Historic Scottish Battles
For centuries, the direction of Scotland's development was influenced by the outcome of the many battles which took place on her soil - or over the Border in England. There were glorious victories and terrible defeats. Many, but not all battles, were fought against the English. And, it has to be said, it was not unknown for the Scots to initiate the contest by invading their larger neighbour!
This extensive list of 40 conflicts gives an outline of many of these battles and in all cases there are links to other Websites where you can find out more.
Battle of Aldearn - 1645>
While encamped at Auldearn, two miles from Nairn, the Duke of Montrose was surprised by a large force of Covenanters but fought back and defeated them. The Covenanter army lost 2,000 men that day.
Battle of Ancrum Moor - 1545>
During the "Rough Wooing" as King Henry VIII of England tried to persuade Mary Queen of Scots to marry his son, an English force marched into the Scottish Borders, destroying Melrose Abbey. The invaders were defeated at Ancrum Moor by a force only half their size consisting of Douglases, Leslies, Lindsays and Scotts.
Battle of Bannockburn - 1314>
An English army, led by Edward II, marching to relieve Stirling Castle, were met by King Robert the Bruce at Bannock Burn, near Stirling. The over-confident English army was soundly defeated, losing 3/4,000 men, Scottish casualties were light. King Edward II escaped back to England.
Battle of Flodden - 1513
When King James V had married Margaret Tudor, daughter of Henry VII, in 1503, he had signed a "Treaty of Everlasting Peace" between Scotland and England. But James had renewed the "Auld Alliance" with France when King Henry VIII of England had invaded France. James did not need to take action but nevertheless advanced into England, in part because Henry VIII had opened old wounds by claiming to be the overlord of Scotland which angered the Scots and the King. The Pope threatened James with ecclesiastical censure for breaking his peace treaties with England and subsequently James was excommunicated. After some minor successes he met an English army at Flodden on September 9 1513. The battle was the heaviest defeat ever experienced by a Scottish army, with the slaughter of the King and the flower of Scottish nobility - at least ten earls, countless lords and an estimated death toll of 10,000 Scots from the Highlands and the Lowlands.
Battle of Bothwell Bridge - 1679>
A force of 10,000 government forces, led by the Duke of Monmouth and Graham of Claverhouse, dispersed 6,000 Covenanters who had gathered at Hamilton.
Battle of the Boyne - 1690>
Using finance and troops supplied by Louis XIV of France, James VII made a final attempt to regain his throne. He landed in Ireland where he had a large number of supporters amongst the Catholic community. King William (of Orange) personally led an army of 30,000 men, outnumbering the Jacobites. As James advanced towards Dublin, the armies met west of Drogheda, at the river Boyne. James was defeated and fled back to France.
Battle of the Braes - 1882
While perhaps not in the same league as many other battles on Scottish soil, the Battle of the Braes got a lot of publicity at the time. It arose as part of the Highland "Clearances" when a group of crofters at Braes, near Portree, refused to allow the Sheriff's Officer deliver a summons. 50 Glasgow policemen were sent to put down the "uprising" and a battle took place at Braes when 100 crofters attacked them. The ensuing court cases received a lot of publicity and helped to highlight the problems being faced by the crofting communities.
Battle of Carberry Hill - 1567>
A confrontation between Mary Queen of Scots and an army of lords, led by James Douglas, Earl of Morton. The lords wanted to arrest Lord Bothwell, Mary's husband, because they believed that Bothwell had been involved in the murder of Mary's second husband, Lord Darnley. After long negotiations (there was no actual fighting) Mary agreed but Bothwell fled to Orkney. A few days later, Mary was imprisoned in Loch Leven Castle.
Battle of Carham - 1018>
An army from Northumberland, seeking to recover Lothian which had been captured by King Malcolm II of Scotland, clashed with Malcolm at Carham on the river Tweed. The Scots were victorious and henceforth the river Tweed became accepted as the border between Scotland and England.
Battle of the Clans - 1396>
To resolve a dispute between the clans Chattan and Kaye, King Robert III arranged for representatives of the two clans to meet in combat on the North Inch in Perth. Watched by the king, his courtiers and a large crowd, clan Kaye was routed - supposedly only one survived, by swimming across the nearby river Tay.
Battle of Culloden - 1746>
The final battle of the Jacobite Uprising of 1745/46. The army of Prince Charles Edward Stewart, consisting mainly of Highlanders, was soundly defeated by the Duke of Cumberland, bringing to an end the ambitions of the "Young Pretender" to recover the throne for the Stewart dynasty.
Battle of Dunbar, 1296>
When King Edward I of England ordered his puppet, King John (Balliol) to supply Scots troops to fight in France, Parliament refused to allow it and forced Balliol to renounce his allegiance. Edward immediately invaded Scotland, captured Berwick and, a few weeks later, crushed the Scottish army at a battle outside Dunbar. Many of the Scottish nobles who were captured were sent south to act as hostages.
Battle of Dunbar - 1650>
Oliver Cromwell advanced into Scotland, initially with 16,000 men, supported by ships along the east coast, in pursuit of King Charles I. The Scots army, led by David Leslie, thwarted his attempts to take the port of Leith and Cromwell retired to Dunbar. The pursuing Scottish army was badly organised for the battle and Cromwell won not only won the battle but was able to hold sway over most of Lowland Scotland.
Battle of Dunkeld - 1689>
After the death of the brilliant James Graham, Viscount Dundee, at Killiecrankie, the Jacobite army had no leader of quality. In August, 5,000 clansmen attacked Dunkeld which was held by a much smaller Government force of Cameronians. They fought a determined rear-guard action through the town, killing many of the attacking Jacobites in the process. Eventually, the Jacobites withdrew and, with the onset of winter, the Highlanders dispersed. With the defeat of King James VII at the Battle of the Boyne in Northern Ireland the following year, Dunkeld was the last battle in Scotland in the 17th century to restore the Stewarts to the throne.
Battle of Dunnichen - 685
It has been argued that if the King Bruide of the Picts had not defeated an invasion by Ecgfrith, King of Northumbria on May 20, 685, Scotland as a separate nation would not have come into being. The Northumbrians had already advanced as far as Lothian, south of the river Forth and defeated the Gododdin and had subjugated the southern lands of the Picts. The Picts had suffered a serious defeat on the plain of "Manau" (near Grangemouth) and 12 years later a huge force of Northumbrians advanced into the land of the Picts. But using local knowledge of the area around Dunnichen (known as Nechtansmere to the later southern historians), the Picts won an overwhelming victory, bringing to an end the northern advance of the Northumbrians.
Battle of Dupplin Moor - 1332>
The defeat of Bannockburn in 1314 rankled with Edward III and he encouraged a group of exiled Scottish nobles, (the so-called "Disinherited") led by Edward Balliol (son of John Balliol) to invade Scotland using ships supplied by the English king. A landing was made at Kinghorn but they were confronted by a Scottish force led by Donald, the earl of Mar, Regent of Scotland during the minority of King David II. Balliol was successful, slew the earls of Mar, Menteith and Moray and 2,000 of the defenders. Balliol went on to claim the throne only to be overthrown later the same year by a new Regent, the earl of Moray.
Battle of Falkirk - 1298>
Wallace's victory at Stirling Bridge in September 1297 was short lived. King Edward marched north and met Wallace's army at Falkirk in July, 1298. The English (and Welsh) bowmen depleted the Scottish ranks, many of whom were untrained conscripts. Wallace was to continue the fight but in a guerilla a war and was betreayed and captured in 1305.
Battle Of Falkirk - 1746>
The retreating Jacobite army of Prince Charles Edward Stewart, pursued by the Duke of Cumberland, marched from Glasgow on 3 January 1746 towards Stirling. Units of the two armies clashed, the MacDonald regiments in particular gave a good account of themselves and the Jacobites were victorious. Nevertheless, they headed north again - to the final battle at Culloden three months later.
Battle of Flodden - 1513>
Once again the "Auld Alliance" between Scotland and France came into play and King James IV responded to a request from Louis XII of France who was being attacked by King Henry VIII of England. Despite treaties which had been signed between Scotland and England in 1502, James IV advanced into England with an army said to number 30,000. After some early successes, a number of castles fell to the Scottish cannon. But an English army, led by the earl of Surrey, met the Scots on Flodden Field in Northumberland. After a bloody battle, in which King James and the flower of Scottish nobility fell, the English commander estimated that 10,000 Scottish soldiers had been killed.
Battle of Glenfruin - 1603>
400 MacGregors ambushed a larger number of Colquhouns in the glen. They took no prisoners and 140 Colquhouns were killed. A large number of sheep and cattle were stolen. Two days before he journied to London to assume the title of King of England as well as Scotland, King James VI held a judicial review of the incident. The MacGregor name was banned
Battle of Glenshiel - 1719>
After the abortive Jacobite Uprising of 1715, the "Old Pretender" returned to France and then Italy. However, in 1719 he became involved in an armada from Spain which was to invade England. The main fleet was wrecked by storms and only a small force arrived at Eilean Donan Castle at Loch Duich on the west coast of Scotland. The mixed force of Spaniards and clansmen marched to Glenshiel and were met by government forces and defeated.
Battle of Halidon Hill - 1333>
Despite being driven out of Scotland, Edward Balliol made another attempt to gain the throne of Scotland. This time the English King Edward III marched north himself and laid siege to Berwick. A relief force, under Archibald, lord of Douglas, was confronted by the English army on the slopes of Halidon Hill. Douglas had a numerically superior army but the English longbow men decimated them. Berwick fell soon after.
Battle of Harlaw - 1411>
When Donald, Lord of the Isles, marched with possibly as many as 10,000 clansmen eastwards from his stronghold, sacking Inverness and headed for Aberdeen. Alexander, earl of Mar gathered together a force of volunteers and marched with his smaller force to meet the invaders. Despite numerous charges by the clansmen, they were unable to break through the earl of Mar's lines and eventually withdrew, back to Inverness and the west. Casualties at "Bloody Harlaw" were high on both sides.
Battle of Homildon Hill - 1402>
Archibald, the 4th Earl of Douglas, was defeated by the English rebel Percy "Hotspur". Following this, by way of ransom, Douglas agreed to fight for Hotspur against King Henry IV - but lost again and was captured by the English king.
Battle of Inverlochy - 1645>
The Marquis of Montrose, after his success at the Battle of Tippermuir (see below), was being pursued by a Covenanting force led by the Marquis of Argyll and his Campbell clan (though a General Baillie also though he was in command and the two men could not stand the sight of one another!). Argyll's forces amounted to 3,000 experienced Highland fighters; Montrose had about half that but they were also well trained - and included a contingent of MacDonalds who had scores to settle with the Campbells. Montrose showed his skill as a general and confused Covenanters who were subsequently routed - it is said that 1,500 Campbells and their allies were killed that day.
Battle of Killiecrankie - 1689>
The Jacobites, led by James Graham, Viscount Dundee, gathered at Killiecrankie. Many of the Highland clans assembled there in support of James VII, including Cameron of Lochiel, MacLean of Duart, MacDonald, Stewart, McNeil, MacLeods and Fraser. The government forces of King William, under Hugh Mackay of Scourie, advanced through the Pass of Killiecrankie and joined battle. After a fierce conflict, the government forces were forced to retreat. But the cost to the Jacobites was high - their commander, Viscount Dundee,, was killed by a musket shot. Just at this moment of victory, the Jacobite cause was lost as there was no-one of his stature to lead them.
Battle of Kilsyth - 1645>
The Marquis of Montrose led his royalist force of Highlanders and Irish to another victory at Kilsyth, leaving him in control of much of Scotland. In England, King Charles I was not faring so well against Cromwell, having been defeated at the Battle of Naseby.
Battle of Langside - 1568>
Having escaped from Loch Leven Castle in Fife, Mary Queen of Scots attempted to reach Dumbarton Castle in the west. The earl of Moray quickly assembled an army and attempted to cut her off as she travelled to the south of Glasgow. Moray held the high ground at Langside and after an exchange of cannon fire, this became an advantage in the ensuing hand to hand fighting. Mary's army was routed and she fled to England where, after 19 years of imprisonment, she was beheaded at Fotheringay Castle by her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I.
Battle of Largs - 1263>
In the middle of the 13th century, King Hakon of Norway ruled not only in Scandinavia but also over the Western Isles of Scotland, the Isle of Man and Iceland. In 1263 he set sail with the largest fleet ever assembled and set sail for Scotland. Hampered by bad weather, Hakon eventually arrived in the estuary of the river Clyde. They pillaged around Loch Long but on 30 September strong winds forced them ashore. The Scots plundered the ships and Hakon sent a force of 700-800 warriors ashore to reclaim his vessels. The Scots attacked again and the Vikings withdrew. While not a great battle, it marked the start of their decline in the west of Scotland.
Battle of Mons Graupius - AD84>
The precise place where the Caledonian leader, Calgacus, met the Roman advance led by Agricola is not known but it was probably in north-east Scotland in what is now Aberdeenshire. There were said to be 30,000 Caledonii who were defeated by the disciplined Roman legions in the only known set piece battle in the north. 1,300 years later, a transcription error led to the name becoming "Grampian" which is the name now given to the Cairngorm mountains, east and south of the river Spey.
Battle of Neville's Cross - 1346>
Responding to a request for assistance by King Philip of France, King David II led an army into the north of England, advancing as far as Durham. The northern English barons, Neville and Percy, assembled an army to meet the invading Scots, who were numerically superior. Again the English longbows and better tactics won the day and not only were the Scots defeated, King David was captured. He remained a prisoner in the Tower of London for eleven years.
Battle of Otterburn - 1388>
A successful foray by James, second earl Douglas, into northern England, swept as far as Durham and then fell back destroying and pillaging as it went. Henry Percy, better known as "Hotspur" assembled an army and set off in pursuit. Douglas was leading a force of around 3,000 men and Hotspur had twice that number. The two forces met south of Otterburn late in the evening of 19 August. The battle continued into the night - the darkness meant that the English bowmen were ineffective. By morning, the wounded Hotspur had been captured and 1,000 English had been killed. However, Douglas himself, leading a charge into the enemy, was fatally wounded.
Battle of Pinkie - 1547>
King Henry VIII of England tried to persuade Mary Queen of Scots to marry his son, and undertook a series of incursions into Scotland known as the "Rough Wooing". The Duke of Somerset assembled an English army in Newcastle in 1547 and marched into the Borders of Scotland with 16,000 men. The Regent of Scotland at that time was the Earl of Arran and he allowed the English to advance as far as the river Esk in Lothian. The Scots army of 25,000 men looked formidable but the greater fire power of English cannon (both on land and from a fleet off the coast) and better tactics crushed the Scottish army. It is estimated that 10,000 Scots fell that day and English losses were said to be only 250.
Battle of Prestonpans - 1745>
After raising his standard at Glenfinnan on August 19, Prince Charles Edward Stewart marched south to Edinburgh, reaching there by September 14. The Hanoverian army under Sir John Cope gathered near the hamlet of Prestonpans to the east of the city. A local force of Jacobite sympathisers surprised the Government forces by picking their way across a marsh during the night and attacking at dawn. They soon put the redcoats to flight. Casualties on both side were relatively light but 1600 government soldiers and their supplies were captured.
Battle of Rullion Green - 1666>
After the Restoration of King Charles II in 1660, the king attempted to impose his Episcopalian ideas on the Church of Scotland, replacing clergy who would not co-operate. The new ministers were not popular and in November 1666 and there was a rebellion, starting in Galloway but spreading throughout the south-west. As the Covenanters advanced towards Edinburgh they were pursued by Sir Thomas (Tam) Dalyell who caught up with around 1,000 of them in the Pentland Hills at Rullion Green. The rebels made a brave stand but were overwhelmed. Some were hung, many others were transported abroad.
Battle of Sauchieburn - 1488>
James III alienated a number of his nobles, and a number of barons he had dispossessed rebelled, supported by the king's son. James III led his forces, mainly from the north, to confront the rebels and they met at Sauchieburn (not far from Bannockburn). King James was killed (he escaped the battle but was murdered shortly afterwards). His son, now James IV, wore an iron chain round his waist for the rest of his life to atone for his part in his father's death.
Battle of Sherrifmuir - 1715>
The Earl of Mar, leading the Jacobite forces in support of James Francis Edward Stewart (the "Old Pretender"), had taken control of most of Scotland north of Perth. The government forces led by the Duke of Argyll advanced from the south and the two armies met on the hills of Sherrifmuir, east of Dunblane in November 1715. The battle was inconclusive but afterwards the Jacobites withdrew. The Old Pretender arrived in Scotland (much later than expected) in December 1715 but stayed only six weeks before being persuaded to return to France.
Battle of Solway Moss - 1542>
After a raid into Scotland by the Earl of Norfolk, King James V sent a force of 10,000 into England in retaliation. Led by Lord Maxwell, the Scots were met short of Solway Moss by an English force led by Sir Thomas Wharton. Badly led, the Scots army disintegrated. A few weeks later King James V died at Falkland Palace, leaving the infant Mary Queen of Scots to inherit the throne.
Battle of Stirling Bridge - 1297>
William Wallace fought a guerrilla war for a number of years against the English who were effectively in occupation with the English king's puppet, John Balliol on the throne. The Earl of Surrey led an punitive force to confront Wallace and they met at Stirling Bridge. The overconfident English army advanced across a narrow bridge across the Forth. At the right moment, Wallace ordered the attack and the English foot soldiers were swept into the river.
Battle of the Standard - 1138>
Taking advantage of the precarious hold King Stephen of England had on the throne, King David I of Scotland made a number of successful incursions into northern England. In 1138, in another push into Northumberland, his mixed force of Lowlanders, Highlanders and Galloway men were confronted by an army of Northern nobles recruited by the Archbishop of York. Their flying banners gave the battle, beyond Northallerton in Northumberland. A number of charges were beaten back by English bowmen and King David decided to make an orderly withdrawal back across the border.
Battle of Tippermuir - 1644>
Marching towards Perth, the Duke of Montrose found his way blocked by a force of Covenanters led by Lord Elcho who commanded the garrison at Perth. Montrose was victorious and marched into Perth, much to the discomfort of the local clergy.
Battle of Worcester - 1651>
After the Royalists had been defeated by Cromwell at Dunbar in September 1650, Charles II was nevertheless crowned at Scone in January 1651. Harried by Cromwell, the King decided to march south into England, hoping for a popular rising in his favour. He was disappointed and Cromwell cornered him and his army at Worcester in September. The 16,000 Royalist forces were overwhelmed by the 28,000 "New Model Army" of Cromwell.
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