Our walk on the West Highland Way in Scotland led through the desolated Glen Nevis valley, not far from the trail’s end, Fort William; read “Walking through the Highlands”. I was surprised to find there, as one of the few signs of human activity, a plaque that commemorates the Battle of Inverlochy in 1645.
On the plaque we read:
The pursuit of the Campbells
The Battle of Inverlochy
“I am Diarmid Campbell of Inverary, undone from the blows from the MacDonalds swords, my kinfolk now help me flee from Lochaber. Today, this second day of February 1645, as the sun rose in the sky, Montrose with his Highlanders and Alasdair MacColla with his Irishmen, attacked us and destroyed our army. Poor Auchinbreck, our commander, lies slain on the field of battle. The Lochy river now runs red with the blood of Argyll’s finest. We that are left, make for our homeland, through the Lairigmor (the big pass). Pray God that these MacDonalds devils do not pursue us any further, we are as hunted animals. The wish of this dying Highlander, is to get home, back to the land of his fathers. Let the Almighty grant me this.”
This quote brings us straight into one of the bloodiest periods in the British history. A religious war between Royalists – followers of (the Anglican) King Charles I – and strict-orthodox Presbyterians (the so-called Covenanters): the Schottish Civil War (1644-1651). Wars in England, Scotland and Ireland: the Wars of the Three Kingdoms (1638-1651). And a feud between rivaling Schottish clans: the (Catholic) MacDonalds and the (Presbyterian) Campbells. Moreover, there is dividing line along the language barrier between Gaelic (Schottish) and English.
A motive for the fight was that Charles I imposed a prayer book on the Presbyterians. This happened at a time when Scotland was seeking independence from the king, who was a descendant of the Scottish royal house of Stuart (clan Stewart).
The Battle of Inverlochy was a fight between Royalists (especially the Gaelic MacDonald clan), helped by Irish troops, on the one hand and Covenanters (especially the English Campbell clan) on the other.
In a surprise attack the Royalists won, despite the fact that they fought with 1,500 men against 3,000 Covenanters, of whom 1,500 were killed (the Royalists lost ‘only’ 250 men).
The plaque we encountered during our hike, stands on the escape route of the Campbells. The 13th century Inverlochy Castle is situated at the other side of the Ben Nevis, Brittain’s highest mountain (1344 m).
The Royalists were led by the Marquis of Montrose and Alasdair MacColla; Duncan Campbell of Auchinbreck commanded the Covenanters, on behalf of the Marquis of Argyll.
And so we meet some interesting actors on the stage of history.
Marquis of Montrose
James Graham, the 1st Marquis of Montrose from the Graham clan – nobleman, poet and soldier – initially joined the Presbyterians, but later he sided with Charles I, because he was against a secular government by clerics (read: Presbyterians). Through this standpoint, he ended up in jail for a while.
In 1644, Montrose was commissioned by Charles I to form a small army, which could march rapidly through the rugged Highlands. The army endured harsh conditions and lack of food; it conducted a guerrilla war, which was particularly effective in the Scottish wilderness. Moreover, the Presbyterian opponents of the marquis were poorly trained, allowing him to achieve spectacular victories, including the Battle of Inverlochy.
In 1645, Montrose temporary controlled almost all of Scotland.
The Royalists did not manage to maintain the achieved gains. Because Montrose allowed that some towns were plundered by his army, he lost a lot of sympathy. Then, his army fel apart and so, on 13 September 1645, he lost the Battle of Philiphaugh.
Montrose fled to Norway and in retaliation his army was massacred by the Covenanters.
Since 1625, Charles I was king of the three kingdoms, but in 1646, after some lost battles, he was forced to surrender to the Covenanters. They transferred him one year later, in exchange for £ 100.000, to the English parliament, which was controlled by Oliver Cromwell.
Next, the Presbyterians attempted to get Charles I back on the throne, because the king offered better prospects on Scottish independance than Cromwell. That effort stranded at the Battle of Preston on 16-19 August 1648, in which Cromwell gained a resounding victory.
Charles I was beheaded in London on 30 January 1649, age 48. Thereupon, Cromwell reigned harshly over England, Scotland and Ireland, until his death in 1658.
In March 1650, Montrose returned to Scotland to support – driven by revenge – Charles II, the son of the executed king. Hij got little help and on 27 April, he lost the Battle of Carbisdale. Hij was captured and on 21 May, he was hanged in Edinburgh, age 37.
Marquis of Argyll
Achibald Campbell, the 1st Marquis of Argyll was in fact the leader of the Schottish government and an important opponent of Montrose.
Under the leadership of Argyll the Presbyterians supported Charles II, still hoping for an independent Scotland and from disgust of the execution of Charles I. On 23 June 1650, Charles II landed in Scotland, coming from The Hague. However, on 3 September, the Scots were overwhelmingly defeated by Cromwell's army in the Battle of Dunbar. Charles II fled to France in 1651.
Argyll lost his power position and went bancrupt.
On the battlefields of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms 28,000 men died, but even more died of disease, while another 45,000 civilians were victims of disease (plague) and war.
Only after the regime of Cromwell and his son ended in 1660, Charles II ascended the throne. In 1685, he was succeeded by his son James II.
The Marquis of Argyll was accused of high treason by Charles II and was beheaded on 27 May 1661 in Edinburgh, age 54, on a ‘prototype’ of the guillotine, the ‘Maiden’.
I summarize this history with the following infographic.
For more information about this period in the Scottish history I refer to “A History of Scotland” by Neil Oliver (2009).
This blog post is a repost of my (Dutch) November 1, 2015 post.
Read my May 20, 2013 blog post about the reason why of my English reposts.