Spanish Jacobites and a unintended historical skirmish

10th June 1719 - Battle of Glen Shiel

Today marks the 297th anniversary of the Battle of Glen Shiel, a date significant for several reasons. For one, it forms part of the series of Jacobite risings of the 1700s, the most famous being the one in 1745 (battle of Culloden etc) but it also remains the last time that British troops saw action in close engagement battle with foreign troops on British soil. This is because this battle, although it found it self firmly rooted in the Highlands in the end was, in fact, part of a far wider plan. A plan cooked up not by the Gaels, nor even by the French, but by the Spanish. 

The Jacobite attempt of 1719. Letters of James Butler, second Duke of Ormonde, relating to Cardinal Alberoni's project for the invasion of Great Britain on behalf of the Stuarts, and to the landing of (14763142684)

Map to illustrate the landing of the expedition of 1719 and the battle of Glenshiel
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Philip V (grandson of Louis XIV for the Versailles fans amongst you) had recently become King of Spain and was flexing his muscles against the British occupation of Spanish territories. To distract the British from his attempts to take his territories back he decided on a time old plan - infiltrate and destabilise from within. And so the plan was launched. A small force of Spaniards would set off for Lewis in the Outer Hebrides where they would move south, gathering the loyal Jacobites and serve as a distraction from the main troops who would land in the south-west of England and march straight on London. It was a good plan but like so many brilliant battle plans, it didn’t work. This time it was the pesky weather that spoiled it, just as it did with the famous Spanish Armada in 1585. This time, the small force got through to Lewis but the main force were broken up and forced to retreat to Spain. 

King Philip V of Spain

Philip V of Spain
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

The Battle of Glen Sheil therefore became their final stand. The final act of defiance against the British Government where the small number of Jacobites who had answered the call stood shoulder to shoulder with the only Spaniards who had made it through and, unknowingly, made history. The battle was short and relatively painless as battles go with most of the defeated Jacobites fleeing through the convenient fog to the safety of their homes and far away from the traitor’s noose. The Spaniards were taken as prisoners of war to Edinburgh but managed to return to Spain later that year. And so ended the skirmish. Perhaps not as noteworthy as others but still very much worth remembering as a defiant act of a small group of brave men against very large odds in the spectacular surroundings of Glen Shiel.

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The Battle of Glen Shiel, 1719
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

© Isla Robertson 2017