The only battle of the 1719 Jacobite uprising was over in three short hours, the Highlander's spirits left bloody and broken by the government troops who forced them to retreat from the front line.

As General Joseph Wightman led his men into the mouth of the glen, scouts saw a congregation of around 300 Jacobites perched on a grassy knoll to the south of the River Shiel on their left. Turning to the right, a stone-built barricade blocked access to the narrowest parts of the valley and beyond that, could be seen a series of stone walls built by the Scots' Spanish allies who had joined the cause against the crown. Further right and running up the north side of the glen were several groupings of hundreds more Jacobites ready to do battle with the English.

It should have been a Scottish victory, a Jacobite clash heralded for its success, but the short, sharp battle that took place in Kintail on June 10th 1719 has instead been regarded by historians as the least significant of the movement that sought to restore the Stuarts to the thrones of Scotland and England.

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The battle was part of a failed Spanish invasion of the UK. The plan was for some 5000 soldiers to land in the south of England, rouse the largely dormant English Jacobites and restore James Stuart. Those ships never made it after a storm in the Bay of Biscay foiled their travel plans but a small band of 300 dispatched at the same time to Scotland to join forces with the Jacobites landed in Stornoway, before moving south and commandeering Eilean Donan Castle as a base.

One month to the day before the battle, the Royal Navy bombarded the castle before capturing around 40 Spanish soldiers and blowing up the 13th-century fort with the Spaniard's own ammunition.

The remaining Spanish soldiers were joined by around 1100 Jacobite clansmen including the Mackenzie's of Kintail, the Isle of Lewis' Earl of Seaforth, the MacDonells of Glengarry and Rob Roy MacGregor to lead a charge against the Royalists.

For Derek Alexander, Head of Archaeology at the National Trust for Scotland, who will take part in a ceremony honouring the battle on Saturday June 8 with a laying of 15 wreaths attended by the Spanish consul, clan chiefs and the historian Neil Oliver, the conflict was "a bit of a damp squib".

The Herald: The Highland battle site was excavated by the National Trust The Highland battle site was excavated by the National Trust


He said: "The storm split the main force up and the only ones who landed were the Spaniards who were part of a diversionary tactic to create a second front in the Highlands.

"Everyone knew there was a big underground current of support for the Jacobite cause there so it was a good place to go if you wanted to raise troops."

The battle of Glen Shiel was certainly significant in Mr Alexander's eyes. In terms of archaeological and historical interest the site is one of very few theatres of war in the UK where physical remains survive on the ground.

He said: "Most battlefields are as the word says: a field, so you have the topography but you don't have anything else. But in this case there are stretches of the stone walls built by the Spaniards above the pass to defend the location."

The survival of a detailed map drawn by John-Henri Bastide, a soldier with the British Army who went on to become a military surveyor, has helped the National Trust excavate the area.

Mr Alexander said: "The map shows all the troop positions and movement and the positions of the entrenchments that the Spaniards dug which is really useful from an archaeological point of view."

Driving towards Skye through Glen Shiel it would be easy to miss the crossed-sword sign that delineates the site of the battle but the dramatic location shouldn't be overlooked, says Mr Alexander.

He said: "It really is in the middle of the mountain and you can see how the topography played a very key part.

"It also makes you scratch your head and wonder how the Jacobites lost because it's actually a really difficult position to attack."

When the Jacobites met the 1500-strong opposition they were unable to deploy their usual shock tactic, the Highland charge, due to the steep banks of the glen. Instead they were left flailing under the fire of the government forces who were in possession of a new type of artillery.

The Dutch Coehorn mortar was unique in that it could be carried over difficult terrain because of its small size. The squat cannon could be dismantled and carried by pack horses to sites of battle where their spherical shells could be fired up into the air - perfect if the enemy lay on higher ground.

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Mr Alexander said: "The Jacobites would have found it a bit unusual. They probably thought they were sitting out of range so they must have been quite disconcerted by those [mortars] blowing up over their heads."

Accounts at the time claim that the falling shells set the grass and heather on fire, allowing the Jacobites to retreat, with some of the leaders going on to flee overseas.

After being given permission to surrender by the Scots, the Spanish were rounded up and imprisoned before being sent home in ignominy.

The final casualty count on the Scottish side is unknown but Jacobite leader Lord George Murray was wounded while around 25 government troops were killed with another 130 wounded.

Mr Alexander said: "In terms of military scale the battle was not a huge thing and there was no great threat to the powers that be at the time, but it was taken seriously, there's no doubt about that.

"Probably the biggest outcome of the battle is that the government decided to carry out a survey of the Highland Jacobite clans just to see how many men could be raised."

It is though that the events on June 10, 1719 led to General George Wade's marching north and building a network of military roads across Scotland.

Mr Alexander said: "It's one of those episodes of Scottish history that although it's been forgotten it's still important."