The Battle of Harlaw
by Ellen Castelow
Before being united as a country, the various regions of Scotland were divided by centuries of bitter rivalry between the different ethnic groups and kingdoms.
The western seaboard of the country influenced by Gaelic-Viking culture owed allegiance to the Lord of the Isles, whilst the northeast region traditionally formed part of the ancient Pictish Kingdom. Safe to say then that the clans of the west coast did not always see eye-to-eye with those of the northeast.
The latest feud concerned Donald, Lord of the Isles, who having fought for control of Ross, a large region of northern Scotland, now planned to strike south east into Moray towards Aberdeen, along with 10,000 of his clansmen.
Forewarned of Donald’s advance, Alexander Stewart, Earl of Mar hastily assembled a force from the local clans including the Irvings, Lesleys, Lovels, Maules, Morays and Stirlings. Mar’s force is said to have numbered only around 1,500 men, although in reality it is likely to have been much larger, including a substantial numbers of well-equipped mounted knights.
Holding his knights as cavalry reserve, Mar organised his spearmen into battle formation to face the advancing islanders near the town of Inverurie, on the morning of 24th July 1411.
The islanders launched charge after charge against the close packed ranks of Mar’s spearmen but failed to break their ranks. Meanwhile Mar led his cavalry into the main body of Donald’s army, where the islanders thrust their dirks into the soft underbellies of the horses, stabbing the knights as they fell.
By nightfall the dead littered the field. Exhausted, Mar and the survivors of his army rested and waited for the battle to resume the following morning. With the dawn they found that Donald had left the field, retreating back to the Isles.
The heavy losses suffered by both sides meant that neither side could claim the day; however Mar had successfully defended Aberdeen.
Date: 24th July, 1411
War: Clan Warfare
Location: Near Inverurie, Aberdeenshire
Belligerents: North East Barons, West Coast Barons
Victors: North East Barons
Numbers: North East Barons over 1,500, West Coast Barons around 10,000
Casualties: Both sides around 600 – 1000
Commanders: Earl of Mar (NE Barons), Donald of Islay (West Coast Barons)