The Battle of Harlaw 1411 – Scotland

by Evelyn McKechnie


This impressive granite hexagonal 40 feet monument was erected in 1911 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Harlaw, fought on 24th July 1411. It was one of the bloodiest battles of the Medieval period in Scotland.

Battle of Harlaw monument

The battle was a Scottish clan battle fought on 24th July 1411. It was part of a feudal dispute between the Clan MacDonald and the Stewart Royal family. However, it is seen in the context of the many conflicts during the medieval period between Highland and Lowland clans. King James I was a prisoner of the English and Royal authority was weak in Scotland.


Donald of Islay, also known as Donald, 2nd Lord of the Isles had gathered an army of 10,000 men including MacLeans, MacIntoshes, Macleods, Chattans, Camerons and the MacDonalds gaining control of Ross and moving east into Moray. He then marched towards Aberdeen where forces were being raised against him by Alexander Stewart, Earl of Mar, a nephew by adoption of Robert, Duke of Albany.

When Mar learned of the approaching Highland clan, he assembled his troops at Inverurie. The MacDonalds camped out on the high ground near Harlaw on the night of 23rd July. The next morning, Mar was there to engage them from the southeast.

There is little detail about the fight but it was a bloody battle and is often referred to as ‘Red Harlaw’. It is estimated that the highlanders had been 1000 killed with the Earl of Mar losing around 600 men, a much larger proportionate loss. One of the lowland knights killed was Gilbert de Greenlaw, whose grave can be seen at Kinkell Church, just to the south of Inverurie.

The battle was a close run with both sides claiming victory, but essentially it was a strategic victory for Alexander Stewart, the Earl of Mar. Aberdeen was defended successfully and the MacDonalds left the region. Robert, the Duke of Albany, was left in control of Scotland as governor for the imprisoned James I.

The monument cost £325 and is inscribed,

‘Harlaw
July 24
AD 1411

Erected by the Burgh of Aberdeen
AD 1911
Adam Maitland
Lord Provost’

The Drum Stone

The Drum Stone is an irregularly shaped boulder which is surrounded by a circular stone wall and a iron gate. The Laird of Drum halted his men and sat on the stone to take his last at the old castle, before continuing to the battle of Harlaw. He was killed in single combat with Maclean of Duart near the end of the battle.

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