Remarks on the Origins of the Name CAMPBELL

John Keltie's notes on the Campbells included the following:

The name CAMPBELL is undoubtedly one of considerable antiquity, and the clan has for long been one of the most numerous and powerful in the Highlands, although many families have adopted the name who have no connection with the Campbells proper by blood or descent. The Argyll family became latterly so powerful that many smaller clans were absorbed in it voluntarily or compulsorily, and assumed in course of time its peculiar designation.

The origin of the name, as well as of the founder of the family, remains still a matter of the greatest doubt. The attempt to deduce the family from the half-mythical King Arthur, of course, is mere trifling. The name is sometimes stated to have been derived from a Norman knight, named de Campo Bello, who came to England with William the Conqueror. As respects the latter part of the statement, it is to be observed that in the list of all the knights who composed the army of the Conqueror on the occasion of his invasion of England, and which is known by the name of the Roll of Battle Abbey, the name of Campo Bello is not to be found.

It has been alleged, in opposition to this account, that in the oldest form of writing the name it is spelled Cambel or Kambel, and it is so found in many ancient documents; but these were written by parties not acquainted with the individuals whose name they record, as in the manuscript account of the Battle of Halidon Hill, by an unknown English writer, preserved in the British Museum; in the Ragman's Roll, which was compiled by an English clerk, and in Wyntoun's Chronicle.

There is no evidence, however, that at any period it was written by any of the family otherwise than as Campbell, notwithstanding the extraordinary diversity that occurs in the spelling of other names by their holders, as shown by Lord Lindsay in the account of his clan (this is an untenable claim, for "Cambel" is the most usual spelling before the 15th century, and the significance of orthography during this period is here clearly misunderstood - Editor); and the invariable employment of the letter pby the Campbells themselves would be of itself a strong argument for the southern origin of the name, did there not exist, in the record of the parliament of Robert Bruce held in 1320, the name of the then head of the family, entered as Sir Nigel de Campo Bello.

The writers, however, who attempt to sustain the fabulous tales of the sennachies, assign a very different origin to the name. It is personal, say they, "like that of some others of the Highland clans, being composed of the words cam, bent or arched, and beul, mouth; this having been the most prominent feature of the great ancestor of the clan, Diarmid O'Dubin or O'Duin, a brave warrior celebrated in traditional story, who was contemporary with the heroes of Ossian. In the Gaelic language his descendants are called Siol Diarmid, the offspring or race of Diarmid."

Besides the manifest improbability of this origin on other grounds, two considerations may be adverted to, each of them conclusive. First, it is known to all who have examined ancient genealogies that among the Celtic races personal distinctives never have become hereditary. Malcolm Canmore, Donald Bane, Rob Roy, or Evan Dhu, were, with many other names, distinctive of personal qualities, but none of them descended, or could do so, to the children of those who acquired them. Secondly, it is no less clear that, until after what is called the Saxon Conquest had been completely effected, no hereditary surnames were in use among the Celts of Scotland, nor by the chiefs of Norwegian descent who governed in Argyll and the Isles. This circumstance is pointed out by Tytler in his remarks upon the early population of Scotland, in the second volume of the History of Scotland. The domestic slaves attached to the possessions of the church and of the barons have their genealogies engrossed in ancient charters of conveyances and confirmation copied by him. The names are all Celtic, but in no one instance does the son, even when bearing a second or distinctive name, follow that of his father.

Skene, who maintains the purely native origin of the Campbell, does so in the following remarks:

"We have shown it to be invariably the case, that when a clan claims a foreign origin, and accounts for their possession of the chiefship and property of the clan by a marriage with the heiress of the old proprietors, they can be proved to be in reality a cadet of that older house who had usurped the chiefship, while their claim to the chiefship is disputed by an acknowledged descendant of that older house. To this rule the Campbells are no exceptions, for while the tale upon which they found a Norman descent is exactly parallel to those of the other clans in the same situation, the most ancient manuscript genealogies deduce them in the male line from that very family of O'Duin, whose heiress they are said to have married, and the Macarthur Campbells of Strachur, the acknowledged descendants of the older house, have at all times disputed the chiefship with the Argyll family. Judging from analogy, we are compelled to admit that the Campbells of Strachur must formerly have been chiefs of the clan, and that the usual causes in such cases have operated to reduce the Strachur family, and to place that of Argyll in that situation, and this is confirmed by the early history of the clan."

We shall take the liberty of quoting here some ingenious speculations on the origin of the name and the founder of the clan, from the pen of a gentleman who for several years has devoted his leisure to the investigation of the subject, and has placed the results of his researches at our disposal. He declares that the name itself is the most inflexible name in Scotland. In all old documents, he says, in which it occurs, either written by a Campbell, or under his direction, it is spelled always Campbell, or Campo-Bello; and its southern origin he believes is past question. It has always seemed to him to have been the name of some Roman, who, after his countrymen retired from Britain, had settled among the Britons of Strath-Clyde. "I am not one," he continues, "of those who suppose that the fortunes of Campbell depended entirely on the patrimony of his wife. As a family who had been long in the country, the chief of the name (it is improbable that he was then the sole owner of that name, although his family is alone known to history), as a soldier, high in his sovereign's favour, was likely to have possessed lands in Argyll before his marriage took place. Men of mark were then necessary to keep these rather wild and outlandish districts in subjection, and only men high in royal favour were likely to have that trust, ~ a trust likely to be so well rewarded, that its holder would be an eligible match for the heiress of Paul Insporran.

"It is also quite likely that Eva O'Duin was a king's ward, and on that account her hand would be in the king's gift; and who so likely to receive it as a trusted knight, connected with the district, and one whose loyalty was unquestioned?

"Again, we put little stress on the Celtic origin of the name, ~ from the crooked mouth of the first chief, as if from carn, bent or crooked, and beu1, mouth. No doubt this etymology is purely fanciful, and may have been invented by some one anxious to prove the purely Celtic origin of the family; but this seems really unnecessary, as a Celtic residence, Celtic alliances, and Celtic associations for nearly 800 years, form a Celtic antiquity in an almost unbroken line such as few families are able to boast; indeed, no clan can boast of purer Celtic blood than the Campbells."

The conclusion which, we think, any unprejudiced reader must come to, is, that the question of the origin of the Campbells cannot, until further light be thrown upon it, be determined with certainty at the present day. It is possible that the story of the genealogists may be true; they declare that the predecessors of the Argyll family, on the female side, were possessors of Lochow or Lochawe in Argyllshire, as early as 404 A.D. Of this, however, there is no proof worthy of the name. The first of the race who comes prominently into notice is one Archibald (also called Gillespic) Campbell, as likely as not, we think, to be a gentleman of Flemish lineage who lived in the 11th century. He acquired the lordship of Lochow, or Lochawe, by marriage with Eva, daughter and heiress of Paul O'Duin, Lord of Lochow, denominated Paul Insporran, from his being the king's treasurer. Another Gillespic is the first of the house mentioned in authentic history, his name occurring as a witness of the charter of the lands of the burgh of Newburgh by Alexander III in 1246.




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