In 1453, when his father died, young Colin was placed in the custody of his uncle, Colin Campbell, 1st of Glenorchy, and succeeded his grandfather Duncan Campbell, 1st Lord Campbell, to become 2nd Lord Campbell. In 1457, he was created Earl of Argyll by James II, who was grateful for the loyalty of his father during the troubles early in his reign.
In 1460, he had a commission as Bailie of Cowal.
Glenorchy arranged a marriage for Argyll with Isabella Stewart, daughter and co-heiress of John Stewart, 2nd Lord Lorne. Through this marriage, Argyll received the Castle of Gloom and the neighboring estate in the parish of Dollar in Clackmananshire, the name of which he changed to Castle Campbell in February 1490.
The exact date of the marriage is unknown, but in 1460, shortly after the boy-king James III came to the throne, Argyll was called upon to intervene in a feud in his wife’s family. Allan MacDougall (called Allan of Lorne of the Wood), desiring to hold the estates belonging to his older brother John Ker of Lorne, seized his brother and imprisoned him in a dungeon on the island of Kerrera, with the intention of starving him to death. Argyll appeared with a fleet of war galleys and completely defeated Allan, burning his fleet, killing most of his men, and restoring the elder brother to his rightful inheritance.
Argyll was often sent on diplomatic missions, the first being in 1463, when James III sent him to negotiate a truce with Edward IV of England. One of the main terms of that truce was that neither king would support the enemies of the other.
In 1464 Campbell was made master of the king’s household, and in 1465, he was appointed Lord Justiciary of Scotland south of the Firth of Forth, a position he held in conjunction with Robert, Lord Boyd, until Boyd fell out with the king and fled to England, at which time Campbell held the position alone.
In 1466, he founded a chapel dedicated to St. Ninian in Dunure in Ayrshire.
As a result of his marriage with Isabel Stewart, Campbell acquired in 1469 the title Lord Lorne, which had previously been held by his wife’s uncle, John Stewart. In exchange for this title, Campbell gave Stewart other lands, and Stewart received the title Lord Innermeath.
Having received the title Lord Lorne, Argyll took the symbol of the galley from the Lorne heraldry as part of his achievement. In the event that he might never have a male heir, he entailed the lordship of Lorne to his uncle, Colin of Glenorchy; if Glenorchy were to die, to Glenorchy’s brother Duncan; then to Colin Campbell of Arduquholm and to the heirs male of the body, which failing, to his brothers, Archibald and Robert.
In 1471, he received the heritable offices of Justiciary and Sheriff of Lorne.
On 15 January 1472 James III granted Dunoon Castle to Argyll and his heirs with power to appoint constables, porters, jailers, watermen, and other necessary offices. At the same time, he granted the earl the lands of Borland.
On 20 February 1473, Argyll received a charter of the office of Justiciar, Chamberlain, Sheriff, and Bailie within the king’s lordship of Cowal. Then on 8 May 1474, he received one to erect his town of Inverary into a burgh of barony.
In 1474, Argyll was again sent as a commissioner to treat with Edward IV regarding breaches of the truce. In the resulting pact, which was to endure until July 1483, a marriage was arranged between Prince James of Scotland and Princess Cecily of England, a match which did not come to pass due to continued hostilities between the two nations.
In 1475, when King James was trying to subjugate John MacDonald, Earl of Ross and Lord of the Isles, Argyll was given a commission of lieutenancy to execute the forfeiture of MacDonald’s lands.
In 1479, he was confirmed in the offices of Lieutenant and Commissary of Argyll, which had been held by his ancestors Gillespic and Colin Campbell since 1382.
Further favors came to the Earl of Argyll in 1480 when James III granted him 160 marklands of the lordship of Knapdale, including the keeping of Castle Sween, for one silver penny in blench farm, i.e., nominal rent. This property had formerly belonged to the Lord of the Isles.
Early in 1483, James III appointed Argyll as Lord High Chancellor of Scotland and awarded him the lands of Pinkerton in the barony of Dunbar, probably for his loyalty to the king during the rebellion of Archibald “Bell the Cat” Douglas, which had led to the murder of some of James’s favorites after the confrontation at Lauder in 1482. These lands had previously been held by the king’s brother, Alexander, Duke of Albany, who was in league with Douglas.
In 1484, Argyll was active in diplomatic campaigns. In July, he was sent as a commissioner to Paris to renew the “ancient league” between France and Scotland, a mission completed on 9 July. Then on 21 September, once James III had gotten the upper hand against the rebels, he was part of the delegation who met with King Richard III of England at Nottingham to conclude peace, a treaty which was to run until September 1487. Argyll was also appointed as one of the Scots who would periodically meet with the English at Berwick to determine whether or not the stipulations in the treaty were being followed. To strengthen the resolve of the parties to keep the truce, a second marriage was arranged between James, Prince of Scotland, and Ann de la Pole, daughter of John de la Pole, 2nd Duke of Suffolk, and niece to Richard III. This second marriage negotiation also collapsed as a result of Richard’s defeat at Bosworth Field in 1485.
Argyll threw in with the rebels after Parliament had strengthened the king’s hand against the rebellious nobles in October 1487. At about this time, the king forced Argyll out of the chancellorship, in favor of William Elphinstone, Bishop of Aberdeen.
Argyll was not present at the Battle of Sauchieburn on 11 June 1488, or in the days following because he was in England on an embassy to Henry VII, having been sent there on behalf of Prince James and the rebels to seek English help against James III.
Once James IV was placed on the throne, he restored Argyll to the position of High Chancellor. Furthermore, the new king gave him the lands of Rosneath in Dunbartonshire on 9 January 1490, which remained in the Campbell family until 1939.
Argyll continued in favor with James IV, and, on 21 December 1491, he was one of the conservators of the truce between England and Scotland, which was extended to 1496 One author has claimed that one reason James III of Scotland has long had a sinister reputation is that “such accounts as we have of him are written by the partisans of his unruly nobles Argyll, Lennox, and Angus.”
Colin Campbell, 1st Earl of Argyll died in 1493 and was buried at Kilmun Parish Church on Cowal Peninsula. He was succeeded by his son Archibald, 2nd Earl of Argyll.
By his wife, Isabel Stewart, Argyll had two sons and seven daughters:Archibald, 2nd Earl of Argyll.
Thomas, ancestor of the Campbells of Lundie in Forfarshire.
Margaret, married to George, Lord Seton.
Isabel, married to William, Master of Drummond.
Helen, married to Hugh Montgomerie, 1st Earl of Eglinton.
Elizabeth, married to John, 2nd Lord Oliphant.
Mary, married to Angus MacDonald, natural son and heir of Tailzie tailzie of John of Islay, Earl of Ross.
Agnes, said to have been married to Alexander Mackenzie of Kintail, though some state this is disproven.
Catharine, married to Torquil MacLeod of Lewis.