According to legend the first ancestor of the Cambells appears in the eleventh or twelfth Century , Smevie or Mervvn, son of Arthur, who became known as ‘the Wildman of the Woods’. A name given probably to acknowledge him as a great hunter. Some say he was the son of the Legendary Arthur. There is no evidence to back this story up. The name Campbell did not come till several generations later.
The origin of the Campbells like most Scots are a blend of races. The Campbells are historically a powerful family, during the 16th to 18th Centuries they were one of the leading families in Argyll and Perthshire. For over 450 years from 1457 onwards, the Chiefs of Clan Campbell have played important roles within the government of Scotland.
Many Cambells share the Gaelic/Scots blood of the Dalriadic O’Duibne people who were based in Lochawe in the 13th century. The descent of the Campell family is also said to come from the Britonic Celts of Strathclyde, this is sometimes called the “Romano British”. The Britonic Celts are from the northwestern part of the early “Kingdom of Strathclyde”.
To the northeast of Scotland lies Aberdeenshire and the county of Argyll, the county is where the Cambell family came to have a seat of power. Argyll covers an immense area at around 100 miles in length and slightly less in width, including inhabited islands and over 1000 miles of coastline.
First Campbell Ancestors
Tradition tells that the first of the Cambell ancestors (at that time not called Cambell) who came to Argyll and married the heiress of the O’Duibne tribe, a lady called Eva, daughter of Paul an Sporran. They lived beside Lochawe.
The first occurrence of the name Cambel (how it was originally spelt) found in surviving records owned land near Stirling in 1263. For a Cambel in Argyll the first records date from 1293 for Duncan Dubh, a landowner from Kintyre. Written records for Cambels in Lochawe date from 1296 where it is documented that Sir Cailein (Great Colin) of Lochawe was killed after being attacked by Clan Dougall.
The Cambels of Lochawe were well established in this area and at that time at least two other Cambels were land owners in Argyll, these being Sir Thomas of Kintyre and Sir Duncan Dubh.
The name Cambell
Officially the first time the name Cambell was used was in Lochawe in 1445 in the titling of Lord Cambell. Sir Sir Cailein Mor Campbell’s grandfather Dugald on Lochawe was first given the nickname “Cam Beul” as he supposidly used to speak out of one side of his mouth. ‘Cam beul’ means curved mouth in the Gaelic. Duncan was so dearly loved by his family that they contined with his nickname as their own family. It is an interesting ‘coincidence’ that the Earl of Orknet who died in 1020 was also called ‘Einar Wry-Mouth’. One explanation could be the medical explanation of Torticollis, in Latin ‘Tori’ means’ twisted’ and ‘Collis’ means ‘neck’, or ‘wry neck’. This condition causes the head to tilt to one side and the chin and mouth to be turned the other producing a ‘Cam beul’ or curved mouth.
The spelling of the surname (family name) was originally Cambel. It was not until Robert the Bruce’s son King David came to the throne as King of Scots that this changed to be spelt Campbell. While in power King David brought a number of Norman knights with him in an attempt to introduce Norman efficiency through administration. It was more likely to have been a result of this that caused the spelling of “Campbell” from ”Cambel” rather than Gaelic scribes attempting to write the Gaelic name.
The family home had been the strong castle covering an entire, small, Loch Awe island called Innis Chonaill. Behind it climbs the peaks of Cruachan Beann, the hills from which the Campbells took their war cry. The 1st Earl of Argyll, however, moved in 1474 to Inveraray on Loch Fyne. He was instrumental in destroying the power of his long-time rivals the MacDonalds, Lords of the Isles.
By the time of the 8th Earl the Campbells were aiding the Calvinists in their persecution of Highland Catholics. Then in 1644 Montrose arrived, and with the Catholics, MacLeans, MacDonalds and other victims of the Campbells behind him, turned the tables for a time.
At Inverlochy the following year, the clan suffered its greatest single defeat in history. William of Orange, brought in by 1688, restored the family estates and raised the 10th Earl to dukedom.
The present chief is the thirteenth Duke of Argyll, Torquhil Campbell.