Archibald Campbell, Earl of Ilay

Archibald Campbell (1682-1761), Earl of Ilay and later 3rd Duke of Argyll, was the first governor of The Royal Bank of Scotland, 1727-37.

Background and early life

Archibald Campbell was born at Ham House, Surrey in June 1682, the second son of Archibald Campbell, 10th Earl of Argyll, and his wife Elizabeth Talmash. In 1701 the earldom was raised to a dukedom. When the 1st Duke of Argyll died in 1703, Archibald’s elder brother John inherited the dukedom.

Campbell was educated at Eton College and later at the University of Glasgow and in Utrecht, where he studied civil law. After his father’s elevation to the dukedom he abandoned his legal studies and, like is brother, pursued a military career.

Political career

Working closely with his brother, the 2nd Duke of Argyll, Campbell became associated with the Crown, and with pro-Union interests. Although his exact role in negotiations for the Union of 1707 is not known, he was certainly involved. He came to be widely considered the most powerful man in Scotland.

In 1706 Queen Anne created him Earl of Ilay, Lord Oransay, Dunoon and Arase. He became one of the 16 representative peers elected by the nobility of Scotland after the Union. With the exception of a short period in 1713-15, he remained a representative peer for the rest of his life.

For the next 50 years he was highly influential, affecting political and economic affairs through his powerful connections in the Hanoverian establishment. His official roles included Lord Justice-General, 1710-61, Lord Clerk Registrar, 1714-6, and Keeper of the Great Seal, 1733-61.

He was one of the leading Scottish promoters of the Equivalent Company in 1724.

In 1743 his brother died, and he became the 3rd Duke of Argyll. Where he had previous exercised power through political office and influence, he was now holder of Scotland’s most prestigious dukedom.

The Royal Bank of Scotland

In 1727 Ilay used his influence in London to obtain a royal charter for a new bank to be established in Edinburgh, called The Royal Bank of Scotland. Its foundation meant that Scotland now had two chartered banks, quite unlike the model of banking seen in most other European countries.

Ilay acted as a key adviser to the Bank’s first board. It was on his advice, for example, that they went ahead with innovative plans to include a portrait in the Bank’s first banknotes, even after they were informed of the significant difficulty and expense involved.

The Bank was originally founded as an offshoot from the Equivalent Company. The latter only existed to administer payments in relation to the Equivalent, so if the Equivalent stock were fully redeemed by the government, the Equivalent Company would no longer need to exist. In that event, it was not immediately clear what legal status the Bank, as an offshoot, would have. Almost as soon as the Bank started trading, its directors began pressing for a new charter which would give it a more permanent footing, and a right to perpetual continuance. In this matter Ilay was an important consultant and lobbyist on the Bank’s behalf, although in fact the new charter was not secured until 1738, a year after he had resigned his involvement in the Bank.

The Earl of Ilay remained governor of The Royal Bank of Scotland for its first decade, until 1737.

Family life and death

Archibald Campbell married Mary Whitfield on 19 January 1713, but they separated soon afterwards. She died in 1723. They had no children together.

Archibald Campbell, 3rd Duke of Argyll died at home in London on 16 April 1761.

The Royal Bank of Scotland’s banknotes

Since 1987 Ilay’s portrait has appeared on the banknotes of The Royal Bank of Scotland, in a likeness based on the portrait by Allan Ramsay.

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