OLD INVERLOCHY CASTLE, PH33 6TJ
WHAT IS THERE TO SEE?
The stone remains of a small enclosure castle with four turrets situated near Ben Nevis on the shores of River Lochy. Castle is unmanned and free to view at any reasonable time. A nearby cairn marks the site of the 1645 battlefield.
COVENANTER FORCES - Duncan Campbell
- Centre: Duncan Campbell
- Left Flank: Lieutenant-Colonel Roughe
- Right Flank: Lieutenant-Colonel Cockburn
Total: Circa-3,000 men
To survive the surprise attack by the Royalist forces and inflict a defeat on Montrose.
ROYALIST FORCES - James Graham, Marquis Montrose
Total: Circa-1,600 men
(Highlanders: 600 ▪ Irish / Clan Donald: 1,000)
To defeat the Covenanter forces of Archibald Campbell mustered at Inverlochy.
- Centre: Highlanders
- Left Flank: Irish (Manus O'Cahan)
- Right Flank: Irish (Alasdair MacColla)
- Cavalry: Sir Thomas Ogilvie
In August 1643 the Scottish Government and English Parliament signed the Solemn League and Covenant resulting in Scotland entering the war against King Charles I. In response the King appointed James Graham, Marquis of Montrose as Captain General of Royalist forces in Scotland. Although he had fought as a Covenanter commander during the Bishops War, he had opposed the subsequent power of the Presbyterian leadership under Archibald Campbell, Marquis of Argyll. Montrose effectively mobilised the Highland forces, many of whom were opposed to Campbell, and achieved a number of rapid successes including victory at the Battle of Tippermuir (1 September 1644) and an assault on Aberdeen in October.
During late 1644/early 1645 Montrose waged a war of attrition against the heartlands of Archibald Campbell, Marquis of Argyll culminating in an attack on Inverary, seat of the Campbells, on the 14 January 1645. Montrose then moved his forces to Kilcummin (now named Fort Augustus) and intended to march north-east along the Great Glen towards Inverness where Covenanter forces were mustering. However, he then became aware of a second Covenanter army at Inverlochy headed by Argyll himself. An advance north was inconceivable with such a force on his back and therefore he resolved to engage.
The Covenanter forces consisted of men drawn from Campbell's territories within Argyll and also veteran troops drawn from the Scottish army fighting in England most of whom were lowlanders. The Royalists had a core of Highlanders but their numbers were being depleted as many returned home laden with the loot they had acquired from the raided Campbell territories. However Montrose also had a large contingent of Irish, headed by General Alasdair MacColla, who had joined with the Royalist force in November 1644.
The Great Glen, that runs between Inverness and Fort William/Inverlochy, has always been a main communication artery through the otherwise impenetrable Highland massif. Montrose was well aware that any advance along the Glen would have alerted Argyll to his presence and so he diverted his men from the traditional routes and moved towards Inverlochy through the foothills of Ben Nevis. Marching 30 miles in just 36 hours - over frozen and mountainous terrain, his force descended down the slopes of Ben Nevis just before dawn on the 2 February 1645.
- Stage 1: Tactical Surprise
CLAN DONALD - Donald Balloch
- Main Assault: Donald Balloch
- Flank Attack: Alasdar Carrach
Total: Circa-800 men
( Clan Donald: 600 ▪ Archers / Additional: 200 )
To inflict a defeat on Royalist forces in revenge for the imprisonment of the Lord of the Isles.
ROYALIST FORCES - Alexander Stewart, Earl of Mar
Total: Unknown (but at least 1,000)
To survive and repel the assault by Clan Donald.
- Alexander Stewart, Earl of Mar
- Alan Stewart, Earl of Caithness
By the fifteenth century relations between the Scottish Crown and the MacDonalds (whose clan chief held the title Lords of the Isles) were fractious. When James I was released from captivity in England, he sought to break their power. In 1428 he summoned Alexander, Lord of the Isles to come before him at Inverness Castle. When he duly appeared he was arrested and imprisoned. Although released in 1429, Alexander returned to Inverness and burnt the town in retaliation. A Royal expedition forced Alexander to submit to James in August 1429 and he was again imprisoned, this time in Tantallon Castle.
With Alexander out of the way, James I hoped to install Alexander Stewart, Earl of Mar into the power vacuum. In early 1431 he was made Lord of Lochaber and a marriage was arranged between Alexander's daughter and Lachlan Maclean forging a link with a significant faction within the Lordship of the Isles. Mar advanced into Lochaber to claim his new inheritance and by September 1431 was in Inverlochy where he had dislodged Alexander's kinsmen, Alasdair Carrach, from the castle. In response Donald Balloch, younger cousin to the imprisoned Alexander, summoned members of his clan to a council of war on the Isle of Carna in Loch Sunart. From there the combined force sailed to Loch Linnhe.
The Clan Donald forces consisted of the men who sailed with Donald Balloch and those who had been with Alasdair Carrach when he had been ejected from Inverlochy Castle.
The precise location of the battlefield is unknown but it is likely Mar's force was camped on the ground immediately to the north-east of Inverlochy Castle. The MacDonalds sailed along Loch Linnhe and launched a three pronged attack. Alasdair Carrach commanded a detachment of archers who occupied the high ground overlooking the Royalist camp. Concurrently Balloch charged from the south routing Mar's men whilst the remnant of Carrach's men attacked from the other direction. The battle soon descended into a series of skirmishes but the Royalists had lost the initiative and were slaughtered. Some accounts suggest up to 1,000 Royalists were killed in the defeat including Alan Stewart, Earl of Caithness. The Earl of Mar escaped the scene.
The Royalist defeat ended James I's attempts to break the Lordship of the Isles. Whilst the King attempted to raise revenue for a new expedition, insufficient funds were generated and ultimately he was forced to reconcile with Alexander. The imprisoned Lord was released and subsequently would become the foremost magnate in northern Scotland.
(Old) Inverlochy Castle
Battlefield (1431) (Site of)
Notes: Castle is sign-posted from the A82 and is found on an unnamed road with a small (free) car park immediately adjacent. The battlefield cairn is a short walk from the castle.
Although the Covenanters were aware a small Royalist force was in the area, they had no idea it was Montrose's entire army and were caught entirely by surprise. Panic ensued and Argyll himself, who was suffering from a dislocated shoulder, fled to his Galley leaving Duncan Campbell of Auchinbreck to command the army. He hastily deployed his men in a line extending south-east from Inverlochy Castle and garrisoned that old structure with 200 musketeers to anchor his left flank. Montrose extended his line to match but his reduced numbers meant his ranks were just two men deep. Initial skirmishes between the two forces commenced.
- Stage 2: Royalists Charge
Montrose attacked before dawn. The Royalists fired a single volley and then charged into hand-to-hand combat. This furious assault caused a strategic shock that resulted in the lowlanders on both flanks breaking. A detachment attempted to make for the safety of Inverlochy Castle but their retreat was intercepted by the Royalist cavalry under Sir Thomas Ogilvie (who received a fatal wound during this encounter).
- Stage 3: Slaughter in the Centre
Despite seeing their flanks collapse and now being surrounded, the Covenanter centre held their ground - doubtless they knew what fate awaited them if they surrendered to their arch enemies of Clan Donald. Fierce fighting ensued in which the Covenanter commander, Duncan Campbell, was killed. The Covenanters were eventually overwhelmed and broke with mass slaughter ensuing - the death toll might have been as high as 1,500. With the Covenanter army scattered, the small force of musketeers garrisoning Inverlochy Castle surrendered to Montrose. Argyll slipped away to sea in his Galley.
The victory led to significant recruitment into the Royalist ranks - members of Clan Donald flocked to the Royal standard whilst George, Lord Gordon joined bringing a significant cavalry element. Montrose now had a credible force that would see him achieve further victories at the Battles of Auldearn (May 1645), Alford (July 1645) and Kilsyth (August 1645). Following the latter he briefly became master of Scotland summoning a Parliament in Glasgow. However, it was not to last - Major General Sir David Leslie was ordered to return from England and in September 1645 he cornered the Marquis near Selkirk where the Royalists were defeated at the Battle of Philiphaugh.
Inverlochy Castle was built by the Comyn family in the thirteenth century to control the south-west access to Great Glen and in 1431 was the scene of a battle between Royal forces and those of the Lord of the Isles. In 1645 the Marquis of Montrose led a small force around Ben Nevis and defeated the Covenanter force holding the castle.
HISTORY OF INVERLOCHY CASTLE
Inverlochy stands at the foot of the Ben Nevis mountain range, Britain's tallest mountain, at the convergence of the River Lochy with Loch Linnhe. The site acquired its name from the Gaelic Caisteal Inbhirlochaidh (meaning "Castle at the mouth of the Lochy"). Historically the waterways of Scotland were the main communications arteries and Inverlochy's location gave it waterborne access to and from Loch Linnhe with the Sound of Mull beyond. Crucially it also gave access to the Great Glen of Albyn, a main line of communication through otherwise mountainous terrain of the Highland massif. For these reasons it is perhaps not surprising that a fortification was built at Inverlochy.
Eighth Century Castle
Legend has it that Inverlochy was the site once the seat of King Bancho, founder of the Stewart dynasty. Folklore also states Inverlochy was the scene of a treaty between King Achaius and Charlemagne around AD 790. Alas both stories are almost certainly fiction. Bancho was not the founder of the Stewart family nor is it likely any treaty was ratified at Inverlochy at this time. Notwithstanding the dubious nature of these myths, the superb locations means it is probable that some form of small settlement and/or fortification did exist at Inverlochy at this time but any trace of it has been lost.
The castle ruins seen today were built circa-1280 by John 'Black' Comyn, Lord of Badenoch and Lochaber. He was the descendant of Norman immigrants who had come to Scotland during the reign of David I (1124-53). That King had used such men, who brought castle building expertise with them, to help bring his unruly country under control. In the early years the Comyn powerbase was centred in southern Scotland but the family was soon on the rise particularly after William Comyn secured the role as Chancellor of Scotland. In 1212 his descendant, also called William Comyn, married Majorie who was the sole heir of Fergus, Earl of Buchan. This brought the family control of huge swathes of northern Scotland including Inverlochy.
The family remained at the heart of both Scottish and English politics - John Comyn (1215-75) fought at the Battle of Lewes with Henry III - and forged a close alliance with the Balliols. John's son - John 'Black' Comyn - continued this association and, following the unexpected death of Alexander III in 1286, became one of the Guardians of Scotland ruling as one of six regents on behalf of the infant heir Margaret, Maid of Norway.
It was concurrent with these events that Inverlochy Castle was built both as a high status residence for the Comyns and to ensure control of the south-western access to the Great Glen. Its design was influenced by the contemporary Welsh fortifications of Edward I in that it was configured in a broadly symmetrical quadrangular arrangement. Four large round towers on each corner were connected by a substantial curtain wall over 3 metres thick. This structure was surrounded on three sides by a ditch that was flooded by water from the adjacent River Lochy that protected the fourth and final side. The structure had two gates - a land gate on the south side and a watergate to the north - both of which were protected by a barbican. There was no keep or final refuge. The quadrangular courtyard would have hosted all the facilities associated with such a residence including Great Hall, kitchen, brewhouse, bakehouse and stables.
In 1645 the Marquis of Montrose approached the battlefield over the foothills of Ben Nevis - the summit of which can just be seen in the picture.
Inverlochy Castle was sited on the waterfront with good access to Loch Linnhe.
Wars of Scottish Independence
Margaret, Maid of Norway died in 1290 leaving no clear successor. Thirteen candidates came forward with a claim to the Scottish throne including John Comyn who claimed descent from King Donald III. The Guardians of Scotland, which included John, invited Edward I of England to arbitrate on the succession. The English King ultimately ruled in favour of John Balliol and under his rule the Comyns reached the height of their political power - not least as John Comyn was married to the King's sister, Eleanor Balliol.
John's reign was short-lived. Edward I's attempts to assert his overlordship left the Scottish King little choice but to rebel. Perhaps encouraged in his defiance by John Comyn, he ignored English demands for men and money to support a continental war then entered into negotiations for mutual support with the French. Ultimately this led to war with a large English army invading and defeating the Scots at the Battle of Dunbar (1296). On 21 June 1296 King John capitulated to Edward I. On 8 July, at Montrose, he was stripped of his Royal regalia and forced to abdicate with Edward I choosing to keep the Scottish throne vacant. At the same gathering John Comyn gave homage directly to Edward I.
The Fall of the Comyns
John died at Inverlochy Castle in 1302 and was followed by his son, John 'Red' Comyn. He served as Guardian of Scotland during the period 1296 to 1306 whilst the Scottish throne lay vacant. However, in 1306 Robert the Bruce started an uprising against Edward I of England. His opening move was to murder John, due to his rival claim for the Scottish throne, in Dumfries. The death of Edward I, as he was marching north to crush Bruce, followed by the weak and ineffective rule of Edward II gave Bruce's rebellion the space to succeed. He defeated the Comyns at the Battle of Inverurie (1308) and took control of Comyn lands many of which went to the MacDonalds and Campbells. The victory at Bannockburn (1314) secured Bruce's reign.
The First Battle of Inverlochy (1431)
After the fall of the Comyns it seems use of Inverlochy Castle significantly declined and it was only occupied sporadically. Nevertheless the castle was still defendable in the early fifteenth century as it was seized by Alasdar Carrach MacDonald as part of a campaign against James I following his imprisonment of Alexander, Lords of the Isles in 1428. Although a Royal army commanded by Alexander Stewart, Earl of Mar ejected Alasdar, a force under Donald Balloch landed at Inverlochy. A battle ensued - now known as the First Battle of Inverlochy - in which Donald and Alasdar routed and massacred the Royalist force. See right for further details on the battle.
Despite the Solemn League and Covenant, relations between the Covenanter and English Parliamentary deteriorated significantly. The execution of Charles I, done without reference to Scotland, sent shock-waves throughout Scottish society. The Stewart dynasty had ruled since 1371 and there was little appetite to follow England's lead into a republic. Instead the Covenanters eventually proclaimed the exiled Charles II as King nominally of all Great Britain. English reaction was swift with Oliver Cromwell invading Scotland with a 16,000 strong force. His victory at the Battle of Dunbar (1650) paved the way for Scotland to be overrun - the first time and only time in its long history that the country was completely occupied - and Inverlochy was key to sustaining control. However, rather than repair or rebuild the old medieval castle, Cromwell built a new bastioned fort closer to Loch Linnhe with better access to the sea. Built in 1654 the new facility was an earth and timber construction. It was substantially rebuilt in stone in 1690, following the first Jacobite rebellion, at which point it was named Fort William after King William III. The new fortification gave its name to the modern settlement. Inverlochy Castle was allowed to drift into ruin.
Remains of the fort at Fort William
'Old' Inverlochy Castle
In 1863 a stately home was built by Lord Abinger two miles to the north-east of the medieval castle. Although it had no defensive features, its owners called it Inverlochy Castle and re-named the former medieval structure 'old' to distinguish it from the newer building. This stately home hosted Queen Victoria in 1863 and remained a private residence until 1969 when it was converted into a hotel.
Use of the castle continued to be sporadic through the sixteenth century despite it being acquired by Gordon, Earl of Huntly in 1506.
The Second Battle of Inverlochy (1645)
The condition of the castle in the seventeenth century is unclear - it is likely that it was ruinous - but nevertheless it formed part of the deployment of Covenanter troops during the Second Battle of Inverlochy (1645). In Summer 1644 King Charles I had appointed James Graham, Marquis of Montrose as Captain General in Scotland. Montrose effectively mobilised the Highland forces and won early victories at the Battle of Tippermuir (September 1644) and Aberdeen (October 1644). By early 1645 the Covenanters were raising armies against him with one of the forces - commanded by Archibald Campbell, Marquis of Argyll - at Inverlochy. After a stunning advance over the foothills of Ben Nevis, covering difficult terrain in the midst of Winter, Montrose emerged out of the morning mist and routed the Covenanters. Archibald Campbell survived the defeat, escaped the battlefield and would later pursue a vindictive campaign to see Montrose executed. It did him little good though as he himself was executed as a regicide following the Restoration of Charles II. See right for further information on the battle.