Battle of Inverlochy (1431)

The Battle of Inverlochy was fought in September 1431 after Alexander, Earl of Ross and Lord of the Isles, had been imprisoned by King James I. A force of highlanders led by Donald Balloch, Alexander's nephew, defeated Royalist forces led by the Earls of Mar and Caithness at Inverlochy, near present-day Fort William.

Prisoner of the King

In 1427 King James summoned a Parliament to Inverness to consider the problem of disorder in the Western Isles. Alexander came, not doubting the king's good faith; but was promptly arrested and thrown in prison, as was his mother. By this action James established a pattern of deceit and bad faith that was to characterise his descendants' relations with Clan Donald down to the reign of James VI.

Alexander came to Inverness clearly in a co-operative mood, and much might have been achieved by this. Instead James' high-handed approach ushered in the kind of disorder it was allegedly meant to prevent, and led directly to the Battle of Inverlochy, one of the most serious defeats ever suffered by a royal army in the Highlands.

Alexander's revenge

Alexander was released after a short time in prison, but in a fury of wounded pride he advanced with his vassals on Inverness, destroying the scene of his humiliation in the spring of 1429. It was to be the sad fate of this Highland town that it was to become a regular focus for MacDonald anger for centuries to come. Alexander was joined in his raid by Donald Balloch, his teenage nephew, and the chief of the MacDonalds of Dunyveg and the Glens, sometimes known as Clan Donald South or Clan Iain Mor.

Enraged by Alexander's rebellion James gathered his own forces, moving rapidly through Lochaber, where Alexander confronted him with 10,000 men, according to the chronicle of Walter Bower. But there was to be no rerun of the earlier Battle of Harlaw. Meeting the Earl of Mar was one thing; meeting the king quite another. At the sight of the royal banner the Camerons and Mackintoshes both deserted Alexander. Weakened in numbers, and most likely demoralised, the rest of the army abandoned the field. With the king threatening to invade the Isles Alexander surrendered. Once again he was put in prison, this time in Tantallon Castle in East Lothian, under the custody of the Earl of Angus. It was left to Donald Balloch and his kinsman Alisdair Carrach to restore the broken pride of Clan Donald.

Inverlochy

Soon after his success in Lochaber James left the conduct of affairs in the north in the hands of the veteran Earl of Mar, the man who had held the onslaught of Clan Donald at Harlaw. However, the rebellion rumbled on for two years without any kind of resolution. Finally, sometime in September 1431-the records do not allow us to be more precise than that-the royal army advanced into Lochaber under Mar and the Earl of Caithness, seeking a final confrontation, and taking up a position close to the old Comyn stronghold of Inverlochy Castle. Alasdair Carrach, lacking sufficient force to confront the earls, took to the hills and there waited for the arrival of Donald. Not far to the west Donald and his brother, Ranald Bane, summoned their kin to meet them on the Isle of Carna on Loch Sunart. MacIain of Ardnamurchan and Alan MacAlan of Moidart along with many others joined them there. From Loch Sunart the combined force of galleys sailed off, landing some two miles south of Inverlochy.

Seeing his allies approach Alasdair Carrach with his bowmen positioned himself on the flank of the royal army. Seemingly unprepared, Mar and Caithness were attacked from two sides. Before long their army crumbled under the pressure. Caithness was killed and Mar wounded, managing to escape the field with some difficulty. Over 900 of the royal army were killed. Donald, in contrast, is said to have lost only 30 men, though it would be unwise to place too much reliance on these figures. One thing at least is certain: unlike Harlaw, the Battle of Inverlochy was a clear and unambiguous victory for the men of Clan Donald-but the result was just the same. Donald, like his namesake at Harlaw, retreated back to the Isles.

Donald's Head

It might be thought that Donald's precipitate action could have placed Alexander of the Isles, still a prisoner of the king, in some danger. Instead it only emphasised that James' policy in the north, designed to end disorder and lawlessness, was a total failure. If this was clear to the king it was also clear to his nobles, tired of expensive and fruitless campaigns in the Highlands. Parliament met in October 1431, the month after Inverlochy, but proved very reluctant to grant James funds for a fresh offensive. He was left with no other option but to come to terms with Alexander if he was to have any hope of restoring order. Alexander was pardoned and freed, although his mother remained as a hostage on Inchcolm, under the wardship of Walter Bower.

There could, of course, be no reprieve for Donald Balloch, who took refuge in Ireland. Later a head was sent to James by Hugh Boy, chief of the O'Neils of Ulster, supposedly that of Donald. Honour satisfied, James did not pursue the matter further. This head, sacrificed for the greater good of the Gaelic world, was most assuredly not that of Donald Balloch, who lived to trouble the hated Stewarts for many years to come.

References

* Bower, Walter, "Scotichronicon", 1987-96.
* Brown, M., "James I", 1994.
* MacDonald, Hugh, "History of the MacDonalds", in Highland Papers, vol. I, 1914.

See also

Battle of Inverlochy (1645)

External links

* [http://www.clan-cameron.org/battles/1431.html The Battles of Clan Cameron]


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