BATTLE OF GLENSHIEL (1719)
The only pitched fight of the 1719 Jacobite Rebellion, the Battle of Glenshiel was fought on 10 June 1719. The rebels, who were aided by a Spanish Regiment, took up a formidable defensive position guarding a narrow mountain pass but were nevertheless attacked, dislodged and defeated effectively ending the rebellion.
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In 1688 James VII of Scotland (II of England) was deposed in favour of the joint Protestant monarchy headed by William of Orange and Mary Stuart. This was extremely unpopular in the largely conservative Highlands and a series of rebellions followed most notably in 1715 when a serious uprising had broken out. That rebellion had been ended when the Jacobites were defeated at Sheriffmuir and Preston whilst the Indemnity Act (1717), which pardoned most of those involved in the rebellion, attempted reconciliation.
Concurrent with the Jacobite troubles, England and Scotland had been engaged in the war of the Spanish succession (1701-13). This had ended, from Britain's perspective, with the Treaty of Utrecht (1713) which accepted Philip V as King of Spain but when he sent forces to occupy Sicily in 1718 the British declared war. Hoping to destabilise and/or distract the British Government, the Spanish looked to move the war into mainland Britain and this included inciting a new Jacobite insurrection in the north.
The Spanish invasion plans consisted of landing a sizeable invading force in Southern England concurrent with a large scale rebellion in the Highlands. This would be initiated by George Keith, Earl Marishcal who had been in exile in Spain since the 1715 rebellion. Supported by a force of 300 Spanish soldiers he sailed from Corunna, Spain in April 1719 and occupied the Isle of Lewis before moving onto the mainland via Loch Alsh. He established his headquarters at Eilean Donan Castle disembarking significant quantities of ammunition and gunpowder there.
From this point onwards the plan started to unravel. The main Spanish fleet - which had sailed from Cadiz with a force of 5,000 men under the command of James Butler, Duke of Ormonde - was wrecked by a storm. This in turn led to many of the Highland clans being reluctant to join the rebellion although the MacGregors, which had been excluded from the Indemnity Act, did participate and prompted some others to follow. William Murray, Earl of Tullibardine was assigned as commander of the land contingent which numbered around 1,000 men including the Spanish soldiers. In an attempt to bolster recruits, Tullibardine led his forces away from his headquarters at Eilean Donan - just in time as it happened for the Government had dispatched HMS Enterprise, HMS Flamborough and HMS Worcestor to seize the castle. After a sharp action the (Spanish) garrison surrendered denying the Jacobites significant quantities of ordnance. Concurrently a land force under Major General Joseph Wightman had deployed from Inverness Castle.
The Jacobite forces found themselves in a difficult position as they were facing a pincer movement. To their west, at Eilean Donan, were the forces of the Royal Navy whilst approaching from the east were Wightman's infantry force. Murray needed to engage the Government forces on favourable terrain and he chose Glenshiel, a natural bottleneck where the Inverness road passed through mountains on both sides. He was in place by the 8 June awaiting his opponent.
Wightman meanwhile had marched from Inverness Castle and by the 9 June was at Loch Cluanie, around 8 miles from Glenshiel. The next day he resumed his advance and upon arrival found Murray deployed ready for battle.
Murray had around 1,000 men in total. The bulk were from Clans Cameron, MacGregor, MacKenzie, MacKinnon and Murray. He also had around 200 Spanish troops (the balance had been the garrison at Eilean Donan when attacked by the Royal Navy) under Colonel Don Nicolás de Castro Bolaño. His sub-commanders included William Mackenzie, Earl of Seaforth and Robert Roy MacGregor (Rob Roy) as well as George Keith, Earl Marischal.
Wightman had a comparable sized force; around 850 infantry supported by 120 dragoons and a small contingent equipped with mortars.
The battle was effectively a frontal assault by Wightman's forces on the Jacobite positions.
- Stage 1: Deployment
Murray's objective was to bar the Government path and badly maul them as they tried to dislodge him. He built a barricade over the road and positioned his forces on the imposing high ground to the north and south. His Spanish contingent was attached to the forces to the north.
- Stage 2: Bombardment Starts
Wightman commenced his bombardment around 5pm. He sent forward his Dragoons in an attack on the Jacobite centre which provided cover for his mortar teams to move into range. They then started a bombardment on the Jacobite right (in the south).
- Stage 3: Assault on Jacobite Right
After the successful bombardment, four infantry platoons from Clayton's and Munro's Regiments stormed the Jacobite positions in the south. The Jacobite right fell back and, despite attempts to rally them and the provision of reinforcements drawn from the centre, fell into a general retreat.
- Stage 4: Assault on Jacobite Centre
Wightman now turned his mortars on the Spanish forces holding the northern high ground and the Jacobite barricade in the centre. He followed this by a (dismounted) Dragoon attack on the centre. This was augmented by Clayton's and Munro's Regiments, fresh from their victory in the south, who crossed the river in support.
- Stage 5: Assault on Jacobite Left
The main Government army was now brought into action with an assault against the northern Jacobite positions. A fierce fight commenced with Clan Seaforth who urgently called for reinforcements. Rob Roy sent men to assist but it was too late - the Seaforth's men were in retreat.
- Stage 6: Fighting Retreat
The Jacobite line disintegrated as the Highlanders fled to avoid capture and execution for treason. Murray's Spanish contingent executed a fighting retreat to cover their withdrawal.
Casualties from the battle were relatively light and peace with Spain undermined any further attempts to continue the 1719 rebellion. The uprising did however encourage the British Government to take definitive action to prevent further trouble in the Highlands. In 1724 General George Wade was sent to Scotland with a commission to build roads and barracks to ensure the stability of the north. He constructed over 240 miles of roads including 30 bridges whilst a dedicated regiment - the Black Watch - was raised from loyal Highlander clans. Coupled with Fort William, Fort Augustus and Inverness Castle (later Fort George) the aim was to prevent any further insurrection in the north. Despite these efforts, a final Jacobite rebellion ignited in 1745 culminating in the Battle of Culloden (1746).
General George Wade’s building programme in Scotland and the north was extensive. Following the 1715 uprising four purpose built barracks had been constructed (at Glenelg, Inversnaid, Kiliwhimen and Ruthven). Wade now set about building an extensive network of roads including multiple bridges. Regrettably the Carlisle to Newcastle road was also built as part of this programme – resulting in much of Hadrian’s Wall being demolished as hard core for the new road!
General Wade was also responsible for forming the 43rd Regiment of Foot (later renamed 42nd) - a unit that would later become known as the Black Watch. The first six companies were raised in 1725 using loyalist clans for recruitment. Three companies were drawn from members of Clan Campbell whilst the others hailed from Clans Fraser, Grant and Munro. In 1739 a further four companies were added. Some would see action at the Battle of Culloden (1746) at the end of the Jacobite wars. The unit still exists as Third Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland.
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A small information board and cairn mark the site but the terrain of the battle speaks for itself. A (relatively steep) path leads up to a superb view of the surrounding area.
View from West. The battlefield viewed from the west (behind the Jacobite lines). High ground left and right was held by the rebels who retreated towards the camera once dislodged.
Information Board. The monument/information board is a little light on detail but the wooden post directly in front points to the path uphill to superb views of the battleground.
River Shiel. Then as now the River Shiel divides the battlefield. Clayton’s Regiment and soldiers from Clan Munro forded the river to support the Dragoon attack on the Jacobite centre.