Battle of Inverlochy (1645)

Battle of Inverlochy (1645)

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Inverlochy

caption=Inverlochy Castle, showing Ben Nevis in the background.
partof=Wars of the Three Kingdoms
date=February 2 1645
result=Royalist Victory
combatant1=Royalist Irish and Highland Scots
combatant2=Scots Covenanters
commander1=Lord Montrose
Alasdair MacColla
commander2=Duncan Campbell of Auchinbreck
The Battle of Inverlochy was fought on 2 February 1645 and forms part of Scottish Civil War. Montrose, commanding a royalist army, routed the pursuing Covenanter forces of the Marquess of Argyll. It was one of the most complete victories of the whole royalist campaign; but it was also a battle that - if it had been left to Montrose alone - might never have been fought.

It is important to remember that Montrose's whole campaign in northern Scotland was based on two distinct elements that could not always be reconciled - a war for King Charles and a war against Clan Campbell. For Alasdair MacColla, the royalist second-in-command, and for many of the ordinary Highland and Irish soldiers the cause of King Charles came a distant second to the destruction of an ancient enemy. MacColla was fighting primarily for the interests of Clan Donald, and against the Campbells, who had taken much land from the MacDonalds, driven them from MacColla's home in the Western Isles and were holding his own father hostage.

Herschip of Argyllshire

Soon after their joint victory at the Battle of Tippermuir in September 1644 Alasdair MacColla separated from Montrose, intending to check on the bases he had established on the western coast and to raise additional recruits from among the anti-Campbell clans. In late November he returned to the east, meeting up with Montrose in Atholl. He came with some welcome reinforcements-the MacDonalds of Clanranald, Glengarry, Keppoch, Sleat and Glen Coe, all of the main branches of the major Clan Donald, as well as the Stewarts of Appin, some of the Camerons and other west Highland clansmen. Montrose was delighted to receive them all. For despite his successes at Tippermuir and the subsequent Battle of Aberdeen he had so far failed in his main aim of drawing the Covenanters back from the war against the king in England. With these new forces he was ready to risk a push into the Lowlands. However, this plan was immediately challenged by MacColla, who argued instead for an advance through the Highland passes to Inveraray, the very heart of Campbell territory. If the commander refused then most of the army-the Highlander pointedly warned-would simply go home. Needless to say he yielded to MacColla's argument, later claiming credit for the operation of the army in Argyllshire for himself.

The march began in early December, along by Loch Tay into Breadalbane. Argyll himself had returned from Edinburgh, believing that his enemies would be trapped in the snow-bound passes leading into the Campbell kingdom. At Inveraray he waited patiently, only to be brought the amazing news on 13 December that the enemy was advancing down Glen Shirra, only a short distance to the north. With insufficient force to resist this invasion, and not wishing to be trapped in Inveraray Castle, Argyll retired to his galley on Loch Fyne. Left defenceless, the town of Inveraray and the surrounding countryside were devastated by MacColla's men. The plundering was also accompanied by a massacre. All men capable of bearing arms for the Campbells were killed outright: some 900 in all are said to have died. It was at this time that Alasdair earned the title of "fear thollaidh nan tighean"-the destroyer of houses.

The attack on Argyllshire came as a serious shock. In 1570 when the Fifth Earl of Argyll was in dispute with the government he was considered unassailable in his heartland. Now this view was shown to be wrong. "The world", Robert Baillie wrote, "believed that Argyll could be maintained against the greatest armie, as a country inaccessible, but we see there is no strength or refuge on earth against the Lord."

March to the North

Early in 1645 the army began its withdrawal from Argyllshire, around the head of Loch Awe and west through the narrow Pass of Brander, where in 1308 Robert Bruce had defeated the Macdougalls of Lorne during the Wars of Independence. At Connel on the mouth of Loch Etive, boats were found to ferry the army across to the northern shore, the friendly country of the Appin Stewarts. More boats were obtained for the passage across Loch Leven on 8 January. A halt was made at Inverlochy Castle, close to the site of the modern town of Fort William, and the location of an ancient Macdonald victory over a Lowland army in 1431.

From here the army continued up the Great Glen, making a halt at the foot of Loch Ness. It was here, according to tradition, that Montrose and Alasdair were joined by Iain Lom, the bard of Keppoch. He came with some disturbing intelligence: a Campbell army had advanced to Inverlochy. Montrose was faced with a simple choice. He also knew that there was a Covenanter army at Inverness, commanded by the Earl of Seaforth, chief of the Mackenzies. Of the two this was likely to be the easiest target, for Seaforth was lukewarm in his support for the Covenant. But he knew that his army, largely composed of Macdonalds and Macdonnells, would be best in a fight against their blood enemy. He would therefore return to Lochaber, but not by the direct route.

The Campbells Gather

No sooner had the rebels left Argyllshire than the Campbells began to regroup. Argyll himself returned, accompanied by some Lowland troops. Campbell soldiers came out of the castles and strongholds untaken by the royalists; and Sir Duncan Campbell of Auchinbreck had brought the clan regiment back from Ulster, where it had been serving with the Scots army since the Irish Rebellion of 1641. Now about 3000 strong-2000 Campbells and 1000 Lowlanders-the combined force marched through Appin on to Inverlochy. Once there command was given to the experienced Auchinbreck. Argyll, who had been injured in a fall from his horse, retired to his galley on Loch Linnhe on the urging of his friends. This was later to lead to accusations of cowardice, but he must have been well aware by now that, whatever his talents as a politician, his skills as a soldier were limited.

In the heart of Lochaber the army was well positioned either to pursue the enemy up the Great Glen or to threaten their lands. We have no information, but it seems reasonable that Auchinbreck reckoned on drawing Montrose and Alasdair back, with the intention of meeting them on the open ground around Inverlochy, rather than face a possible ambush in the Great Glen as the Frasers had in 1544 at Kinloch-Lochy. The enemy did return, though not in the direction expected.

The Spirit of Hannibal

Montrose knew that the direct path to the Campbell camp at Inverlochy past Loch Lochy would be closely observed by enemy scouts. Instead he decided on a march through the mountains in the fashion of Hannibal, taking a route difficult enough in summer and considered impossible in winter. His army entered Glen Tarff, turning south-west and marching parallel to the Great Glen, their movements concealed by the ridge of Meall a' Cholumain. They crossed the pass of Allt na Larach, 2000 feet into the mountains, struggling at points through deep drifts of snow. From there it was down to Glen Roy and on to Keppoch, where the rivers Roy and Spean meet. The Spean was crossed at Dalnabea. From here they continued on to Inverlochy, arriving on the enemy flank on 1 February as night closed in, having completed a 36-hour march. Tired, hungry and cold, they stood to arms all night. There was some skirmishing with the enemy who, not expecting a full-scale attack from this direction, assumed they faced no more than a raiding party. When dawn broke on Sunday 2 February they found the whole royalist army ready to attack.

Montrose, with about 1500 men, had half the Campbell strength; but he had the advantage of surprise, which was exploited to the full. He placed two of his Irish regiments on the flanks, one commanded by Alasdair and the other by Manus O'Cahan, while the third under James Macdonnell was held in reserve. The Highlanders were placed in the centre, under Montrose's own command. He also had a few horsemen led by Thomas Ogilvie. Auchinbreck responded quickly. He placed most of his clansmen in the centre with a few companies to stiffen the Lowland levies on either wing. A small party also held Inverlochy Castle.


Montrose, it seems, was quick to spot the weakness in Auchinbreck's disposition. He was now well aware just how vulnerable Lowlanders were to a Highland charge. The Campbells, in contrast, were also Highlanders, and could be expected to have retained skills in the use of blade weapons. Montrose ordered his Irish regiments to advance against Auchinbreck's flanks. Alasdair and O'Cahan held their fire until within short range, when they released a single volley. No sooner had this happened than they emerged out of the dense clouds of gunsmoke and fell on the shaken Lowlanders with broadsword and the light Highland shield known as a targe.

Despite the presence of the Campbell soldiers among them, the raw levies were unable to withstand the shock, and quickly scattered across the field. Soon the main body of the Campbell troops, now exposed on both flanks, was under attack from the front also. For a time they fought back with great courage; but under intense pressure the front ranks began to give ground, creating confusion in the lines behind. The whole army collapsed in disorder. The Covenanter and Campbell army had been unable to withstand the physical and psychological impact of the Royalist's charge. It was at this point, with their cohesion and morale shattered, that many of them were killed by the pursuing royalists. Hundreds were killed, cut down fleeing from the field, or drowned in Loch Linnhe. Some tried to escape to the safety of the nearby castle, only to be intercepted by Ogilvie and the cavalry. Perhaps as many as 1500 men were killed in all, including Auchinbreck. Royalist losses, by contrast, were light.

Wailing Women

Inverlochy was the Flodden of Clan Campbell, the greatest defeat in its history. Montrose wrote an exultant battle report to the king, but there was another perspective, quite different from his own. Observing the carnage from a nearby hillside Iain Lom, Gaelic poet and MacDonald Clansman wrote "The Battle of Inverlochy" in celebration. In his poem the Lowlanders who fought with the Campbells, the other Highland clans and even Montrose himself are all irrelevant. This was the victory of Alasdair MacColla and Clan Donald over a hated enemy;

"Early on Sunday morning I climbed the brae above the"

"castle of Inverlochy. I saw the army arranged for battle",

"and victory in the field was with Clan Donald."

"The most pleasing news every time it was announced"

"about the wry-mouthed Campbells, was that every company"

"of them as they came along had their heads battered with"

"sword blows."

"Were you familiar with Goirtean Odhar? Well was"

"it manured, not with the dung of sheep or goats, but by the"

"blood of Campbells after it congealed."

"To Hell with you if I feel pity for your plight, as I"

"listen to the distress of your children, lamenting the company"

"which was in the battlefield, the wailing of the women"

"of Argyll."

Some of the Campbell women confined their wails to poetry, like the widow of Campbell of Glenfeochan, whose losses were truly tragic, including her husband, her father, her three sons, four brothers, and nine foster brothers. The sister of Sir Duncan Campbell made her own feelings plain;

"Were I at Inverlochy, with a two-edged sword in my"

"hand, and all the strength and skill I could desire, I"

"would draw blood there, and I would tear asunder the"

"Macleans and Macdonalds. The Irish would be without"

"life, and I would bring the Campbells back alive."

These were bitter passions, born of a tragedy of Greek dimensions, that had very little to do with the cause of King Charles, the Civil War in England or even the Covenanters in Edinburgh.

No Further than Here

After three further victories Montrose finally entered the Lowlands in the late summer of 1645. For a time the Covenanter government ceased to exist. With no more domestic opposition, the major task before Montrose was to aid the king, who had suffered serious defeat earlier in the season at the Battle of Naseby. But now the parallel wars finally came apart. Alasdair and the Highland troops refused to go any further south, leaving the Campbells in their rear. The two men parted, never to meet again, Alasdair to continue his ancient feud and Montrose to disaster at Philiphaugh. The Royalist "year of miracles" in Scotland was over.


* Baillie, Robert, "Letters and Papers", 1841-2.
* "The Book of Clanranald", in Reliquae Celticae, vil. 2, ed. A MacBain and J. Kennedy, 1894.
* Gordon, Patrick, of Ruthven, "A Short Abridgement of Britane's Distemper", 1844.
* "Orain Iain Lom. Songs of John MacDonald, Bard of Keppoch," ed. A. A. MacKenzie, 1964.
* Wishart, George, "The Memoirs of James Marquis of Montrose", trans. A. D. Murdoch and H. F. Moorland-Simpson, 1893.

* Cowan, E., "Montrose. For Covenant and King", 1995.
* Stevenson, D., "Highland Warrior. Alasdair MacColla and the Civil Wars"`, 1994.

ee also

*Battle of Inverlochy (1431)

*Scottish Civil War

*Wars of the Three Kingdoms

External links

* [ The Battles of Clan Cameron]
* [ ScotWars]

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