the early 1970s, since then it has been refurbished for use as a private family home;
The lands of Achallader were acquired by trickery from the Fletchers and a castle now a ruin, was erected to hold them;
The ruined castle on an island of Loch Dochart;
Finally Balloch at the east end of Loch Tay was acquired from the Clan Gregor by Cailean Liath who built a tower there. Duncan extended it. The Tower house was demolished in the early 19th century and replaced by the huge Taymouth Castle as the principal residence of the Marquesses of Breadalbane.
Kilchurn Castle on Loch Awe

The Breadalbane Papers of Cailean Liath Campbell of Glenorchy

Inevitably, history is written by the victors. By the early 17th century, the Clan Gregor had been defeated and dispersed with their very name of MacGregor proscribed by law. Apart from folk tales, the Clan Gregor does not have its own documentary record of the feud with the Campbells. On the Campbell side, there are significant contemporary records and in particular, the Breadalbane Letters of Cailean Liath which reveal the interlocking levels of national, regional and local politics in 16th-century Scotland.

The 'Gossip' letters Cailean Liath exchanged with John of Carrick show how the 'Chase-about Raid' following the marriage of Mary, Queen of Scots, to Henry, Lord Darnley, 1565-6. In the Civil Wars of 1567-73, 1570 stands out as a year when Scotland nearly slipped into anarchy. The 142 letters surviving from that year give an exceptionally detailed picture of what was happening from the perspective of Cailean Liath and the Queen's Party. From the perspective of Clan Gregor, the letters of Cailean Liath and other records in the Breadalbane Muniments (GD112) are our only source.

National Institutions

Early modern Scotland consisted of an aggregate of small communities rather than a single unified state. Central political, administrative, financial and judicial institutions had limited authority and did not stretch evenly across the realm. Political power was decentralised and retained at local, as well as regional, levels. These levels could not be dominated by the centre due to substantial natural barriers, such as mountain ranges, wide firths, rivers and glens, which helped preserve the distinct identities of the different regions.

Thus, political power within Scotland was more evenly balanced between the local, regional and national levels than in many other European states. The crown relied primarily upon the monarch's own personal authority but needed the magnates to implement policies. The only institution with a fully comprehensive national organisation was the Church.


The localities were linked to the centre through a series of personal networks of patronage. Magnates secured support for themselves in civil and military affairs, while lairds and servitors consolidated their own regional and local power. The magnates used their local power to gain access to the rewards and advancement which might be obtained from the centre.

Aristocratic military and political power relied far more upon a secure local and regional powerbase than upon the royal court and central authority. The need to work with and through the local lairds meant magnates had to be aware of local issues. In turn, lairds needed magnate assistance for access to the royal court and to central institutions, such as the privy council or law courts.

The lairds were primarily concerned with their regional politics, in which they struggled for personal advancement as well as acting as the agents for the crown and the magnates. Lesser lairds operated as the eyes and ears of the magnates and major lairds and as the executors of their decisions at the local level; in return they received the rewards of patronage from above.

This network was held together by mutual interest, underpinned by the ties of kin, alliance and service. Loyalty, and the rewards which sustained it, flowed both downwards and upwards, thereby maintaining relationships between lords and their dependents.

Service was only given in return for good lordship and its benefits and the same two-way movement was apparent in political issues.

Perthshire Magnates

Perthshire was a 'frontier' zone where the politics of the Central Highlands and the Lowlands met. The region's north comprised the ancient geographical and political unit of Atholl controlled by John Stewart, 4th earl of Atholl, the most important magnate in Perthshire who also played a major role in national politics. William Stewart of Grandtully’s considerable importance was derived from his role as the earl of Atholl’s ‘man of business’. [2]

Patrick and William 3rd and 4th Lords Ruthven combined a prominent position at court with extensive influence based upon their control over the burgh of Perth. The Murrays of Tullibardine were also prominent at court. William, 11th laird, exploited his office of Comptroller to enhance his authority in the locality.

Though rarely at court himself, Cailean Liath's substantial territorial holding within Breadalbane made him a significant player in regional politics.

The southern districts of Strathearn and Menteith were under the influence of John Graham, 4th earl of Menteith; David, 2nd Lord Drummond; and James Stewart of Doune, all based in the west close to the southern fringes of the Central Highlands thus involving them occasionally in clan matters, such as the MacGregor feud. Being near Stirling they were also drawn to the south and south-east, to Stirlingshire, Clackmannan, Kinross and Fife.

At the opposite end of Perthshire, the Stormont and Gowrie districts looked east forming part of the political zone of Forfar and Angus explaining the lack of correspondence from these areas (an exception being a letter from George Hay, 7th earl of Errol. [3]

The lower level lairds

The middle and lower-ranking lairds who looked to the higher lords of Perthshire had a more localised outlook and concentrated upon their own districts.

The lairds of Glenlyon and Lawers were cadet branches of the Glenorchy Campbells, although blood ties did not always guarantee harmonious co-operation. Although the Campbells of Glen Lyon had been the first target of Macgregor violence in 1562, Griogair Ruadh later married Marion Campbell, the daughter of the Laird of Glenlyon, known as red Duncan of the Hospitality. We do not know what led to their marriage and the subsequent relations of Griogair Ruadh with his father in law. It is difficult to determine to what extent Glenlyon may have secretly supported his son-in-law, while Lawers was active in hunting him down. Griogair Ruadh would be finally captured in 1569 while visiting his wife.

Patrick Murray of Tibbermuir, a cadet of the Murray of Tullibardine family whose mother was a Ruthven, and Peter Hay of Megginch gravitated into the Ruthven affinity and served Kate by performing a variety of tasks for her in Edinburgh.

Since they were more likely to report in person, lairds at this lower level were not as well represented in the letters of Cailean Liath.

The different social levels within Perthshire were bound together through links of lineage, blood and marriage many of the Breadalbane Letters' correspondents were connected by these ties.

Highland autonomy

Although united by a common Gaelic language, culture and social structure, clan rivalries fragmented and localised Highland politics.

The Stewart monarchs, of necessity, delegated a great deal of royal authority to the earls of Argyll and Clan Campbell in the southern Highlands and to the Gordons in the north, thus the Highlands became a semi-autonomous area detached from the rhythms of Lowland politics. While also serving the interests of the Crown, their position provided considerable opportunity for personal and family benefit.

There was no single political system operating throughout the region, instead a series of overlapping zones of which Argyll and the Western Highlands were the most important.

Argyll and the Western Highlands

By the 16th century, Argyll had become a Campbell heartland dominated by the earls of Argyll. The only other major power in Argyll was MacDonald of Dunivaig and the Glens, the descendant of the Lords of the Isles, whose clan was often referred to as Clan Donald South. Much of Clan Donald South's attention was focused upon their territories across the North Channel in Ireland. During the later 16th century, the MacDonalds were on broadly amicable terms with the Campbells encouraged by Agnes, the daughter of the 3rd earl of Argyll and forthright wife of James MacDonald of Dunivaig and the Glens. [4]

Hector Mor MacLean of Duart, who had a long-running feud with MacDonald over the Rhinns of Islay, was also involved in the affairs of mainland Argyll. His base in Mull, alongside the mainland of Lorn, made him Cailean Liath's neighbour. [5]

Argyllshire was run largely by the clan's cadet families. Although Grey Colin and John Campbell of Cawdor retained lands and interests in Lorn, their main bases were elsewhere.

Colin, 5th laird of Ardkinglas, followed by James, 6th laird, with the assistance of Dougal Campbell of Auchinbreck, were the earl of Argyll's principal men of business. [6]

At a lower social level, Duncan Campbell of Duntrune, John Campbell of Carrick, John Campbell of Skipnish and John Campbell of Lochnell were all involved in running affairs. [7]

Lesser lairds, such as Archibald Campbell of Inverawe and Donald Campbell of Larg, were also part of the political machine. In particular, they were expected to contribute money and troops when requested. [8]

As the 'Gossip' letters demonstrate, although the regional politics of Argyll were almost exclusively a Campbell affair that did not prevent differences of opinion.

The earl of Argyll also relied upon members of the Gaelic learned orders to assist in the smooth running of the region, headed by John Carswell, superintendent of Argyll and bishop of the Isles.

The negotiating skills of the physician, Colin MacLachlan of Craiginterve, were as much in demand as his medical ones when he travelled throughout the central Highlands in his role as respected and impartial mediator. [9] John MacCorcadill, the notary and Protestant exhorter at Killin, was similarly involved. [10] The parson of Lochawe, Neil Malcolm, however, seems to have had a more partisan and pro-Campbell role as their spy. [11]  Another cleric, John Campbell, prior of Ardchattan, was employed by the earl as a man of business in Lorn. [12]

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'. [13]

The Reformation Crisis and the Campbells

During the Scottish Reformation in the mid 16th century, the 4th earl of Argyll converted to Protestantism and during the 1550s employed in his household the reformers John Douglas or Grant, a former friar, and John Carswell, the future superintendent of Argyll and Bishop of the Isles. Carswell became well known throughout the Clan Campbell, developing a warm friendship with Kate and Grey Colin. He tutored the future 5th earl who remained a Protestant for the rest of his life.

The Campbells supported John Knox's preaching tour of 1555-6 and Cailean Liath tried unsuccessfully to persuade Knox to remain in Scotland under Campbell protection in 1556.

Continued Campbell commitment was demonstrated when the 4th earl and his son, Lord Lorne, organised and signed the First Band of December 1557. This led to the attempt by the Archbishop of St Andrews, John Hamilton's the 4th earl's brother-in-law, to persuade Argyll to hand over John Douglas to be tried as a heretic

During the Reformation Crisis of 1558-60 Clan Campbell's military and political support for Protestantism was one of the deciding factors in the triumph of the Lords of the Congregation, one of whose leaders was the 5th Earl.

Cailean Liath also played a significant role in the events of 1559-60, supported by the strong Protestantism of Kate Ruthven's family, especially in the cleansing of St Andrews on 11 June 1559. [14] Kate had been raised as a Protestant and the marriages of her sisters had helped establish a Protestant network in Perthshire and the surrounding area.

Following the legislative establishment of the Reformed Kirk in August 1560, Cailean Liath ensured that the new religious arrangements would operate within his territories. His household chaplain, William Ramsay, became minister of Inchadney parish (now Kenmore). In a remarkable contract made in 1561, Cailean Liath stipulated Ramsay's duties and paid for his ministry.

The Lairds of Glenorchy

Prior to the Wars with England which followed the death of Alexander III, it appears that the Clann Ailpean were among the dominant kindreds around Loch Awe. From them would derive the Clan Gregor although the name MacGregor was not recorded until the late 14th century when it was used by Eoin Cam, the grandson of Gregor. [15] From a poem in the Book of the Dean of Lismore, - where the chief was described as the white toothed falcon of the three glens - it appears that the territory of the Clan may have once included the three glens, Glen Strae, Glen Orchy and Glen Lochy, although no documentary record of this survives. The Loch Awe kindred may have backed the locally dominant MacDougalls of Lorn who were in the Comyn camp, opposed to Robert the Bruce, crowned as King Robert I in 1307.
Innis Chonnail on Loch Awe was the original stronghold of the Clan Campbell from possibly the eleventh century or earlier. It was the seat of Cailean Mór (Sir Colin Campbell) who was killed fighting the Clan MacDougall at the Battle of Red Ford in 1296.

Cailean Mór was married to Mariota, the daughter of Eoin, son of Donnchadh Beag and elder brother of Griogair, name father of the Clan Gregor. Cailean Mór's son, Sir Neil Campbell, married Bruce's sister, Mary, and Sir Neil fought for the Bruce at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.

Due to his support for Bruce, Colin Campbell of Innis Chonnail, was rewarded, among other grants, with the superiority of lands around Loch Awe. This superiority was explictly repeated in charters issued later in the 14th century by King David II. The Clan Gregor kindred remained on the land but from henceforth would be feudal vassals of the Campbells Lords.

Innis Chonnail was abandoned by the Campbells as their residence in the fifteenth century, but continued to be used as a prison.

Innis Chonnell Loch Awe
Duncan, the first Lord Campbell, whose descendants through his eldest son would become the future earls of Argyll, granted the lands of Glen Orchy to Colin, his younger son and so 'Glenorchy' became the new lineage's territorial designation. Colin's long career established the family's fortunes. He lived from 1395 to 1475 during which he made advantageous marriages, acquired more land and left an adult male successor.  This pattern would repeat in the following generations.

Colin married the heiress of the lordship of Lorn, thus acquiring lands there. As tutor to his great-nephew, the first earl of Argyll, Colin was a major power within the growing Clan Campbell, building Inveraray Castle on Loch Fyne for the young earl and Kilchurn Castle on Loch Awe for himself. He appointed a family of MacGregors as hereditary castellans of Kilchurn.

Colin visited Rome (Cailean Dubh na Roimh) and fought the Turks alongside the Knights Hospitaller.  In 1437, James I was assassinated. As a reward for helping capture the killers, Sir Colin received a charter of the barony of Lawers, north of the loch, and gained possession of the Isle of Loch Tay which he converted it into a stronghold. Loch Tay and Glen Dochart were still the territory of ancient clans, but, with his castles, Sir Colin obtained a stranglehold of the stretch of country from Loch Awe to modern Kenmore. He died in 1475 at the tower of Strathfillan and was buried at Kilmartin, in Argyll.

Duncan, the second laird of Glenorchy (c.1443-1513) had an equally long career, during which he made major territorial acquisitions in Breadalbane, being helped by the military power of his allies, the MacGregors, who expanded eastwards alongside the Campbells, into the lands forfeited by the Albany Stewarts. Duncan took care to obtain Crown Charters of the lands the MacGregors occupied along and at either end of 15 mile-long Loch Tay. He built the castle at Finlarig at its west end.

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 poems. Duncan and his cousin, the 2nd earl of Argyll, both died at Flodden in 1513 and were buried side by side at Kilmun, Argyll.

Colin the 3rd laird of Glenorchy, (c.1468-1523), succeeded in 1513. He shifted the focus of the family towards their new base in Breadalbane. He built a chapel at Finlarig and was buried there, as were all his successors.

Duncan (c.1486-1536) succeeded his father as 4th laird and consolidated his father’s gains, but his son predeceased him, so Duncan was succeeded as 5th laird by his brother, John (c.1496-1550). John had no surviving sons and was succeeded by his younger brother, Cailean Liath, as 6th laird - a widower with two daughters, so in 1550 the dynasty's survival seemed to hang on a slender thread.

Cailean Liath

Colin was the third son of Colin, 3rd laird of Glenorchy (1513-23), and Margaret, daughter of John Stewart, 1st earl of Atholl, who died on 26 July 1524 a year after her husband. During the lairdship of his grandfather, Sir Duncan, 2nd laird (1480-1513), Colin had been fostered with the Fearnan branch of the MacGregors who were based by Loch Tay a few miles west of Balloch. Since he was not expected to succeed to the main Glenorchy inheritance, he had been given the lands of Crannich, half way along the north shore of Loch Tay. He was probably born c 1505 rather than 1499 as implied by his portrait in the Black Book of Taymouth which gives his age as 84 when he died in 1583.

His first wife was Margaret, daughter of Alexander Stewart, bishop of Moray (1532-7) a son of the duke of Albany (d. 1485), and grandson of James II, thereby giving Margaret distant royal blood, though as a cleric's daughter she was born out of wedlock. Margaret was the widow of Patrick Graham of Inchbrakie and had several daughters already. Cailean Liath and Margaret had two daughters: Beatrix, who wed John Campbell, 3rd laird of Lawers, in 1559, and Margaret, who married Allan MacDougall of Raray in 1570. Margaret had died before 1550.

As the health of John, the 5th laird failed, Cailean Liath took more responsibility and in 1548 he brought the Breadalbane troops to the 4th earl of Argyll's muster at Dunstaffnage Castle. [16]

Among his first actions as laird was the eviction of the MacGregors from Balloch (now Kenmore) at the east end of Loch Tay and the erection of a tower house there.

Grey Colin from the Book of Taymouth On 5 July 1550 Cailean Liath succeeded as 6th laird when in his late 40s. Within six months he made an advantageous marriage to Katherine Ruthven, by whom he would have eight surviving children. He remained laird for 33 years, dying on 11 April 1583 and being buried at the Campbell chapel at Finlarig. [17]

With aggressive and single-minded determination Cailean Liath transformed a stagnating lordship into a power centre dominating the entire Breadalbane region. A calculating and ruthless noble fighting to expand his house, at other times Cailean Liath could be a concerned family man and the 'good lord' who inspired respect and loyalty in his followers.

According to the Glenorchy family history, The Black Book of Taymouth, Grey Colin's leadership re-invigorated the house of Glenorchy. He produced a large family and was eventually succeeded by an adult male heir.

He 'conquesit' (acquired) many lands, he built or enlarged several castles and he was 'ane great justiciar of his time'.

Colin's portrait in the Black Book of Taymouth shows his white hair and long flowing beard which gained him the Gaelic by-name of Cailean Liath (Grey Colin) when he succeeded as 6th laird. He is also wearing plate armour and leaning upon a great double-handed sword conforming to the classic self-image of the nobility as warrior leaders.
The ruins of Finlarig Castle
The Letters tend to reveal the harsher, rather than the softer, side of Cailean Liath. When he felt betrayed he could be vindictive, asserting the MacGregors and their chief should never have anything good from him.

Cailean Liath's single-mindedness prevented him appreciating other points of view and convinced him he was right. He could adopt a high moral tone or lapse into self-pity. He could also be a hard, grasping and bad-tempered man. His tenants, who had fled into mid-Argyll in the winter of 1563-4 after they had been burnt out of their lands in Glen Orchy by MacGregor’s raiding, believed the rumour that Cailean Liath would still expect to receive full rents from them. When Cailean Liath was ‘ewill content,’ he did not hesitate to berate his subordinates.

In 1570 Cailean Liath 'beheiddit the laird off McGregour himselff at Kandmoir in presens of the Erle of Atholl, the Justice Clerk, and sundrie uther nobillmen'. [18] By taking the executioner's role himself, Cailean Liath showed he was prepared to extract personal revenge upon the MacGregor Chief, and thereby vindicate his honour. However, Cailean Liath also showed genuine concern and generosity to Gregor MacAne after his MacGregor kinsmen's raid upon Kilchurn Castle. [19] Gregor's reply was full of gratitude and expressions of undying loyalty and service. [20]

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, Cailean Liath relied upon the MacDougalls of Dunollie [21] and to a lesser extent upon the Stewarts of Appin. [22]

As well as political and military power in the area, Cailean Liath 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. [23]


Kate and Colin's close relationship with John Carswell, superintendent of Argyll and bishop of the Isles, was important. [24]  Cailean Liath also employed the Lorn learned orders and clergy as his servants and agents, especially the medical family of the MacLachlans of Craiginterve. [25]   In one case the parson of Lochawe, Neil Malcolm, appears to have been spying on his behalf. [26]

His Lorn base made Cailean Liath'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. [27] Lochaber was especially significant for Cailean Liath’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. [28] When he was at feud with the MacGregors, Cailean Liath cast his net wider for military assistance and hired the MacDonalds of Keppoch and of Glencoe. [29]

However, Cailean Liath's relations with some of his immediate neighbours were tense and sometimes hostile because he was trying to expand his possessions in 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 [30] and their hostility turned into a bitter dispute which went to the Privy Council in 1580. [31] However, because there was regular personal contact between the parties, there are few letters in the collection from Breadalbane's inhabitants.

The Glenorchy Campbells push eastwards had brought them to the borders of Atholl's influence. Through his mother, Cailean Liath 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 Cailean Liath 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. With its combination of Highland and Lowland territories, acceptance into the regional politics of Perthshire gave Cailean Liath strong Lowland connections.

The national stage

Friendships cemented during the Reformation crisis proved important in widening his links with figures of national importance. The Earls of Moray, Morton and the Duke of Châtelherault were warm correspondents of Kate and Cailean Liath. [32] The personal friendship between Kate and William Maitland of Lethington, the Queen’s Secretary, is striking.

At a lower social level, court officials such as John MacGill of Nether Rankeillour, Clerk Register, [33] John Fentoun, Comptroller Clerk, [34] and John Wood, Moray's secretary, [35] were all willing to provide information or assistance to Kate or Cailean Liath.

The written link with the royal court was particularly vital for Cailean Liath because, unusually for an ambitious laird, he 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. [36]

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

Cailean Liath was succeeded by his eldest son, Black Duncan, who inherited both his father's ambitions and his drive, proving to be more ruthless in his methods and surpassing Cailean Liath's record for expansion in all categories. In the last year of his life Cailean Liath wrote to Black Duncan, (laird between 1583 and 1631), while Duncan was working on his father’s behalf in Edinburgh, addressing him as his 'wellbelovit sone'. [37] They seem to have had a good working relationship at this time.

However, on becoming the 7th laird in 1583, Black Duncan quarrelled with his mother, Kate, over the lands she held in liferent, a common problem between noble mothers and sons during the early modern period. The dispute centred on the lucrative lease of the royal lands of 'Discher and Toyer' on either side of Loch Tay. John Fenton, the royal Comptroller, gave Kate legal advice on her position and also encouraged both parties to settle the quarrel.

The MacGregor feud

Within Lorn, the long association of the MacDougalls of Dunollie with the earls of Argyll and the Glenorchy Campbells meant that John and his brother Dougal MacDougall, the 14th and 15th lairds, were part of the Campbell network. Until the outbreak of the feud, the MacGregors of Glenstrae had occupied a similar position of trust, thereby adding an especially bitter edge to the feud.

Another client of the 5th earl, Alexander MacNaughton of Dunderarve, was caught between the kin tie to his three MacGregor half-brothers and his obligations to his lord. [38]

The turmoil of the MacGregor feud sucked clans from north and south into Argyll politics.

On the northern borders a neighbour of Cailean Liath, John Stewart of Appin was already heavily involved in the regions affairs.

In Lochaber, Donald Cameron of Lochiel was usually more detached though his kinsman Donald MacEwan Cameron [39] provided mercenary troops for the Campbell side, as did Ranald MacDonald of Keppoch [40] and John MacDonald of Glencoe. [41]

Clans within the Lennox to the south of Argyll took a more passive role, supplying and receiving stolen goods from some of the MacGregor groups who had settled in that area.

Once restored in 1564 after his long exile in England, Matthew Stewart, 4th earl of Lennox, sought to reassert control over his traditional heritage. The earl of Argyll, who had extended his influence into the Lennox by making a bond with George Buchanan of that ilk, was unwilling to allow the MacGregor feud to interfere with his ambitions there.

The struggle between the MacGregors of Glenstrae and the Campbells of Glenorchy was essentially a fight for control over the manpower, lands and other resources of Breadalbane and Lorn. The feud was particularly intense because the two clan groups had previously been close allies who had successfully expanded together from their neighbouring glens in Lorn into Breadalbane and had settled side by side upon these new lands.

Marriage alliances had cemented the links between the MacGregors, the Campbells and other Argyll kindreds, such as the MacNaughtons. The feud cut across these ties leaving many with hard decisions over their conflicting loyalties. It directly involved the earl of Argyll who had also employed the MacGregors. [42]

The feud's beginnings

The earl of Argyll granted Cailean Liath the service of the MacGregors on his accession in 1550. Among them Cailean Liath was not prepared to tolerate the influence of Donnchadh Lŕdasach MacGregor who embodied, albeit in extreme terms, the MacGregor capacity for independent action. [43]

By 1550 it appears that the Clan Gregor lineages occupied more lands and exercised greater military power than the Glenorchy Campbells, their nominal superiors in feudal terms. Cailean Liath determined to change this. He brought other kindreds into specific dependence upon himself using written bonds of manrent, issuing more of these bonds than anyone else in Scotland. However, the Clan Gregor refused to accept this explicit subordination. Around the time of the succession of Cailean Liath, the MacGregor chief Eoin Ruadh died suddenly and violently, “of the hurt of ane arrow going betuix Glenlyoun and Rannoch”, leaving his infant brother, Griogair ruadh, as chief.

Five days after his accession, Cailean Liath received the bond of manrent of Alasdair mac Phŕdraig mhic Dhonnchaidh MacGregor, also known as Alasdair Odhar. The terms of the bond implied the future possibility both of the displacement of the MacGregors from their long held lands of Wester Morenish, and of future antagonism between Cailean Liath and the MacGregor chief. On 22 November 1551, Donnchadh Làdasach and his son Griogair killed Alasdair Odhar. Lacking sufficient resources of his own, on 11 March 1552, Cailean Liath took out a contract with Seumas Stewart of Baldoran, and Anndra and Gille-Coluim Drummond to "invade and persew to the deid Duncane Laudosach McGregour,[and] Gregor his sone".

16 June 1552 saw the execution of Donnchadh Làdasach. His death, and that of the Dean of Lismore, left the MacGregors apparently denuded of leadership and figures of prominence, and thus exceptionally vulnerable. This seems to have remained true until the end of the minority of Griogair Ruadh in 1562, during which time, if there was a tutor, he has failed to leave any impression on the surviving evidence.

According to Dr Martin MacGregor, Between 1554 and the end of 1561, the relationships of the MacGregors with both Cailean Liath and the earls of Argyll appeared to have stabilised, and in the case of that with Cailean Liath, even thawed a little. Cailean Liath was probably satisfied with the degree of dependency to which he had succeeded in reducing the MacGregors by 1554.     What he wanted was the unquestioning obedience and service of a clan whose capacity for independent action had been neutralised; and the superiority of Glen Strae in particular would be a potent weapon to invoke should his hold over the MacGregors be challenged in future.

In 1562 Cailean Liath attempted to impose impossibly hard conditions upon the young chief, Gregor MacGregor (Griogair Ruadh), when he requested feudal enfeoffment in the 20 merklands of Glen Strae. [44]

For Griogair Ruadh, at the commencement of his chiefship, the dilemma could not have been more acute or the conflicting pressures more intense. Glen Strae was the důthaich of the MacGregor ruling family and in feudal terms its only heritable possession. For at least 150 years they had held it of the earls of Argyll without incident or interruption. Now if Griogair Ruadh wished to retain Glen Strae, it would be at the price of accepting conditions - unspecified legal restrictions, and the surrender of dependants, in addition to homage and service - which would reduce him to a degree of vassalage unknown to any of his predecessors, and manifestly compromise his authority as chief. It may well be that Cailean Liath had always intended to use the superiority of Glen Strae in order to impose conditions upon the MacGregor chiefs; but in late 1562, in the wake of the slaying of Alasdair mac Eňghain Dhuibh in May, he was in an ideal position do so.

Martin MacGregor writes "The stark choice facing Griogair Ruadh was submission or defiance, and it would have to be made before 1 January. His relations on his mother’s side, Ardkinglas and the two MacNaughtons, worked hard on him, urging submission. Ardkinglas informed Cailean Liath that after long discussions they had driven Griogair Ruadh “to syk ane pas that I beleif, God willyng, he sall fulfill your desiris wythin schort dayis geif he ma”. This suggests that Griogair Ruadh had required a great deal of persuasion; that Ardkinglas was not certain the persuasion had been successful, and (in the last three words "geif he ma = if he is able to") that even if so, opposition from within Clann Griogair might yet intervene.

Griogair Ruadh, against the advice of Ardkinglas and the MacNaughtons, rejected the terms laid down by Cailean Liath and chose the path of defiance. At some point shortly before or after 30 November, when Ardkinglas’ letter was probably written, he had gone from Loch Fyne to the territories of his own kindred. Between then and 7 December he had been able to raise around 120 men who, "all bodin in feir of wer”, with coats of mail, steel bonnets, bows, arrows, swords and axes attacked a group of Campbells from Glen Lyon with their followers, killing ten of them.

The brutality of the attacks of 7 December guaranteed the MacGregors the united hostility, at least initially, of Clan Campbell and central government, and inevitably obscured the causes which had led to their taking place. Thus it may well have been an outburst of violence born of desperation, and in direct proportion to the pressure being imposed upon the MacGregors, especially Griogair Ruadh, by Cailean Liath. If the latter had intended that the demands embodied in the document of 24 November should provoke a crisis, he had succeeded only too well. [45]

7 December 1562 was therefore the effective starting-point of a feud which would persist, with the exception of an interval between late 1565 and mid-1567, until 1570. It was exceptionally bitter, bringing violence, suffering and destruction to much of western Perthshire. Its development was conditioned by several factors: internal politics within the Campbell and MacGregor kindreds; the attitudes both of local society and of central government; fluctuations in the interaction of the local and national dimensions brought about by the vicissitudes of Mary’s personal reign; and the added presence of an Irish dimension.

The raiding and fighting were intense in the first six months of 1563, reducing when Gregor took his kinsmen to the north of Ireland to fight as mercenaries. [46] The MacGregors return restarted the feud though, in 1565 under the pressure of the 'Chase-about Raid', a settlement was negotiated. 'I have gottin ye skaytht without yat ane manifest mendis be maid to Clangregor allegis yat mekle of ye rowmis yat I have suld be yairis.' [47] {Roughly translated - "I have suffered significant damage with no recompense .. the Clan Gregor claim that much of the lands that I hold should be theirs"].

The Capture and execution of Gregor Roy

When the feud flared later it drew in more participants including Atholl. No letters survive from the activity in 1569 which resulted in Gregor's capture on 1 August. On 7 April 1570, once he had secured the consent of the regent Morton, Gregor was personally beheaded by Cailean Liath. at Balloch Castle, [48] Gregor's wife, Marion Campbell, would compose a magnificent and bitter elegy in Gaelic, 'Griogal Cridhe'. [49] One version of the words are here., but also see Martin's version

I have taken the following section from Martin MacGregor's thesis.

Griogair Ruadh’s kindred answered killing with killing by waging a six-month reign of terror.

But the epitaph which was to outlast all others was the song composed by Marion Campbell. At once a lament for her husband and a lullaby for their infant son (almost certainly Eoin Dubh), it has been described by Sorley MacLean as, “surely one of the greatest poems ever made in Britain”, and will endure as long as Gaelic is known and sung:

  Chuir iad a cheann air ploc daraich
‘S dhňirt iad ‘fhuil mu lŕr;
Nam biodh agam-sa ‘n sin cupan
Dh’ ňlainn děth mo shŕth

Is ged tha mi ‘n diugh gun ůbhlan
‘S ůbhlan uil’ aig cŕch,
‘S ann tha m’ ubhal cůbhraidh grinn
Is cůl a chinn ri lŕr.

Ged tha mnathaibh chŕch aig baile,
‘Nochd ‘nan cadal sŕmh
‘S ann bhios mis’ aig bruaich mo leapa
‘Bualadh mo dhŕ lŕimh.
  They put his head on a block of oak,
and they poured his blood on the ground;
had I a cup there
I would have drunk my fill

Though I am to-day without apples
and all the rest have apples,
my fragrant fine apple is with
the back of his head to the ground.

Though other wives are at home to-night,
sound asleep,
I will be at the edge of my bed,
beating my two hands.

Griogair Ruadh’s death precipitated the worst and most concentrated violence of the entire war. Nothing came of the measures mooted by Atholl and Cailean Liath before 7 April as ways of ending or forestalling that violence. Although Atholl was still clinging to the possibility on 28 June, no MacGregors were banished by the earl of Argyll, while the assistance the latter had promised Cailean Liath in the event of MacGregor reprisals proved ineffectual. Cailean Liath failed to fulfil his obligation of 29 March. On the contrary, on 30 June he granted the Glen Strae lands to his eldest son Donnchadh Dubh, who received infeftment therein on 29 July.

It is again probable that it was segments of Clann Griogair, rather than the kindred per se, which were actively involved. On 2 August Argyll described those who were out as divided into small groups, while in a letter to the earl on 8 October, Cailean Liath expressed his regret that “the Clangregour suld put our cunntrayes to that poynt, consedering thai ar so smale ane nomer”. Leadership came from two sources: Eňghan, Pŕdraig, Donnchadh a’ Ghlinne (i.e. of the Glen), Alasdair Puidearach (i.e. of Balquhidder) and Alasdair Gallda (i.e. from the Lowlands), the brothers of Griogair Ruadh; Donnchadh Og, Alasdair Sgorach (i.e. buck-toothed), Donnchadh Abrach (i.e. of Lochaber), Pŕdraig Dubh and Gille-Coluim, the sons of Griogair, son of Donnchadh Lŕdasach.

The pattern of MacGregor attacks, targetted as they were on Cailean Liath and Donnchadh Ruadh of Glen Lyon, leaves us in no doubt that their aim was to avenge Griogair Ruadh’s death, and hence help to bear out the evidence of Griogail Cridhe for the involvement of the Glen Lyon Campbells in his capture. By 30 May Cailean Liath’s territories were seriously disturbed and he himself had been threatened.

Between then and 10 June Donnchadh Ruadh was fortunate to survive a murder attempt carried out near Kilchurn Castle by a large company of MacGregors led by Griogair Ruadh’s brother Eňghan, who were believed to have had similar designs on Cailean Liath’s life.

Immediately before Midsummer (24 June), there was an onset on the brae of Glen Lyon.

On the evening and night of Friday 21 July a party of 24 men led by Donnchadh a’Ghlinne and Alasdair Puidearach took 11 of Cailean Liath’s horses from Kinchrakine, near Kilchurn; slaughtered them; and then plundered houses on the brae of Glen Orchy.

At midday on Wednesday 16 August, Donnchadh a’Ghlinne, Alasdair Puidearach and Alasdair Sgorach, at the head of 40 men, took 120 cattle, sheep and goats belonging to Griogair mac Eoin and other servants of Cailean Liath, from Ardteatle (due south of Kilchurn Castle on the east side of Loch Awe) - the first recorded instance during the feud of an attack by MacGregors on their own kinsmen, the Brackley family, who had remained loyal to Cailean Liath.

Six days later, in an encounter near Glen Falloch, 14 of Cailean Liath’s men were slain. Graphic confirmation of the cumulative effect of the campaign comes in a letter from Cailean Liath to Argyll on 21 August, in which, by dint of his severely reduced circumstances, he was forced to ask that a venue other than Balloch be chosen for a meeting with Huntly.

As at earlier stages of the feud, the MacGregors’ success says as much about their opponents’ weaknesses as it does about their own military abilities. The coalition ranged against them, whose most active members were Atholl and Cailean Liath, had vastly superior numbers at its disposal in theory, while at different points assistance, or the promise thereof, was forthcoming from MacDonald of Keppoch, Stewart of Appin, and MacDonald of Glen Coe. But Atholl for one encountered such difficulty in turning out his own men that he was forced to enlist the services of a Cameron sept called Clann Eňghain mhic Eňghain. These Camerons seem to have hindered rather than helped the pursuit, plundering Strath Fillan (out of “luiff of the kye”, rather than any desire to assist Atholl and Cailean Liath, in Argyll’s estimation) and harrying Lawers in July. A further ugly incident occurred at Ardtalnaig in the early hours of Thursday 27 July, when some of Atholl’s servants were slain while on night-watch to guard against a MacGregor intrusion, having themselves been mistaken for MacGregors by some of Cailean Liath’s men engaged in the same business. Atholl, then en route to a convention of the queen’s party in the Lowlands, was forced to turn back to prevent his people - who in this instance were not reluctant to contemplate armed action - from invading Glen Orchy’s bounds.

The two key factors which hampered the pursuit were, as before, resetting, and the attitude of the earl of Argyll. Both factors were strongly linked, and influenced by the national political situation. Resetting took place within Argyll, the Lennox, Strath Gartney, Balquhidder, Strathearn, Glen Falloch, Strath Fillan and even Glen Orchy, again across a wide spectrum of society. From secure bases within this zone (between which they moved via arteries such as Glen Falloch and Strath Fillan, and Loch Awe, Loch Fyne and Loch Long), the MacGregors were able to launch their attacks on the Glen Orchy Campbells, and return with the livestock which must also have played an important part in their survival.

In the light of his actions virtually from the beginning of the feud, and, in particular, of his agreement with Huntly on 24 March 1570, Argyll’s stance after 7 April was unsurprising - the familiar assurances of support which never materialised. Atholl was already frustrated with him by 30 May; on 4 August Lord Drummond laid the blame for the scale of the problem upon him. The most damning evidence against Argyll is the impunity with which the MacGregors were able not only to launch major attacks upon, but even to find reset within, the bounds of Glen Orchy, for which the earl had (as in 1563) assumed responsibility. Argyll’s “kin and friends” seem to have followed his lead, for although the earl claimed that he had ordered them to give military assistance to Cailean Liath, they refused to do so. Some of them - notably Griogair Ruadh’s brother uterine, Alasdair MacNaughton of Dunderave - openly backed the MacGregors. Following the attempt on Campbell of Glen Lyon’s life by Eňghan MacGregor’s company, Atholl informed Argyll that, “it is spokin planelie that thai wer furnessit be men in your awin cuntry to the samyn effect”. Resetting took place extensively in Argyll. Even after the MacGregors based there had received warning of action intended against them and left, in July, their wives and children remained there, “resettand my geir & furnesand my enemeis”, as Cailean Liath (who asked Argyll to expel them) complained. Argyll himself could only confess and apologise that the MacGregors openly resorted to his country, while he also might be held responsible for the reset the MacGregors found in Iomhar Campbell of Strachur’s lands of Glen Falloch, and in Lord Drummonds bounds of Strathearn. On being reprimanded by Argyll for favouring the MacGregors, Drummond retorted that if he had done so it was only out of regard for the earl, “becaus sum men allegit thame to be your servandis”

The single most important source of refuge for the MacGregors was in the Lennox, particularly with the MacFarlanes (Clann Pharlain), who also participated with them in their operations, “takand thair pert and portioun of the pray and spulzeit gudis”. It is at this point that the national political situation becomes relevant. In July Elizabeth, who had been asked by the king’s party to select the new Regent, chose Matthew earl of Lennox, who had come north with English forces in May. This was hardly likely to conciliate Argyll for one, and indeed the general circumstances – Argyll and Lennox on opposite sides of a political divide, and Cailean Liath at feud with the MacGregors - were very reminiscent of 1565. On that occasion the MacGregors had been courted by both sides before sharing in the ultimate reconciliation. How far would history repeat itself?

The evidence suggests that while parallels can be drawn, it would be dangerous to overload them. The MacGregors and Cailean Liath did reach a settlement, at a time of (temporary) truce between the king’s and queen’s parties; and subsequently the MacGregors and Atholl made a separate peace. But it would appear that in 1570, unlike 1565, Cailean Liath’s desire to end hostilities was at least as strong as Argyll’s, probably because of the scale of the damage inflicted upon him, and the fact that he had succeeded in taking vengeance on Griogair Ruadh. Nor was there a repeat of the battle for the MacGregors’ allegiance. In 1565 Argyll had sought to win them over early because he was in the weaker party and threatened by external danger, particularly from the earl of Atholl. In 1570 Argyll’s party was if anything the stronger and included Atholl, who therefore could not be set up as a rival focus for the MacGregors’ loyalties as Mary had done. Argyll’s failure to act against the MacGregors in 1570 may simply have been because, as one of Mary’s lieutenants, it came low on his list of priorities. Before 18 May, for example, he was involved in the siege of Glasgow, in late July and early August, his forces were in readiness to pass to a convention of the queen’s party in the Lowlands; while the king’s party did conduct operations against him. Hence he may have been able to spare neither the time nor the manpower to assist Cailean Liath. Nevertheless, it could also be true that by not banishing or pursuing the MacGregors Argyll was leaving open the option of reconciliation should any shift in the national situation render their military assistance necessary.

The only possible indication that Lennox was cultivating the MacGregors lies in the reset they received within his earldom. Despite his long absences from Scotland the earl still seems to have been able to command a respectable degree of allegiance in the Lennox, including that of the MacFarlanes whose chief, Anndra MacFarlane of Arrochar, witnessed his election as Regent on 17 July. It is not clear if the earl actively instigated reset of the MacGregors by the MacFarlanes and others: subsequent events suggest that the MacFarlanes may have needed no independent encouragement. Nevertheless Lennox took no steps to discourage the giving of reset until it became politically expedient to do so, and obviously his motive was to foment the feud between the MacGregors and Cailean Liath in order to encumber the Campbells and attempt to minimise the effectiveness of their contribution to the activities of the queen’s party.

The Final Settlement

A settlement was finally reached with Cailean Liath in the winter of 1570 and six months later between the MacGregors and the earl of Atholl. [50]

The process which was to lead to a final settlement between the MacGregors and Cailean Liath began in early September. Between the 1st and the 7th of that month a major convention of the queen’s party took place, apparently at various venues in Strath Tay between Dunkeld and Tom an t-seagail near the junction of the Tay and the Lyon. Discussions centred on how best to further negotiations aimed at achieving a treaty between Elizabeth and Mary which would lead to the latter’s restoration. On 3 September Mary’s lieutenants, Chatelherault, Huntly and Argyll, at the behest of the earl of Sussex, Elizabeth’s lord lieutenant in the north, subscribed to articles which included a provision on their part to cease hostilities for two months and further as required. This forms the essential background to the two licences issued by Argyll at Balloch on 4 and 5 September. The first - a virtual replica of that of 7 November 1565 - gave Cailean Liath (along with Donnchadh Ruadh of Glen Lyon, and Eoin Campbell of Lawers) permission to make agreements with the Regent, the obvious grounds for such an accommodation being to end the resetting of MacGregors in the Lennox. This document was granted in specific recognition of the failure of the men of Argyll to assist Cailean Liath against the MacGregors, and in fact the other licence was an attempt to ensure the future service of these same men in that cause, the implication presumably being that with a rapprochement now under way at national level Argyll felt able to spare them.

Although the Regent remained unconvinced of the sincerity of the declarations of the queen’s party, and indeed took steps to have Argyll and others put to the horn, he rapidly came to terms with Cailean Liath. By 15 September he was reported to be willing to expel the MacFarlanes from the Lennox along with the MacGregors if the former would not leave the company of the latter. By the 19th he had rejected a request by a group headed by Anndra MacFarlane for permission to reset the MacGregors - apparent proof that the bond between the two kindreds had not been of the Regent’s making in the first place. On 27 September the MacFarlanes and other inhabitants of the Lennox were charged to cease supporting the MacGregors - now described as the king’s rebels - and join other local officials in apprehending them.

The price which Cailean Liath seems to have been willing to pay, and which Argyll had apparently been willing to sanction, was recognition of the authority of James VI. This was a remarkable indication of the level to which the MacGregors (who presumably could have maintained military operations almost indefinitely from their bases in the Lennox) had reduced Cailean Liath, and perhaps of the need felt by Argyll to provide compensation for the lack of assistance forthcoming from him and his people. It also says much for Cailean Liath’s condition that he preferred to build on the support of the de facto government not to intensify hostilities, but rather to push for a settlement. Argyll had already begun negotiations to that effect before 20 September, and Cailean Liath’s rapid and positive response was in complete contrast to the reluctance and bitterness with which he had consented to the truce of 1565. The groundwork for the final settlement was laid by Argyll or his intermediaries, through discussions with Griogair Ruadh’s brothers and representatives of the kindred of Donnchadh Lŕdasach. The chief obstacle was the MacGregors’ lack of faith in the Campbells, particularly Cailean Liath. On 20 September Argyll had written that, “ane thing I belyf all standis mayst in thair secwrety for thai fear the lard [Cailean Liath] sa sair as thai say it wyll be hard to end that pwnt”; by 4 October they had refused to provide an assurance, fearing duplicity; before 19 October they made an attempt to have the Campbells put to the horn. But on 24 October Griogair Ruadh’s brother Eňghan, using the designation, of Glen Strae, granted separate assurances to Atholl, and to Cailean Liath and Donnchadh Ruadh of Glen Lyon, that they would be unharmed by all those for whom he was answerable until 8 December.

Almost certainly within that period, peace was concluded between Cailean Liath and the MacGregors. The final version of the treaty does not appear to be extant, but we do have two earlier versions both dated 26 October, which probably did not undergo much further modification. In what was a period of intense negotiation and counter-negotiation, the key personality on the MacGregor side was Eňghan, tutor of Glen Strae. The probability is that he was acting on behalf of the clan as a whole, and with its consent. Thus, among the witnesses to the assurances of 24 October were two Glen Lednock MacGregors, Pŕdraig mac Eoin (who, along with Griogair mac Neill of Glen Finglass by Strath Gartney, seems to have been Eňghan’s chief agent in the negotiating process) and Eoin mac Donnchaidh, along with Griogair mac Eoin Ruaidh of Glen Lochay, all of whom had made the contract siding with Cailean Liath and Atholl against members oftheir own kindred in August 1569; while, in a letter to Cailean Liath written perhaps after 26 October, Eňghan asked that the contract drawn up between them, in which reference was made only to his kin, friends and surname - i.e. the clan as defined by blood - be written out again so as to include his native servants, partakers, assisters, resetters and dependers, as they were variously called - i.e. the clan in its widest possible sense.

The terms of the final settlement, insofar as they are preserved by the documents of 26 October, were as follows. Cailean Liath, as their true master, would accept Eňghan and all those for whom he would be responsible as his true servants. He would give the ward and non-entry of Glen Strae to Eňghan as tutor to Griogair Ruadh’s two sons during their minority, providing Eňghan maintained them “at the skulis” and made adequate provision for Marion Campbell within that period. He would restore the 12 merkland of Rannoch west of the River Ericht to Eňghan, and the four merkland of Corrycharmaig in Glen Lochay to Pŕdraig Geur, grandson of Donnchadh Lŕdasach. These were ‘kindly rooms’ which the MacGregors had previously held directly of Cailean Liath: an extra demand made by the MacGregors, that Cailean Liath support them in their ‘kindly rooms’ as their chief, was presumably made with reference to ‘kindly rooms’ they previously had held of others, and may have been incorporated into the final settlement. Finally, Cailean Liath would ensure that the MacGregors were relaxed from the horn as soon as possible; remitted them from all damages done before the death of Griogair Ruadh, “be ressoun the [principal hes sufferit for the] samin as author thairof” (confirmation of the change in Cailean Liath’s attitude wrought by Griogair Ruadh’s execution); and would procure remissions from any others who might have grounds for pursuing them. For their part, Eňghan and all those for whom he became responsible, at the making of the final contract would make homage and obedience to Cailean Liath and his house. If any of these MacGregors did subsequently act against Cailean Liath, Eňghan and other principals of the kindred would apprehend them and participate with others in their trial, over which Cailean Liath would preside. Finally, Eňghan and his adherents would give Cailean Liath 2,000 merks in compensation for damages inflicted since Griogair Ruadh’s death. Each party would find sufficient caution for the safety of the other in future.

Unsurprisingly Argyll was delighted at the settlement, of which he had knowledge before 16 December. At Cailean Liath’s request he wrote to Sir John Bellenden of Auchnowle, the Justice Clerk, asking that letters of relaxation from the horn, made in the name either of Argyll as Justice General, or of the authorities, be given to the MacGregors until 8 May next. Another reaction came from a brother of Katherine Ruthven, Cailean Liath’s wife, asking her, to be the instrument to labour at the Lairdis hand to accept [the MacGregors] efter ther gud mening, and to be ane patrone and defender of tham in tymes cuming in ther guid caussis.

This letter, along with those written by Griogair Ruadh and his brother Eňghan to Katherine, strongly suggests that during the feud she had been perceived to be less inflexible in her attitude towards the MacGregors than her husband.

It remained for the MacGregors and Atholl to come to terms. Already on 5 December mutual assurances had been given until 8 May 1571 to allow negotiations to take place, and this explains why that date was specified in Argyll’s letter to Bellenden, but in fact the final contracts were not concluded until 24 July, at Balloch, 2 August, at Comrie, and 4 August, at Blair Atholl. The signatories on the part of the MacGregors were Eňghan and his four brothers (including Alasdair Gallda whom Atholl had captured, and now released), and the five sons of Griogair, son of Donnchadh Lŕdasach, acting on behalf of themselves, their whole surname, tenants, servants and dependants. The MacGregors became Atholl’s servants against all excepting the authority and Cailean Liath, in token of which four of their principals along with 16 others of the surname would make homage to him when required. In no time coming would they seek any of Atholl’s lands unless they earned them through their good service. They would compensate Atholl’s tenants in Bolfracks and Rannoch, who had suffered from MacGregor incursions, with 40 great cattle before next Beltane. Apart from releasing Alasdair Gallda, Atholl would defend the MacGregors in their honest actions, and in “all thair natyve kyndlie rowmis” legally held by them of the lairds of Glen Orchy, Weem, or any other, providing that the inhabitants of Rannoch who depended on Atholl and previously held their lands of Griogair Ruadh were maintained therein by Eňghan. Both parties mutually forgave all past damages inflicted, and appointed cautioners to provide compensation in the event of future recurrences. Should either side commit slaughter on the other then those responsible would be delivered to Atholl, or toCailean Liath as MacGregor overchief, to be punished.

Caution that the MacGregors would fulfil their part of the contract, and that Atholl would receive compensation for any damages they inflicted, was provided by Cailean Liath. But on 4 August, the same day that Atholl made his concessions to the MacGregors at Blair Atholl, through further documents drawn up at Blair Atholl and Balloch to which the MacGregors were not privy, Atholl discharged Cailean Liath from his role as cautioner on the MacGregors’ behalf, so long as he assisted the earl in pursuing the MacGregors should they inflict either damages or slaughter upon him. If Cailean Liath failed to render such assistance then his original bond of cautionry would stand. Such an immediate act of duplicity can only be interpreted as revealing a lack of commitment to the peace process just concluded, and hardly augured well for the future.

If a general restoration of peace were to be achieved, then the co-operation of Seumas Menzies of Weem, of whom the MacGregors held several ‘kindly rooms’ would be essential. Rannoch of course had been one of the major battlegrounds of the feud, and it is hardly surprising that, on the evidence of a letter probably dating to December 1570 or early 1571, Menzies was then reluctant to sanction the return of the MacGregors to the Rannoch lands east of the River Ericht. It was probably the growing rapprochement between the MacGregors and Atholl, with whom Menzies was then in close alignment, which explains why Eňghan entered possession of these lands on Whitsunday, 3 June 1571. This was actually in advance of a formal written tack, which was not granted until 23 April 1572. On 11 June 1572 Eňghan was discharged by Atholl’s tenants on receipt of the 40 cattle specified in the contract with the earl. In diplomatic terms, the feud was over.

The feud and the Breadalbane Letters

The MacGregor feud provides the backdrop to many of the letters. It was Grey Colin's main preoccupation for the 1560s and may have encouraged him to collect together some of his correspondence.

Its progress demonstrates how the society of the Western and Central Highlands operated and the ripple effect produced by a fierce regional struggle. Though the feud's main impact lay within Breadalbane and Argyll, it spread rapidly to include Lochaber, Atholl, Strathearn, Menteith and the Lennox and nearly all the nobility in the Perthshire and Argyll regions became involved to a greater or lesser extent.

The court also took notice of this feud because it affected the borderlands between the Highlands and Lowlands and was disrupting many main routes.

Yet despite achieving national notoriety, the progress of the MacGregor feud was only marginally influenced by central government. It was essentially a Highland affair and all the main decisions were taken within the Highland political arena which remained throughout this period at one remove from national politics.

A warrior society

During the unsettled times of the 'age of forays' (Linn nan Creach) in consequence of the suppression of the Lordship of the Isles in 1493, raiding and warfare had become endemic within Highland society.

The organizational structure of clan society produced men whose main function was fighting and the development of a lucrative trade in mercenaries for an expanding Irish market intensified this trend.

As the Breadalbane Letters show, a combination of social and economic pressures with a strong military ethos and available manpower made violence an accepted part of everyday life.

Within the Highlands most violence was small-scale and raiding was primarily economic. A cattle raid concentrated upon the capture of resources while other forays burned crops and laid waste settlements to drive the inhabitants from their lands. The expansion of the Glenorchy Campbells was due in part to this raiding which deprived rivals of their income thus increasing their debts and made them vulnerable to takeover.

Sometimes people were deliberately attacked, with bloodfeuds targeting specific individuals or groups of kin. Only rarely would a terror campaign be pursued with random killings or the massacre of a whole community.

Warfare in the Campbell-MacGregor feud

The Campbell-MacGregor feud included all of these types of warfare, though most of the raiding was directed at seizing or destroying goods. The economic dislocation over a large swathe of the Central and Southern Highlands can be gauged in the numerous lists of goods and livestock stolen or property destroyed. [51]

Cailean Liath did not have sufficient military resources to prosecute the MacGregor feud and he needed help from his chief, his fellow clansmen and other allies within Argyll.

Despite his complaints about lukewarm support, they sent him substantial numbers of troops. The military effort was co-ordinated by the earl of Argyll and his council, but they did not take over the running of the feud itself. Cailean Liath was constantly consulted, usually by letter, and in person when that was possible. Several times the council worked out different options and gave Cailean Liath his choice between them. [52]

The numbers of men offered varied widely depending on the progress of the feud and other military commitments, the tasks the men would undertake and the length of time they might stay. In July 1565, when Argyll was involved in the Chase-about Raid, he told Cailean Liath he would send 1,000 or more men. [53] Much smaller groups were also discussed, as when Cailean Liath complained in October 1563 that 40 men were not enough. [54]

Small numbers sometimes referred to the gentlemen, clan warriors accompanied by their own followers, such as Stewart of Appin's promise to send Glenorchy 18 men under their named captains who would be ready 'with als abill men of sa mony as beis in the cuntray'. [55] A Captain would normally command his own kin and clansmen. [56]

Based on a land assessment or tax system, the Campbells and their allies agreed upon an efficient method of raising troops: one man for every merkland to serve for 8-10 or 20 days. This combined the obligations to a clan chief of hosting with those of feudal tenure. [57]

The troops were organised under the three districts of Lorn, Mid-Argyll and Cowal and 120 men were sent in 1565 from each district on a monthly rotation. [58] Most soldiers fought on foot, but the earl of Argyll did have some light cavalry which Cailean Liath wanted to have ready to call upon in August 1565. [59]

They carried different armour and weapons depending upon their function and social status. Padded habergeons, or aketons as shown on West Highland grave slabs, or sometimes plate armour might be worn and great swords carried by the more affluent gentlemen and captains, [60] whilst ordinary soldiers would be equipped with targes and swords, Lochaber axes or bows and arrows.

Small firearms were also used and were listed in the graith or armour and weapons kept in the Glenorchy's castles c.1600 and muster rolls of 1638. [61]

In June 1570 Cailean Liath was upset to discover that the MacGregors were better equipped than Argyll's men, having 'culveringis [small hand gun] haberschonis and uthir armour'. [62]

Protecting the homeland

Throughout the campaign Cailean Liath needed to protect his extensive lands against raiding. Though a string of garrisons was suggested, it would have required a large number of troops raised by the stent or tax system. [63]

Another method was to block the westward passes into Argyll and drive the MacGregors east, where they would be prevented from taking the ferries across the Rivers Tay and the Tummel and forced into the arms of Atholl's men. [64]

Cailean Liath's fundamental difficulty was that the MacGregors adopted guerilla tactics, raiding and then hiding. As Cailean Liath did not tire of reminding the 5th earl, some of these refuges were in Argyllshire and the MacGregors were being assisted by the earl's followers, such as Alexander MacNaughton of Dunderarve. [65]

The MacGregors were able to sustain their military efforts because they received supplies and could sell their stolen goods in the Central Highlands and borderlands with the Lowlands.

Shaky alliances

Cailean Liath sought to counter raids with raids and hired other clan leaders, such as Ranald MacDonald of Keppoch and Donald MacEwan Cameron, to harry the MacGregors. [66]

Using other clans created problems, since inter-clan rivalries made gathering a single force hazardous. [67] Initiating raiding proved a double-edged weapon when the Camerons who had been hired to fight the MacGregors attacked Atholl's tenants instead. [68]

Troops might also attack their own allies, as happened in the 'mischance' of July 1570. In a case of mistaken identity some of Cailean Liath's men, thinking they had found MacGregors, killed a party of Atholl's troops whilst they were asleep. The men of Atholl were narrowly prevented from invading Glenorchy's lands in retaliation and relations between Cailean Liath and the earl were strained almost to breaking point. [69]

Cailean Liath was in the unusual position of requiring military assistance because his territorial expansion had outstripped his own resources. To supply his military needs he turned to his fellow Highlanders rather than his Lowland kin, such as the Ruthvens who were later famous as mercenaries in Scandinavia. He was fortunate that the unity and cohesion of Clan Campbell could supply him with the manpower he needed.

And finally

What became of the Campbells of Glenorchy? [70] Black Duncan, the son of Cailean Liath was knighted in 1590 and then created 1st baronet of Glenorchy in the Baronetage of Nova Scotia in 1625.

Sir John Campbell, 5th Baronet of Glenorchy, as a principal creditor, "acquired" the estates of the heavily indebted George Sinclair, 6th Earl of Caithness who had died without issue in 1670. Campbell was consequently created Earl of Caithness in 1673, but after much litigation and even bloodshed, George Sinclair of Keiss (died 1698), second son of George, 5th Earl of Caithness (died 1643), recovered the estates, and successfully petitioned parliament regarding the earldom. Sinclair's title was finally restored to him in 1681. Deprived by parliament of the Caithness earldom, Sir John Campbell, 5th Baronet, was compensated by being elevated as Lord Glenorchy, Benederaloch, Ormelie and Weick, Viscount of Tay and Paintland, and 1st Earl of Breadalbane and Holland in the peerage of Scotland on 13 August 1681.

When John Campbell of Carwhin succeeded as the 4th Earl he spent a fortune rebuilding Taymouth in order, it has been said, to overshadow the Duke of Argyll’s seat at Inveraray. One thousand , two hundred and thirty eight of his tenants turned out to act as his private army on the visit of Prince Leopold of the Belgians to his new castle in 1819. Later, in 1831, the 4th Earl, was made Earl of Ormelie and Marquess of Breadalbane in the Peerage of the United Kingdom. When Queen Victoria and Prince Albert came to stay in 1842, the Marquess, summoned his tenants again but was upset to find that only 200 turned out. His embarrassed factor had to explain that most of the original tenants had been cleared from his lands and gone to America.

The barony of Breadalbane, earldom of Ormelie and marquessate became extinct on the death without a son of the 2nd Marquess in 1862, he was succeeded as 6th Earl of Breadalbane by his fourth cousin John Campbell of Glenfalloch. At this time the estate amounted to nearly half a million acres, but his son had a gambling wife and an extravagant lifestyle. In 1885, the titles of Earl of Ormelie, in the County of Caithness, and Marquess of Breadalbane in the Peerage of the United Kingdom were recreated for the 7th earl, but these titles became extinct on his death in 1922.

The huge Taymouth Castle and estate were sold by the 9th Earl shortly after the end of the First World War due to mountainous debts. Perhaps in fulfillment of the prophecy of the famous 18th century seer, the Lady of Lawers, today the Campbells of Glenorchy do not own one inch of the once vast land holdings, stretching from Lorn to Aberfeldy, amassed by their greedy, grasping ancestors. The 10th and last Earl of Breadalbane died childless in 1995 when the titles became dormant.

Taymouth Castle on the site of Balloch


BBT - The Black Book of Taymouth. The family history of the Campbells of Glenorchy, the Black Book of Taymouth and a selection of other documents from the Breadalbane Collection were edited by Cosmo Innes and published by the Bannatyne Club in 1855, and subsequent reprints -

Breadalbane Papers GD112 in Scottish Record Office

Dawson, Jane (Ed), Clan Campbell Letters, 1559-83 (Scottish History Society, 5th ser. Vol 10, Edinburgh, 1997).

Dawson, Jane The Breadalbane Collection, an eclectic gathering of 16th century documents of the Campbells of Glenorchy, which provides a unique insight into Scottish life during the early modern period., Edinburgh University School of Divinity,

MacGregor, Martin A political history of the MacGregors before 1571, unpublished PhD thesis, Edinburgh University 1989


[1] Black Book of Taymouth pp.35-6

[2] eg GD112/39/6/20

[3] GD112/39/4/26

[4] letters from Agnes and James GD112/39/3/6 &7

[5] GD112/39/1/4

[6] GD112/39/3/13; 3/16; 3/25; 4/1; 4/10; 11/4; 11/7

[7] eg GD112/39/6/31; 7/18; 8/16 & 17

[8] GD112/39/2/12; 6/26

[9] e.g. GD112/39/14/2

[10] GD112/39/11/18

[11] GD112/39/12/3

[12] GD112/39/6/26

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

[14] GD112/39/1/5&6

[15] See Martin MacGregor Chapter I, for an examination of the origins of Clan Gregor

[16] GD112/39/1/1 & 2

[17] His will was registered with the Edinburgh commissary court on 3 April 1584 (NAS CC8/8/13 fos. 133r-38r)

[18] Black Book of Taymouth 23 & 126

[19] GD112/39/9/20

[20] GD112/39/15/18

[21] GD112/39/2/4; 7/18; 10/1

[22] GD112/39/6/16 & 7/19

[23] 25 Mar 1553, GD112/1/837

[24] GD112/39/10/5

[25] GD112/39/6/27; 12/16; 14/2

[26] GD112/39/12/3

[27] GD112/39/1/4; 5/19

[28] GD112/39/9/2; 12/15

[29] GD112/39/5/21

[30] GD112/39/2/5 & 12/5

[31] GD112/39/15/1; 15/5; 15/7

[32] GD112/39/1/5 & 6; 3/3; 4/16&17; 4/22; 5/14; 10/8

[33] GD112/39/3/1

[34] GD112/39/15/9

[35] GD112/39/4/7

[36] GD112/39/15/5 & 8

[37] GD112/39/15/8

[38] GD112/39/11/19

[39] GD112/39/9/2; 12/15

[40] GD112/39/5/21; 8/6

[41] (Glencoe's bond to serve against MacGregors, 6 May 1563, GD112/1/131; BBT 208)

[42] GD112/39/2/1 & 8

[43] Martin MacGregor Chapter VI, part i 1550-1562

[44] 24 Nov. 1562, GD112/1/122

[45] Martin MacGregor Chapter VI, part ii 1562-1566

[46] GD112/39/2/25; 3/6-8; 3/19; 3/29

[47] Cailean Liath to 5th earl - 9 July 1565 GD112/39/4/12

[48] Black Book of Taymouth 23

[49]   (A complete Gaelic text and English translation can be found in 'Griogal Cridhe' in M. MacGregor, 'Surely one of the greatest poems ever made in Britain': The Lament for Griogair Ruadh MacGregor of Glen Strae and its Historical Background' in The Polar Twins eds. E.J.Cowan & D. Gifford (Edinburgh, 1999) 114-53.)

[50] GD112/39/12/14; 14/1

[51] for eg 30 June 1565, GD112/2/117/3/46; 12 June 1569, GD112/1/178, 178a

[52] GD112/39/3/13; 6/25

[53] GD112/39/4/9

[54] GD112/39/2/20

[55] GD112/397/9

[56] A 'gentill man....cann nocht lippin to [i.e. trust] wnknawin men so well as to thair awyin men'Argyll to Kate29 Jan 1565, GD112/39/3/15

[57] eg GD112/39/7/3; 8/6

[58] GD112/39/4/2

[59] GD112/39/4/19

[60]   as shown in the illustrations of Cailean Liath and his forbears from BBT

[61] Black Book of Taymouth, 335-41, 391-404

[62] GD112/39/7/8

[63] GD112/39/9/9

[64] GD112/39/3/5

[65] GD112/39/9/21

[66] GD112/39/3/17; 5/21; 9/2

[67] GD112/39/8/6

[68] GD112/39/5/21; 12/15

[69] GD112/39/8/19; 8/22; 9/1; 9/4; 9/8