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Mons Graupius AD83 Barra-Inverurie 1308 Justice Mills 1644 Inverurie-1745 Dunnotar & Aberdeen

Battles in Aberdeenshire

1057 Battle of Lumphanan
Macbeth, c.1040Shakespeare's inspiration, this is where King Macbeth fought his last battle. Malcolm, son of Duncan (whom Macbeth had killed to claim the throne) sought revenge and, with the support of the Earl Siward (Sigurd) of Northumbria, Macbeth was killed and soon (Lulach in between) Malcolm became King. Three miles north west of Torphins and 27 miles west of Aberdeen.

Macbeth was a King of the Scots whose rule was marked by efficient government and the promotion of Christianity, but who is best known as the murderer and usurper in William Shakespeare's tragedy. Shakespeare's Macbeth bears little resemblance to the real 11th century Scottish king. Mac Bethad mac Findláich, known in English as Macbeth, was born in around 1005. His father was Finlay, Mormaer of Moray, and his mother may have been Donada, 2nd daughter of Malcolm II. A 'mormaer' was literally a high steward of one of the ancient Celtic provinces of Scotland, but in Latin documents the word is usually translated as 'comes', which means Earl.

In August 1040, he killed the ruling King, Duncan I, in battle near Elgin, Morayshire. Macbeth became King. His marriage to Kenneth III's granddaughter Gruoch strengthened his claim to the throne. In 1045, Macbeth defeated and killed Duncan I's father Crinan at Dunkeld. For 14 years, Macbeth seems to have ruled equably, imposing law and order and encouraging Christianity. In 1050, he is known to have travelled to Rome for a Papal Jubilee. He was also a brave leader and made successful forays over the border into Northumbria, England. In 1054, Macbeth was challenged by Siward, Earl of Northumbria, who was attempting to return Duncan's son Malcolm Canmore, who was his nephew, to the throne. On 15th August 1057, Macbeth was killed at the Battle of Lumphanan in Aberdeenshire by Malcolm Canmore (later Malcolm III).  

According to tradition, the battle took place near the Peel of Lumphanan. Macbeth's Stone, some 300 metres (980 ft) south-west of the peel, is said to be the stone upon which Macbeth was beheaded.


1094 Battle of Mondynes
The son of King Malcolm lll, Duncan was sent to the English Court of William the Conqueror as a guarantee that Malcolm would not attack England. When Malcolm died his brother Donald Bain seized the throne, but with English support Duncan deposed his uncle. However only 6 months later Duncan was killed at the Battle of Mondynes by an army led by his own half brothers Edmund
and Donald. He was buried at Dunfermline Abbey. Mondynes is 20 miles south of Aberdeen.


Scottish Wars of Independence
Until the 12th Century, Aberdeen had been a harbour settlement, but at this point the city became a Royal Burgh and the centre moved to Castlegate. After the death of Alexander III in 1286, the issue of succession to the Scottish throne created rifts between north and south. There were two main rivals for the throne, John Balliol and Robert The Bruce. Balliol was the choice of Edward I of England, but the Bruce refused to accept his decision. Balliol broke his allegiance to Edward and allied with France. In the ensuing battle, Robert the Bruce sided with England, Balliol was defeated, and Edward gained control over Scotland. Robert the Bruce then had himself declared King of Scotland and fought to regain control of his country, which he managed in 1314 with a decisive victory over Edward II at the Battle of Bannockburn.


Seige of Aberdeen Castle June 1308

In 1298, the town was garrisoned by the English; but about ten years after, the citizens took possession of the Castle, and massacred the garrison; having taken part with Bruce, who, in testimony of their patriotic exertions, granted them permission to bear as the arms of the town, "gules, three towers triple towered, within a double tressure counterflowered argent, supported by two leopards proper, the motto in a scroll above 'bon accord,' " (that having been the watchword on the night when they rose against the English); and soon after he confirmed and extended the privileges formerly possessed by the citizens.

Aberdeen had a part to play in his victory during the Wars of Independence. In 1306, the castle was garrisoned by Edward I, but Aberdonians stormed it in a night-time raid, using 'Bon Accord' as a password. 'Bon Accord' is now the city's motto, appearing on the City Coat of Arms. At the time, Aberdeen was rewarded by a gift of land from King Robert the Bruce, which even now is referred to as the Freedom Lands, but they were punished in 1337 when Edward III stormed the city, destroying much of it.

The artwork depicts the wooden Castle on Castle Hill with Heading Hill to the right. The valley between became Park Lane then Commerce Street,  The Futtie Port is shown with the futtie wynd looping down the foot of Castle Hill to the Shorelands (destined to be Virginia Street)

It is thought the Castle and fortifications were burned down by King Robert The Bruce in June 1308, during the Wars of Scottish Independence immediately following the Harrying of Buchan. Bruce and his men laid siege to the Castle before massacring the English Garrison to prevent its use by Edward II's English troops. It is said the Scots showed no mercy "slew every man who fell into their hands. Edward I., indeed had already set the example of executing his prisoners, and it was not to be expected that the other side would fail to follow the same course" On 10 July 1308, English ships left Hartlepool to help the English garrison. However by August 1308, Gilbert Pecche and the last troops had all been forced out of the City. Following the destruction of Aberdeen Castle, Bruce marched his men to capture the Castle of Forfar.  Legend tells that the city's motto, Bon Accord came from the password used to initiate Bruce's final push and destruction of the Castle.


Sacking of Aberdeen 21-22nd July 1336

File:EdwardIII-Cassell.jpgEdward III announces that as soon as the truces expire he will once again invade Scotland in great numbers, he appoints Henry of Lancaster, son of the Earl of Lancaster to command. He leaves in May for the north, with a small force of 500 men-at-arms and more than 600 infantry. Edward, having added some 400 men to his forces from Henry of Lancaster's troops, leaves Perth and relieves the siege of Lochindorb, where the Countess of Atholl and her forces are down to their last quarter of rye. He then proceeds to destroy every bit of livestock he can find. Edward reaches the Moray Firth, and begins to pillage the area. The food stores at Kinloss Abbey were emptied, Forres was burned, and while Elgin's famous church was let stand, nothing else around it was. He also burns the crops as far inland as he can reach. Edward and his troops reach Aberdeen, descending on the city from the North. Edward and his troops spend the day burning the town, and demolishing what cannot be burned.  Edward soon returned to England, while the Scots, under Andrew Murray, Guardian of Scotland, captures and destroyed the English strongholds of Dunnotar, Kynnef and Lauriston, and carried on a harsh campaign of destruction in his own territories, ravaging Gowrie, Angus and Mearns, seeking to make them uninhabitable by the English.

In 1336, when Edward III. had ravaged a great part of the north country, he desolated Mar on his way south, and burned Aberdeen, killing a great number of the citizens, It would be out of place here to enter into any lengthened defence of the historian Boece; but it seems necessary to notice that sometimes mistakes are imputed to him without reason, as in the present instance; Mr Thom in his History of Aberdeen, says, "Hector Boece mentions that Edward II. sent ships to Aberdeen, anno 1333, from which a party landed and burnt the town for 6 days; but this must be a mistake:" there is, however, no mention of this expedition in Boece's history. Considerable confusion prevails in the statements on this subject, some alleging (apparently on the authority of an incorrect expression in Froissart, where he says that, in 1333, Edward entered Scotland, ("qu'il foula gravement toute la plaine d'Escosse, et ardit et exillat moult de villes privées de fosses et de palis;—et coururent ses gens tout le pays jusques à Saint Jehanstone et jusques à Abredane;") that the town was burnt in 1333 as well as in 1336; and that on one or the other of these occasions, (for it is differently stated) the fire raged for 6 days. There does not seem, however, to be any good evidence for more than one burning; and it is by no means likely that the town was then of such extent as to require 6 days for its consumption, though possibly the work of destruction by Edward's soldiers may have been carried on for that length of time.  In revenge, apparently, for the death of Sir Thomas Roslyne, who had fallen in an attack on the town the year before. The town was within a few years rebuilt, and seems at this time to have received the designation of New Aberdeen; not in contradistinction to the Kirktown of Seaton, which is now called Old Aberdeen, but simply because it was then a newly built town. It seems certain that Aberdeen was a town of some note long before Old Aberdeen was any thing more than a hamlet with a church.


The Battle of Harlaw 

The Battle of Harlaw (Scottish Gaelic: Cath Gairbheach) was a Scottish clan battle fought on 24 July 1411 just north of Inverurie in Aberdeenshire. It was one of a series of battles fought during the Middle Ages between the Barons of northeast Scotland against those from the west coast.

The battle was fought to resolve competing claims to the Earldom of Ross, a large region of northern Scotland. The Duke of Albany, regent of Scotland, had taken control of the earldom as guardian of his niece Euphemia Leslie. This claim was contested by Donald, Lord Of the Isles, who had married Euphemia's aunt Mariota. Donald invaded Ross with the intention of seizing the Earldom by force.

First he defeated a force of MacKays at Dingwall. He captured the castle and then advanced on Aberdeen with 10,000 clansmen.  Donald's advance was met 2 miles past Inverurie at Harlaw by the townspeople of Aberdeen lead by Sir Robert Davidson, Lord Provost of Aberdeen along with a force of Keiths, Forbes', Leslies and Irvines, led by the Earl of Mar.  Near Inverurie he was met by 1,000-2,000 of the local gentry, many in armour, hastily assembled by the Earl of Mar. After a day of fierce fighting there was no clear victor; Donald had lost 900 men before retreating back to the Western Isles, and Mar had lost 500. The latter could claim a strategic victory in that Aberdeen was saved, and within a year Albany had recaptured Ross and forced Donald to surrender. However Mariota was awarded the Earldom of Ross in 1424 and the Lords of the Isles would keep the title for much of the 15th century.

The ferocity of Harlaw gave it the nickname "Red Harlaw". It is remembered by a 40 feet (12.2 m) memorial on the Battlefield, the Chapel of Garioch, and by ballads and music. Among the casualties were Hector Maclean of Duart, Sir Alexander Irvine of Drum and Provost Davidson of Aberdeen. Davidson’s name is the product of more legend. Legend has it that he rode out from Aberdeen heading “a citizen army”; the actuality is that he headed some 3 dozen merchants anxious to protect their business investments.

In 1411, Donald, Lord of the Isles, made an inroad on the country to the west of Aberdeen, and advanced with the purpose of pillaging the town; but the Earl of Mar having collected forces in the low country, opposed his progress, and on the 24th of July a Battle was fought at Harlaw, a place about 20 miles from Aberdeen, in which both parties sustained considerable loss, and neither could claim the victory.  Among those who fell on the side of the Earl of Mar was Sir Robert Davidson, the Provost of Aberdeen, who joined him at the head of a band of citizens. His body was brought to the town and entombed in the Church of St Nicholas, where its remains were discovered when the Church became ruinous about the year 1740. In consequence of the death, in this manner, of Provost Davidson, it is said that an Act of the Town Council was soon after passed, prohibiting the chief magistrate from quitting the town in his official character; but Mr Kennedy, though he mentions this, and though he refers constantly to the Council records, does not quote any authority for the statement, or been able to find any notice of such an act in the Council Register.

The kilted army came down from the Highlands more like a  party of marauders rather than a polished force - little did it matter, since their size was reported to be 10,000 men.  They descended to Benachie, near the Don, in Aberdeenshire.  This hill, a sort of bastion of the Grampians abutting into the Lowlands, has a vantage point over the entire countryside.  Arriving at Harlaw, which was flat moor edging up to the rise of the hill, the Highlanders met those who had come to Guard the entrance to the low country.  The Highland charge met a compact body of men-at-arms and spearmen who held their own firmly.  Wave after wave crashed against the spearmen, with heavy damage on both sides.

A knight in armour-Sir Gilbert de Greenlaw, who fell at the Battle of Harlaw (1411) has an incised slab at Kinkell Church nr Inverurie - Donside.

Harlaw Weavers' Banner

Provost Davidson’s broadsword and the Weavers’ Banner said to have been carried at the Battle of Harlaw, 24 July 1411.

A recently published sermon from a church minister in the P&J claiming that the Battle of Harlaw was the turning point in the fortunes of the Gaelic culture and language and that the Lordship of the Isles was pivotal in Scottish History, being a veritable crucible of the nations soul. He tells of their tremendous energy in founding and and supporting the monastic communities and of their devotion to the culture of this country.

The great event which took place in 1411 at no great distance from the site of the Battle of Barra. It was really a conflict between Celt and Saxon, and was a despairing effort on the part of the dispossessed native population to re-establish themselves in the Lowlands. The Highlanders were led by Donald of the Isles, who gathering the Clansmen of the northern Hebrides, Ross and Lochaber, and sweeping through Moray and Strathbogie, arrived at the Garioch on his way to Aberdeen.  The Burghers placed themselves under the leadership of the Earl of Mar (Alexander Stewart, son of the Wolf of Badenoch), a soldier who had seen much service in various parts of the world. The Povost of the City, Robert Davidson, led forth a body of his fellow-citizens and joined Mar's forces at Inverurie, within 3 miles of the Highlanders' camp. The 2 forces were unequally matched Donald having 10,000 men and Mar only a 10th of that number, but of these many were mail-clad Knights on horseback and armed with spears. It was a fiercely contested Battle and lasted till the darkness of a July night. The slaughter on both sides was great, but the tide of barbarism was driven back. The Highlanders retreated whence they came and the county of Aberdeen was saved from the imminent peril of a Celtic recrudescence. This is the only really memorable Battle associated with Aberdeenshire soil. Its "red" field, on which so many prominent citizens shed their life-blood (Provost Davidson and Sir Alexander Irvine of Drum being of the number), was long remembered as a dreary and costly victory.

The inauguration of the Memorial Tower that the Town Council of Aberdeen have erected on the historic field of Harlaw, near Inverurie, in memory of Provost Davidson and the Burgesses of Bon Accord, who fell in the Battle fought there on July 24, 1411. took place on Friday. The Memorial, which has been erected near the site of Drum's Cairn, where Sir Alexander Irvine of Drum fell, is a hexagonal tower, about 45ft in height, and 13ft in diameter at the base. Built of rough granite stone, largely composed of boulders obtained near the site, the Monument, bears several inscriptions. The designer is Mr. William Kelly, architect, A.R.S.A., Aberdeen. [Building News 31 July 1914]


In 1525, Aberdeen was the scene of a bloody affray, caused by Seton of Meldrum, Leslie of Wardhouse, and Leslie of Balquhain, who entered the town on the night of the 1st October with a number of armed followers, and attacked the citizens, 80 of whom were killed and wounded; but the assailants were repulsed, and the Town forthwith put into a state of Defence.


1562 Battle of Corrichie

Another battle of much less significance was that of Corrichie, fought in Queen Mary's reign in 1562 on the eastern slope of the Hill of Fare, not far from Banchory.  It was a contest between James Stewart (the Regent Murray, and half-brother of the Queen) and the Earl of Huntly. Huntly was defeated and slain, and his son, Sir John Gordon, who was taken prisoner, was afterwards executed at Aberdeen. Queen Mary, it is said, was a spectator both of the Battle and of the Executions.

When the Earl of Huntly rebelled against Queen Mary, and the Battle of Corrichie was fought, in 1562, the town seems to have been equally in terror of both parties, but the occupation of the place by the Royal army immediately before the battle, and the defeat of the rebels, decided the question, and the Queen's Army was joyfully received on its return with the prisoners, and the town was at that time the place of the Queen's residence for nearly three months.  Earl Marischal Hall, previously a religious property, was the Earle's town house.  It was evidently the most imposing mansion in Aberdeen in the Middle Ages.  Being a quadrangular building enclosing a courtyard, presenting a tower to the Castlegate, with a large garden extending southwards to roughly the line of Virginia Street, then the Harbour Line. From a window in this building Mary Queen of Scots is said to have witnessed 'not without tears' the execution of Sir John Gordon, son of the Earl of Huntly, thought by many to be her lover, on the steps of the tollbooth opposite, after he was defeated and captured at the Battle of Corriche in 1562.  'Old Blackfriars' is built on very ancient foundations and the basement is possibly the remains of the old church, which stretched over the top of Marischal Street.  The town paid £800 for the Earl of Marischal Hall and around 1650 demolished it and created Marischal Street.

Chief Donald Cameron led his clansmen under Lord James Stuart 1st Earl of Murray in support of Mary Queen of Scots in Autumn 1562 against her first cousin, George Gordon, the 4th Earl of Huntly at the Battle of Corrichie. The Earl's army was easily defeated, and Huntly was found dead on the field, reportedly smothered in his armour. Eighteen miles west of Aberdeen and five miles north of Banchory. 

Corrichie, a long flat hill from 15 to 18 miles west of Aberdeen, was where Huntly's forces met the Queen's.  The Earl's army, which had diminished in size, due to many factors, was easily defeated.  Huntly was found dead on the field, reportedly smothered in his armour  being gross, corpulent, and short of breath  His son Sir John Gordon, who was also captured was executed the following day.  As a result of Donald's loyalty to the Royal cause in this victory, the Cameron lands which had been forfeited with those of Huntly (who was Donald's superior) were restored.

The Battle of Corrichie was fought October 28, 1562, in a little hollow on the south side of the Hill of Fare, seventeen miles from Aberdeen. The Marquis of Huntly lost his life in it, and four days after his second son, Sir John Gordon, "the Queen's love," was executed in Aberdeen. His head was afterwards exhibited on a spike stuck on the top of the Justice Port.

George Gordon was also Lord Chancellor of Scotland, one of the wealthiest men in the Kingdom and had defeated the English 20 years earlier at the Battle of Haddon Rig, however at Corrichie he was defeated by Scots loyal to Queen Mary, and apparently he died of Apoplexy after his capture.  His son Sir John Gordon, who was also captured was executed the following day. His cousin John Gordon, 12th Earl of Sutherland was forfeited and fled to France where he remained until 1565. According to John Knox, at the Parliament of May 1563, Huntly, Sutherland and 11 other Earls and Barons of the name Gordon were forfeited. In 1565 Queen Mary of Scotland restored the Earls of Huntly, Sutherland and others of the name Gordon who had been forfeited.

Amongst those reported as fighting with distinction was Sir William Douglas of Glenbervie (afterwards 9th Earl of Angus).

A roughly cut granite menhir (upright stone) with an inscription cut in relief.  The Gaelic inscription reads: "Cuimhnichibh La Coire Fraoichidh" or "Remember the day of Corrichie" was erected in 1951. The Battlefield is now mainly covered by commercial forest.


The Battle of Craibstone, on 20 November 1571, related to a feud between the Forbes and Gordon families, also took place in Justice Mill Lane a locality not far from the edge of the town in that time.

So called due to its proximity to Craibstone Croft, the Battle was won by the Gordon's who forced the Forbes into retreat in approximately one hour with the loss of 60 men.   Alexander, 2nd Lord Forbes of Pitsligo was killed at the Battle of Craibstone

The Crabstane (Crabs Stone, Craibstone, Craib Stone, Craibstane or Crabe Stone) is a boundary stone east of the Hardgate that used to mark out part of Craibstone Croft The stone has a plaque above it with the inscription as follows:

The Crabstane. Boundary Stone on lands belonging to John Crab, Baillie of the Burgh in 1314. The stone also marks the site of the skirmish in 1571 between the rival families of Gordon and Forbes and of a later engagement the Battle of Justice Mills in 1644 between the citizens of Aberdeen and the Royalist forces of the Marquis of Montrose.


1639 Battle of Megray Hill
This indecisive engagement was fought just north of Stonehaven, where the Royalist troops under Aboyne, facing stiff Covenanter opposition, declined to advance and retired to nearby Aberdeen in confusion. On June 18 and 19 Royalist forces defended the Brig o' Dee, the main entrance to the SCity from the south, for 2 days against Montrose, who at that time was fighting for the Covenanters. Both sides were unaware that a peace treaty had been signed on June 18. Just north of Stonehaven on the coast.

James Graham, the Marquis of Montrose, and his army camped on Kincorth Hill on the night of 17 June 1639 before the Battle of the Bridge of Dee the next day, when Covenanting forces under his command attacked Aberdeen.  At the time Aberdeen remained loyal to Charles I and had refused to join the Covenanters. The following day Montrose led his forces down Kincorth Hill towards the Bridge of Dee, the gate of which at the Kincorth side had been closed and fortified to keep Montrose’s forces out. The Covenanters attacked the bridge, which was defended by parties of men from Aberdeen for a day and a half before Montrose’s cannons eventually battered down the town’s fortifications. It could be that Covenanters’ Faulds takes its name from that association. It has also been suggested that Montrose later camped there before the Battle of Justice Mills, on Friday 13 September 1644 (the greatest slaughter in Aberdeen’s recorded history): however it is known that he crossed the Dee at the Mill of Crathes the night before and thus Kincorth Hill did not play a part in that battle.

In 1639, the Town having, at the instigation of the Marquis of Huntly, taken part with the King, Montrose and General Leslie came north, and after harassing the citizens for a time, and reducing Huntly to the necessity of dispersing his Troops, returned southward. Soon after the Viscount of Aboyne resolved to publish at Stonehaven a Proclamation, issued by the King, against the Covenanters, but he was repulsed, and pursued by the 7th Earl Marischal, who, coming to the Bridge of Dee, found it fortified, but defended by a small number of men only. These he overpowered, and, coming to Aberdeen, entered it without resistance.


1645 Battle of Alford
King Charles sent James Graham, Marquis of Montrose in attempt to raise the West Highland Clans. The Covenanters tried to stop them at Alford (27 miles north west of Aberdeen) but it was a disaster. Caught between the River Don and high ground, they suffered heavy losses. After many more victories, Montrose was appointed Captain General and Lieutenant Governor of Scotland. .


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Last modified: 01/09/2013