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The Battle of Harlaw
24th July 1411
2011 is the 600th Anniversary

"On Munonday at morning
The battle it began;
On Saturday at gloamin
Ye’d scarce tell wha had wan."
The Battle of Harlaw, Traditional Ballad

    Interpretation Panel   600th Anniversary Flowers        

Bennachie in the background

    Alexander Stewart, Earl of Mar    City of Aberdeen   Lord of the Isles   Davidson
        MacLean of Duart   Irvine of Drum    
  aa     Old Interpretive Panel        

The battle of Harlaw, "Reid Harlaw" (Red Harlaw) in 1411 came about as part of a feudal dispute initiated by Donald, Lord of the Isles starting with his seizing the Earldom of Ross and seeking to expand his influence into the North East but it also reflects the growing conflict between Highland and Lowland Scotland. At the time James I was imprisoned in England and thus royal authority was weak. Donald, Lord of the Isles, having dominated Ross, now planned to move south east into Moray, and had Aberdeen as his next objective. His plans became well known allowing  the Alexander Stewart, the Earl of Mar to prepare to resist him.
In the medieval period the main road from Inverness to Aberdeen probably followed the line followed by the
A96 today. As soon as it became apparent the Highland Host were advancing the Earl of Mar positioned his force at Inverurie, which sat across the route between the Highland Host and their objective of Aberdeen. The  road to the north of Inverurie ran on the north side of the river Urie and  Highland forces camped on high ground near Harlaw near the bridge over the river on the night of the 23rd July.

On the morning of the 24th July the Earl of Mar marched out of Inverurie to engage the Highland army. He approached from the south east. The action appears to have been fought on foot and with each army probably deployed in three "battles", the infantry arranged in "schiltrons", closely ordered ranks of spearmen.  It appears to have been an intense and close run fight but the sources provide little detail and there is even dispute over the outcome, as both sides claimed victory. However Aberdeen was successfully defended and the Highland forces returned home without causing significant destruction in the region.

Traditional sources indicate the Highland Host numbered 10,000 but was probably far smaller. The Lowland Army was  several thousand strong including large numbers of  knights.  Significantly a contingent came from Aberdeen, led by Provost Robert Davidson. A document in the records of Aberdeen City & Shire Archives lists the names of men who left the city to fight against the "caterans". 
Flags of the
Weavers’ Incorporation, said to have been flown at the battle is on display at Trinity Hall in Aberdeen, former home of the Incorporated Trades.
There is no official record of the casualties, but the ballads record 900 Highland including Hector Maclean of Duart, and 600 Lowland losses, including Provost Davidson along with many Aberdeen Burgesses, Sir James Scrymgeour, Alexander de Irvine, Robert Melville and Thomas Murray, William de Abernethy son and heir of the Lord of Saltoun (grandson of Albany), Alexander Straiton Lord of Lauriston, George de Ogilvie, James Lovel,
Sir John Sinclair of Findlater and Alexander Stirling.

The Monument which stands on the approximate site of the battle was designed by Aberdeen architect William Kelly. It was
commissioned and paid for by the Corporation of the City of
Aberdeen and built  by John Smith of Inverurie at the cost of £325 and inaugurated in 1914 .

Other Local Sites Associated with the Battle

Hosie's Well:

Hosie, a local man, was on his way to marry his bride when he was persuaded to fight in the battle and postponed his wedding. He was captured by the Highlanders but escaped after several years and went to find his bride but found she had thought he was dead and had married someone else, but on recognising her long lost betrothed died of shock. Heartbroken Hosie Hosie also. The well near where his bride was buried is called “Hosie’s Well” as it contained nought but his tears.

Kinkell Church: The Tomb of Gilbert de Greenlaw, one of the knights killed at the battle.

The Drum Stone Inscribed "Drum Stone 1411 Harlaw ", tradition has it the the Laird of Drum halted his men here on his way to the Battle.

The Liggar's Stane said to mark the burial-place of the female camp-followers who were slain at the Battle of Harlaw.

Foveran Church: The Turin or Turing Stone, said to commemorate the fallen of the Turins of Foveran at the Battle.

References and Links

Aberdeen City Council: The Battle of Harlaw Leaflet

Historic Scotland: The Battle of Harlaw

UK Battlefields Resource Centre - Medieval - The Battle of Battle of Harlaw

Aberdeen City Council: The Harlaw Monument

The Leopard Magazine: The Battle of Harlaw Commemoration and Monument

The Leopard Magazine: Let us remember the Battle of Harlaw

The Battle Of Harlaw - 600th Anniversary

Anniversary to mark the Battle of Harlaw - Local Headlines - Inverurie Herald

Freens o' Reid Harlaw

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© Iain Laird 2011-2014