I tend to write a lot about the pre-historic Ancient Roman Invasion of the Garioch area of
my local Garioch area has been invaded at other times within historical memory. Aberdeenshire,
Battle of Harlaw 24th July 1411
One of these times occurred in 1411 on July 24th. This battle was recorded though some details vary according to sources and allegiances of the clans who came to fight at Harlaw, around 1 mile away from the present county town of Inverurie, Aberdeenshire. The actual details may be hazy but the occasion has been remembered for centuries in the Ballad of The Battle of Harlaw.
Words to the Ballad are HERE.
This is a great wee video accompanying the Old Blind Dogs version of the ballad. I urge you to watch it through to the end where you can see the present day monument to the Battle at Harlaw. The footage is an amalgam of shots from various films but I think it gives a credible idea of what they may have looked like- though I'm certainly no expert in medieval Scottish warfare.
Aberdeenshire in this instance wasn’t being invaded by a totally alien army like it was when the Romans invaded in A.D. 84. The Battle of Harlaw of 1411 was a rift between opposing Scottish forces. By the early 1400s,
Scotland had been a unified country
for approximately five and a half centuries, the first king Kenneth MacAlpin having
united the east and the west in A.D. 843 but that didn't mean all was peaceful.
By 1411, there was huge strife between Donald of Islay, Lord of the Isles (head of the Clan Donald) and the Duke of Albany (Robert Stewart of the Royal line) who had taken control of the Earldom of Ross. In 1411, the Clan Donald had been a worthy adversary of the Clan Stewart for decades, the Stewart dynasty of Kings having ruled from 1371.
The Stewart take over of Ross was contested by Donald, Lord of the Isles who was married to Mariota, Countess of Ross. Donald, on his wife's behalf, laid claim to the Earldom of Ross. ( Marriages at this time tended to cause dissention as well as sometimes uniting families and clans) Donald set forth from the west with an army of supporters and invaded Ross (shire) in northern
A battle was fought and won at Dingwall (north of Inverness) by Donald who then continued south with his army, said to be 10,000 clansmen (probably an over inflated count), his intention to control the city of
Aberdeen. By 23rd July, Donald’s
army had almost reached Inverurie, approximately 20 miles from Aberdeen.
|Harlaw Monument - Wikimedia Commons|
The Earl of Mar, the local ‘guardian’ of
Aberdeen and the surrounding area, mustered a
force of between one and two thousand men at Inverurie (though this was more likely to be
several thousands with some highly equipped mounted knights among them). The
details of the actual battle are scant but it’s said that Donald lost some 900
of his men in the fierce pitched battle that took place at the fields of the Harlaw
on 24th July. Mar is said to have lost some 600 men but by the end
of the whole day of fierce battling with swords, bows, axes, long knives and targes
(round shields) no clear winner was obvious.
Donald chose to retreat overnight back to the west coast via the north of Scotland.
Though the Earl of Mar could claim no positive victory in the battle, the city of
Aberdeen was saved... and the rest became infamous history in ballad form.