You need a browser with HTML 5 Canvas support to see this animated map


Click on any image for more information.

Battle of Harlaw Area Today

Show Larger Map

Battle of Harlaw summary

The Battle of Harlaw (Cath Gairbheach) was a Scottish clan battle fought on 24 July 1411. It was one of a series of battles fought during the Middle Ages between the barons of northeast Scotland against those from the west coast.

  1. Donald (Domhnall), Lord of the Isles claimed the earldom of Ross through marriage. He had often promised to burn Aberdeen and after a series of successful engagements he was now within 20 miles of it. The Earl of Mar had plenty of warning of his advance and had assembled a large force to stop him. The two armies joined battle on the eve of. the feast of St James – Friday, 24 July 1411.
  2. Donald's army was armed with swords, bows and axes, short knives and round targe shields. Mar's men also carried spears, maces and battle axes. On spotting the islanders, Mar organized his force into battle array, with the main army behind a small advance guard of men-at-arms. He probably split the army into three, with the knights as a cavalry reserve and the infantry arranged in schiltrons, close-packed arrays of spearmen. The islanders were arranged in the traditional cuneiform or wedge shape.
  3. At first the clansmen launched themselves at the advance guard, but failed to make much impression on the armored column and many were slain.
  4. Every wave of islanders that was repulsed, was replaced by fresh men.
  5. Mar led his knights into the main body of Donald's army but the islanders brought down the knights' horses and then used their dirks to finish off the riders.
  6. By nightfall, the ballads claim that 600 of Mar's men were dead. Donald lost 900 men, a much smaller proportion of his total force, but including his two seconds-in-command.
  7. Too feeble to retreat, Mar and his surviving men camped on the battlefield, expecting combat to resume in the morning.
  8. At dawn they found that Donald had withdrawn during the night, retreating first to Ross and then back to the Isles. The casualties on both sides meant that neither side felt it had won the day, but Mar had kept Donald from Aberdeen and for the islanders, the absence of conclusive victory was as bad as defeat.