Glenorchy Charm-stone of Breadalbane

Charmstone, owned by the Campbells of Glenorchy, Argyllshire; National Museums Scotland.
Charmstone, owned by the Campbells of Glenorchy, Argyllshire; National Museums Scotland.

[A]ne stone of the quantitie of half a hen’s egg sett in silver, being flatt at the ane end and round at the vther end lyke a peir, quhilk Sir Coline Campbell first Laird of Glenvrquhy woir quhen he faught in battell at the Rhodes agaynst the Turks, he being one of the Knychtis of the Rhodes.

From a 1640 “Inventory of Plenissing” of Taymouth Castle, contained in the Black Book of Taymouth.

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According to the National Museums Scotland record of the object, the Glenorchy Charm-stone of Breadalbane (catalogued as “Charmstone, owned by the Campbells of Glenorchy, Argyllshire;” ID 000-100-002-959-C) may date from the 7th or 8th century. The rock crystal, which is damaged on one side, is presently set in a 17th century silver mount (70 mm H x 45 mm W), the rim of which is decorated with four stones of red coral alternating with four silver balls/bosses. It has a bail allowing the charm to be suspended from a chain.

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There are a number of crystal balls held by various Highland families, a surprising number of whom are Campbells. They share common magical properties such as the miraculous cure of humans and animals and the guarantee of safe return from travel or war. None is very large, two inches in diameter at most; some are or have been mounted in metal and some are unadorned. One or two are displayed as the centrepiece in large and complicated silver brooches.

Their origin is a mystery. According to G. F. Black (Letter to Oban Times, 30 April 1938), the crystals date from the Late Iron Age. They originate from China and have always had occult powers; some of the have later been ‘turned’ by the Church to Christian purposes and incorporated into reliquaries. Around twenty examples have been found in graves in England mostly of the Anglo-Saxon period and three or four in Ireland. There have been examples in Denmark, Germany, and France.

How they got here is unknown for certain, and why they should be clustered in the Highlands, particularly the West Highlands, and why so many should be in the Campbell hands is very strange. It is tempting to see the Middle East and the Crusades as a possible way for them to have found their way here, but this would not fit with the statement that the English examples dated from the Anglo-Saxon period, and when I asked Sir Steven Runciman, the great authority on the Crusades, whether he had ever come across anything of the kind, his answer was a decided ‘no’.

In fact, in two cases the stones are said to come from the Middle East. The Ardvorlich stone is said by Simpson to have been brought back by an ancestor from the Crusades — this would have to been one of the early Stewarts of what was to become the Royal Line, unless of course it was through the distaff side — and the Breadalbane stone was said to have been brought back from Rhodes by Sir Colin Campbell, which was after the end of the Crusades as such.


The Breadalbane charmstone. Claimed to cure ills, protect its devotees and bring them safe home. Some years ago, I was sent a small notebook by Miss Thelma Lewis, lately companion to Armorer, Countess of Breadalbane. It contained an account of material on the family including the sad tale of a young man in the 6th Black Watch during the First World War. On the eve of his departure, he went up to the castle to pay his respects to Lord Breadalbane, who got out the charmstone and, according to ancient custom, dipped it in a glass of water from which they both drank to the young man’s safe return. On this occasion, the charm did not work. Breadalbane had previously taken the stone with him as a good-luck talisman on his tour of South Africa in 1896-7.

— Alastair Lorne Campbell of Airds, A History of Clan Campbell: Volume I: From Origins to Flodden, Edinburgh, 2000, Appendix 5, pp. 299-300.

Curator: Christian Clay Columba Campbell

Christian Clay Columba Campbell is a Roman Catholic of the Anglican Use. As Senior Warden of the Cathedral of the Incarnation (Orlando, FL), he organised the process by which the parish accepted the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, petitioning to join the Catholic Church. The Anglican Cathedral is now the Church of the Incarnation in the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. Personal queries should be directed to me at eccentricbliss dot com.

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