Study at battlefield glen where Spanish joined the Jacobites

Archaeologists have been surveying for the first time the site of the sole battle of the 1719 Jacobite rising when around 300 Spanish soldiers fought alongside the rebels in the Highlands.

Archaeologists have been surveying for the first time the site of the sole battle of the 1719 Jacobite rising when around 300 Spanish soldiers fought alongside the rebels in the Highlands.

Experts from National Trust for Scotland hope their work will gain further understanding of the Battle of Glen Shiel, which ended in victory for British Government forces, ahead of its 300th anniversary on June 10 next year.

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Around 1,150 Highlanders fought on the Jacobite side at Glen Shiel, including Rob Roy MacGregor, Donald Cameron of Lochiel - head of Clan Cameron - and William MacKenzie, 5th Earl of Seaforth.

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They were supplemented by up to 300 Spanish soldiers sent to support the Jacobites in a bid to put further pressure on Britain, which was at war with Spain at the time.

Derek Alexander, head of archaeological services at NTS, said the battlefield in Kintail in the north west Highlands remained almost complete with rare field fortifications found at the site.

He said: “Next year is the 300th anniversary of the Battle of Glen Shiel so it would be good to get a better understanding of what actually happened there. Archaeology is good at drawing out the finer details from the historical accounts that we have.

“Glen Shiel is one of the few battlefields in Scotland that has physical archaeological built remains still in place.”

He said “wonderful” documents relating to the battle still existed, which were drawn up by John-Henri Bastide, a soldier with the British Army who went on to become a military engineer.

The early 18th Century documents have been the lead guide for excavations at the site with work focussed around Spanish Hill where the Jacobites and their Iberian counterparts positioned themselves.

Mr Alexander said: “Bastide goes through the positions of the troop movements and how the battle unfolded.

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“Apart from some forestry, the landscape has really remained unchanged. There have been changes to the road layout but you can still see pretty much the whole battlefield.

“The topography of the battle field was so key to how the Jacobites - and the government - fought on the day.”

A number of hillside entrenchments that are marked on Bastide’s map, from where Jacobites and their Spanish counterparts could shoot down oncoming troops, have been examined.

Mr Alexander said it appeared a long terrace-style structure had been built for soldier to crouch down behind.

A nearby shieling is also of interest to the team, as well as the remains of a stone hexagonal structure.

“Some of a hexagonal enclosure still survives. It is mapped by Bastide but what we don’t know at the moment is whether it was built by the Spanish or if it an earlier agricultural building. It is not in the most advantageous position but Bastide’s map does show troops attacking it,” Mr Alexander said.

The Battle of Glen Shiel is also the first known time that coehorn mortars - small, portable weapons - were used in battle by the British Army.

The mortars were able to lob explosives high into the air, making them critical tools in the attack of the hillside positions taken by the Jacobites and the Spanish.

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“These coehorn mortars were used with great effect at Glenshiel. After 1719, a recommendation was made that the government garrison forts should be equipped with a number of these guns,” Mr Alexander said.

The catalyst for the 1719 Rising was the outbreak of war between Spain and Britain the year before.

The Spanish saw the benefit of resurrecting a Jacobite uprising for increasing pressure on the British government and offered the Jacobites an alliance and assistance in war, according to the inventory of Scotland’s battlefield.

Around 5,000 Spanish soldiers set off to invade Britain but the fleet was wrecked by a storm off the south coast of England and the manoeuvre abandoned.

However, a smaller contingent led by Jacobite George Keith, 10th Earl Marischal Keith, of Dunnottar Castle, was on its way from the Basque country and set up camp at Eilean Donan Castle.

In May, the castle - traditional seat of Clan Mackenzie - was attacked by the Royal Navy with 39 Spanish marines taken prisoner.

A Government force was dispatched from Inverness to further counter the threat and met the Jacobite and Spanish army already in position on the steep slopes of Glen Shiel.

There were few losses on either side, with the majority of the Jacobite troops fleeing the field in the early stages of the battle. The Spanish fought on but eventually retreated over Sgurr nan Spainteach - or The Peak of the Spaniards.

Mr Alexander said teams would return to Glen Shiel for further excavations with hopes to create new interpretations of the battle in time of the 300th anniversary.