Campbell Arms: An Introduction to Scottish Heraldry

by Paul Campbell

From "The Armiger's News," January 2011



Guidelines and rules have been proscribed for Scots heraldry by practice and law, most notably the Lord Lyon Acts of 1592 and 1672. No coat of arms may be used in Scotland without prior assent from the Lord Lyon King of Arms, to whom the Scottish monarch has passed considerable authority. An individual’s coat of arms is legally protected and may not be used by another. Armigers with the same surname can be expected to use arms differenced from a ‘base’ or ‘stem’ arms, usually a Chief’s, or arms which have some design elements in common. Thus, the arms originating from one clan should be collectively similar while remaining individually distinct. The arms from any clan with sufficient number of armigers could illustrate this.


From a modest start on Loch Awe in Argyll in the 13th century, Clan Campbell experienced such an increase in power during the following centuries that by the Battle of Culloden in 1746 its status as a clan was unrivalled. Primarily, this success was by acting as the Crown’s muscle in the Highlands, capitalizing on good political bets, and arranging carefully placed marriages into important families. They had key roles in the growing British Empire. Their number, combined with heraldry’s place in Scots society, has produced a significant, recognizable armorial record.


How many individual Campbell coats of arms are there? Islay Herald Extraordinary Alastair Campbell of Airds lists in his armorial from 2004 about 250 distinct arms granted, matriculated, assumed, or used in Scotland. Further, adding new Scots arms and Campbell arms from other heraldic jurisdictions, the number of personal Campbell arms is approximately 275. The example coats for this article were chosen for their visual interest.


The Chiefly Line

TAN-011.jpgIt is appropriate to begin by looking at the full armorial achievement of the Chief of Clan Campbell, now Torquhil Ian Campbell, 13th Duke of Argyll. His arms: quarterly, 1st and 4th gyronny of eight Or and Sable, 2nd and 3rd, Argent a galley sails furled flags flying oars in action Sable; behind the shield, in saltire, dexter a sword proper hilted and pommelled Or for Justiciar of Scotland; sinister a baton Gules semée of thistles Or ensigned with the crest of Scotland as Master of the Household in Scotland. Above the coronet and helmet of his rank, a boar’s head couped Or. Supporters: two lions guardant Gules armed and langued Azure. Motto: NE OBLIVISCARIS (Fig. 1).


A gyronny of eight can be defined is a division of a shield per cross and per saltire. It was the original chiefly arms from which Campbell armigers base new arms. However, Campbells descended from the chiefly line since the Galley of Lorne was added as second and third quarters could include that. For example, if Lord Rory Campbell, the current Chief’s young second son elected to matriculate arms, the Galley of Lorne could be expected to be seen.


The practice must have been before the 1592 Act that new arms were differenced from a base coat. We can look to the Campbells to see an example of this. The earliest Campbell arms appear on a seal from 1296 belonging to Colin Campbell, the very Cailen Mor from whom today’s Campbell chiefs take the patronymic MacCailen Mor. His seal bore a gyronny of eight (Fig. 2a). The second oldest seal is that of Sir Donald Campbell from 1308/9 whose arms are described as gyronny of eight on each alternate gyron a trefoil slipped (Fig. 2b).


Original Campbell tinctures were Argent and Sable (Fig. 2c) as can be seen, for example, in the Scots Roll, ca.1455, although since the 16th century, the Campbell’s chiefly tinctures have been Or and Sable (Fig. 2d).


Before he became the 3rd Duke of Argyll on the death of his older brother, Archibald Campbell was granted quarterly, 1st and 4th, gyronny of eight Sable and Or; 2nd and 3rd Argent a fret Sable, . He was not yet the Chief, so note the swapping of the tinctures in the gyronny. He later created a bookplate which included the Galley of Lorne in an inestucheon (Fig. 2e). The 3rd Duke had a natural son, a Colonel William Williams of the Guard, who matriculated the chiefly coat differenced with a bend sinister Gules and a bordure compony Argent and Azure (Fig. 2f), the bend sinister and border compony for bastardry. A legitimate heir to a natural son’s arms would be expected to continue to bear these differences.


Differencing can not be discussed without a brief mention of Robert Riddle Stodart, a 19th century heraldic scholar and Lyon Clerk Depute from 1864-1886. He took many of the practices for differencing already in use and distilled them to a system of bordures, lines, and charges to show an orderly descent of armigerous lines. When looking at arms however, it should not be used a reliable guide to determine a precise relationship, particularly when looking at arms already granted, because it wasn’t and isn’t always used. The Stodart scheme provides a good guide but can’t be considered a rule except in the sense that rules are meant to be broken.


The many duine uasail, confirmed blood relations to the Chief, and indeterminate cadets, clan members without a proven blood relation to the Chief, would go on to difference arms, proclaiming an individual heraldic identity, establishing a legacy of the inheritable property of arms, and demonstrating loyalty to the Chief. Arms may be differenced in many ways: by use of bordures or charges, by changing tinctures, by changing the lines, or by adding a heraldic reference to the wife’s or maternal line.


The addition of the Galley of Lorne into the chiefly arms provides a story. Although the Campbells had been making inroads into Lorne from the early 14th century, it was then MacDougall territory. Ewen, the last MacDougall lord, was survived by two daughters who married Stewarts, and Lorne was eventually passed to Sir John Stewart. His grandson, another John, became Lord of Lorne, and had three daughters who married Campbells: Isabel married as early as December 1462 Sir Colin Campbell of Lochawe, the Chief and by then recently elevated as first Earl of Argyll; Janet married Sir Colin Campbell of Glenorchy; and Marion married Arthur Campbell of Otter. John also had an illegitimate son, Dougal.


In 1463, John was to marry the mother of Dougal, which under Scots law would have legitimized him and allowed him to inherit the lands and title of Lorne. It was not to be as John, at the altar and prior to completion of the marriage ceremony, was tragically stabbed to death by an unknown intruder preventing son Dougal from inheriting. Lorne then passed to John’s brother, Walter, who subsequently made an arrangement whereby the Earl of Argyll obtained a charter of the lands and title Lord of Lorne, and with that the heraldic Galley of Lorne.


Before leaving the chiefly line, a very short introduction to Territorial Designations is helpful.  Many Campbells are referred to as being of someplace. When a property has been recognized by Lord Lyon, say Inverawe for example, the owner adds the property’s designation to his legal name, and he becomes “Campbell of Inverawe” who bears Inverawe arms. A complicated topic, subject to debate and further discussion perhaps another time, they here provide convenient shorthand to refer to different people with the same surname.


Glenorchy Arms

The first Campbell of Glenorchy was Sir Colin Campbell, son of Duncan, the first Lord Campbell, by his second marriage. Marriage to the aforementioned Stewart co-heiress Janet allowed him to add the Stewart fess chequy. The earliest Glenorchy arms appear on a gun said to date from the late 15th century and, minus the tinctures, largely match those granted. In the 16th century, Glenorchy arms like Argyll arms used Argent and Sable instead of Or and Sable which was later adopted. Glenorchy registered with Lyon in 1673: quarterly, 1st and 4th, gyronny of eight Or and Sable; 2nd, Argent a galley sails furled oars in action Sable; 3rd, Or a fess chequy Azure and Argent (Fig. 3a). The crest by the way is a boar’s head erased proper, and the motto FOLLOW ME. Glenorchy has supporters, two stags proper attired and unguled Or. These arms were matriculated again in 1868. From this branch would come the Earls of Breadalbane and many armigerous descendants.


When he became a Senator of the College of Justice in 1694, Sir Colin Campbell, 1st Baronet of Aberuchill matriculated quarterly, 1st and 4th, gyronny of eight Or and Sable; 2nd, Or a fess chequy Azure and Argent; 3rd, Argent a galley sails furled oars in action Sable all within a bordure Ermine (Fig. 3b). Note the swapping of the 2nd and 3rd quarters from the base Glenorchy arms.


Another Glenorchy descendant was Colonel Alexander Campbell of Finab who distinguished himself during the failed Darien expedition. Finab arms have an honorable augmentation of corporate arms to add to the base Glenrochy arms: overall the arms of the Scots African and Indian Company viz. Azure a saltire Argent between a ship under sail flagged of Scotland in chief proper; a Peruvian sheep in base; a camel on the dexter and an elephant on the sinister, the first two of these loaded and the last bearing a turret Argent (Fig. 3c).


Campbell had arrived in Panama in February of 1700 to try to save a doomed Scottish trading colony. He arrived on his own ship with 200 clan members who had fought with him in Europe. On landing, he immediately led his troops to a rout of a Spanish force of 1,600. But, after returning as victors, the colony on the bay was besieged by a Spanish naval force which consisted of seven men-of-war. For weeks, the Scots under Campbell held out. But, with ammunition nearly exhausted, most of the officers dead, and the water supply cut off, they capitulated and agreed to quit Panama. Campbell’s heroism was a bright spot in an otherwise bleak episode. The Darien expedition was a major economic blow for Scotland and is cited as one motivation for the 1707 Act of Union which united the Parliaments of Scotland and England and formed the Kingdom of Great Britain.


Not all Glenorchy descendants use these quarterings. One who didn’t shows that heraldry can make strange bedfellows. Alexander Campbell of Possil was granted arms in 1809, a gyronny of eight Or and Sable in chief a mullet countercharged within a bordure embattled Azure charged with eight buckles Or (Fig. 3d). Alexander’s son, John Campbell of Possil, died without issue and the headship of the family passed to his nephew Celestine. Celestine was the son of John’s sister, Harriet, and Archibald James Lamont, 20th Chief of Clan Lamont.


The Campbells and Lamonts had been aligned during Scottish Civil Wars of the 17th century until the Lamonts switched sides and joined forces with Alasdair MacColla in ravaging Campbell lands in 1645. One such ravaging was the Massacre of Lagganmore where, after a battle, over 100 Campbell men, women, and children were put in a barn which was then set afire killing all but two who managed to escape. The following year the Campbells gave back better than they got capturing two Lamont castles. Although the Lamont Chief surrendered with terms, the Campbells slaughtered about 200 men, women, and children. The Lamont Chief was then thrown in a Campbell jail for five years and upon release was given a bill for incurred expenses.


But, back to Celestine. He matriculated arms in 1892 as Lamont-Campbell of Possil, quartering his grandfather’s arms, although the bordure became indented for an unknown reason, with those of Lamont: Azure, a lion rampant Argent armed and langued Gules within a bordure Argent (Fig. 3e). Shortly after matriculating his arms, he died without issue, and the line passed to a cousin, a Mrs. Carter, who matriculated as Carter-Campbell of Possil in 1893, keeping the Campbell quarters as before but changing the 2nd and 3rd quarters to show Carter arms: Argent two lions rampant combattant Sable (Fig. 3f).  


Inverawe Arms

Leaving the Glenorchy branch, we turn to another offshoot from the chiefly line, the Campbells of Inverawe, which has produced a consistent and pleasing set of arms. Nisbet in 1742 records what is recognized as base Inverawe arms: gyronny of eight Or and Sable within a bordure wavy Azure charged with six salmon naiant proper (Fig. 4a). These base or stem arms were also recorded by Nisbet for younger brothers, Campbell of Kilmartin and Campbell of Shirvan, differenced in the fess point with a crescent Argent (Fig. 4b) and a mullet Argent (Fig. 4c) respectively. The cresent and the mullet will be recognized as the brisure or temporary cadency marks for second and third sons here given permanent status.


On the death of her three brothers, sister Janet inherited Inverawe from her father, Major Duncan Campbell of Inverawe of the Black Watch who foresaw his own death at Ticonderoga. She sold the property and the representation of the family went to her uncle Alexander Campbell, forebear of the Campbells of Auchendarroch. The historical arms of Inverawe are an example of a bordure not only for a difference but alluding to something else, here the River Awe. The origin of the six salmon is thus: Queen Mary on a visit to Inveraray was said to have been so impressed with the delicious salmon given by Inverawe that she gave them fishing rights in the river. Inverawe arms were not matriculated until 1908, and that was at the behest of James Arthur Campbell of Arduaine, a nephew of the then Inverawe, who had matriculated his arms three years previously. The Arduaine arms are differenced with a martlet Argent (Fig. 4d) in the fess point, martlet being the brisure mark for a fourth son here made a permanent charge of differencing by Lyon.


In 1974, an Arduaine descendant matriculated arms. Diarmid Campbell, Editor Emeritus of the Journal of the Clan Campbell Society (North America), is himself a second son and would need differenced arms. Lyon went to a Stodart-influenced decision using Arduaine arms but with a bordure wavy per pale Azure and Or charged with six salmon naiant proper (Fig. 4e). This design resulted in a circumstance where a metal appears on a metal in the border. Diarmid’s younger brother Oran subsequently matriculated arms, bordure wavy quarterly Azure and Or with six salmon naiant proper (Fig.4f), a logical progression, although a strict reading of Stodart would lead one to believe these arms were a second son of Diarmid’s and not a younger brother.


A few other Inverawe arms exist. Dr. Roland Neill Campbell is from another branch of family, the New Inverawe Campbells. He matriculated arms in 1976: gyronny of eight Or and Sable an annulet Argent at fess point within a bordure wavy per pale Azure and Gules charged with six salmon naiant proper. The annulet is normally the brisure for a fifth son but Lyon chose the follow the pattern long established and make it a permanent charge to represent this branch of the family. Should New Inverawe himself elect to matriculate arms, his bordure wavy could be expected to be completely Azure. Other Inverawe-based arms add salmon, some of them being Or and counter-naiant.


Modifying Tinctures - Ardkinglas, Loudoun & al.

Historically, through reading a too-old roll or imprecision on reading a blazon, early Campbell arms might be displayed Sable and Argent instead of Argent and Sable or Sable and Or instead of Or and Sable. Such a reversal of tinctures can be a way of differencing arms, and this is the case in the Ardkinglas branch of the clan. The arms from the Ardkinglas branch swapped the chiefly tinctures, and Ardkinglas arms are Sable and Or within a bordure Or (Fig. 5a) as confirmed by Lyon in 1672-7.


Arms may also be differenced by changing tinctures. The most common change of tincture in Campbell arms occurs in the Loudoun branch of the family. Sir Duncan Campbell, nephew of Sir Neil Campbell of Lochow, married Susanna Crawford and, through her, inherited substantial estates in Ayrshire. Crawford base arms are Gules a fess Ermine, and Sir Duncan took those tinctures and combined with Campbell gyronny to create the arms of Loudoun. The Loudoun arms were recorded in the Lyon office of 1672-7 as Ermine and Gules (Fig. 5b), although they had been occasionally represented as Nisbet did in 1742 as Gules and Ermine. Quite a few Loudoun arms have been officially matriculated, many incorporating the new tinctures.


In the 16th century, Campbells of Cessnock, a branch of the Loudouns, were using gyronnies of eight on seals. In 1672-7, Lyon confirmed on Cessnock: gyronny of eight Or and Sable within a bordure Gules charged with eight scallops Or; on a canton in dexter chief gyronny of eight Ermine and Gules (Fig. 5c), nicely incorporating two versions of the Campbell gyronny. Another set of arms to do that belongs to Campbell of Skerrington who in the mid 18th century received a handsome coat: quarterly, 1st, gyronny of eight Or and Sable; 2nd, Azure three cross crosslets fitche issuing out of as many crescents Argent; 3rd, Azure three boars’ heads erased Argent between a spear issuant out of the dexter base and a Lochaber axe out of the sinister both palewise Argent; 4th, gyronny of eight Gules and Ermine. (Fig. 5d)


Not all Loudoun-related arms include the Ermine and Gules as tinctures, and, similarly, the presence of them does not necessarily mean a Loudoun connection. Alexander Campbell of Balgirsho received arms in 1672-7: gyronny of eight Ermine and Gules within a bordure engrailed Gules charged with eight crescents Argent (Fig. 5e). He was not of the House of Loudoun, and it is unsure why his gyrons are so charged. He was the great grandson of Colin Campbell of Croonan who had been granted lands by Donald, Abbot of Couper, a son of the second Earl of Argyll. Before Donald died, he diverted some estates from the Catholic Church’s former property to some of his illegitimate offspring. A distant descendant of this naughty abbott was Lt. Col. H. Burnley-Campbell of Ormidale who matriculated arms in 1895 with a rare use of Ermine and Sable in Campbell arms: quarterly, 1st and 4th, gyronny of eight Ermine and Sable, 2nd and 3rd, Ermine on waves of the sea a ship in full sail proper, on a chief engrailed Azure a cornucopia between two bees volant proper (Fig. 5f).


International Miscellany

An American may petition for a grant of arms either through owning land in Scotland or by petitioning for arm in memory of an ancestor who would have been under Lyon’s jurisdiction in his or her lifetime, and U.S. Campbells have done this three times. The second petition belonged to Danny Byrd Campbell from Virginia who arranged a grant of arms for ancestor John Campbell in 1999: gyronny of eight Or and Sable, a fess Argent with three piles Azure issuant from the base (Fig. 6a). The piles Azure refer to the Blue Ridge Mountains to which his ancestor moved. Not representing the senior line, Danny’s arms are differenced by adding a bordure Or engrailed and engrailing the fess. His family has received two further matriculations.


Although he does not bear Campbell arms, Ronald Campbell Phillips, an Australian real estate broker, was granted Scots arms in 1999 which are nonetheless of interest here. There has never been a Clan Phillips, but not belonging to a clan does not prevent a potential armiger from receiving Scots arms. The general practice has been that armigers with the same surname will bear arms which share features. Phillips arms in Scotland generally have an Azure shield, two or three talbots heads erased and a chevron that is at least partially Argent. The armiger wanted to include a heraldic reference to his maternal Campbells and so handsomely incorporated a Campbell gyronny: per chevron Azure and gyronny of eight Or and Sable, a chevron, in chief two Talbot heads erased Argent (Fig. 6b).


Although not required to do so, national offices of arms in England, Canada, Ireland, South Africa, and formerly Rhodesia have granted or registered many arms incorporating the chiefly gyronny to Campbells or people with Campbell connections. The English College of Arms has granted quite a few of these. John Mackinnon was issued a grant pursuant to a Royal License authorizing him to take the name of his maternal grandfather, John Campbell of Ormaig in Argyllshire. The 1806 grant is blazoned: quarterly, 1st and 4th, Gyronny of eight Or and Sable and (for distinction) on a Canton Argent a Pineapple proper, 2nd and 3rd, Argent, a Buck chased by a Greyhound proper to the dexter over a field in base Vert within a Bordure Azure (Fig. 6c). The canton charged with a pineapple as a difference is a nod to his residency in Tobago. John’s younger brother James also received a grant, his arms being differenced with a crescent.


South African William Alfred Campbell’s 1923 English grant was for his armorial bearings as well as to his descendants and other descendants of his grandfather, William Campbell of Mackleneuk Estate in Natal, his very Scottish-looking arms being: gyronny of eight Or and Sable on a Chief wavy Argent a Lymphad sail furled and oars in action of the second Flags Gules flying to the sinister between two Thistles slipped and leaved proper (Fig. 6d).


Archibald Campbell from Middlesex was a grandson of another South African Campbell, and his 1957 English grant was for gyronny Gules and Ermine a Chief Azure thereon two Garbs Or a Pale Gold charged with a Lymphad sail furled oars in action Sable with pennons flying of the first (Fig. 6e).


The Gaelic patronymic for the Inverawe family is MacConochie, son of Duncan. The family Maconchy of Rathmore in Ireland claim to be of Campbell descent and arms were registered with the Ulster office: gyronny of eight Gules and Ermine a fess Or, three thistles slipped and leaved proper (Fig. 6f), and these arms having since been transmitted through an heiress into the Peel family where they are still is use.




Among the clans, the Campbell heraldic record is among the most extensive. A review of the indices of surnames in the two volumes of An Ordinary of Arms, which together catalog the Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland from the Court of the Lord Lyon, 1672-1973, indicates that, along with the Campbells, the Gordons, Hamiltons, Scotts, and Stewarts (Stuarts) have a sizeable heraldic record.


While nearly all gyronnies of eights in Scots heraldry belong to Campbells or people with a Campbell connection, a handful belong to Mathesons, theirs being a striking Sable and Gules. A few gyronnies of twelve Gules and Or belong to Brownlees. In other jurisdictions, the gyronny is not reserved, and one was used for the arms of an English power plant, the gyronny of eight coming to represent turbine blades. In a similar but sad vein, a few Campbells in England and Canada were granted arms which do not incorporate a Campbell gyronny in the coat, although the two English grants include a Campbell reference in the crests.


Besides personal arms, the Campbell gyronny has found its way into the official heraldry of government councils and schools located in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Australia, and South Africa. A stunning gyronny of eight Argent and Azure appears in the arms of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Argyll and the Isles. A quartet of official arms in the United States incorporate Campbell symbology in some way. Including these, the number of distinct personal Campbell arms or other arms with a Campbell influence of some sort is about 300.


The key visual characteristic of Scots heraldry is the use of bordures, charges, lines, and tincture changes to difference arms from base arms, and these have been used by the armigers of Clan Campbell to produce an extensive heraldic legacy.



  • Campbell of Airds, Alastair. A History of Clan Campbell, Vol. 3. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004.
  • Campbell, Danny. “The Campbells Are Coming.” Journal of the Clan Campbell Society (North America) 28, no. 2. (Spring 2001): 8-10.
  • Johnston, G. Harvey. Heraldry of the Campbells. Inveraray: Beinn Bhuidhe Holdings Limited, 1977.
  • Lyon Office. An Ordinary of Arms, Vol. II. Edinburgh: Lyon Office, 1977.
  • Paul, Sir James Balfour. An Ordinary of Arms. Edinburgh: Lyon Office, 1903.


  • Campbell of Airds, Alastair. Fig. 1.
  • Campbell, Paul. Figs. 2a, b, d, &e; 3e&f; 4a-c, e, &f; 6a-f.
  • Johnston, G. Harvey. Figs. 2c&f; 3 a-d; 4d, 5 a-f.

This article was based on a talk given on 21 September 2010 at the New York Genealogical & Biographical Society sponsored by that society’s Committee on Heraldry and the College of Arms Foundation, Inc. of New York. I thank Alastair Campbell of Airds for reviewing my notes beforehand to prevent howlers and for allowing use of his drawing of the arms of our Chief here. I styled the arms I prepared the art for in Johnston’s simple, effective style for visual continuity. Any errors are mine.