Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Draw at Sheriffmuir

Today commemorates the Battle of Sheriffmuir in 1715. It was considered the last battle in the 1715 Jacobite Uprising and was also a draw.

The Jacobite forces were led by the Earl of Mar also called "Bobbing John". His nickname came from his ability to duck and weave in battle and also because he was known to change sides when it suited him. On November 13th the two forces, Mar's Jacobites and the Hanoverians under the Duke of Argyle met at Sheriffmuir. Mar had more men than Argyle, but he was not a very good military leader. He was more of a politician than a fighting man and it showed in the way he directed the battle. Neither side took advantage of its artillery and both armies attacked on only one flank. Argyle, as was usual with English forces, had superior cavalry and used it to attack Mar's right wing. They fought relentlessly for three hours, the Macrae clan in the Jacobite army were nearly wiped out and the Jacobite's left wing was overcome. Meanwhile Mar's right wing took up a ferocious Highland charge and attached Argyle's left which immediately broke and fled to Dunblane.

Argyle regrouped his right and then joined up with his center battalions who had not yet seen action. He had only about a thousand men left and he saw that Mar was regrouping as well, raising his standard on the Gather Stone (more about that in a minute). Before the fighting could continue though, the sun when down on that cold wet day and both armies retired back to where they had come from. The next morning, Argyle sent out scouts and found the field deserted. Mar had retreated to Perth where he awaited King James who was missing in action due to his detainment in France. The French were doing their best to keep him where he was, not wanting him to join the Uprising in person. It was said that the English ambassador had tried to have James assassinated, but eventually, he made it back to Scotland and landed in Peterhead.

After that the Uprising seemed to peter out until it flared again in 1719 at the Battle of Glenshiel. The Earl of Mar dithered around doing nothing and King James had caught a fever and was said to have spent his time huddled in a chair, shivering. There had been an attempt to coronate him at Scone, but it seems never to have gone over. The Jacobite ladies even donated their jewels to make a crown for him, but it never seemed to have happened.

There is now a monument at the site of the Battle of Sheriffmuir and commemorations are held every year, usually after dark. There is also a stone called the Gathering Stone which it where they clans gathered before the fight and sharpened their blades. (There are a lot of stones in Scotland that the clansmen have sharpened their swords on.) It is still there for people to see today.

Another interesting fact about the Battle was that Rob Roy MacGregor was there, though he was never said to have actually taken part in the battle, but seemed to have been just an observer. He was a Jacobite born and bred, but the Duke of Argyle was known to be his protector and thus he was not allowed or at least his honor would not allow him to fight against him. A jeering Scottish ballad says:

Rob Roy he stood watch
On a hill for to catch
The booty, for aught that I saw, man;
For he ne'er advanc'd
From the place where he stanc'd
Till nae mair was to do there at a' man.

However, he did act as a guide for Mar as the land they were traversing was practically on his home turf.

So the battle was a draw and as an old Scotch ballad says (I actually think it's from the same one as above):

There's some say that we won,
And some say that they won,
And some say that none won at a', man,
But of one thing I'm sure,
That at Sheriffmuir,
A battle there was, that I saw, man.
And we ran and they ran,
And they ran and we ran,
And we ran, and they ran awa' man.

Robert Burns also wrote a song about the Battle and here's a link to The Corries singing it. And also this other one I just found while I was looking for the other! :-P

Also, today we should all say happy birthday to one of Scotland's greatest novelists: Robert Louis Stevenson!

Slainte, Hazel


  1. Makes you shake your head, the way some of these men became leaders when it seems they didn't often know what they were doing. And while they are shivering in chairs or flouncing about, men are dying on the fields. Oy. Thanks for sharing this bit of history. :)

  2. Yes, it's very sad. It really makes you appreciate all the more men like Bruce and Wallace who could actually hold their own on the battlefield and keep their men from mass slaughter.