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Chat's with Frank R. Shaw FSA Scot
A Chat with Alasdair Campbell of Airds, Unicorn Pursuivant of the Court of The Lord Lyon


Q. I noticed on the jacket of your book that you served in the Army. How long were you in the regular army, what was your rank, and where did you serve?

A: 8 years; Sandhurst, then commissioned into family regiment (4th generation) - The Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders; served Cyprus, Libya, Scotland and Nigeria (attached as Instructor to Royal Nigerian Army). Rank of Captain.

Q: My wife and I enjoy a good glass of wine. What wine companies were you associated with in the wine trade?

A: (a) Family firm of Wine Importers, London, exclusive agencies for Krug Champagne, Graham’s Port, Remy Martin Cognac and others; (b) Scottish and Newcastle Breweries, Edinburgh, joined as Marketing Manager, spent last five years as Managing Director of Group’s Wine and Spirit interests; Chairman of oldest firm on UK Wine Trade, Christopher and Co., London, in operation before the Great Fire.

Q: Ian Campbell, the Duke of Argyll and Clan Campbell Chief, died on Sunday, 22 April 2001 in London of complications during heart surgery. Our condolences appeared in this column in the April/May issue of The Family Tree. Who succeeded him? Tell us something about your new Chief.

A: His only son and heir, Torquhil, is now 13th Duke of Argyll. Aged 33, unmarried, educated like his father at Glenalmond College in Perthshire and then at Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester; served as assistant estates manager of Buccleugh Estates and then joined French drinks giant, Pernod Ricard, for whom he was working in the Far East. He has now joined their new, worldwide Scotch marketing company, working out of London, and will oversee Inveraray and family estates from there.

Q: Writing three volumes of history on Clan Campbell must be a huge undertaking. How many years, from beginning to end, will you have spent on this Herculean project? What are your plans for the future when you finish Volume III? Will you then help your wife mow the grass?

A: Actual writing at two years per volume is a six-year project but many years previously spent on the subject! One or two other books still to write if I am still compos mentis after finishing Volume III, and a lot more time spent on painting. Hopefully, Mr. Stuart will continue to mow the lawn!

Q: Not many of us in America know what a Unicorn Pursuivant is or does or why there is such. Would you please briefly explain.

A: The Lord Lyon has three Heralds and Three Pursuivants to assist him. Unicorn is the title of one of the latter, a name going back to 1426. The Officers of Arms act as Judges of first instance at the Court of the Lord Lyon, acting for private clients. They appear on state occasions and are members of the Royal Household in Scotland.

Q: You indicated that you were writing a history "warts and all," but you do not go into detail on some of the events that are listed in The Great Feud or by other authors who depict a few Campbell warts. Why is that?

A: Unaware of any such incidents in period of Volume I. To what, precisely, are you referring? Suggest you wait until you have seen Volume II.

Q: My friend and personal physician is a Burns, and he attests to being a Campbell. You mention the inclusion of Burns "is based on very thin evidence and can only be classed as a prime example of optimism!" How do I break this to the good doctor, a man of science, who firmly believes he is a Campbell?

A: ‘Facts are chiels that winna’ ding . . .’ At a distance? You could, of course, keep quiet.

Q: Throughout Scottish history, we read of the narrow neck of land between East and West Loch Tarbert where mariners pulled their boats while Kings and Chiefs actually sat in the boat as if posing for a modern "photo op". Why, if the neck of land is so narrow, was a canal not built to connect the two to save time?

A: It would perhaps be easier to understand if you knew the actual site; a considerable task in mediaeval times when I do not think we were into canal building in Scotland, but good question for later on when, in fact, they built the Crinan Canal farther north. I do not know if there is an actual answer.

Q: Who was the originator of the concept that "all inheritance of the lands should be by male heirs only" and, if that eventually failed, the lands were to be returned to the Chief of the Clan, thus ensuring that Campbells held on to their land?

A: The Campbell chiefs seem to have been wise enough to have inserted this clause into their grants of land, to ensure that the land could not pass through an heiress to an alien owner. On occasion, they themselves had exploited the lack of such a clause as the book makes clear. I think normal feudal practice, although by no means universal, was for succession by male heirs, and the Campbells made sure that this was so.

Q: I want to thank you personally for including, toward the end of the first volume, chapters on "The Clan" and "Clan Tartans", much of which is information for the entire Scottish community. Why did you feel the necessity to do so?

A: Delighted if you found them interesting. I would actually hope that much of the book would be of interest to others apart from Campbells for whom, of course, it is principally aimed. Certainly anyone from a clan in direct contact with the Campbells should find plenty of interest, as should people with a wider interest in Highland and Scottish history.

Q: And finally, as a Shaw whose ancestors come from the Isle of Jura, was there ever a time the Jura Shaws were looked upon as a sept of Clan Campbell? I'm familiar with the MacDonald concept, but I wondered if Shaws under Campbell ownership of Jura ever went over to Campbells?

A: I cannot answer with any certainty. If such an occasion had arisen under Campbell ownership, the inhabitants would have followed their masters - or else. I attach my notes on your family which you may find of interest.

Q: Do you see Tony Blair taking the United Kingdom into the European Union? If so, is there a parallel to the 1707 Union between Scotland and her neighbours to the south?

A: TB is thought to harbour personal Messianic ambitions as regards Europe. The British public as of now are strongly opposed to the idea. It will never work; it doesn’t now and the addition of a motley collection of new members will spell its death knell. Personally I hope we come out. As regards 1707, we have been some 10% of the UK electorate with 11.2 % of Members of Parliament with a loud shout in all affairs. In Europe, we would have six votes out of 626, or 1%.

Q: In America, we are aware that one of the parties is pressing for independence. In your opinion, could Scotland support herself with the services they now have with a population of 5.5 million people?

A: Yes, of course, we could - at a price. I think an independent Scotland might be an excessively uncomfortable place to live; it would split between the rural Highlands and Lowlands and the industrial Middle Belt that contains the bulk of the population. It would be a very left-wing country with punitive levels of taxation necessary to pay for services. I also mistrust the calibre of our politicians and the inherent factionalism (is there such a word?) of the Scot - in other words, the deep divisions which fight with each other in the country.


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