The Battle of Cromdale was fought on the 1st of May, 1690.
The Battle of Cromdale or the Battle of the Haughs of Cromdale took place in 1690, but it has long been confused with an earlier victory of Montrose’s; that at Auldearn, in 1645, when he earned a decisive victory over the Covenanters. Sad to say, Montrose was lang syne deid afore the Haughs of Cromdale on the 1st of May, 1690. Cromdale was the occasion when the last organised Jacobite forces of the Rising of 1689-90 in Scotland were beaten by Government troops. The Battle took place on Speyside, near what is now Grantown-on-Spey. In reality, the engagement was more of a rout than a true battle, and as a consequence of this relatively minor encounter, the Jacobite clansmen lost interest in the Cause and remained in their glens, ending the brief and bloody war in Scotland.
In such a manner, the battle eliminated any immediate Jacobite threat to William of Orange in Scotland, and enabled him to concentrate his forces in Ireland, for a decisive victory over King James VII, at the Battle of the Boyne, two months later. It would be another nineteen years before Highlanders were once again called upon to defend the Jacobite Cause (that brings you to 1709, in case you cannae count; there were several Jacobite uprisings between the war of 1690 and the final conflict in 1745-6 – in 1709, 1715, and 1719).
After the Battle of Dunkeld, in 1689, the Highland clansmen had returned to their homes in defeat. Unfortunately, for the effective continuation of the campaign in Scotland, King James VII was distracted by the threat of an invasion of Ireland by William of Orange. Despite his lack of attention, James did send clothing, arms, ammunition and provisions to aid his supporters in Scotland. King James also sent Major General Buchan, an Irish officer, to Lochaber, to take over as Commander-in-Chief of the Jacobite forces.
On Buchan's arrival, a Council of War unanimously resolved to continue hostilities, but also agreed to postpone the large scale muster of the Clans until after the spring season planting. In the meantime, to avoid total inactivity, Buchan determined to send out a large force of Highland infantrymen in a series of raids, designed to weaken the enemy’s flank. This guerrilla strength, numbering up to fifteen hundred on a good day, was commanded by Colonel Alexander Cannon of Galloway and consisted largely of MacDonalds, MacLeans, Camerons, MacPhersons and the clansmen of Grant of Invermoriston.
The Highlanders made several forays on Strathspey from their strongholds in Lochaber and the West. Then, late in April, Cannon advanced through Badenoch and, by the 30th, he had reached as far as Cromdale. Here, he encamped near Lethendry, not on the usual, defendable broken ground, but on open ground under the shadow of Creagan a’Chaise, by the banks of the Spey.
Next day at dawn, a large Government Army, under Sir Thomas Livingston, made a surprise appearance. This Army, garrisoned at Inverness, was given the task of intercepting Cannon’s insurrectionists and had descended to the Spey, through a narrow pass, from Dava Moor. It was led by around eight hundred Grants of Strathspey, in addition to six troops of mounted Dragoons and three regiments of foot. You might ask why they weren’t spotted and ambushed, but Colonel Cannon was not the most experienced or able commander and wisnae best prepared.
Despite their attempts at stealth, Livingston’s troops were spotted crossing the Spey and the alarm raised, but this only prompted Sir Thomas to order his horsed Dragoons to charge the Jacobite camp. In spite of the warning, the attack was so sudden that numerous clansmen had no time to reach for their belted plaids or weapons. Many fled naked, some of them up the northern slopes of the Cromdales, and descended into Avonside.
Being significantly outnumbered and caught unawares in such a manner, those Jacobites who turned to face the enemy made a brief and bloody stand. Fortunately for these Highlanders, a thick fog came down the side of the mountain and enveloped them, compelling Livingston to break off from fighting and enabling the remnants of Cannon’s clansmen to make an escape. Such fighting as there was, took a heavy toll of Jacobites. Many of the clansmen fled eastwards over the hills, only to perish later from their wounds, making a true tally of casualties, at best an estimate.
According to General Mackay, Army Commander in Scotland at the time, about four hundred Jacobites were killed or captured, some being rounded up near Lethendry Castle and its Mill, by the afternoon. An unfortunate party of Camerons and MacLeans, who had separated from their comrades in the flight, were also pursued across the Spey. Some of them were subsequently caught and killed, on the Moor of Granish, near Aviemore, just short of the safety of the Crags of Craigellachie. The Government’s forces reputedly lost no soldiers and only seven or eight horses, however, this may not be accurate.
James Hogg, the Ettrick shepherd, later wrote a song about the defeat, which became very popular. Sometime later, an unknown bard added an exaggerated description of Montrose’s earlier victory over the Covenanters, at Auldearn, in 1645. This was despite the fact that Montrose had been dead for forty years before Cromdale. Who said that history is always written by the victor? Here’s a wee bit verse from the song:
“The loyal Stewarts, with Montrose,
So boldly set upon their foes,
And brought them down with Highland blows
Upon the Haughs of Cromdale.
Of twenty-thousand Cromwell’s men,
Five-hundred fled to Aberdeen,
The rest of them lie on the plain,
Upon the Haughs of Cromdale.”