In 1719, an attempt was made at the behest of Cardinal Guilio Alberoni, the Italian prelate who occupied what would today be referred to as the position of Foreign Minister of Spain, to cause trouble in Scotland in order to distract British attention from the War of the Quadruple Alliance.
The plan had two elements:-
- George Keith, tenth Earl Marischal would infiltrate Scotland with 300 Spanish marines to raise the Western clans and take some positions. It was a feint intended to divert English forces. This force landed in Stornoway in late March and occupied the Isle of Lewis (or so it's said in the books), this was the only Spanish formation to take part in any Jacobite rising.
- The main fleet, with 27 ships and 7000 men under James Butler, 2nd Duke of Ormonde (the former Captain General of the British army, exiled in Spain), would disembark in South West England or Wales, where Jacobites were supposedly abundant. A supposition which had not been borne out four years earlier...
Ormonde left Cadiz in early March 1719, but encountered a severe storm at sea three weeks later. With his fleet scattered and damaged, he was forced to return to Spain. On Lewis, William Murray, Earl of Tullibardine (who later raised the Standard at Glenfinnan in 1745), took command of the ground forces from Keith. Unaware of Ormonde's setback, they moved forward with the plan and crossed the Minch to Scotland.
It has suited generations of British (and Scottish) historians to refer to this event as a “Jacobite Rebellion”, even though it was conceived by an Italian working for Spain during the War of the Quadruple Alliance. I suppose that as approximately 600 highlanders joined in, it could
be called a rebellion, but to me that's gilding the lily more than somewhat. Especially as there were about as many on the Hanoverian side.
At any rate, this affair was the last time that Rob Roy MacGregor and his men, fought the Government forces (if in fact they ever did). Why am I challenging the received wisdom of the ages? Simply because Rob Roy had form for working for two sides. In the aftermath of the Battle of Sherriffmuir, evidence came to light indicating that he had been in frequent contact with Argyll – the Hanoverian commander (but that was a few years earlier in 1715).
The battle, such as it was, took place in Glen Sheil, one of the most beautiful and picturesque parts of the West Highlands (OK, I'm biased. Deal with it), it's also pretty remote even now – great walking country though. Glen Sheil runs for about 9 miles from Cluanie to Sheil Bridge on a south-east – north-west axis. It's Scotland's only battle site with contemporary remains still visible – including the stone dyke enclosure where the Jacobite munitions were stored.
The battle took place on 10 June 1719 about halfway up the glen. It was fought between the British government (Hanoverian) forces and an alliance of Jacobites and Spaniards, and resulted in a victory for the British forces. The natural strength of the Jacobite position, which was positioned on easily defendable crags in the glen, had been increased by hasty fortifications. A barricade had been constructed across the road, and along the face of the hill on the north side of the river entrenchments had been thrown up. Here the main body was posted, consisting of a Spanish regiment, 150 or so Camerons, Rob Roy MacGregor with 40 men, 50 men of Clan Mackinnon and 200 from the Clan MacKenzie.
I'm going to break one of my own rules here and post a breakdown (as far as can be ascertained anyway of the numbers involved) mainly because I disagree with Wiki (which says, and I quote “850 infantry, 120 dragoons and 4 mortar batteries” for the Government side against “1,000 troops”). By my count, the Spanish /Jacobite forces mustered less than 900 while the Hanoverians mustered over 1,000 (plus the Coehorn mortars).
Just for the hell of it, I've counted a regiment as being 300 men, while at the time a British infantry regiment consisted of twelve companies of 80 men (960, not counting officers or NCOs) – so roughly a 1,000 men. This was however an ideal not often achieved...
British forces included 150 grenadiers under Major Milburn, Montagu’s Regiment, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Lawrence, a detachment of 50 men under Colonel Harrison, Huffel's Dutch Regiment, four companies from the Fraser, Ross and Sutherland clans, 80 men of Clan MacKay, Clayton’s Regiment, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Reading and about 100 men of the Clan Munro under George Munro of Culcairn.
One of the peaks on the northern side of the valley, Sgùrr nan Spàinteach (Peak of the Spaniards), derives its name from the 200 Spanish troops who fought a rearguard action to cover the retreat of the defeated Jacobites.