The mid-17th century was a tumultuous period in the history of Scotland. Between 1639 and 1651 Scottish soldiers participated in the Bishops’ Wars, the Scottish Civil War, the Irish Confederate Wars and a series of English Civil Wars.
These complex and interwoven conflicts ultimately led to the execution of Charles I, the establishment of a republic under Oliver Cromwell and the eventual restoration of the monarchy under Charles II in 1660.
Religion was central to the animosity that triggered these wars and when Charles II died in 1685 without a legitimate heir, the crown was inherited by his brother James, a staunch Catholic.
The Anglican establishment in England greatly feared the return of an openly Catholic king, particularly as James pursued a policy of religious liberty for Catholics and Protestant nonconformists.
James was crowned King at Westminster Abbey on the 23rd of April 1685, but rebellions against his rule had been planned even before he inherited the throne.
In March 1685 James Scott, the Duke of Monmouth and illegitimate son of Charles II met with Archibald Campbell, the 9th Earl of Argyll in Amsterdam. They agreed to launch simultaneous rebellions in England and Scotland with the objective of overthrowing James and installing the Duke of Monmouth as the new monarch.
The rebellions began in May 1685, just a matter of weeks after James’ elevation to King. Monmouth landed on the South-West coast of England but was decisively defeated at the Battle of Sedgemoor on the 6th of July. He was captured two days later while hiding in a ditch and executed on Tower Hill in London on the 15th of July. It was a remarkably swift and decisive end to the rebellion in England.
The uprising in Scotland began when Argyll landed at Kilarrow on Islay. Few recruits were forthcoming so Argyll set sail for Campbeltown in Kintyre to recruit from amongst the many staunch Covenanters who lived in the lands of Clan Campbell. However when Argyll’s Declaration was read at the Campbeltown Market Cross, it made no mention of the National Covenant or what form of Government would replace James should he be deposed. This meant that many potential recruits not only refused to join the rebellion, but actively condemned it.
The core of Argyll’s force would eventually be made up of 1200 clan levies from Campbell lands, including Kintyre, Knapdale, Dunoon, Kilmartin and Craignish. On the 27th of May, Argyll’s declaration at Tarbet issued the following command to his tenants,
I hereby require all my vassals everywhere, and all within my several jurisdictions, with the fencible men within their command, to go to arms, and to join and concur with us, according to the said Declaration, as they will be answerable at their highest perils, and to obey the particular orders they shall receive from me from time to time.
As Argyll mustered his levies differences began to emerge amongst the rebel leadership group regarding the overall strategy of the campaign. Argyll argued in favour of remaining in Campbell territory to build up the size of the army and to deal with Atholl’s men before advancing south. Other members of the rebel council urged Argyll to continue with their original plan and to advance quickly to Covenanter lands in Ayrshire before Government opposition was fully mobilised.
After manoeuvring against Atholl’s men in Argyll, the rebels finally decided to advance towards Glasgow. As they moved out of Argyll the rebel supply base at Eilean Dearg in Loch Riddon was captured by the royalists with the loss of 5000 weapons and 300 barrels of gunpowder. Meanwhile a detachment of Argyll’s force landed in Renfrewshire and skirmished with a party of militia in Greenock, only to find that there was little enthusiasm for the uprising in the area.
These events had a serious effect on the morale of the rebels and as they approached Dumbarton they were pursued by the Marquess of Atholl while the Earl of Dumbarton waited near Glasgow to block any further advance. 100 of Argyll’s men were able to force a crossing of the Clyde under fire from a troop of horse on Erskine Green, but by this stage widespread desertions left just 500 exhausted men under Argyll’s command.
A disastrous night march was the final straw for the demoralised rebels and military discipline collapsed. Argyll tried to rally his now dispersed army, but most of the clansmen were already on their way home to the highlands.
Distraught, Argyll stayed at an inn at Old Kilpatrick, pondering his next move. Hoping to continue the rebellion, he disguised himself as a commoner and along with a single companion, Major Fullerton, he eventually headed south with the aim of raising fresh men in the Covenanter strongholds of Ayrshire and Galloway.
Argyll and Fullerton made it to Inchinnan, near the present day Glasgow Airport, where they forded the river at the confluence of the White Cart and Black Cart Waters. At this point Argyll was met by two militiamen who were servants of John Shaw of Greenock. Determined to take his horse, the two men confronted the disguised Argyll. A scuffle ensued and Argyll was captured when he was struck on the head by a broadsword and knocked into the river. The final blow was supposedly landed by a drunk weaver who had rushed to the scene after hearing a commotion.
Argyll’s identity was revealed and he was taken to Glasgow Tolbooth with news of his failure immediately dispatched to London.
On the same day as Argyll’s capture, 75 of his remaining men won a small victory at the battle of Muirdykes near Lochwinnoch, but with the capture of the Earl the rebellion was effectively over. Argyll was executed at the Mercat Cross in Edinburgh less than a fortnight later, the exact same location in which his father had been executed 24 years earlier.
The Craignish Men
Thanks to the efforts of Duncan C MacTavish of Lochgilphead we have access to an extensive list of the Earl of Argyll’s tenants who participated in the 1685 rebellion. MacTavish examined records that were held by the Sheriff Court of Argyll in Inveraray and his findings were published in 1935 under the title of The Commons of Argyll – Name Lists of 1685 and 1692. It’s a fascinating and indispensable genealogical document that not only lists the rebels by parish, but also specifically lists which farm or township they were from and how much of their livestock was forfeited when Royal forces raided their lands.
MacTavish’s publication is of considerable interest to me personally, not least because I’m a descendent of many families from Kilmelford, Craignish and Kilmartin. I’m particularly interested in Craignish, the small parish in which I have so many ancestral connections through my McLarty Grandmother. I have therefore transcribed those sections of The Commons of Argyll, highlighting the 1685 rebels from that parish.
Craignish – List of the Rebels, 1685
Ivar Campbell of Asknish heritor
Angus Roy Campbell his son
Archibald Mc rior
Duncan Dow Mc lartich
John Mc lealan
Duncan Mc lealan
Gilbert Mc nokerd
Dougall Mc lealan
Evar Mc agown
Donald Mc brain
John Dow Mc lartich
Achinsawill (Unknown location)
Malcolm Mc lartich
John Mc cavish
Duncan Mc callum
Dougall Mc rior
John Mc lartich
Donald Mc gilhenich
John Mc ilelan
John Mc rior
John Mc intyre
Alexr Mc lartich
John Mc lartich
Carran more (Corranmore)
Neill Mc iliglass
Archibald Mc lartich
Archibald Mc ilvain
John Mc intailor
Donald Mc lartich
Alexr Mc lartich
Duncan Mc olvorie
Donald Mc inuchersage
Duncan Campbell Nether
Donald Mc lealan
Dougall Mc kay
John Mc kay
John Mc kerras
Dougall Mc lartich
List of the Rebels whose Stock was declared to be forfeited at a Court held by the Marquis of Atholl at Inveraray on 12th October 1685.
John mc Laetich, 5 cows.
Donnald mc Illehrich, 1 cow.
John mc Lellan, 8 cows, 1 horse.
John mc Inreiver, 2 cows.
Archibald mc Inreiver, 4 cows.
Duncan dow mc Arthur, 2 cows, 1 horse.
John mc Lellan, 2 cows.
Duncan Mc Lellan, 2 cows, 1 horse.
Gilbert mc Nokaird, 2 cows.
Donnald mc Lellan, 2 cows.
Dod Campbell, 10 cows, 2 horses, 1 mare and 12 sheep.
Duncan mc Callum, 4 cows, 1 horse.
John mc Intyre, 3 cows, 1 horse.
Allexr mc Laerty, 2 cows.
John mc Laertich, 2 cows.
Neill mc Illglass, 2 cows.
Archibald mc Laerty, 2 cows, 1 horse.
John mc Intaylor, 1 cow, 4 sheep.
Johne Campbell, 2 cows, 4 sheep.
Dugald Campbell, 4 cows, 1 mare.
Donald mc Illemillechesak, 5 cows.
Nether Kentra* (Kintraw)
Donald mc Reivir, 4 cows, 2 horses.
Nether Kintra* (Kintraw)
Duncan Campbell, 4 cows.
Angus Campbell, 6 cows, 1 horse.
Dugald mc Laertich, 2 cows.
Note – I have used the spellings and capitalisations as transcribed by MacTavish in 1935. For the purposes of this article I have also included the modern spellings of the farms, which can be seen in brackets. The 1685 list includes Kintraw, Salachary and Sluggan as part of Kilmartin, although in 19th century census records they were recorded as part of the Parish of Craignish. Likewise, Asknish is listed on the 1685 document as part of Craignish, although it was later part of the Parish of Kilmelford.
Many of the surnames on the 1685 list are immediately identifiable but the reader will also note the variety of unusual Gaelic surnames from a time when Argyll was less influenced by creeping anglicisation. McArthur, McCallum and Campbell are all obvious to a modern reader, while mc Reiver and mc Illehrich are less so. Mc leartich and the variant spellings are early forms of the surname of my family, McLarty. Mc Nokaird is a pre-anglicised version of Sinclair, while mc Illemillechesak and Mc inuchersage correspond to the modern name of McIssac.
These families must have undoubtedly suffered a serious economic blow when their lands were raided of livestock following the failure of the uprising. Campbell of Barbreck later raised a legal action against Stewart of Ardsheal on behalf of himself and his tenants in Craignish. The claimant sought compensation of £5,800 for goods and stocks and £400 in damages and expenses as a result of the raiding and theft of property that occurred in the parish by royal forces in 1685.
It is interesting to note that in 1685 there would have been people in Craignish old enough to remember the devastation caused by Alasdair MacColla when he raided Mid-Argyll in the winter of 1644. On that occasion it was said that the livestock in Craignish was rounded up and hidden in the small islets between Craignish and Jura.
Argyll’s rebellion also left an enduring legacy on the geography of Craignish. On the south-western corner of the Craignish peninsula there is a small bay known as ‘Port nan Athlaich’, or Port of the Atholmen. According to the New Statistical Account of 1845, a party of the Marquess of Atholl’s men arrived at Craignish to suppress the rebels during Argyll’s uprising. They were however defeated by the natives of Craignish and upon trying to escape they were downed at Port nan Athlaich.
In the aftermath of the rebellion 177 of Argyll’s followers were transported to Jamaica, while 100 were sent to New Jersey. Tax records show however that at least some of the Craignish men who accompanied Argyll were still living in the same locations after the uprising. The 1695 Hearth Tax records for example list John and Alexander McClartich of Aird, Archibald McClartich of Corranmore and Donald Campbell of Lergychoniemore. These appear to be the same men that are recorded on the 1685 list of rebels.
In 1688 James VII was deposed by his nephew William of Orange, who was subsequently offered the crown of Scotland on the condition that Presbyterianism be reinstated as the state religion. What followed was a series of key events in the formation of modern Scotland, including the Massacre of Glencoe, the Darien Scheme, Act of Union, Hanoverian succession and the Jacobite uprisings. In this crowded field it’s perhaps unsurprising that Argyll’s failed rebellion of 1685 is a largely forgotten chapter of Scottish history.