Donald Cameron of Lochiel

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For other people named Donald Cameron, see Donald Cameron (disambiguation).
Sir Donald Cameron of Lochiel.

Donald Cameron of Lochiel (c.1700 – October 1748), was an influential Highland Clan Chief known for his magnanimous and gallant nature. He was hereditary leader of Clan Cameron, once loyal servants of the reigning House of Stuart, being used to enforce the royal will against the Lowlands. The Clan was being overtaken by the rival Campbells. Lochiel was effectively pushed into a corner by the issue of a warrant for his arrest for conspiring with the exiled Stuarts, and his support of Bonnie Prince Charlie was instrumental in the Jacobite Rising of 1745.

Lochiel and the Jacobite cause[edit]

Donald Cameron of Lochiel the "Gentle Lochiel" of Scottish folklore, was the grandson of Ewen Cameron of Lochiel and the eldest son of the 18th chief John Cameron of Lochiel. After his father, a key participant in the Jacobite Rising of 1715, fled to a permanent exile in France Donald became the acting chief of the clan at a time when the old ways were rapidly changing. The Highlands had historically been a society of contending groups each dominated by an elite which valued fearlessnes and daring above all things; held wealth as cattle; used ostentatious ornamentation; and spent much time in drinking feasts where bards told of the clan's great exploits. It was a way of life that lowlanders had not known for generations and although some aspects of it survived far into the 18th century, by Lochiel's time measures such as the Statutes of Iona had obliged chieftains to spend more time in Edinburgh. Being extremely status conscious, they attempted to cut a dash by purchasing clothes in the latest French fashion, elaborate homes, imported furniture, fine wines and other trappings of gentility rather than patronizing Gaelic bards, pipers and harpists as was the traditional way to distinction for a chief. The expenditure strained their finances as the Highlands were the poorest land in Europe (tenants have been described as much poorer than Plains Indians[1] ) and the chiefs sought to increase the income from clan lands. As loyal supporters of the Royal House of Stuart the Camerons had a formidable enemy in the huge Clan Campbell which was firmly allied to the British government. At Sheriffmuir in 1715, John Campbell, 2nd Duke of Argyll had halted a run of successes for the Jacobite clans and their commander John Erskine, 6th Earl of Mar. However in 1737 Archibald Campbell, 3rd Duke of Argyll decreed that tacks were to be let out to the highest bidder rather than being given to a tacksman with family connections, consequently many of the older sort of tacksmen were dispossessed. Because they mustered the tenants, acted as officers and functioned as shock troops in time of war, Argyll had inadvertently made himself militarily weaker through breaking the traditional bond with tacksmen.[2]

A huge fine for participating in the '15 had damaged Clan Cameron and it was not prospering in the way the Campbells and others loyal to the Hanoverian dynasty were, however although Lochiel was acculturated to Lowland norms in many ways he maintained the old arrangements with tacksmen. As a consequence the Camerons possessed an enhanced potential to take a military initiative.[2] With the resumption of hostilities between Britain and France the Stuart cause received powerful backing, but while Lochiel had averred that Jacobite clans were willing to rise up if the French landed in force the French wanted the Jacobites to take up arms beforehand. The proposed invasion of England was abandoned but the government had discovered Lochiel's communication with the exiled Stuarts and in June 1745 they issued an arrest warrant.[3] Charles Edward Stuart arrived on the west coast of Scotland in August 1745 with a handful of men and no supplies, munitions or money. He found that after coming out for the Stuarts in the 1689, 1715 and 1719 Jacobite Risings the key chiefs showed no enthusiasm for yet another insurrection, most believed that taking up arms against the government without French help would end in disaster.[4]

Lochiel's meeting with Charles Edward Stuart[edit]

Although he had become a wanted man with little to lose Lochiel shared the other chief's misgivings and, showing reluctance to even meet with the Prince, sent his brother Archibald Cameron of Locheil. When Charles Edward required him to attend in person Lochiel's brother John urged him not to go - warning him that emotion would get the better of his good judgment. Lochiel initially attempted to convince the Prince to go back while he could. However Charles Edward played on Lochiel's sense of honor by protesting that returning to France would be a humiliating admission that he had no friends in Scotland and he would prefer to be a hunted man with a handful of followers, as for Lochiel he could stay at home and read what happened to his Prince. Lochiel fulfilled his brother's predictions by declaring that he and his clan would take up arms and share Charles Edward's fate. When the standard was raised the Camerons were the largest contingent present and formed the elite core of the army while Lochiel's prestige influenced other chiefs like his cousin Ewen MacPherson of Cluny to join the rising. However there were many chiefs, including ostensibly Jacobite ones like Norman MacLeod, who did not rally to Charles Edward's cause and most would later fight against him. Under the 'regelian rights' a clan chief possessed the power of life and death over those living on his land (Norman MacLeod became known as 'The Wicked Man' for exploitative behaviour which including selling tenants into slavery[5]). Although Lochiel was regarded as a gracious chief by the standards of the time his decision to participate in the '45 meant that those living on his territory were obliged to take up arms with him, some who were recalcitrant received whippings or had their cattle killed by Archibald until they agreed.[6][7]

The military campaign[edit]

Lochiel was frank about his lack of military experience and deferred to Lord George Murray's judgement on strategy and tactics, but he quickly showed himself to be a capable commander who led from the front. The Camerons' elite status was emphasized by their bloodless capture of Edinburgh and successful attack at the Battle of Prestonpans. During the attack at Prestonpans, O'Sullivan, an Irishman whose opinions the Prince greatly valued, ordered some Camerons into an exposed position and they subsequently came under heavy fire, Lochiel appealed to Lord George Murray rather than the Prince, a harbinger of the discord between the Scottish Jacobites and Charles Edward's Irish favorite. In late 1745 Lochiel was appointed the Governor of Edinburgh and was injured by cannon fire from the government forces in Edinburgh Castle.

By starting from a Highlands and Islands base and taking over Scotland Charles Edward had done what only Macbeth and Robert the Bruce had previously managed. At this point Lochiel counselled the Prince to stop; he argued that Jacobite forces with French support could mount an effective defence against what troops were available in England. He returned to this position at Derby in December, when the army finally called off the march on London and turned back northwards. He was again wounded at the battle of Falkirk in January 1746, and travelled north to Fort William, where the government garrison still held out. He abandoned the siege in April, and rejoined the Prince's army outside Inverness in time for the Battle of Culloden, which effectively ended the rising.


To the dismay of Lord George Murray, Prince Charles Edward insisted on offering battle to the pursuing army of the Duke of Cumberland on the open moorland of Culloden, with the intention of fighting defensively. The decision has been seen by some historians as playing into the hands of the British. Others maintain it was motivated by logistical considerations.

Cumberland's artillery mounted a devastating bombardment on the Jacobite army which was vulnerable in ranks of six deep on the open terrain; up to a third of Charles Edward's force were dispersed or made casualties, (including a groom decapitated while holding the Prince's horse). Lochiel relayed a warning that his men - maddened by the cannon fire - were becoming difficult to restrain and asked for permission to charge, eventually Charles Edward agreed however the messenger was killed before passing the order on.

At this point - and without orders from the by now unnerved Jacobite command - Clan Mackintosh in the centre of the Jacobite line charged. Led by Lochiel the Camerons started after them, other clans then joined in an uncoordinated and disorganized Highland charge. Many of those charging lacked targes, and failed to use their firearms. Lochiel got close enough to the enemy to fire his pistol; he was drawing his sword when Grapeshot shattered his ankles. From where he lay he saw the charge achieve some initial success before Coehorn mortar shelling and devastating volleys of musket fire killed those who had broke through the redcoat line. Survivors of the charge carried him from the field.[9][10][11][12][13]

Later life and reputation[edit]

Clan Cameron lost about half their strength at Culloden, and Lochiel himself was badly wounded; he eventually made it to safety in France along with the Prince in October. Despite attempting to persuade Louis XV of France to mount a second landing, he never returned to Scotland. He took command of the French Regiment of Albany in 1747, and died in Bergues on 26 October 1748. He is buried in Bergues cemetery where there is a memorial to him.

It is notable that one of his acts whilst in charge of Edinburgh was to order that there be no reprisals against the Whigs for their opposition to the Prince. He had previously given orders to care for the prisoners after Prestonpans, and later he would ensure that Glasgow did not suffer any reprisals for its loyalty to George II. Such acts contributed to his reputation for humanity; he became known to both friends and foes as the "Gentle Lochiel", a name that carried into the romantic myths which would grow up around the Rising.


  1. ^ Herman, Arthur,(2003), The Scottish Enlightenment: the Scots' invention of the modern world, Fourth Estate -page 122
  2. ^ a b Hunter, James (1999)., Last of the free: a millennial history of the Highlands and islands of Scotland., Mainstream Pub
  3. ^ Allison, Hugh G.,(2007),Culloden Tales: Stories from Scotland's Most Famous Battlefield, Mainstream Publishing
  4. ^ Herman, Arthur, The Scottish Enlightenment: the Scots' invention of the modern world, Fourth Estate (2003) page 124- 134
  6. ^ Gibson, John S.,The gentle Lochiel: the Cameron chief and Bonnie Prince Charlie NMS (1998) - page 34
  7. ^ Herman, Arthur, The Scottish Enlightenment: the Scots' invention of the modern world, Fourth Estate (2003)
  8. ^ Home, John.,(1802) The History of the Rebellion in the year 1745.
  9. ^ Musket Shot and the Highland Targe’. Roberts, Alasdair // History Scotland Magazine; Sep/Oct2012, Vol. 12 Issue 5,
  10. ^ Black, Jeremy (1999) Britain as a military power 1688-1815, - page 28
  11. ^ Black, Jeremy, Culloden and the '45(1990)
  12. ^ Black, Jeremy (2007), A military history of Britain: from 1775 to the present, -page 39
  13. ^ Prebble, John (1967), Culloden, pimlico pages 93-95

Further reading[edit]

  • John Sibbald Gibson, "Cameron, Donald, of Lochiel (c.1700–1748)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004