The Battle of Harlaw, in Scottish Gaelic: Cath Gairbheach, was a battle fought between Scottish clans on July 24, 1411, in Aberdeenshire. It was a part of a series of battles fought during the Middle Ages in Scotland between barons in the northeast and their rivals on the west coast of Scotland. The Battle of Harlow has been given the nickname of “Red Harlaw” as it was one of the bloodiest battles to ever take place in Scotland.
Competing claims to the Earldom of Ross, which was a vast region of northern Scotland, was the reason the battle occurred. Supporters of Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany, Regent of Scotland, were fighting against Donald of Islay, Lord of the Isles and his supporters. Alexander Stewart, Earl of Mar commanded those in support of the Duke of Albany from the Lowlands; Donald, for those in support of the Highland clans.
Beginning in 1370, regional contention of who controlled the territory occurred. Robert Stewart took control of the earldom as guardian of his niece, Euphemia Leslie. Her father, William III, 5th Earl of Ross, and an arrangement with King David II that confirmed his right to the title, even if there was not a male heir to pass the title to. This claim was contested by Donald - he married Euphemia's aunt Mariota and therefore asserted his right to the title and control of the region. Donald invaded Ross, intending to seize the earldom by way of force.
Initially, Donald defeated a substantial force at the Battle of Dingwall, capturing its castle and moving towards Aberdeen with 10,000 clansmen. As they approached Aberdeen, near Inverurie, Donald encountered an opposing force of a few thousand, arranged by the Earl of Mar. A day of fierce fighting took place and at the end of it – no clear victor. Donald lost close to 1000 men before retreating west; the Earl of Mar lost roughly 600. Within the next year, the Duke of Albany had once again gained control of Ross, forcing Donald to surrender. In 1424, Donald’s wife, Mariota, was awarded the earldom of Ross. The title remained with the Highland clans for most of the 15th century.
The statue is a commemorative 40-foot-high memorial on the battlefield near Inverurie.
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Image c/o Bill Harrison / Harlaw monument