Battle of Glen Shiel
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The Battle of Glen Shiel (Scottish Gaelic: Blàr Ghleann Seile) was a battle in Glen Shiel, in the West Highlands of Scotland on 10 June 1719, between British government troops and an alliance of Jacobites and Spanish, resulting in a victory for the government forces. It was the last close engagement of British and foreign troops in Great Britain. The Battle of Glen Shiel is sometimes considered an extension of the 1715 rising, but is more correctly a separate rebellion and was the only rising to be extinguished by a single military action. It is sometimes known as the Nineteen. This battlefield has been included in the Inventory of Historic Battlefields in Scotland and is protected by Historic Scotland under the Historic Environment (Amendment) Act 2011.
Build-up and previous events
After the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, Philip V was accepted as King of Spain in exchange for several concessions. Great Britain received control over Spanish possessions, such as Menorca and Gibraltar, which it could defend, as Britain possessed by far the largest navy in the world at that time.
Philip's plans to restore Spanish power would lead to a violent clash with Britain. Philip and his Italian counsellor, Cardinal Giulio Alberoni, carried out a campaign in the western Mediterranean. In 1717, 8500 infantry men and 500 cavalry men sailed from Barcelona and occupied Sardinia without difficulty. The next year, 38,000 troops did the same with Sicily.
The British government responded on 11 August; declaring a violation of Utrecht, the Royal Navy intercepted and destroyed the fleet of José Antonio de Gaztañeta in the region of Cape Passaro, (near Syracuse). Spain then declared war, with Alberoni deciding to take the initiative and stir up trouble in Britain to forestall an attack on the Iberian Peninsula.
Alberoni decided to meddle in the succession disputes, supporting the Jacobite claims and its Highland allies both to de-stabilise the Crown and set up a more pliant king (and Parliament) in its place.
The original plan had two phases:
- George Keith, tenth Earl Marischal would infiltrate Scotland with 300 Spanish marines to raise the Western clans and take some positions. It was a feint intended to divert British forces.
- The main fleet, with 27 ships and 7000 men under James Butler, 2nd Duke of Ormonde (the former Captain General of the British army, exiled in Spain), would disembark in South West England or Wales, where Jacobites were abundant. The resulting alliance would march east to besiege London, depose George I and enthrone James Stuart.
Three weeks after leaving Cadiz, Ormonde's fleet encountered a storm near Cape Finisterre (29 March) which dispersed and damaged most of the ships. Ormonde was forced to withdraw the ships to several Spanish havens (comparable to the fate of the Spanish Armada of 1588). By then, Keith had already left the Spanish port of Pasajes (Pasaia in Basque) and occupied the Isle of Lewis, including Stornoway where he set camp. On 13 April 1719, Keith's men disembarked on the Highlands near Lochalsh, although the Highlanders did not join the "Little Rising" in the expected numbers (the Spaniards carried 2000 guns to distribute), mistrusting the enterprise and waiting for news from the south. Keith could not proceed to Inverness and established his headquarters in the castle of Eilean Donan.
The two Spanish frigates returned to Spain. The Spaniards were accompanied by William Mackenzie, 5th Earl of Seaforth (Scottish Gaelic: Uilleam Dubh Shìophort), who was chief of the Clan Mackenzie; the Earl Marischal; and the Marquess of Tullibardine; and some Irish officers. They were joined by several hundred Highlanders, including members of the Clan Mackenzie, Clan MacRae, Robert Roy MacGregor, and a party of other MacGregors. Some days later, the main body of the troop went south to stir up the Highlanders, leaving a small garrison (40-50 men) at the castle. The Jacobite forces were to be led by the Earl of Seaforth and also John Cameron of Lochiel, 18th Captain and Chief of Clan Cameron; along with Lord George Murray. Their plan of action was to capture Inverness.
Capture and destruction of Eilean Donan Castle
At the beginning of May, the Royal Navy sent five ships to the area for reconnaissance: two patrolling off Skye and three around Lochalsh, adjacent to Loch Duich. Early in the morning on Sunday 10 May, these latter three, HMS Worcester, HMS Flamborough, and HMS Enterprise, anchored off Eilean Donan on the north side of Loch Duich, where the Spanish forces had established a base in Eilean Donan Castle, one of Lord Seaforth's residences.
In the evening, under the cover of an intense cannonade, the ships' boats went ashore and captured the castle against little resistance. The Spanish prisoners were put on board HMS Flamborough and taken away to Edinburgh.
The Jacobite army had advanced about 12 miles from Eilean Donan, as far as the narrows of Glen Shiel where a mountain spur almost blocks the valley. The great natural strength of the Jacobite position had been increased by hasty fortifications. A barricade had been constructed across the road, and along the face of the hill on the north side of the river entrenchments had been thrown up. Here the main body was posted, consisting of:
- Regiment Galicia from Spain, which now only paraded some 200 strong, under its Colonel, Don Nicolás de Castro Bolaño
- Brigadier Mackintosh of Borlum was with the Spanish colonel
- 150 men from Clan Cameron of Lochiel
- About 150 of Lidcoat’s and others, 20 volunteers
- Robert Roy MacGregor, of Clan MacGregor with 40 men
- 50 men of Clan Mackinnon
- 200 men from Clan Mackenzie with the chief William Mackenzie, 5th Earl of Seaforth, was on the extreme left, up on the side of Scour Ouran
- 200 more men from the Clan Mackenzie, commanded by Sir John Mackenzie of Coul
- 150 men from Clan Murray under the previously attainted (1716) Marquess of Tullibardine, Lord William Murray, and his younger brother, Lord George Murray, son of the chief, positioned on the hill on the south bank of the river
- The Chief of Clan Keith, George Keith, 10th Earl Marischal, and a rebel Brigadier Campbell were with Mackenzie of Seaforth on the left
The government army's right wing was commanded by Colonel Clayton and composed of:
- 150 grenadiers under Major Milburn; Montagu's Regiment, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Lawrence
- A detachment of 50 men under Colonel Harrison
- Huffel's Dutch Regiment
- Three independent companies from the Clan Fraser, Clan Ross and the Clan Sutherland
- On the flank were 80 men of Clan Mackay led under their chief Lord Strathnaver, Ensign Mackay
The government army's left wing, which was deployed on the south side of the river, consisted of:
- Clayton's Regiment, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Reading
- On the flank, 100 men of the independent company from the Clan Munro under George Munro, 1st of Culcairn
- The government dragoons and the four mortars remained on the road
After moving around for one month, the Spaniards had learned by the beginning of June that Ormonde would never come. In spite of this, the Jacobites gathered for a last action, with a total of just over 1,000 troops.
On 5 June, British government forces composed of both English and Scottish soldiers under General Joseph Wightman came from Inverness to block their march. They consisted of 850 infantry, 120 dragoons and 4 mortar batteries. A detailed plan of the battlefield and the movements of the opposing forces was drawn up soon after the battle by John Henry Bastide, a subaltern in Montague's regiment who subsequently had a long career as a military engineer. They confronted the Jacobites at Glen Shiel, just a few miles from Loch Duich, on 10 June, near the Five Sisters hills. The Galician regiment occupied the top and the front of one of the hills, to their advantage, while the Jacobite Scots manned barricades on the sides.
The engagement began between about five and six o'clock when the left wing of the British government army advanced against Lord George Murray's position on the south side of the river. The position was first shelled by the mortar batteries and then attacked by four platoons of Clayton's regiment and Munro's. After some initial stubborn resistance, Lord George Murray's unsupported men were driven from their position and forced to retreat.
Once the Jacobite right wing had been dislodged, Wightman ordered his right wing to attack the Jacobite left.
The detachment, commanded by Lord Seaforth, was strongly positioned behind a group of rocks on the hillside. It was against them that Harrison's and Montigue's regiments were directed. Seaforth was reinforced by his own men under Sir John MacKenzie. Hard pressed, Seaforth sent for further reinforcements. Another group of men, under Rob Roy, went to his aid, but before it could reach him, his men gave way, and Seaforth himself was badly wounded.
Wightman concentrated his troops on the flanks, while the mortars battered the whole and pinned the Spaniards in their positions. Wightman's whole force was now directed toward the Jacobite centre.
The Spanish regulars stood their ground well, but found that most of their allies had deserted them, so they too retreated up the hill. Other clans followed and left their allies retreating uphill.
Historian Peter Simpson states that the battle raged for three hours but the superior power of the government grenadiers along with the aggressive forays of the Munro Independent Company won the day for the government. At 9 o'clock in the evening, the Spanish surrendered, three hours after the start of the combat, while the remaining Jacobites fled into the fog, to escape execution as traitors.
The Jacobites were poorly provisioned and armed, and when the expected Jacobite support from the Lowlanders was minimal, spirits fell completely. The Rising was abandoned and the Jacobites dispersed to their homes.
The mountain in Glen Shiel on which the battle took place is called Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe, it has a subsidiary peak which was named Sgurr nan Spainteach (The Peak of the Spaniards) in honour of the Spanish forces who fought admirably in the battle.
Three of the Jacobite commanders, Lord George Murray, William Mackenzie, 5th Earl of Seaforth, and Robert Roy MacGregor, were badly wounded. John Cameron of Lochiel, however, after hiding for a time in the Highlands, made his way back into exile in France. George Keith, chief of Clan Keith and the last Earl Marischal, fled into exile in Prussia, where his brother Francis Keith wrote a narration of the battle. In spite of a later pardon, Keith never returned to Scotland and became the Prussian ambassador to France and later to Spain. The 274 Spanish prisoners were reunited with their comrades in Edinburgh and by October, negotiations allowed their return to Spain.
On the British government side, casualties were lighter; George Munro of Culcairn was wounded in the legs by musket shot, but survived. A Government expedition under Lord Cobham was launched against the coast of Spain in October 1719 which succeeded in capturing Vigo.
- "Site Record for Glenshiel Glen Shiel". Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland
- Spiers, Crang & Strickland p. 358
- Battle of Glenshiel@ads.ahds.ac.uk By A.H Miller. FSA Scot.
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- per the doctoral thesis submitted at the University of Aberdeen, by Cheryl L. Garrett, 2014
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- Digitised copy of the "A Plan of the Field of Battle that was fought on ye 10th of June 1719, at the Pass of Glenshiels in Kintail North Britain" drawn by John Henri Bastide in 1719 from National Library of Scotland
- Battle of Glen Shiel@Historynet.com