John Campbell, 1st Earl of Breadalbane and Holland

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John Campbell, 1st Earl of Breadalbane and Holland (1636 – 19 March 1717), son of Sir John Campbell of Glen Orchy, and of the Lady Mary Graham, daughter of William Graham, 1st Earl of Airth and 7th Earl of Menteith, was a member of Scottish nobility during the Glorious Revolution and Jacobite risings and also known as "Slippery John". An astutely political man, Campbell was one of the men implicated in the Massacre of Glencoe.


He took part in the abortive royalist uprising under Glencairn in 1654, and was one of those who urged Monck to declare a free parliament in England to facilitate the restoration. He sat in the Scottish parliament as member for Argyllshire from 1669 to 1674.

In October 1672, as principal creditor to George Sinclair, 6th Earl of Caithness, he obtained the inheritance of his lands and properties. After the 6th Earl's death without heirs; he became Earl of Caithness and Viscount of Breadalbane. In 1678 he married the former Earl's widow, Mary Campbell, the Countess of Caithness, an economical step which saved him his obligation to pay her 12,000 marks a year. In 1680 he invaded Caithness with a band of 800 men and defeated and dispossessed the contingent of the Sinclairs. The natural heir, a younger son of the fifth earl however, was subsequently confirmed in his lands and titles by the Parliament of Scotland, so on 13 August 1681, Campbell obtained a new patent which made him Earl of Breadalbane and Holland, Viscount of Tay and Paintland, and Lord Glenorchy, Benederloch, Ormelie and Wick, in the Peerage of Scotland, with special power to nominate his successor from among the sons of his first wife. In 1685 he became a member of the Scottish privy council. Though nominally a Presbyterian he had assisted the intolerant and despotic government of the Duke of Lauderdale in 1678 with 1700 men.

He was reputed to own the best wig in Scotland and his influence, owing to his position and abilities, was greater than that of any man in Scotland other than his cousin, the Duke of Argyll, a relationship that irked him and led to his continuous political manoeuvering to improve his lot. It was important that William III obtained his services in conciliating the Highlanders. Breadalbane at first carried on communications with Dundee and was implicated in the Jacobite intrigue called the Montgomery plot, but after the battle of Killiecrankie in July 1689 he made overtures to the government, subsequently took the oath of allegiance, and was entrusted with a large sum of money by the government to secure the submission of the clans. On 30 June 1691 he met the Jacobite chiefs; he persuaded them to refrain from acts of hostility till October, gaining their consent by threats and promises rather than by the distribution of the money, which, it was believed, he retained himself. When asked to give an account of the expenditure to parliament, he replied

"The money is spent, the Highlands are quiet, and this is the only way of accounting between friends."[1]

Breadalbane had a reputation for double-dealing which led to a lasting belief that he had a direct hand in the Massacre of the Macdonalds of Glen Coe in February 1692. In reality he was one of the few men to recognize the political damage the episode caused in the Highlands. However, the discovery of his negotiations with the Jacobite chiefs caused his imprisonment in Edinburgh Castle in September, but he was released when it was known that he had been acting with William's knowledge.

Breadalbane did not vote for the Union in 1707, but was chosen a representative peer in the parliament of Great Britain of 1713–1715. His cooperation with the English government in securing the temporary submission of the Highlands was inspired by no real loyalty or allegiance, and he encouraged the attempted French dissent of 1708, refusing, however, to commit himself to paper.

On the occasion of the Jacobite rising in 1715 he excused himself on 19 September from obeying the summons to appear at Edinburgh on the ground of his age and infirmity, but nevertheless the next day visited Jacobite camps at Logierait and Perth, his real business being, according to the Master of Sinclair:

"to trick others, not to be trickt, and to obtain a share of the French subsidies".[2]

He had taken money to provide 1200 men to the uprising, and only sent 300. His 300 men were withdrawn after the Battle of Sheriffmuir, and his death, on 19 March 1717, removed the need for an inquiry into his conduct.

Marriage and family[edit]

He married Lady Mary Rich, daughter of Henry Rich, 1st Earl of Holland and his wife Isabel Cope on 17 Dec 1657, with whom he had two sons, Duncan, styled Lord Ormelie (d. 1727), who was passed over in the succession 1685 due to his "mental incapacity", and John Campbell, 2nd Earl of Breadalbane and Holland (1662-1752). He married secondly 1678 Mary Campbell, widow of George Sinclair, the Earl of Caithness, and daughter of Lady Margaret Douglas and Archibald Campbell, 1st Marquess of Argyll. By his second wife, he had a third son, Colin (d. 1708), who was the presumed ancestor (via an illegitimate son) of Sir Lachlan Campbell, one of the present contestants for the title of Earl of Breadalbane and Holland. He also had an illegitimate daughter, Mary Campbell (d. 1725), wife of Sir Archibald Cockburn, advocate, and mother of Sir Alexander Cockburn of Langton, 7th Bt. Lord Breadalbane died on 19 Mar 1717.


  1. ^ Various versions of this quote are mentioned in several publications through history; a few are:
  2. ^ John St Clair, Master of Sinclair was a veteran of several Scottish battles and relates his observations in his "Memoirs"; see paragraph 260 for the noted quote at


  • thepeerage Accessed July 26, 2008
  • Calder, James Traill, History of Caithness at at the Wayback Machine (archived June 25, 2007) Accessed November 12, 2007
  • Lee, Henry James. History of the Campbell Family. New York: Polk, 1920.googlebooks Retrieved March 2, 2009
  • Macky, John, and John Miller Gray. Memoirs of the Secret Services of John Macky, Esq., During the Reigns of King William, Queen Anne, and King George I: Including, Also, the True Secret History of the Rise, Promotions, &C. of the English and Scots Nobility; Officers, Civil, Military, Naval, and Other Persons of Distinction, from the Revolution ; In Their Respective Characters of Large. London: 1733. (Reprinted by the Roxburghe Club in 1895.)
  • Sir Walter Scott. Tales of a grandfather. Edinburgh: Cadell, 1831.
Note by Sir W. Scott in Sinclairs Mew of Insurrection in Scotland (Abbotsford Club. 1868).
  • Sinclair, Catherine . Scotland and the Scotch Or, The Western Circuit. Dedicated to the Highland Society. New York: D. Appleton, 1840.
  • Sinclair, John. Memoirs of the insurrection in Scotland in 1715 / John, Master of Sinclair, from the original manuscript in the possession of the Earl of Rosslyn ; with notes by Sir Walter Scott. Edinburgh : Abbotsford Club, 1858.
  • Spence, Elizabeth Isabella . Letters from the North Highlands, During the Summer 1816. London: Printed for Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1817.
  •  Stephen, Leslie, ed. (1886). "Campbell, John (1635-1716)". Dictionary of National Biography. 8. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 
  • Wilson, John, and Thomas Maclauchlan. A History of the Scottish Highlands, Highland Clans and Highland Regiments. Edinburgh: Fullarton, 1875. (pp. 187–88) googlebooks Retrieved July 25, 2008

External links[edit]

Peerage of Scotland
Preceded by
New Creation
Earl of Breadalbane and Holland
Succeeded by
John Campbell
Preceded by
George Sinclair
Earl of Caithness
1672–1681 (Resigned)
Succeeded by
George Sinclair

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Breadalbane, John Campbell". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.