Home Page John Wilson Related Sites Acknowledgements Send a message Email about the diary Start from January 1st

November 11th 1432

Previous day Next day

The Rise and Fall of the Breadalbanes

The Campbells of Glenorchy came originally from the west but with succeeding generations they pushed further and further east acquiring new possessions as they went.

They had all the right qualities for an ambitious dynasty, they were intelligent, ruthless, cruel and single minded. Under Grey Colin the 6th Laird, for instance, the hunting down of the McGregor clan was pursued with ferocity and efficiency. At the same time the traditional McGregor lands were quietly taken under the control of the Campbells. His son, Black Duncan of the Cowl, even more ruthless than his father, acquired by marriage lands in Menteith, Glendochart and Glenlochy. He bought other lands in Glenlyon and Glenfalloch and to keep his possessions safe from marauders he erected no less than seven castles on different parts of his estates.

The apparently irresistible rise in the family fortunes received a bloody setback in 1645 when Montrose with his army of McGregors, McNabs, and McDonalds, swept through Breadalbane. Almost all the houses were destroyed, the cattle driven away, the corn burned and every man found with arms killed. The damage done to the Glenorchy estate was estimated at the time to be above £60,000 and the family sank heavily into debt.

Twelve years after this disaster young John Campbell, following a lightning romance, married Lady Mary Rich daughter of the Earl of Holland and secured with her a dowry of £10,000. He became in due course the 1st Earl of Breadalbane and set about restoring the fortunes and influence of the family. He was described by a contemporary as “cunning as a fox, wise as a serpent but as slippery as an eel.”  He was possibly involved in the massacre of Glencoe. He was certainly disliked and feared and as Lord Macauley was later to write he “he had the barbarous pride and ferocity of a Highland chief”  while “in the Council Chambers at Edinburgh he had contracted the deep taint of treachery and corruption.” 

These strictures may well have been true but they were occasioned to a large extent by the Earl’s desire to keep in with the Hanoverians while at the same time supporting the Jacobites. In 1715 he was unable to dissemble any longer, and Breadalbane Campbells fought bravely and effectively at the battle of Sheriffmuir. Politically this was to prove a disaster, but by now the Earl was over eighty and was to die in the following year. The estates were put under the control of Commissioners and it was 1733 before the second Earl resumed possession.

The lessons had been learned and thereafter the family remained convinced Hanovarians. During the ’45 every attempt was made to dissuade tenants from joining the forces of the Prince. As a consequence both the Earl and his people escaped the dire consequences that befell other parts of the Highlands after Culloden. A change had come over the family. A realisation that the old days of land acquisition by conquest had passed. A realisation too that wealth was no longer to be measured by the numbers of men who could be called upon to bear arms for the family quarrels. Wealth was to be measured by the possession of land and the uses to which it could be put.

The 2nd Earl introduced flax growing and established lint mills throughout Lochtayside, lead mines were opened at Tyndrum and afforestation was undertaken. The work was carried on by the 3rd Earl who was also instrumental in introducing new and more efficient ways of farming. The 4th Earl who later became the 1st Marquis of Breadalbane was chiefly remembered for the construction of Taymouth Castle. The old castle at Balloch had been demolished in 1799 and the new castle completed in 1807 at enormous expense. Perhaps indeed this was the high point in the family fortunes. When the 1st Marquis died, much loved and mourned by his people, he handed on a prosperous well run estate to his son John.

John was a different man to his father, a man of great pride but little warmth, whose attitude towards his people was that of a landlord with only a landlord’s obligations to them. He evicted large numbers to make way for sheep farms. He spent much money in a vain search for minerals in Lochtayside. Though married, he failed to produce an heir and after his death in 1862 it was five years before he was succeeded by William Campbell, a fourth cousin twice removed. Even so it was a close run thing and the decision was only confirmed by the casting vote of the Lord Chancellor when the case finally went to the House of Lords. It all revolved around the possible irregularity of the marriage between John’s grandparents.

John’s grandfather, James, as a young ensign was stationed at Chipping Sodbury in Gloucester. There he fell in love with Elizabeth who was married to Christopher Ludlow who carried on business as a grocer and apothecary. Elizabeth already had an infant son but she left both son and husband to run off with James. Three years late Christopher Ludlow died. James and Elizabeth went about as man and wife and were always accepted as such. However, when James died in 1806 leaving a son William and two daughters, Elizabeth found herself in a destitute situation and applied to the War Office for a pension. Unfortunately she was unable to produce a marriage certificate which she said had been lost at sea. She also maintained that the two witnesses to the marriage had died. Due to the intercession of the 4th Earl the Pension Authority granted Elizabeth a small pension until her death in 1828.

William later married and produced a son, John, who eventually became the 6th Earl of Breadalbane. He in turn was succeeded by his son Gavin, born somewhat unusually for Victorian times two years before his father’s marriage. Gavin became the 3rd Marquis, the greatest landowner in Britain with over 400,000 acres. He was considered to be a good landlord but already the wealth was seeping away. His wife was noted for her extravagance and after the first world war many of the lands in eastern Perthshire were sold off. Later, after his death more lands were sold to pay for the death duties. By 1946 all that was left of the vast estates were Kinnell House and a farm at Killin. These two have now also been sold.

As the Lady of Lawers prophesied over three hundred years ago “In time the estates of Balloch shall yield only one rent, then none at all and the last laird will pass over Glenogle leaving nothing behind.” 

Previous day Next day

Perthshire Diary Home | Author | Perthshire Links | Reference | Contact Us | Tell a friend | Browse