700 Years ago this Day

On 24 January  1313 King Robert Bruce granted in favour of Sir Dugald Campbell, Laird of Menstrie, Clackmannanshire, born at Lochow (Lochawe) 1259 or 1262 and son of Sir Cailean Mor a charter of the lands taken from the MacDougalls consisting of Kilcongen (Kilchoan), Degnish, Auchinaclosh (Kilninver) , Auchinsaule (Kilninver), Caddiltoune Ardmaddy), Garpynging (Kilninver), Ardincaple (Ardencaple), Ragray (Kilninver), Kilninver, Esgeallan (Kilninver), Clachanseilach (Clachan Seil), Leternacrosh (Kilninver), Scamadil (Scammadale), Kilveran (Kilninver), Letternamuck (Kilninver) and the isle of Toresay (Torsa), in exchange for providing a twenty six-oared galley equipped with men and victuals.

Seven hundred years later the following exchange took place between Eoghan o’ the Lang Skiff and Choinnich Sgarbheach, the Sage of Doune:

Eoghan: I don’t know what the MacDougalls had done to deserve having their lands taken away and Sir Dugald had a few years earlier backed King Edward against the Bruce. It all goes to show the Campbells usually come up smelling sweet. Glad (in a way) that my great great great Grannie was one.

Choinnich: It was in the Pass of Brander that the MacDougalls learned a lesson taught by Robert the Great, with young Colin Campbell at his shoulder, to the effect that EDW I was a bad person.  That is what they did and some people in Argyll have yet to forgive.  Now, while it is the case that the Campbells, as signatories of The True Solemn Oath and Covenant, found themselves opposed to the heirs of Marjorie Bruce (who would have done far better to marry young Colin of Argyll rather than Walter Stewart), and thus sided with a wee bit Gairman Lairdie, the MacDougalls appear to have escaped without a blemish on their estates, although their character is well known throughout Argyll.  Now I find myself asking, ‘What is this about taking lands off the MacDougalls?  There is surely only MacCallum Mhor that has the power to do such a thing, and himself short on the powers that were once his to command.  If it is not Cleann Caimbeul that is doing this thing then it has no businness to be done for we alone can do such a thing and end up smelling of roses, even if they be the Floo’ers o’ Edinbro.  Stand proud in your Campbell heritage, my kinsman.

Eoghan: Ach, ye have an answer to evrytheeng, ma pretty Freen!

The charter was granted less than 50 years after the conflict between the emerging Scottish kingdom and Norway was resolved at the Treaty of Perth in 1266, which was prefigured by the Battle of Largs in 1263. The early Scottish kings were finding it a hard job coming to grips with the people of the islands, who retained fond memories of the autonomy previously enjoyed and of course were themselves partly of Norse ancestry. The Bruce operated a policy of consolidating his grip on the main land by building castles and installing suitable tough guys to control the unruly Gaels.

It’s interesting to see the notorious political flexibility of the well-named Campbells (literally Cam Beal – crooked mouth, not of course referring to a physical attribute) to the fore so early in the history of our nation.

Sea power was vital to ruling the islands in the pre-road period. Providing a galley of 26 oars was a major endeavour justifying the grant of a huge tract of land, although one can imagine that retaining control would also take some effort. There would have been a big tribe of angry MacDougalls to contend with for a start.

I’ve tried to identify the various estates involved, extending from Loch Awe in the East to the North shore of Loch Melfort on the South along to Degnish Point, then the West boundary running up the middle of Seil Sound to Clachan Seil, but including Torsa Island with the Castle of the Dogs and a North boundary running somewhere to the North of present-day Kilninver along to Loch Awe again.

The anomaly is the inclusion of Ardincaple at the North end of the Isle of Seil. Literally Ard na gCapull, the “point of the horses” this may refer not to real horses but to the black rocky reefs and breaking waves off the point, resembling in the mind of the poetic Gael wild horses. Ardincaple is the site of Ardfad Castle, the seat of the MacDougalls and awarding this to the Campbells would have been a serious provocation, especially as the remainder of the island seems not to have been included. Perhaps that was granted to another of the Campbell knights.

Regarding the actual galley one can assume that there would have been thirteen thwarts or benches, two oarsmen on each and “rooms” of about a metre in length, suggesting a hull length of at least seventeen metres, fifty six feet, if we allow a couple of metres at each end. The image at the top of this post has seventeen oar ports, thirty four oars, and the biggest galleys seem to have been forty oared, but there’s a lack of archaeological evidence and it’s always possible that once the charter had been granted the galley didn’t actually materialise.


Leave a Reply