Campbell, John, first Earl of Breadalbane 1635-1716, was descended from the Glenorchy branch of the Campbell family, and was the only son of Sir John Campbell, tenth laird of Glenorchy, and Lady Mary Graham, daughter of William, earl of Strathearn. He actively assisted the rising under Glencairn for Charles II, which was suppressed by General Monck in 1654. Afterwards he entered into communications with General Monck, and strongly urged him to declare for a free parliament in order to obtain formal assent to the king's restoration. In the first parliament after the Restoration he sat as member for Argyllshire. His abilities at an early period won him considerable influence in the highlands, but he owed the chief rise in his fortunes to his pecuniary relations with George, sixth earl of Caithness. Being principal creditor of that nobleman, who had become hopelessly involved in debt, he obtained from him on 8 Oct. 1672 a deposition of his whole estates and earldom, with heritable jurisdictions and titles of honour, on condition that he took on himself the burden of the earl's debts. He was in consequence duly infeoffed in the lands and earldom on 27 Feb. 1673, the earl of Caithness reserving his life-rent of the title. On the death of the earl, Sir John Campbell obtained a patent creating him earl of Caithness, dated at Whitehall 25 June 1677. His right to the title and estates was, however, disputed by George Sinclair of Keiss, the earl's nephew and heir male, who also took forcible possession of his paternal lands of Keiss, Tester, and Northfield, which had been included in the deposition. The sheriff decided, as regards these estates, in favour of Campbell, and on Sinclair declining to remove, Campbell obtained on 7 June 1680 an order from the privy council against him, and defeated his followers at Wick with great slaughter. In July of the following year the privy council, under the authority of a reference from parliament, declared Sinclair entitled to the dignity of earl of Caithness, and in September following it was also found that he had been unwarrantably deprived of his paternal lands. The claims to the earldom of Caithness being thus decided in favour of Sinclair, Sir John Campbell on 13 Aug. 1681 obtained another patent creating him, instead, earl of Breadalbane and Holland, viscount of Tay and Pentland, lord Glenurchy, Benederaloch, Ormelie and Wick, with the precedency of the former patent. On the accession of James II in 1685 he was created a privy councillor.?1?1c6tú0k*A'AÛ£`g5T
At the time of the revolution Breadalbane was, next to his kinsman, the Earl of Argyll, the most powerful of the highland nobles, while he was not regarded by the other clans with the same uncompromising hostility as Argyll. His greed was indeed notorious, and his double-faced cunning made him feared and distrusted by many of the chiefs, but his actions were not like those of the Argylls, regulated by lowland opinion, and he was not the recognised representative of lowland authority. He was not therefore regarded by the chiefs as an alien, and his remarkable talents had gained him a great ascendency throughout all the northern regions. According to the Master of Sinclair, he was ‘reckoned the best headpiece in Scotland’ (Memoirs, p. 260), and no one had a more thorough understanding both of the characters of the different chiefs and of the various springs by which to influence their conduct. He is described by Macky (Memorials, p. 199) as ‘of fair complexion, of the gravity of a Spaniard, cunning as a fox, wise as a serpent, and supple as an eel,’ and as knowing ‘neither honour nor religion but where they are mixed with interest.’ Of this last characteristic there is striking illustration in the fact that, though a presbyterian by profession, he marched in 1678 into the lowlands with 1,700 claymores for the purpose of supporting the prelatical tyranny (Burnet, Own Time, ii. 88). His course at the revolution was of a very tortuous character. There is undoubted evidence that he was in constant communication with Dundee, although he was too wary to commit himself openly and irrevocably to the cause of James II. As early as 23 July 1689, or only six days after the battle of Killiecrankie, he seems, however, to have recognised the irretrievable character of the disaster that had befallen that cause in Dundee's death, and was expressing through Sir John Dalrymple his anxiety to serve King William. This was met by Dalrymple with the advice ‘that the best way to show his sincerity was to cause the clans to come in, take the allegiance, and give the first example himself’ (Leven and Melville Papers, p. 256). In the September following he began to act on this advice, and along with other highland noblemen took advantage of the act of indemnity. His adhesion was a matter of prime importance to the government, for a rising in the highlands, unsupported by him, could not be regarded as formidable. The government were well aware that his sincere co-operation in their purposes could be secured only by a powerful appeal to his self-interest. When, therefore, a large sum of money, according to some accounts 20,000l., was placed in his hands in order to bribe the clans to submission, it must have been understood that a considerable proportion of the plunder would fall to his share. At any rate, he had decided objections to enter into details as to how he had disposed of the money, answering, in reply to the inquiry of the Earl of Nottingham, ‘The money is spent, the highlands are quiet, and this is the only way of accounting among friends.’ As early as March 1690 King William mooted to Lord Melville the advisability of gaining Breadalbane, even at a high price, in order to secure the submission of the highlands (ib. p. 421). In accordance with these instructions Breadalbane received from Melville an order to treat with the highlanders on 24 April 1690, but negotiations hung fire over a year, although on 17 Sept. 1690 Breadalbane wrote a letter expressing his anxiety to have the highlands quiet, on the ground that he had been ‘a very great sufferer by the present dissolute condition it is in’ (ib. 530). Even at the conference which he held with the chiefs in June 1691 his proposals were received with much distrust, most of them believing that, if he possessed the money, ‘he would find a way to keep a good part of it to himself’ (ib. 623), but by signing certain ‘Private Articles’ (Papers illustrative of the Condition of the Highlands, p. 22), making the agreement null if an invasion happened from abroad or a rising occurred in other parts of the kingdom, he succeeded in inducing them to suspend hostilities till the following October. Matters having been brought so far, a proclamation was issued on 27 Aug. offering indemnity to all who had been in arms, but requiring them to swear the oath in presence of a civil judge before 1 Jan. 1692, if they would escape the penalties of treason and of military execution (proclamation in Papers illustrative of Condition of the Highlands, pp. 35-7). The proclamation enabled Breadalbane to extort the submission of the chiefs at a smaller pecuniary cost than would otherwise have been possible. By the influence of mingled cajolery, bribes, and threats, their resistance to his proposals was at last overcome, and all of them submitted within the prescribed time, with the exception of MacIan, chief of the Macdonalds of Glencoe, who had private reasons of his own for objecting to any settlement with the government. Until 31 Dec. MacIan manifested no signs of yielding, and when he at last saw the hopelessness of his resolve, and went to tender the oath at Fort William, he found no one there to administer it, the nearest magistrate being the sheriff at Inverary. He set out thither with all haste, and by vehement entreaties, backed up by a letter from Colonel Hill, the governor of Fort William, induced the sheriff to accept his oath. Breadalbane had now an opportunity of reaping exemplary vengeance on the wild robber clan which in its barren fastnesses had for generations subsisted chiefly by depredations on his own and the neighbouring estates. Sir John Dalrymple, master of Stair [q.v.], was equally eager to destroy the band of mountain robbers, and the atrocious scheme contrived was in all probability his suggestion, although Breadalbane must have given advice, while Argyll [see Campbell, Archibald, tenth earl and first duke] also lent it his hearty support. The infamy of the massacre of Glencoe on 13 Feb. 1692 must be shared by all the three noblemen, and if Dalrymple was chiefly responsible, his motives were undoubtedly the purest, while Argyll had had less provocation than Breadalbane. Breadalbane had acted with such circumspection that when in 1695 a commission was issued to inquire into the massacre, no tangible evidence was discovered against him, beyond the deposition that a person professing to be an emissary of his chamberlain, Campbell of Balcadden, had waited on MacIan's sons to obtain their signatures to a paper declaring that Breadalbane was guiltless of the massacre, with the promise that if they did so the earl would use all his influence to procure their pardon. In the course of their inquiries the commission discovered the existence of Breadalbane's ‘Private Articles’ of agreement with the highland chiefs, and in consequence he was on 10 Sept. committed to Edinburgh castle, but King William's privity being proved, he shortly afterwards received his liberty. He held himself aloof from the negotiations regarding the treaty of union in 1706-7, and did not even attend parliament. Notwithstanding the part that he had taken in obtaining the submission of the highlands, he gave secret encouragement to the French descent in regard to which Colonel Hooke was at this time sounding the highland chiefs. Hooke reported, ‘I am well satisfied with my negotiation, for though Lord Broadalbin would not sign any paper, I found him as hearty in the cause as can be wished. He promises to do everything that can be expected from a man of his weight, is truly zealous for the service of his majesty, as he will show as soon as he shall hear of his being landed’ (Hooke's Negotiations (1760), p. 66). He was a representative peer in parliament in 1713. On the news of the intended rising in behalf of the Pretender in 1714, Breadalbane retired to one of his most inaccessible fortresses, from which his escape was prevented by stationing guards over the passes. On being charged to appear between 1 Sept. and 23 Jan. 1715 at Edinburgh or elsewhere, to find security for his conduct, he sent a pathetic certificate signed by a physician and the clergyman of Kenmore, dated Taymouth Castle 1 Sept. 1715, testifying that on account of the infirmities of old age he was unable to travel without danger to health and life. Next day he appeared at Mar's camp at Logierait. According to the Master of Sinclair, Lord Drummond, who was entrusted with the undertaking, had orders to communicate all to Breadalbane and take his advice (Memoirs, p. 260). Breadalbane was quite willing to give the best advice he could, provided he did not compromise himself, and at any rate had no objection to reap what pecuniary advantage might be offered him by the court of St. Germains. ‘His business,’ as the Master of Sinclair expressed it, ‘was to trick others, not to be trickt.’ He had engaged to raise twelve hundred men to join the clans, but although his memory was refreshed by sending him money to raise them, he only sent three hundred. Afterwards he paid a visit to the camp at Perth, seeking more money. ‘His extraordinary character and dress,’ says the Master of Sinclair, ‘made everybody run to see him, as if he had been a spectacle. Among others my curiosity led me. He was the meriest grave man I ever saw, and no sooner was told anybody's name, than he had some pleasant thing to say of him, mocked the whole, and had a way of laughing inwardly that was very perceptible’ (ib. p. 185). After the battle of Sheriffmuir ‘his three hundred men went home,’ and ‘his lordship too cunning not to see through the whole affair; we never could promise much on his friendship’ (ib. p. 260). The lukewarmness of his support of the Pretender and his early withdrawal of the small force delivered the government from the necessity of inquiring into his conduct. He died in 1716, in his eighty-first year. He married first on 17 Dec. 1657 Lady Mary Rich, third daughter of Henry, first earl of Holland. By this lady he had two sons: Duncan, styled Lord Ormelie, who survived his father, but was passed over in the succession, and John, in his father's lifetime styled Lord Glenurchy, who became second earl of Breadalbane. Of this nobleman, born 1662, died 1752, known by the nickname of ‘Old Rag,’ Sir Walter Scott, in a note to the Master of Sinclair's ‘Memoirs,’ p. 185, states that there were many anecdotes current of too indelicate a kind for publication. His son, John (1696-1782) [q.v.], became third earl. The second wife of John, first earl of Breadalbane, was Lady Mary Campbell, third daughter of Archibald, marquis of Argyll, dowager of George, sixth earl of Caithness, by whom he had a son, Honourable Colin Campbell of Ardmaddie. By a third wife he had a daughter, Lady Mary, married to Archibald Campbell of Langton.

     Crawford's Peerage of Scotland, 46-7;
     Douglas's Peerage of Scotland, i. 238-9;
     Papers illustrative of the Highlands of Scotland (Maitland Club, 1845);
     Sir John Dalrymple's Memoirs; Sinclair Memoirs (Abbotsford Club, 1858);
     Leven and Melville Papers (Bannatyne Club, 1843);
     Lockhart Papers, 1817;
     Macky's Memorials of Secret Services; Culloden Papers;
     Memoirs of Sir Ewen Cameron (Abbotsford Club, 1842);
     Gallienus Redivivus; or, Murder will out, 1692;
     The Massacre of Glenco: being a true narrative of the barbarous murder of the Glencomen in the Highlands of Scotland, by way of Military Execution, on 13 Feb. 1692: containing the Commission under the Great Seal of Scotland for making an Enquiry into the Horrid Murder, the Proceedings of the Parliament of Scotland upon it, the Report of the Commissioners upon the Enquiry laid before the King and Parliament, and the Address of the Parliament to King William for Justice on the Murderers: faithfully extracted from the Records of Parliament, 1703;
     An Impartial Account of some of the Transactions in Scotland concerning the Earl of Breadalbin, Viscount and Master of Stair, Glenco-men, Bishop of Galloway, and Mr. Duncan Robertson, in a letter to a friend, 1695;
     State Trials, xiii. 879-915;
     Fountainhall's Historical Notices of Scottish Affairs (Bannatyne Club, 1848);
     Rep. of Hist. MSS. Comm. iv. 511-5, 524; MSS. Add. 23125, 23138, 23242, 23246-8, 23250, containing his letters to the Duke and Duchess of Lauderdale and to Charles II;
     Hill Burton's Hist. of Scotland; Macaulay's History.

Contributor: T. F. H. [Thomas Finlayson Henderson]

Published:     1886