Argyll Sword

Sword of Archibald Campbell, 4th Earl of Argyll (in 1884 in the collection of the Antiquarian Museum, Edinburgh, now presumably in the care of the National Museum of Scotland).
Sword of Archibald Campbell, 4th Earl of Argyll (in 1884 in the collection of the Antiquarian Museum, Edinburgh, now presumably in the care of the National Museum of Scotland).

33 GEORGE SQUARE, EDINBURGH, 18th June 1884.

MY DEAR LORD ARCHIBALD,– It was not in my power to get to the Museum till yesterday, when I carefully examined the lately discovered sword. That it is in its original condition there can be no doubt. As little doubt can there be that the style of the hilt a form of basket considerably earlier than that with which we are familiar on Highland broadswords is in perfect accordance with the date engraved on the blade; or that that date, with the Argyll and Lorne achievement, and the device and legend also engraved thereon, are contemporaneous with the fabrication of the weapon.

You may assure Lord Lorne that the shield is all right,– 1st and 4th, gyronny of eight; 2d and 3d, lymphad.

With regard to the device on the reverse of the blade,– taken in connection with the legend, which, though much effaced, may be read, “God’s strength and the nations,”– I am inclined to think it is meant to represent a hand holding, not a dagger, but a sword, erect–  a “sword of the Lord and of Gideon” emblem! The armourer’s mark on the blade is not Eastern; and your first impression that the inscription was Arabic was no doubt due to the defective rendering obtained by a rubbing.

The extreme rarity of armorial bearings on Scottish, and especially on Highland weapons, fully warrants the inference that this sword was made for some personage of note; and I am not prepared to say that in assuming that it belonged to the Earl of Argyll of the period, you would overstrain the significance of the fact that it is engraved with the full heraldic achievement of his house.

From Dr Anderson I learnt that many years ago a number of old swords were presented to the Society of Antiquaries by the Town Council of Edinburgh, but that it is no longer possible to identify the weapons so presented. Could it be proved that this sword was one of these, an important link in its history would be supplied. The circumstances connected with the end of Archibald, the ninth earl, would rather lead to than discourage the impression that it might have been the sword of that ill-fated nobleman, taken possession of by the civil authorities here.

Yesterday I met Ian Islay in Princes Street, and told him of the sword, which he promised to go and see to-day. You may probably hear from him in regard to it. I send this memorandum to you, as you requested, so that you may make such use of it as you may deem advisable. In very great haste.– Faithfully yours,


John Campbell of the Bank

John Campbell of the Bank, 1759 (or 1749). All “modern tartans” identified with the Clan Campbell are blue, green, and black. I am not aware of any red tartan which has been associated either historically or by the tartan mills with the Clan Campbell. This portrait just reinforces the truth that Highlanders simply wore what tartans were locally available or to their taste. John Campbell (c.1703-1777) was a Scottish banker and man of business. He worked for The Royal Bank of Scotland from its foundation in 1727, and was its cashier, 1745-77. He served as agent for his kinsmen the 2nd Earl of Breadalbane and Lord Glenorchy, keeping their estate accounts and acting as their representative for all types of business in Edinburgh. Campbell was a Gaelic-speaker with an interest in supporting the survival of the language. He read poetry and his diary suggests that he also wrote it, although no samples are known to survive. It is thought that he was one of the financial supporters of James Macpherson, in his search for the ‘lost’ Ossian cycle of poems.

John Campbell’s diary recounts how the Jacobite army took control of Edinburgh on 17 September 1745. On 1 October, Bonnie Prince Charlie’s secretary informed John Campbell that he had £857 of Royal Bank banknotes and wanted payment for them in gold. Upon failure to comply, the Jacobites would seize property from the Bank and its directors to the value of the notes.

It was not immediately easy for the Bank to comply, because all the Bank’s valuables, including its reserves of gold, had been moved to Edinburgh Castle for safekeeping during this time of turmoil. At first, it had been possible to get access to the Castle when necessary, but by this time the Castle – still in government hands – was locked down, while the rest of the city was under Jacobite control. Just a few days earlier, Campbell and some colleagues had been refused access to the castle, despite waiting at the gates for an hour.

Campbell sought and obtained a special pass from the Jacobite authorities permitting him to pass through the streets safely on his way to the castle. He also wrote ahead to the castle warning its commander that he would be asking for access. The commander implied he would be allowed in, but refused to put anything in writing.

Campbell, accompanied by colleagues and directors from the Bank, made his expedition to the castle on 3 October 1745. He successfully gained access, withdrew the gold to meet the Prince’s demands (which by now had risen to over £3,000), and more to meet any imminent further demands. He also destroyed a large quantity of unissued notes to remove the risk of them entering circulation and becoming an additional liability. While he worked, shooting went on between government forces in the Castle and Jacobites outside.

He paid the money to the Prince’s secretary at his office later that evening. The Jacobite army left Edinburgh on 1 November, marching on into England in a bid to claim the British throne. The army’s progress into England was funded in no small part by the gold it had received from The Royal Bank of Scotland.

Pro Rege et Patria

Full Dress of the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders; 2nd Lieutenant Donald Callander prior to joining the British Expeditionary Force in France in May 1940. The Battle of Dunkirk was the last time any Highland Battalion fought in the kilt.

Lachlan McPherson & Ewan McPherson

Lachlan McPherson & Ewan McPherson.

Lachlan McPherson and Ewan McPherson as depicted in watercolour by Kenneth MacLeay RSA and published in the work, The Highlanders of Scotland.

The Gleam of Steel Flashing in Their Faces

The Battle of Culloden (1746) by David Morier, oil on canvas.

Their arms were anciently the Glaymore, or great two-handed sword, and afterwards the two-edged sword and target, or buckler, which was sustained on the left arm. In the midst of the target, which was made of wood, covered with leather, and studded with nails, a slender lance, about two feet long, was sometimes fixed; it was heavy and cumberous, and accordingly has for some time past been gradually laid aside. Very few targets were at Culloden. The dirk, or broad dagger, I am afraid, was of more use in private quarrels than in battles. The Lochaber-ax is only a slight alteration of the old English bill.

After all that has been said of the force and terrour of the Highland sword, I could not find that the art of defence was any part of common education. The gentlemen were perhaps sometimes skilful gladiators, but the common men had no other powers than those of violence and courage. Yet it is well known, that the onset of the Highlanders was very formidable. As an army cannot consist of philosophers, a panick is easily excited by any unwonted mode of annoyance. New dangers are naturally magnified; and men accustomed only to exchange bullets at a distance, and rather to hear their enemies than see them, are discouraged and amazed when they find themselves encountered hand to hand, and catch the gleam of steel flashing in their faces.

The Highland weapons gave opportunity for many exertions of personal courage, and sometimes for single combats in the field; like those which occur so frequently in fabulous wars. At Falkirk, a gentleman now living, was, I suppose after the retreat of the King’s troops, engaged at a distance from the rest with an Irish dragoon. They were both skilful swordsmen, and the contest was not easily decided: the dragoon at last had the advantage, and the Highlander called for quarter; but quarter was refused him, and the fight continued till he was reduced to defend himself upon his knee. At that instant one of the Macleods came to his rescue; who, as it is said, offered quarter to the dragoon, but he thought himself obliged to reject what he had before refused, and, as battle gives little time to deliberate, was immediately killed.

– Samuel Johnson, A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (1775).

Sgt. James Sutherland, Adam Sutherland & Neil MacKay

Sgt. James Sutherland, Adam Sutherland & Neil MacKay.

Sgt. James Sutherland, Adam Sutherland & Neil MacKay as portrayed by Kenneth MacLeay in his masterwork The Highlanders of Scotland.