Morvern Lines – 11.3.21

Michael Alexander Campbell, 22nd Captain of Dunstaffnage, keeps his lonely vigil in a room in one of Scotland’s oldest stone castles. Note the large key on the mantelpiece, indicating his ancient office, which is usually worn round the neck like a tie. I understand the key shown here is a replica used purely for the photograph. The dram in hand, however, was not! Photograph: Julian Calder.

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Continued from last week.

There is a story told that when John MacDonald was in London negotiating what became known as the ‘Treaty of Ardtornish-Westminster’, he was invited to the Lord Mayor’s banquet and placed near the foot of the table as if he was a nobody. Halfway through the evening, someone told his host that he was, in fact, a great prince in his own country arranging an important pact with King Edward.

The flustered mayor quickly sent a messenger inviting John to come and sit at his right hand – the place of honour. The reply was: ‘Tell the Lord Mayor not to be worrying himself, wherever MacDonald is sitting, that is the head of the table.’

An apocryphal tale, no doubt, but all my MacDonald friends seem to like it.
The Hereditary Master of the Royal Household, High Justiciary of Argyll, Admiral of the Western Isles, High Sheriff of Argyll and Keeper of the Royal Castles of Carrick, Dunoon, Dunstaffnage, Sween and Tarbert, is Torquhil Campbell, the 13th Duke of Argyll, Chief of Clan Campbell, or MacCailein Mor, Gaelic for ‘the Great MacColin’.

Taking possession of lands around Loch Awe 800 years ago, saw the start of the ascendancy of the Campbell chiefs, first as Knights of Lochow, from 1457 as earls of Argyll and, from 1701 onwards, as dukes. The present Duke’s Highland titles are: Marquess of Kintyre and Lorn, Earl of Campbell and Cowall, Viscount Lochow and Glenyla and Lord of Inveraray, Mull, Morvern and Tiree.

The duties of the High Sheriff of Argyll, Admiral of the Western Isles and Hereditary Master of the Royal Household are now largely ceremonial, but the Royal Navy, in particular HMS Argyll, a Type 23 ‘Duke’ class frigate and the first of her type to be fitted with the Sea Ceptor missile system, still fires a salute to the Admiral of the Western Isles.

Masters of the Royal Household in Scotland carry a magnificent two-foot-long red velvet baton denoting their office. It is sprinkled with thistles surmounted with the Sovereign’s crest of a lion wearing the Honours Three – the crown, sword and sceptre of Scotland. The present Duke’s can be seen in his coat of arms and is on view at Inveraray Castle.

Castles have featured conspicuously in Scotland’s past, none more so than the mighty 13th-century fortress of Dunstaffnage guarding the vulnerable western approaches to Loch Linnhe, the Sound of Mull and the Outer Hebrides.

Tradition has it that an earlier building housed the Stone of Destiny, used at the coronation of Scottish kings, and history records that Flora MacDonald, the famous Jacobite heroine from Skye, was held prisoner there in 1746 while en route to London. The MacDougalls, who were on the side of the English during the Wars of Independence, possessed it until 1309 when Robert the Bruce defeated them at a battle in the Pass of Brander. The MacDougall leaders were forfeited and Bruce gave Dunstaffnage to the Campbells who guarded it for him.

In the 15th century, the Earl of Argyll passed the responsibility to his cousin creating him Captain of Dunstaffnage, an appointment that the family still retain. A charter signed by the 5th Earl in 1667 addressed to his kinsman, Alexander the 10th Captain, gives details of his responsibilities: ‘Holding our said Castell of Dunstaffnies and ever keeping and holding therein six able and decent men with armour and arms sufficient for warr and keeping of the said Castell.’

In addition, the Captain had to provide the Earl with free access and lodging if required and pass on certain rents. A dispute arose in 1912 over the captaincy and went to the Court of Session. The judge reconfirmed the Duke of Argyll’s superiority as Keeper and also upheld the Captain’s Heritable position. He also ruled that to keep the title the Captain had to spend three nights each year in a room in the castle.

Although recent feudal reform makes this unnecessary, Michael Campbell, the present holder, takes such immense pride in his ancient title that he continues to brave cold nights in a bare upstairs room in the company of the ghosts of his ancestors and a large golden key which is his insignia of office as castellan.

Alexander Scrymgeour, 12th Earl of Dundee, Hereditary Banner Bearer for Scotland, whose direct ancestors fought alongside Robert the Bruce at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, seen here flying the Lion Rampant beside the massive bronze statue of Bruce. Photograph: Julian Calder.

The outcome of the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 brought independence to Scotland and the honour of carrying the lion rampant which Robert the Bruce flew that day was given to Alexander Scrymgeour, whose family had earned it from an earlier monarch.
When the Stuarts became kings of England, Scotland and Ireland at the Restoration of 1660, the Scrymgeours were awarded the Constabulary of the Castle of Dundee. With it came an earldom and land and the title of Hereditary Royal Standard Bearers. For some reason the deed was wanting and not long afterwards up popped their arch-enemies the Maitlands headed by the powerful Duke of Lauderdale who was Secretary of State for Scotland. They laid claim to the Scrymgeours estates and, more importantly, the right to carry the Royal Banner.

A furious row erupted, which lasted for generations, until 1954 when a compromise was reached by the Lord Lyon’s office approving the Scrymgeour family as Hereditary Banner Bearers for Scotland and the Maitlands as Hereditary Bearers of the National Flag of Scotland which is, of course, the Saltire.

The Lion Rampant is The Queen’s official banner in Scotland. The Banner is gold, with a red rampant lion and Royal tressure (border). The use of the Banner is not restricted to the Monarch. It can also be flown, in a personal capacity, by Her Majesty’s Great Officers. These include Lord Lieutenants, the Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Lord Lyon King of Arms and the Keeper of the Great Seal of Scotland, an office that has been held since 1999 by the First Minister of Scotland.

The Royal Banner of the Royal Arms of Scotland is currently flown at the Palace of Holyroodhouse and Balmoral Castle when The Queen is not in residence. When Her Majesty is in residence, The Royal Standard of the United Kingdom is flown.