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12 Jun 2019

Digging up evidence of a forgotten battle

A hand holds up a shell fragment to the camera, with the battle site in the background.
A shell fragment was discovered during the dig at Glenshiel.
At number 61 on our 100 Ways list is carrying out archaeology to learn more about the Battle of Glenshiel, 300 years on.

A team of Trust archaeologists and volunteers working at the scene of Scotland’s ‘forgotten’ Jacobite rising have uncovered the first historic remains of the decisive 300-year-old battle which ended James Francis Edward Stuart’s ambitions to take the throne.

The team was working at the scene of the Battle of Glenshiel and uncovered several large fragments of a coehorn mortar shell that had been fired at Lord George Murray and the Jacobite right wing on the knoll south of the River Shiel. A musket ball fired by government forces at the Jacobites was also uncovered.

The coehorn was a small squat gun that could lob shells in high arcs onto the Jacobite and Spanish positions, creating noise and explosions that must have caused disorder and panic in some of the Jacobites. One reference also suggests the grass and heather was set alight by the red-hot fragments, adding to the confusion.  

The Battle of Glenshiel was the first time that the device had been used on British soil, making it an exciting find for the team. The mortar shells also confirm the interpretation of a smaller fragment found on the north side of the river last year.

Two people at work in an excavation trench at Glenshiel. One sits at the edge, recording data; the other stands by the taped fence, measuring the height from the ground.
The excavation took place in the run-up to the 300th anniversary of the battle.

Monday 10 June marked the 300th anniversary of the Battle of Glenshiel, where a force of over 1,000 Jacobites, including troops sent from Spain, attempted to restore ‘the Old Pretender’ James Francis Edward Stuart to the throne of Great Britain.

To mark the anniversary, archaeologists, volunteers and people on a Thistle Camp (working holidays which are run by the Trust) have been excavating an area where the Spanish troops were positioned.

The team soon picked up a signal with metal detectors and carefully dug out a flattened musket ball.

Quote
“This is the first positive piece of evidence that we have found from the battle.”
Head of Archaeology, Derek Alexander

Glenshiel is often described as Scotland’s most picturesque battlefield. It remains largely unchanged since the time of the battle and visitors to the site can still see the walls built by the Jacobites as they took cover during the mortar barrage by government troops.

‘Finds like this are really important’, continued Derek. ‘They are the tangible remains of historic events, which can be quite rare. When we hold something in our hands that we know came from a single event, 300 years ago – that is incredibly powerful.

‘In order to understand the battle better, we need to know a lot more. The understanding of battlefield archaeology can be a slow process and it’s something which happens over a longer period.’