The British Confederate

Mark Stoyle commends a new biography of a Scottish political heavyweight

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Reviewed by: Mark Stoyle
Author: Allan I Macinnes
Publisher: John Donald
Price (RRP): £25

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Archibald Campbell, 8th Earl and Marquess of Argyll, was the greatest Scottish statesman of the mid-17th century.

Ruthless, acquisitive and politically astute, Argyll was cordially detested by many of his contemporaries, including his own father, who apparently once told Charles I that his son was “a man of craft, subtlety, and falsehood… [who] can love no man”. He went on to warn the king that “if ever he finds it in his power to do you mischief he will be sure to do it”.

If Argyll’s father did indeed speak these words then they were to prove richly prophetic. Over the succeeding years, few would do more than Archibald Campbell – as leader of Charles I’s Scottish enemies – to bring the king to humiliation and defeat.

In this major new study of Campbell’s life – a formidably learned work which is the product of 20 years’ research – Allan Macinnes provides a highly detailed portrait of Argyll, which offers especially vivid insights into the British political context in which he operated. Macinnes is no admirer of Charles I.

He observes that “historical apologists notwithstanding … [Charles] was a micro-manager of limited intellect and contestable probity”. The author is little more enamoured of the English Parliamentarians, whom he portrays as proponents of a ‘Gothic agenda’ which was designed to ensure the continuing subordination of Scotland.

“The emergence of the New Model Army in 1645… constituted a key moment in the establishment of an assertive English national consciousness”, Macinnes rightly observes, for that army “was fashioned to attain an English victory for the Parliamentarians, not a British triumph for the Solemn League and Covenant”.

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By contrast, Macinnes provides a strikingly upbeat assessment of his hero. Argyll, he maintains, displayed “a modernist commitment to mutual respect between both kingdoms [which] … may well offer a constructive way forward for Anglo-Scottish relations in the 21st century”.
 
Mark Stoyle, professor of early modern history, University of Southampton