History of the Stewarts | Battles and Historic Events
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Battle of Sheriffmuir
13th November 1715
In 1707 the two kingdoms of Scotland and England had been united - in order in part to ensure both the Protestant succession and the continued political stability of the two kingdoms. This had proved a highly unpopular move across much of Scottish society which led to a great deal of support for the exiled King James although there were sections of Scotland who could not bring themselves to support him because he would not renounce his Catholic faith. For them anti-unionism was always going to be trumped by the matter of faith. No Catholic could be King. However there were plenty who did not feel this way and the Jacobites sought to exploit this not simply to reverse the union, but to gain the crown of both England and Scotland. An abortive rising took place in 1708. Further complicating the issue but at the same time, was the war with France which meant the French king was prepared to offer rather more than just sympathy and a home to the Stuarts in France since a Stuart restoration would take Britain out of the Grand Alliance against France. Something the French really wanted since in the early years of the 18th century the English commander Marlborough had a series of great victories against the French at Blenheim, Ramilies, Oudenarde and Malplaquet. Although following the Treaty of Utrecht, the French attempts to achieve hegemony in Europe essentially came to end. Therefore the French help for Stuart succession was no longer active for a generation.
Then, in 1714, when the Elector of Hanover succeeded Queen Anne to the throne he alienated a range of former supporters of Anne. Including one of Scotland´s most influential politicians: John Erskine, earl of Mar. As a consequence,Mar decided to throw his lot in with the Stuarts and by raised the standard for the house of Stuart under the guise of a great hunting party or tinchal at Braemar to which he invited most of the nobility of Scotland. On one side of his banner he put the arms of Scotland and on the other ´No Union´. Thousands flocked to him including the marquises of Huntly and Tullibardine, the Earl Marischal and the Earls of Erroll, Seaforth and Linlithgow. On the 6th of September the Jacobite banner was formally raised at Braemar. Soon almost the entire north of Scotland was in his hands. However he did this without even bothering to warn the Jacobite court in exile. So King James was not ready to sail to Scotland.
To counter the uprising the government dispatched a combination of hastily recruited Scottish and English regiments under the command of the duke of Argyle. During October there were various manoeuvres, including against Edinburgh. Then on the 10th November the Jacobite army marched south from Perth, reaching Kinbuick, just north east of Dunblane, on the 12th. Argyle had marched north and was already at Dunblane, intending to intercept the Jacobite force. The government army may have been outnumbered by about 2:1, but it was made up of regulars fighting under an experienced commander.
The British government expected local authorities to raise troops to defend against the Jacobite Uprising however in some areas this proved difficult as this Uprising was genuinely popular. But Argyle´s younger bother the Earl of Islay called out large number of Campbell in support of the government. In the Lothians and Glasgow there were properly trained volunteer bands and both Glasgow and Edinburgh universities raised regiments
The Jacobites drew up in battle formation on Kinbuick Muir, presumably in order to control the road north from Dunblane, but had to move more than two kilometres south east from here on to Sheriff Muir, to the east of Dunblane, to engage the government force. The manoeuvre proved difficult for the inexperienced Jacobite troops, disrupting their intended battle formation and putting them at a disadvantage in the coming action. Argyll’s forces ascended the hill from the direction of Dunblane, but the Jacobites were on the field first and could choose their ground
Argyle was seriously outnumbered by the Jacobite army (which was somewhat diminished from its previous numbers), and his left wing, commanded by General Whetham, was far shorter than the Jacobites´ opposing right. Argyll´s right wing attacked, and managed to drive the Highlanders back, but Whetham´s soldiers were overpowered by a much larger force. Argyle came to the aid of Whetham´s men. By evening, both armies were seriously reduced, and although Mar had a great advantage in numbers, he refused to risk the entirety of his army, allowing Argyll to withdraw.
The Highland forces of the Jacobites had a great advantage in numbers, but Mar was not an experienced military commander and needed James Stuart to join the army to take command. In contrast the government army, comprising both Scottish and English forces, were mainly well trained and experienced troops
The battle was inconclusive, with both sides claiming victory. However in strategic terms Argyll had halted the Jacobite advance. Those government regiments present that were titled ´King´s´ were awarded the White Horse of Hanover as a badge of battle honour. The engagement only served to demoralize the Jacobite army who, with their superior numbers, felt they should have decisively won. Mar´s French and Spanish supporters in particular withdrew their forces. Though Mar might claim that he held the field, in reality it was a Jacobite defeat, for he retreated back to Perth and the momentum of the uprising was lost.
Robert Burns wrote the Ballad of Sherrifmuir - where he makes it clear the battle was indecisive. That knowledge formed the basis for the song which is written as an account of the battle by two shepherds taking differing views of battle. One of the shepherds believes that "the red-coat lads wi´ black cockades" routed the rebels, painting a fearful picture of how they managed to "hough the Clans like nine-pin kyles". The other shepherd is just as convinced that the Jacobites "did pursue / The horsemen back to Forth, man" with the eventual result that "...mony a huntit, poor Red-coat / For fear amaist did swarf, man."
You can hear it read by Robert Carlyle here http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/robertburns/works/the_battle_of_sherramuir/