The battle of Inverlochy, 1645

In late November 1644, Alasdair MacColla rejoined the Marquis of Montrose at Blair Atholl. MacColla had recruited up to 1,000 clansmen from among the MacDonalds, MacLeans and Camerons in the western Highlands and was eager to strike at the Campbells. As the King's deputy, Montrose was reluctant to become involved in vendettas among the Highland clans, but MacColla persuaded him to undertake a daring raid into Campbell territory against Inverary Castle, the stronghold of the Marquis of Argyll. Taking advantage of unusually mild weather conditions that left the mountain passes open, the combined forces of Montrose and MacColla marched into Argyllshire to burn and plunder around Inverary for several weeks during December 1644 and January 1645. Although the castle could not be taken, the town of Inverary was captured and Campbells put mercilessly to the sword.

Campaign map: Battle of Inverlochy
The Inverlochy Campaign, 1644-5

By the end of January 1645, Montrose and MacColla had advanced north to Kilcumin (now Fort Augustus) in Inverness-shire where they learned that the Covenanters were marshalling their forces against them: Lord Seaforth with 5,000 men blocked their route north while to the south the Marquis of Argyll and the Campbells, reinforced by troops from Lord Leven's army in England, were at Inverlochy intent on revenge.

Montrose and MacColla decided to double back to attack Argyll. On 31 January 1645, they led their 1,500 men on a bold flanking march over the mountains. The Highlanders and Irishmen covered thirty miles of extremely rough mountainous terrain in under thirty-six hours to descend on the Campbells at Inverlochy at the foot of Ben Nevis during the early hours of 2 February.

Montrose deployed his 600 Highlanders in the centre with the Irishmen on the flanks: Alasdair MacColla on the right at the head of Laghtnan's regiment and Manus O'Cahan with his regiment on the left. MacDonnel's regiment and Sir Thomas Ogilvy's troop of horse were kept in reserve.

The Marquis of Argyll, suffering from a dislocated shoulder, retired to his galley on Loch Linnhe leaving Sir Duncan Campbell of Auchinbreck in command of the opposing army. Auchinbreck drew up his forces in front of Inverlochy Castle. In the centre were 1,000 Campbell levies and the 500 men of the Marquis's own regiment, which had been recalled from Ireland. Regulars recalled from the Covenanter army were placed on each wing under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Roughe of the Earl of Tullibarne's regiment and Lieutenant-Colonel Cockburn of the Earl of Moray's regiment.

Montrose struck at dawn, before Auchinbreck could assess the position in daylight, with a swift, ferocious charge. Under fire from the Covenanters on the flanks, the advancing Irish held their own fire until they were almost in contact with the enemy. After delivering a single devastating volley, the Irishmen threw down their muskets and charged home with swords and dirks. The Covenanters broke and ran. Meanwhile, the Highlanders clashed violently with the Campbells in the centre. Ogilvy's cavalry worked around to outflank the Campbells and block their retreat to the castle. Attacked from all sides, the Campbells were slaughtered by their bitter enemies of the Highland clans. Hundreds of Campbells were killed, including Auchinbreck who was beheaded personally by Alasdair MacColla. The power of the Campbells in the Highlands was shattered. Having witnessed the massacre of his clansmen, the Marquis of Argyll escaped from the scene in his galley and fled to Edinburgh.

The victory at Inverlochy boosted Montrose's reputation in the Highlands and brought in large numbers of recruits. He was also joined by George, Lord Gordon, son of the Marquis of Huntly, who brought with him his regular regiment of horse, which in combination with Ogilvy's troop gave Montrose an effective force of cavalry for the first time. The Marquis of Huntly himself, however, remained jealous of Montrose's growing reputation and regarded him as a turncoat because he had supported the Covenanters during the Bishops' Wars.


S.R. Gardiner, History of the Great Civil War vol. ii (London 1889)

Peter Gaunt, The Cromwellian Gazetteer (Stroud 1987)

Stuart Reid, Auldearn 1645: the Marquis of Montrose's Scottish campaign (Osprey 2003)

David Stevenson, Revolution & Counter-Revolution in Scotland 1644-51 (Newton Abbott 1977)

Trevor Royle: Civil War: the wars of the Three Kingdoms 1638-60 (London 2004)


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