is the 600th Anniversary
Munonday at morning
The battle it began;
On Saturday at gloamin
Ye’d scarce tell wha had wan."
The Battle of Harlaw, Traditional Ballad
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
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
on display at Trinity Hall in Aberdeen, former home of the
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, 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
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 -
Freens o' Reid Harlaw
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© Iain Laird