Descriptive Gazetteer Entry for Harlaw

Harlaw, a farm in the parish of Chapel of Garioch, Aberdeenshire, near the left bank of the Urie, 2¼ miles NNW of Inverurie. It is noted for a battle fought on it, 24 July 1411 (St James's Eve), between the rebel Highland army of Donald, Lord of the Isles, and the royal forces under the Earl of Mar. Donald, at the head of 10.000 men, overran Ross-shire, marched through Inverness-shire and Moray, acquired accessions to his strength in those districts and in Banffshire, and resolved now to carry into execution a threat he had often made, to burn the town of Aberdeen. He committed great excesses in Strathbogie and in the district of Garioch, which belonged to the Earl of Mar. The inhabitants of Aberdeen were in dreadful alarm at the near approach of this marauder and his savage hordes; but their fears were allayed by the speedy appearance of a well-equipped army, commanded by the Earl of Mar, who bore a high military character, assisted by many brave knights and gentlemen of Angus and the Mearns. Advancing from Aberdeen, Mar marched by Inverurie, and descried the Highlanders stationed at Harlaw. He saw that he had to contend with tremendous odds; but though his forces were, it is said, as one to ten to those opposed to him, he resolved, from the confidence he had in his steel-clad knights, to risk a battle. Having placed a small but select body of knights and men-at-arms in front, under the command of the Constable of Dundee and the Sheriff of Angus, the Earl drew up the main strength of his army in the rear, including the Murrays, the Straitons, the Maules, the Irvings, the Leslies, the Lovels, and the Stirlings. headed by their respective chiefs. The Earl then placed himself at the head of this body. On the other side, under the Lord of the Isles, were Mackintosh and Maclean and other Highland chiefs, all bearing the deadliest hatred to their Southron foes.

On a given signal, the Highlanders and Islesmen, setting up those terrific shouts and yells which they were wont to raise on entering into battle, rushed forward on the foe; but they were received with great firmness and bravery by the men-at-arms, who, with spears levelled and battle-axes raised, cut down many of their impetuous but badly armed opponents. After the Lowlanders had recovered themselves from the shock of this furious onset, Sir James Scrymgeour, at the head of the knights and bannerets under him, cut his way through the thick columns of the Islesmen, everywhere carrying death; but the slaughter of hundreds by this brave party did not intimidate the Highlanders, who kept pouring in by thousands to supply the place of those who had fallen. Surrounded on all sides, Sir James and his valiant companions had no alternative but death or victory, and death indeed was their lot. First fell the Constable of Dundee, and his fall so encouraged the Highlanders, that, seizing and stabbing the horses, they dismounted the riders, whom they despatched with their daggers. In the meantime the Earl of Mar, who had penetrated with his main army into the very heart of the enemy, kept up the unequal contest with great bravery, and, though the action cost him almost the whole of his army, he continued the fatal struggle with a handful of men till nightfall. The disastrous result of this battle was one of the greatest misfortunes that ever befell the families of Angus and the Mearns. Many of them lost not only their head, but every male in the house. Leslie of Balquhain is said to have fallen with six of his sons; and there were also slain Sir James Scrymgeour, Sir Alexander Ogilvy, the Sheriff of Angus, with his eldest son George Ogilvy, Sir Thomas Murray, Sir Robert Maule of Panmure, Sir Alexander Irving of Drum, Sir William Abernethy of Salton, Sir Alexander Straiton of Lauriston, James Lovel, Alexander Stirling, and Sir Robert Davidson, Provost of Aberdeen, with 500 men-at-arms, including the principal gentry of Buchan and the greater part of the burgesses of Aberdeen who followed their provost. The Highlanders left 900 men dead on the field of battle, among them the chiefs Maclean and Mackintosh. Their defeat was far from signal, but their career was stayed, and that was everything.

'So,' says Dr Hill Burton, `ended one of Scotland's most memorable battles. On the face of ordinary history it looks like an affair of civil war. But this expression is properly used towards those who have common interests and sympathies. who should naturally be friends and may be friends again, but for a time are, from incidental causes of dispute and quarrel, made enemies. The contest between the Lowlanders and Donalds host was none of this; it was a contest between foes, of whom their contemporaries would have said that their ever being in harmony with each other, or having a feeling of common interest and nationality, was not within the range of rational expectation' (Hist. Scott-, ii. 392-394, ed. 1876). The battle is celebrated in a long ballad, supposed by some to date from the 15th century, but closely following Boece's narrative.—Ord. Sur., sh. 76, 1874.

(F.H. Groome, Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland (1882-4); © 2004 Gazetteer for Scotland)

Linked entities:
Feature Description: "a farm"   (ADL Feature Type: "agricultural sites")
Administrative units: Aberdeenshire ScoCnty
Place: Harlaw

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