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Historical Geography of the Clans of Scotland
By T. B. Johnston, F.R.G.S. and Colonel James A. Robertson
The Highland Campaigns
Introduction


IN the reign of James IV. of Scotland, Don Pedro de Ayala, Spanish Ambassador at the Scottish Court, wrote home to his own sovereigns an appreciative description of the character and accomplishments of the young King of Scots. He notes with special admiration Jamesís knowledge of languages. Not only was he acquainted with Latin, French, German, Flemish, Italian, and Spanish, but, says Don Pedro, "he speaks the language of the savages who live in some parts of Scotland and on the islands."

The language of the Spanish diplomatist fairly represented the feeling with which, in the Middle Ages, the inhabitants of the Highlands were regarded by the average civilised European, and in particular by their Lowland neighbours. To the Scots statesman in the days of the Jameses they were simply so many tribes of marauding barbarians, to be kept in order by whatever means came handiest. Their domestic history is a record of clan feuds and conflicts, often abounding in picturesque incident, but of comparatively little importance in the national history. It is not till the civil wars of the seventeenth century that the Highlanders begin to play an important military part in the general history of the country. We propose to tell briefly the story of the Highland campaigns from the days of Montrose to the end of the Forty-five.

One great battle there is, belonging to the earlier period, which cannot be left unmentioned. In 1411 there took place a Highland insurrection on so large a scale as to be a serious national danger. Donald, Lord of the Isles, had laid claim in right of his wife to the Earldom of Ross, which Euphemia, Countess of Ross, had on becoming a nun resigned in favour of her uncle the Earl of Buchan. The Duke of Albany, Governor of Scotland, refused to entertain the claim, and the Lord of the Isles determined to assert it by force. Aided by some ships from England, he invaded the mainland at the head of an army of 10,000 men. He ravaged the country of Ross, and then marched down through Moray into Aberdeenshire, having declared his intention of burning the town of Aberdeen. To oppose his progress a force was hastily raised under the command of the Earl of Mar, who was supported by many knights and gentlemen of Angus and the Mearns. The armies met on July 24, 1411, at the village of Harlaw, on the Ury, near its junction with the Don. A desperate battle was fought. The Lowland army was greatly outnumbered, but made up in the superiority of its arms and discipline what it lacked in numbers. A decisive defeat was inflicted on the Highlanders. The victory was purchased with terrible loss; nearly every notable family in the north-east country lost one or more of its members. Among the dead were Sir Alexander Ogilvy, the Sheriff of Angus, and his eldest son; Sir James Scrymgeour, Constable of Dundee, Maule of Panmure, Irvine of Drum, and Sir Robert Davidson, Provost of Aberdeen, who had led a force of Aberdeen citizens to the field. The battle was regarded throughout the country as a great national deliverance, only second to Bannockburn. It finally settled the question of the supremacy of the Teuton over the Celt. "The brim battle of the Harlaw" is the subject of one of the finest of our historical ballads.

In the reigns of Queen Mary and James VI. there may be noted the fights at Corrichie (1562), in which the Earl of Huntly was defeated and slain by the Queen and the Earl of Moray; Glenlivat (1594), in which Archibald, seventh Earl of Argyll, was defeated by the Gordons; and Glenfruin (1604), in which he was defeated by the Macgregors.