The 1600s: a Wreck of a Century

War, Pillage, Famine and (even) Plague

For almost the first half of this century, there was relative peace in Knapdale. Campbell of Auchenbreck, Knapdale's largest landowner, as a young man with other Argyll men, had invaded the Isle of Bute with 'fire and sword'. By 1623, however, he was middle aged, respectable, and a Justice of the Peace for Argyll. The McNeills consolidated their position in Knapdale, from Taynish north to Scotnish while other branches had settled in Arichonan and Gallachoille; and (on Loch Caolisport) at Crear, Druimnamuckloch and Ormsary. Hector MacNeill of Taynish was also appointed a Justice of the Peace for Argyll. Knapdale was strong militarily, also: in 1643, both Campbell of Auchenbreck and MacNeill of Taynish served as commissioners in the Committee of War for Argyll. (p. 29, Fraser)

And then history fell upon this fairly prosperous corner of Scotland and wrecked it. The English Civil war spread to the Western Highlands. At the Battle of Inverlochy (1645), James Graham, Marquis of Montrose, the King's Lieutenant, along with his major-general, Alasdair "MacColla" MacDonald from Colonsay and Antrim, completely destroyed Argyll's army. Although Argyll escaped with his life, his greatest supporter, Campbell of Auchenbreck, was slaughtered by MacDonald. With no armed force to protect it, Knapdale and all of Mid Argyll was defenseless against Alasdair MacDonald. The devastation was described thus:

"In short, all the territories of MacCailin were spoilt and burnt on that occasion, and eight hundred four score and fifteen men were killed in these countries without battle or skirmish having taken place in them". (Campbell, vol 2, p 220)

The Montrose was fighting for the British Royalist and Anglican cause. Alasdair MacDonald, on the other hand, had a more primitive aim in mind: a tribal blood feud with the Campbell Clan. For the next 2 years, he pillaged Mid Argyll. People were robbed, their dwellings and possessions were destroyed. It was now that Alasdair was given his by-name "Fear Thollaidh nan Tighean", "The destroyer (literally, Piercer) of Houses". The account of the campaign sent to Dublin - perhaps by Alasdair himself - boasted that ‘throughout all Argyle, we left neither house nor hold unburned, nor corn nor cattle that belonged to the whole name of Campbell. (Campbell, vol 2, p 220)

One of the casualties was Castle Sween, which was besieged and burnt. Neither the Castle nor Knapdale never really recovered from these blows.

Archibald Campbell, 8th Earl of Argyll, with the aid of Captain David Leslie, drove MacDonald first from Knapdale, and then Kintyre. Some of the MacDonald leadership managed to escape to Gigha and then to Ireland. In the end, the remaining MacDonald adherents were trapped and massacred at Dunaverty Castle on the southern tip of Kintyre. As the terrible century of civil and religious war wound down, two Campbell of Argyll chieftains, father and son, were beheaded at Edinburgh Castle in 1661 and 1685 respectively. It seems that Alasdair MacDonald died in Ireland during a tavern brawl. Montrose, too, found his death at the Mercat Cross in Edinburgh.

After the Marquess of Argyll was executed in 1661, the Crown imposed a list of fines on Campbell Clan supporters. The amounts noted give some indication of the pecking order of the time:

( see p. 6, vol 3, Campbell)

At the same time, MacNeil of Taynish was among a new set of Justices of the Peace in Scotland.

In 1685, during the reign of James II of England and VII of Scotland, there was the Monmouth Rebellion in England. In conjunction with this rising, Archibald Campbell, the ninth Earl of Argyll led an even more formidable Scottish Highland rebellion against the Stewart monarchy. The Campbells of Argyll were, even by the end of this century, very powerful, and therefore they had many enemies who were happy to break the clan. Certainly, the Scottish Crown had every reason to strip the Earl of his almost sovereign power in the West.

The upshot was that the son of the 8th Earl met his end in the same way as had his father. When the Earl's grandson (Red John of the Battles, the Second Duke of Argyll), was challenged by his aunt for opposing James' son in the Jacobite Rising of 1715, he responded by saying, "That family, madam, oues me and my family two heads, whereof your father was one; and it becomes you ill to propose this question." (quoted by Paterson, p. 136)

Clan McNeill in the 1700s