An English invader unfounded
By law or decree has he banded
To render Scotland’s north hounded.
Thurso and Dunbeath have fallen,
Castles in rock and heather graven,
His war ships crested Firth Pentland,
Now he’s under Craigcaoinichean.
So up Scotland! Fight thine old cause!
Lift high the old Celtic cross!
Address their king as thy kingship was!
For Covenant, reclaim every loss!
Per Scriptum E. Wesley - Mackinac Center Intern
Negotiation was a precarious thing in the 17th century, but for Scotland, foreign treachery and coerced invasion was not to be tolerated. After the establishment of the Commonwealth of England, and Cromwell's annihilation of Royalist power in Ireland, Charles II turned to Scotland for an alliance. Charles II needed the Scottish Covenanters' support in order to win Scotland, but was not immediately ready to capitulate to their demands regarding the signing of the Covenants (providing for the establishment of Presbyterianism in Scotland). This made negotiation difficult. The ambitious Marquis of Montrose was sent north to the Orkney Islands, and mustered about 1,200 Germans, Danish and local Orcadians to threaten the Covenanters into terms with Charles. After Charles made some preliminary progress with the Covenanters, Marquis without permission from Charles (yet without explicit prohibition) went ahead and attacked prematurely.
Departing from Kirkwall on April 9, 1650, Montrose's Major-General Sir John Hurry crossed Pentland Firth and captured the outposts at Thurso and Wick (see battle map below). Laying siege to Dunbeath castle, Montrose challenged the garrison to join King Charles. Dunbeath surrendered in four days. However, the Earl of Sutherland sent strengthened defenses against Montrose at castles Dunrobin, Skelbo, Skibo, and Dornoch. Montrose made for Dunrobin, but found it to be impenetrable. Furthermore, clans Monro, Ross, and Mackenzie, who were presumed to side with Montrose, actually joined the Covenanter cause. Lieutenant-Colonel Archibald Strachan, under Covenanter Lieutenant-Colonel David Leslie, marched an advance guard to Inverness and then on to Tain. Montrose sidestepped west toward Lairg, after failing to take Dunrobin. Leslie ordered the Earl of Sutherland to move north behind Montrose to the Kyle of Sutherland so as to cut off Montrose's northern escape path, while Strachan was to meet Montrose head on and hold long enough for the Earl to close in. Strachan and Montrose met on April 27, 1650 at Carbisdale.
In the valley of Carbisdale, Montrose set up a line of obstructive earthworks alone the base slopes of Craigcaoinichean, and set his left flank next to the Kyle. To his right and rear was Scroggie Wood, and his front entrenchments were described in C. Wishart's The Deeds of Montrose as being visible years after the battle. This was truly an impregnable place and a daunting opposition; 1,200 infantry and 40 cavalry in all. By comparison, Strachan had only about 200 Covenanter cavalry, 400 unpredictable Highlanders (from clans Ross and Monro), and a few musketeers. Strachan tried the oldest trick in the book. He sent out a small division of cavalry to draw Montrose out of his defenses, while concealing the rest of his force in the high broom of Wester Fearn opposite Dun of Criech. Sure enough, after his detachment returned saying that the Covenanters were few in number, Montrose sent the Orcadian infantry along with the support of Lisle's cavalry to crush Strachan's cavalry. As Lisle thundered across to valley, Strachan released 100 more horse from the ambush, and rode down all of Lisle's cavalry detachment. All of the Orcadians panicked and fled without any further resistance. The Germans and Danes gradually gave ground, as they retreated back to the earthworks. Strachan pursued them back to the forests with great success. The captured numbered 58 lesser officers, 386 soldiers, and two ministers from Orkney, with 450 others dead. Strachan's casualties were comparatively few.
Victory was as triumphant as it was complete. After giving God thanks for His glorious providence on their behalf, the Covenanters under Leslie's orders retook all of the outposts to the north (including Dunbeath and Thurso), and even reclaimed the Orkney Islands. The Battle of Carbisdale remains a testimony to the Presbyterian, freedom-loving spirit of the Covenanters, and Scotland's ever ill taste for sudden and immediate subjugation of their country.
Image of Carbisdale castle from Wikipedia
Carbisdale Battle Map from british-civil-wars.co.uk