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The Battle of Sheriffmuir 1715

Today marks the 303rd anniversary of the bloody Battle of Sheriffmuir, which was the only really significant action to take place during the failed third Jacobite Rising of 1715.

As I do every year, I took a wee walk along the battlefield (or what remains of it) and snapped some pictures in the midday Scottish winter, reflecting on its history.

The Stuart Monarchy had been overthrown during Britain's Glorious Revolution of 1688/89 and the King, James VII of Scotland and II of England was forced into exile on the Continent of Europe, with his son and heir, James Francis Edward Stuart.

The new King, William III, was the nephew of the deposed Stuart King and married the daughter of James VII & II, his own cousin, Mary. William and Mary became joint rulers of Britain, but many both north and south of the border saw James as their rightful King. In an effort to get James back on the throne of Britain, some of his supporters took up arms in what would become known as the Jacobite Risings, the term Jacobite coming from the Latin for 'James', which is Jacobus.

After failing to get James back on to the throne of Britain in 1689 and 1708, the Jacobites attempted to continue the fight in 1715, which culminated in the Battle of Sheriffmuir. At this time, the old King James was dead and the figurehead for the Jacobite cause was his son and heir, James Francis Edward Stuart, who was Bonnie Prince Charlie's father.

James Francis Edward Stuart became known to history as 'The Old Pretender' and the aim of this new 1715 Jacobite Rising was to proclaim him King of Great Britain and reclaim his ancestral birthright.

In September of 1715, John Erskine, Earl of Mar, raised the Jacobite Standard at Braemar, signalling the start of what would become the third Jacobite Rising.

After initial successes in the north of Scotland, Mar gathered his forces in and around the city of Perth to begin a march southwards towards the strategically important town of Stirling. Stirling was one of the key Government centres in Scotland and was garrisoned by a Redcoat force, under the command of the Campbell Clan Chief, the Duke of Argyll.

Marching out of Perth on 10 November 1715, with around 7,000 men, mainly consisting of both Highland and Lowland Scots, Mar made it to the boundaries, of what would become the main battlefield, on 12 November 1715. The Redcoat Army, under Argyll encamped north of the town of Dunblane and both sides readied for battle the next day.

On the morning of 13 November 1715, after some initial confused manoeuvring from both sides, the Jacobite and Redcoat Armies met on the field of battle.

The Jacobites with their near 7,000 troops vastly outnumbered Argyll's Redcoat Army, which numbered some 3,000 men. With this superiority of numbers, the Jacobite commander, should have been victorious, but the military inexperience of Mar and the differing fighting style of the Highland and Lowland troops within his own Army, soon took its toll on the command and control of the Jacobite Army.

After some very heavy fighting on each side of the battlefield, the Jacobite right flank soon overcame the Redcoat left flank and correspondingly, the Jacobite left flank took severe casualties at the hands of the Redcoat right flank. Throughout the course of the day, the battle soon developed into a confusing mass of messy, running battles with both sides ending the day with approximately 300 - 400 casualties a piece. The Jacobite Earl of Mar hesitated to push his advantage in numbers and ended a promising pursuit of some elements of Argyll's Redcoats, giving the Redcoat commander much needed respite.

Clan Macrae Memorial at the Battle of Sheriffmuir

Despite being a largely indecisive action, from both side's perspectives, the Battle of Sheriffmuir can, at least in part, be seen as a strategic victory for Argyll's Redcoat Army, as the Jacobite march south had been checked.

One of the most striking modern monuments on the field is the imposing Clan Macrae Memorial (left), which was raised on the 200th anniversary of the battle in 1915. It details the sacrifice and brave actions of the Highland Clan, who were attached to the Jacobite left flank.

It is interesting to think just how different history would have been, had Mar been more decisive and pushed his huge advantage in numbers...

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