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IX. Murder of John Campbell of Cawdor.

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THE preceding accounts show the Thane engaged in a western journey, probably on the affairs of his kinsman the young Earl of Argyll, whose guardian he was. It is said to have been through jealousy of his holding that office that the Thane was murdered in 1592. 

The history of his murder we have to gather from various sources, chiefly the records of the Court of Justiciary, and Gregory’s History of the Highlands and Isles 

The Thane of Cawdor and Sir James Campbell of Ardkinglas (Comptroller) were at first the acting guardians of their chief the young Earl of Argyll. When the Comptroller died, his son John Campbell of Ardkinglas, who succeeded him in the office of guardian, became jealous of the superior influence of Cawdor in the management of the Earldom, and perhaps bore a grudge on account of the affairs of the Isles, where Cawdor supported Angus of Isla and Donald Gorme, while Ardkinglas helped the McLeans. Partly from these motives, partly, perhaps, instigated by malcontents of his clan who had joined the league of which Huntly was the chief, and one fruit of which was the slaughter of the bonny Earl of Moray at Donybristle, Ardkinglas undoubtedly planned, and apparently superintended the murder of Cawdor. It is certain that, in February 1591, the Thane was treacherously killed by a shot of a hackbut, fired from a window of the house of Knepoch in Lorne. the actual assassin was MacEllar, and the immediate director of the murder, a certain John Oig Campbell of Cabrachan. 

The thing was done in Argyll’s bounds, and the immediate instruments of an act so outrageous to the power of the Earl were soon brought to punishment. John Oig, before his execution, being put in the Boots, confessed his own guilt, and spoke to the complicity of Ardkinglas and Dunolly. His widow, Margaret Campbell, corroborated his evidence, and added the fact of Ardkinglas having tampered with witchcraft, in the hope of obtaining favour of Argyll. Ardkinglas, under the threat of instant torture, confessed himself guilty of the murder of Cawdor, and spoke to a wide-spread conspiracy against Argyll and his brother. That confession he afterwards revoked in the following instruments, both from the Charter room at Taymouth:-


I Johne Campbell of Ardkinglas testifies afoir God and takis it on my saull that it that I subscriuit and spoke anent oure Contract of Conspiracie againis my chief and maister the Erle of Argyle and his lordships bother the Laird of Lundie quhilk Contract wes said be me wes subscriuit be the Erll of Huntlie and Glencarne and be my Lorde Maxwell, my Lorde Chancellor and be Sir Duncan Campbell of Glenvrquhay Knycht, Archibald Campbell of Lochnell, Duncan McDowgall of Dunnollich and Johne Stewart of Appin. I testifie before God that thair wes never sic ane Contract maid or menit, but only inuentioun inuentit to eschew the trouble that might follow on me for Calderis slaughter. And as concernyng the samyn slauchter I tak it likwyis on my saul afore the great juge that nether Glenvrquhay nor nane levand nor dead wer airt and part nor knew of it except myself, John Oig Gillipatrik Oig and Gillimartin his brother and Duncane Campbell Donaldsone, and testifies afoir God that I am sorrowfull in saull and in mynd anent the said slauchter and I testifie to all and sindrie thir premissis be thir presentis subscriuit with my hand at Dunvne the first of Julii the yeir of God IM Vc fourescoir fouretene yeiris befoir thir witnessis, John Erle of Mar, Sir Hugh Campbell of Lowdoun, and Mr. Neill Campbell Bishope of Argyle.


Be it kend till all men be thir presenttis me Johne Campbell of Ardkinglas that forsamekill as I being detenit captiue within the castell of Carnnaistrie as suspect for consentting foirknawledge airt and pairt of the murther of umquhill Johne Campbell of Calder, unquhill Johne Oig Campbell of Cabrachane beign suspect and accusit for the same cryme nocht onlie deponit the weretie of the said murthour bot also to the effect his burdein and pvnischment therfoir mycht be the easyer eschewit, subtille inventit and fenyeit ane conspiracue to haif bein interprysit aganis my lordis awin persone and his brotheris quhairvpone he allegit ane band to haif bein maid and set downe thairannent, allegit subscriuit be the erill of Huntlie, Glenorquhaye, Lochinayell and dyuers vther nobillmen to the number of sevin or aucht personis, that be the slight and calumnius inventioune his former confessioune concernyng the murthour of the Laird of Cadell mycht be the easyer louping our, quhilk band he allegit to haif bein in my keeping; and I being detenit captiue within the castell of Carnnaistrie vpone the suspitioune of the said murthour of Caddell, my lord haiffing apprehendit ane jelosie vpone the said umquhill Johne Oig subtill and fals depositioune, derectict the provest of Kilmone, the Commisser of Inuernes and Maister Donald Campbell naturall sone to the vmquhill Laird of Caddell to examinat and interrogat me vpone that speceall heid of the said Johne his depositioune concernyng the band and conspiracie allegit intendit aganis my lord and his brother; with ane speceall commissioune, gif I sould nocht delyuer the said band and reveill the leill circumstancis thairof conforme to the said Johnnis depositioun, to put me to the present tortor, quhilk thaye brocht in thair companie with thame and minassit and threatenit me dyuers tymis thairwith. Nochtwithstanding I declairit be my bodelie aithe to thame vndir the handwrett of Dougall Mcairthour Sheref Clerk of Argyill that I nevir knew sik ane band nor conspiracie nather be word nor wreit. Neuirtheles persaweand that nathir my aithe nor pugatioune could awaill me, bot of force athir behovit I to depone and affeirme JOhne Oigis depositioune to be trewe, or vtherwais to get no credeit and abyd the present tortor and demanyng of my ennemeis, quhairthrowe I wes constranit compellit and foirsit for feir of the present danger nocht onlie to ratefie and aprowe the foirsaid fals depositioune maid be the said Johne concernyng the conspiracie allegit intendit againis my Lord and his brothers lyif, in mair ampill and speceall forme thane the said Johne Oig sett it downe, be mentionatting of dyuers nobill mens namis, sik as I wes maist bund and addettit to in the cuntraye, that the mater mycht seim the mair credibill, bot also to mak my awin pairt concernyng the murthour of Cadder the lichter, I allegit the samin to be inventit be the laird of Glenorquhay, and he be his band and faithfull promeiss to haif fortefeit and assistit me thairintill; albeit as the Lord knawis and as I sall ansuer to his Majestie at the lattir daye, I onlie did it for eschewing of the present tortor and feir of my lyif, luiking according to the resone of fleche that sum moyane sould be maid be friendis for me in the maintyme, at my Lordis hand; protestand befoir God and his holie angellis that I newir knewe sik ane band nor conspiracie intendit againis my lord and chief nor his brother be onye of the saidis nobillmen aganis quhom I vterit furthe sik calumneis as ar contenit in my depositioune at Carnnaistrie noe be na utheris leifand or deid be word or wreit, nathir yit wes Glenorquhaye ewir airt or pairt be word or wreit of the murthour of the vnquhill laird of Cadder, lyik as I testifeit at Dunnvne being captiue, in the moneth of [Julii 1 m v c] fourscoir fourtein yeiris in presens of my lord and chief, the erll of Mar, the Sheref of Air and the Bischope of Argyll. Swa nowe being at libertie and freedome, for relief of my awin conscience and removing of suspitioune fra the innocent, does testefie be my great aithe and handwreit and vpone the parrell of my saluatioune, all this premissis to be of trewthe. Dyittit, wreittin and subscriuit with my hand at the Laiche Kirk of Glesguowe the penult of Maii 1595 befoir thir witnessis Maister Johne Cuper and Maister Johne Bell Ministers at Glesguowe and Robert Chrynsid of Possill commisser of Glesguowe. 

We vndirsubscriueand being requyirit be the rycht honorabill Johne Campbell of Ardkinlas to conveine with him inthe Laiche Kirk of Glesguowe to confer with him annent the resolutione of his conscience trewlie with the sicht and wecht of his greit sinnis, eftir dyuers suitis and intelligence haid of his estate, nocht willing our far to deject and cast downe ane penitent sinner, yieldit; and eftir dyuers ressonis in the place foirsaid at last he presenttit befoir us this his declaratioun, chargein us to testefie the same to be his wrietten and subscriuit with his hand. Efter conferens in that mater withe him and haiffing adiured him befoir the leving God to declair to ws gif it wes done of dissimulatioune for wairdlie respectis or as movit in conscience for that particular, and being resolvid be him thairof, we causit him wreit and subscriue the same our again with his awin hand for our better warrand, and therfoir dois testefie that this is his awin confessioune wreittin and subscriuit be himself quhilk we do witness be our subscriptioune manuall, daye, yeir and place befoir mentionat… 

Little weight can be attached to the confession of Ardkinglas, extorted by the threat of torture, and perhaps not much more to his second, and this his third and more solemn statement, which, with all the clergy present, was so evidently dressed for a purpose. 

The government of Scotland was never weaker, nor more open to all bad influence, than in the years preceding James’ accession to the English throne. Ardkinglas was powerfully backed, and the king appears to have condescended to a juggle to save him from the penalties of the law, while he assumed the semblance of urging on its ministers to do their office. On September 17, 1596, in the High Court at Edinburgh, “Johne Campbell of Ardkinlase was dilatit of airt and pairt of the crewall murthour and slauchteris of umquhill Sir Johne Campbell of Calder knycht and umquhil McInturner wechman of the place of Tanestrie.” The Justice-Clerk produced a warrant by the King requiring him to proceed in the trial; the King’s Advocate produced a similar mandate (they were then too common, for the King interfered the more as he more felt his weakness). Ardkinglas was present and took instruments of his compearance. Another and another day he offered him “ready to abide the trial.” At length, on 23d September, “the Justice, in respect nane of the King’s advocates compeirit to persew him, desertit the dyet and ordanit the cautioner of the said Laird of Ardkinlas to be relevit.”

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