Thursday, June 10, 2010

Battle of Glenshiel

We move on to our second battle of the summer season. This one was the Battle of Glenshiel, another Jacobite battle. It happened in 1719, later to be called the 1719 Rising. This small campaign followed the 1715 Rising and was seen as pretty much a last hurrah of the Jacobites and their attempts to get James III on the throne. This battle did not have a good outcome for the Jacobites, but we get to see some familiar faces fighting in it, including our old friend, Rob Roy MacGregor!

This was Rob's third Jacobite campaign. This battle came about because of, oddly enough, Spain. They had been paying James III a pension of 5,000 pounds a year. The main Spanish fleet had been destroyed by the British and Spain's chief minister, Cardinal Alberoni wanted revenge. He wanted to use the Jacobites to cause trouble for the English, and planned an assault. His men would land in strength in south-west England and the Jacobites, working as a diversion, would be stationed in north-west Scotland.

In early March, the Spanish armada set out and set sail for England with some five thousand men and extra weapons. At the same time, two frigates carrying infantrymen set off for Scotland. The invasion on England, however did not go as planned. The Spanish armada ran into foul weather and most of their ships were destroyed, leaving the survivors to sail into Corunna in tatters.

The ships headed for Scotland had better luck. In command of them was George Keith, the tenth Earl Marischal of Scotland. The ships landed in Stornoway (on the Isle of Lewis) on April 2nd where they were joined by a group of Jacobite exiles including the Earl of Seaforth, Clan MacKenzie's chief. Also there was William the Marquis of Tullibardine who was carrying a commission from James III, making him commander of the Jacobite forces.

The main problems began with these two men, the Earl Marischal and Tullibardine. They were both hot tempered and both thought they should be the proper leader. They both refused to listen to the other and had different strategies on how they wanted to fight the battle. Tullibardine wanted to stay on the Isle of Lewis and await news of the planned landing in England, but the Earl Marischal wanted to head for the mainland, get to Inverness and meet Seaforth's clansmen there. This resulted in time being wasted by useless arguing.

As it turned out, the Earl Marischal had his way. They crossed the Minch in stormy weather and made it to Loch Alsh where the Jacobites and Spaniards set up their headquarters at Eilean Donan, a MacKenzie castle. They deposited weapons here before they moved on to Loch Duich where they had more counsels of war and more arguing. Their original plan to march to Inverness kind of petered out and they heard news of the disaster that had happened to the Spanish armada. Tullibardine wanted everyone to withdraw, but the Earl Marischal disagreed and had the two Spanish frigates sail for home empty so no one would have a change to leave.

England sent a squadron of Royal Navy frigates to sail into Loch Alsh and they pommeled Eilean Donan while a government force commanded by Major-General Wightman set out for Inverness. Tullibardine was at Shiel Bridge near Loch Shiel, trying to raise the clans, when the news came of the failure of the Spanish to invade England. Less than a thousand clansmen had rallied to the cause, some Seaforth MacKenzies, Camerons and some random volunteers, including Rob Roy with forty MacGregors. 

On the 10th of June, the government army marched down Glen Shiel, Tullibardine moved up the glen to meet them, taking a defensive position in a narrow part of the glen. The government troops took the flat ground farther to the east while the jacobite forces split on both sides of the glen. Lord George Murray, Tullibardine's younger brother, was to the south of the stream, while Tullibardine himself along with the Spaniards positioned themselves to the north. The rest of the Spaniards took up positions on the slopes.

The battle started at midday and continued with musket fire until five p. m. when the government grenadiers opened fire with their mortars. The heather, being extremely dry, caught fire and covered the battlefield in smoke, making it hard to see. Lord George Murray was hit in the leg with a shrapnel and Seaforth was also wounded by the musket fire. The clansmen were not able to execute one of their favored Highland Charges and tried two assaults that failed, forcing them to withdraw up the steep hillside, carrying their wounded. The Spaniards held their ground at first but when they saw that they couldn't win, they retreated up the steep slope and over the ridge of the Five Sisters in the north. Today, the low part of the ridge they crossed is known as Bealach nan Spainnteach --Pass of the Spaniards.

The casualties were not as heavy as they could have been; the Hanoverians had lost twenty-one dead and some 131 wounded, but legend has it that only one Jacobite was killed in the fray. That night, the clansmen disappeared into their hills and the Spanish tried to continue the fight, but they had no food or any idea where they were, so they had to surrender. 

The 1719 Rising, like the 1715, did not have the desired effect of the Jacobites, but all of the leaders had escaped this one to tell the tale. Lord George Murray, Tullibardine's brother, is the same Lord George who fought at Culloden in 1746 and led the men throughout the '45.

So that was the extent of the 1719 Rising. One battle that went awry. "The best laid plans o' mice and men aft gang awry," as Robert Burns said.

I'll be back soon for another battle post, but that's all for now!

Slainte, Hazel


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