Inventory Battlefield

Battle of KilsythBTL13

Date of Battle: 15 August 1645

Status: Designated


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Designation Record and Full Report Contents

  • Name
  • Summary Information
  • Overview and Statement of Significance
  • Inventory Boundary
  • Historical Background to the Battle
    • The Armies
    • Numbers
    • Losses
    • Action
    • Aftermath and Consequences
  • Events and Participants
    • Context
  • Battlefield Landscape
    • Location
    • Terrain
    • Condition
  • Archaeological and Physical Remains and Potential
  • Cultural Association
    • Commemoration and Interpretation
  • References


Date Added
Last Date Amended
Local Authority
North Lanarkshire
NS 74628 78572
274628, 678572

Overview and Statement of Significance

Kilsyth is significant as the largest battle fought within Scotland during the period of the Civil Wars. It is the last battle in which the Marquis of Montrose would be victorious for the Royalist cause, and destroys the last Covenanter army remaining within Scotland. Although it left the Royalists effectively in military control of Scotland, this proved to be short lived, as they were heavily defeated at Philiphaugh soon after, by a Covenanter force recalled from England under Leslie. Kilsyth is also significant as it is a very rare example of a 17th century battle fought within a substantially enclosed landscape, rather than the open ground generally favoured by armies at the time.

Kilsyth was the largest battle to be fought between Scottish Royalist and Government Troops during the Civil War period. It was the sixth battle of the campaign of the Marquis of Montrose on behalf of Charles I and was to be his last victory. The battle was a crushing defeat for the Covenanters, who reportedly lost more than half of their army. This loss left no effective Covenanter force in Scotland and resulted in the Scottish Parliament recalling a Scottish Regiment from the fighting in England. However, their dramatic victory at Kilysth had little long term effect for the Royalist cause, and Montrose, unable to raise much support in the Lowlands, was defeated at Philiphaugh in September 1645. The victory at Kilsyth had already come too late for Charles 1, whose defeat at Naseby in June had effectively ended his ability to continue his campaign.

Inventory Boundary

The Inventory boundary defines the area in which the main events of the battle are considered to have taken place (landscape context) and where associated physical remains and archaeological evidence occur or may be expected (specific qualities). The landscape context is described under battlefield landscape: it encompasses areas of fighting, key movements of troops across the landscape and other important locations, such as the positions of camps or vantage points. Although the landscape has changed since the time of the battle, key characteristics of the terrain at the time of the battle can normally still be identified, enabling events to be more fully understood and interpreted in their landscape context. Specific qualities are described under physical remains and potential: these include landscape features that played a significant role in the battle, other physical remains, such as enclosures or built structures, and areas of known or potential archaeological evidence.

The Inventory boundary for the Battle of Kilsyth is defined on the accompanying map and includes the following areas:

  • The modern A803 from Ruchill to Shawend and lands adjacent to the north and south. The probable approach line of the Covenanter army and their initial deployment on a hill overlooking the glen. The identification of the hill is unknown but the likely candidates are Ruchill, Girnal Hill or Shawend.
  • Artefact findspots including Bullet Knowes where musket balls were common at the end of the 18th century and reports of discoveries of human remains throughout the defined area.
  • Local traditions positioned in the landscape through place names, notably Baggage Know, Slaughter Howe, Bullet Knowes and Drum Brae.
  • The modern A803 from Shawend to North Barrwood and the minor Coach Road to the south. The probable approach of the Royalists from Kilysth.
  • The settlements of Shawend and Wester Auchinrivoch. Farm buildings and enclosures are shown on Roy's 18th century map close to these locations. Primary sources indicate that main battle took place in and around houses and enclosures.
  • The well preserved overall landscape characteristics of the battlefield including the views across the valley from the hills of Girnal and Ruchill, the glen of the Shaw End Burn and the lower hill slopes to the west of Banton.

Historical Background

In the morning of 15 August 1645, the armies marched towards each other, the Covenanters under Lieutenant-General William Baillie from the north-east and Montrose's Royalist army from their overnight billet in Kilsyth to the west. The Covenanter army probably numbered some 3,500 foot compared to about 3,000 Royalists under Montrose and Alasdair Mac Colla. However, Montrose probably had an advantage in cavalry, with perhaps 600 to Baillie's 300.

Wary of the enemy after his defeat at Alford in July, Baillie drew up his army in a strong defensive position while the Royalist army was still on the march. He seems to have been on the southern side of the Kelvin valley on Girnal Hill near Kelvinhead and Ruchill. He was reluctant to engage Montrose and the previous day had deliberately not come close enough to Montrose to risk coming to battle. However, he was under the direction of the Committee of Estates, who represented the theocracy that ran Covenanter Scotland. They had no intention of giving Montrose an opportunity to escape and ordered an advance towards Kilsyth. Then, unsatisfied with Baillie's initial defensive deployment, they directed Baillie to run his deployment to an adjacent hill on their right hand side (i.e. to the north), but this placed his forces at a great disadvantage as they could not make the move in battle formation. As Baillie attempted this difficult move, and before either army was fully deployed, they were drawn into action by the precipitate engagement of vanguard commanders on both sides. A fire-fight developed for control of cottages and enclosed gardens as Montrose's vanguard advanced in loose order up the glen. As the fight developed with an ill-disciplined counter-attack against the Covenanter vanguard, Montrose was forced to commit more troops as both the infantry and his supporting cavalry came under severe threat. With Baillie still desperately trying to deploy from line of march, his vanguard was driven back and the whole army collapsed into rout while Baillie himself tried unsuccessfully to bring in his reserves to hold the line. The whole Royalist army, horse and foot, now pursued the enemy, the pursuit and execution extending for some 14 miles. Baillie himself nearly came to grief in the rout as he became mired in Dullatur Bog; he was eventually able to escape to Stirling Castle, although few of his cavalry escort were so lucky.

The Armies

The Royalist army was commanded by the Marquis of Montrose, the Covenanters by General William Baillie. Though some primary accounts claim Montrose was outnumbered 2:1, when the composition of the two armies was reviewed in detail by Reid he concluded that estimates of the Covenanter army were greatly exaggerated and were much closer to the numbers that Montrose commanded (Reid, 1990).


Royalist: Reid calculates c.3,000 foot and c.600 horse (Reid 1990, Reid 2003). Primary sources claim 4,000 foot & 500 horse (anon, 1645; MacBain & Kennedy 1892); and 4,400 foot, 500 horse (Wishart 1720).

Covenanter: Reid calculates c.3,500 foot; c.360 horse and 3 artillery pieces, although these are said not to have been used (Reid 1990; Reid 2003). The primary sources claim 6,000 foot & 800 horse (anon 1645); and 6,000 foot, 800 horse (Wishart 1720).


There are exaggerated Royalist claims of 6,000 Covenanter losses compared to less than 20 for their own army, which match the claim that Baillie outnumbered Montrose by 3:1 (anon 1645). While these figures are likely exaggerated, the Covenanters do seem to have suffered heavy losses in the battle.


Baillie, presumably aware of the advance of the Clydesdale forces, wished simply to shadow Montrose but not to engage. However, the Committee to which he had been subject since his defeat at Alford decided they should march to engage Montrose (Baillie 1775). When Montrose viewed the enemy in the morning and saw them advancing towards him, he marched out and met them.

Because the road was a 'rough and uneasy ' way' the Covenanter army marched nearby it, 'through the corns and over the braes' until they reached 'unpassable ground'. There Baillie embattled his army. Baillie claimed that nowhere in this location could a force greater than 'twenty men on front ' have gone from us or attacked us.' However, while Baillie did not wish to fight, the Committee did and they requested that the army move to the hill on their right hand. Baillie considered this poor ground, and ground that the enemy might gain before they did; also that in the move they would be at a disadvantage if engaged and even if the hill was taken it would be of no great advantage. His advice was in vain; the Committee visited the ground and most of the officers agreed to the move (Baillie 1775).

Meanwhile, probably to gain advantage of ground, Montrose sent a detachment forward 'to some houses where hee was to draw up' (anon 1645), described by Wishart as the commanding points on the field. These 'cottages and country gardens' were a vantage point which Montrose occupied with a 'small guard' of 100 men under Maclean of Treshnish, who were within sight of the main body of the Macleans and also of the Clanranald forces, their rivals even though in the same army (anon 1645).

It would appear that, as this was happening, the Covenanter army began to move from one hill to the other, against Baillie's better judgement. Most importantly, he says that the ground would not enable him to make this move with his forces in battle array, and it resulted in him in breaking the array and this placed his troops in great danger, even though he tried to shelter them from enemy view behind the brae. The commanded men with the horse marched to the fore, the foot regiments facing to the right and advanced to the hill, guided by Major Halden into an enclosure. But, without order from Baillie, who wished foot and horse to keep together, five files ('ratt') of musketeers advanced a musket shot to the fore of their main body. Baillie then rode over the brae to see the enemy posture, they being deployed in the meadow, with various commanded men 'falling up the glen through the bushes'. The latter presumably were the detachment sent forward by Montrose to take the houses and gardens.

On his return to the brae-head, Baillie found Major Halden, without orders, leading a party of musketeers over the field towards a house near the glen, and he would not retire when so ordered. Baillie then ordered Lauderdale's foot regiment, together with Balcarres' horse on their right, to march to the foot of the hill and turn to the fore, and Hume's foot to follow them and draw up to the side of him with the same front. Argyle's foot were then to draw up to the left of Hume's. But, without orders, Hume's advanced westward in amongst the dykes and the enemy, and Argyle's followed together with another body of horse. They took an enclosure from which it was impossible to withdraw, because the enemy was so close (Baillie 1775).

It must have been at this stage that the Covenanters began to fire on Montrose's commanded men. While this first action seems to have begun with Covenanter officers ignoring their commander, who did not yet have his army in battle array, the events that followed saw similar ill-discipline in Montrose's army, for at this time he had only two regiments placed, the horse not yet all come up and the whole of the rest of the foot was still at a great distance (anon 1645). In a complex broken terrain within which a few scattered houses in their enclosures provided potential strong points, a landscape most suited to skirmishing than to action in full battle array, the command structure in both armies seems to have disintegrated as individual commanders took rash decisions bringing the two armies into action before either commander was ready to engage. Though typical of the Highland and Irish forces throughout Montrose's campaign, it was less to be expected from the more disciplined Covenanter forces.

From Royalist accounts it seems the detachment sent forward by Montrose took the enclosures and then were attacked, but that they beat off the attackers who ran back in disorder (anon 1645), whereas Baillie's report suggest they advanced under fire to take the enclosures. Whatever the exact story, the events now evolved rapidly. Seeing the commanded men driving off the Covenanter musketeers, the Macleans and Clanranald regiments who numbered about 1,000 (Wishart 1720), without waiting for orders, marched

'along to the top of the bray, hard joining to the enemies whole body, both of horse and foot' (anon, 1645).

With this 'reckless charge' to the top of the hill they 'fell headlong on the entire army of the enemy', facing 2000 Covenanter foot and three troops of horse (Wishart 1720). This seems to be the stage where Baillie reports the Royalist foot reaching the next dike, fired upon at a distance by the Covenanter musketeers but at too long a range to be effective, then the rebels leaping the dike and breaking the regiments (Baillie 1775). It would have been impossible to withdraw them and yet they could not have withstood an enemy counter-attack.

However, the Covenanter rear was slow to advance and the van halted until they closed up (Wishart 1720). This seems to be the point at which Baillie was attempting to draw up all his forces in battle array. The collapse of discipline in the Covenanter army may have been individual commanders responding to the developing situation in their sector and attempting to counter the Royalist advance. It may be this phase of the action that Gordon reports when he says the Covenanters sent forward a vanguard of 3 regiments, one redcoats, within the middle of them two troops of horse, and one of lancers to flank them, to engage Montrose (Gordon & Dunn, 1844). The outcome was to leave Baillie desperately attempting to form up the remaining regiments which were still to hand, trying to bring in Crawford's regiment to fill the gap left by Hume and to bring up the Fife regiments as a reserve. Montrose saw Baillie's problem and, seeing the enemy 'beginning to stagger; and not all of them either drawn up', he commanded the vanguard with horse flanked by musketeers to charge, telling the rest to follow as they could (anon 1645). In a few words, Wishart glosses over the cavalry action that now followed. He says that Airlie's troop of horse responded and drove the Covenanter horse back upon their foot, driving the whole into confusion. The cavalry fled and the foot, 'after a faint resistance', firing a first salvo (anon 1645), threw down their arms and fled (Wishart 1720).

Gordon provides much more detail for this single episode: He says that the Covenanter horse advanced before the foot to a high ground but were 'sharply encountered' by Nathaniel Gordon's horse, who had been sent out in front of the royal army to gain the same high ground. Gordon beat them back within their foot, but carried his charge too far and was in danger, because the Royalist army was not fully deployed in battle array. The Covenanter foot let Gordon's cavalry in and then nearly encompassed them. M'Aleine and Glengarrie with their regiments had taken a higher ground and so stood too far off to give aid to Gordon, thus it was left to Aboyne to charge with just twelve horse upon the lancers flanking the red regiment, forcing them to retire behind the foot. He then turned to attack the foot, but as the pikemen in the front then responded he was forced to turn a little to the left and charge the flank of the regiment. There, the musketeers gave three volleys from the first three ranks, but he charged through them to relieve Gordon. Aboyne again charged the foot, who were attempting to retire in good order, breaking them and putting them to flight, while Airley, seconded by Colonel Gordon, broke the other two foot regiments, who threw down their arms and fled. The Royalist horse thus beat back the three Covenanter infantry regiments and their horse onto the main body of the Covenanter army, which had not yet been brought into order, causing them also to break and run. (Gordon & Dunn, 1844).

Even at this late stage of the battle, as his army disintegrated, Baillie claims he attempted to retrieve the situation, riding through the enclosures to find the reserve, but he found that they were already in flight. At the brook that they had crossed not long before, he attempted together with some of the Fife officers to make the Fife regiments stand to hold that pass, but they would not. Only then did Baillie himself flee the field (Baillie 1775).

The whole royal army now pursued the enemy and captured their cannon, with the Royalist foot, most of whom had played little part in the victory, taking the lead in the execution (Gordon & Dunn, 1844), a pursuit that extended for some 14 miles (anon 1645). It is said that no more than 100 foot escaped, and many of the cavalry were also killed, many others taken and the rest scattered in every direction (Wishart 1720). Though Reid argues that more infantry survived the pursuit than the contemporary accounts claim, it cannot be denied that with the pursuit at Kilsyth, the last substantial Covenanter army in Scotland was effectively destroyed.

Aftermath & Consequences

Kilsyth was the high point of the Royalist campaign in Scotland, although it came far too late to rescue the king's cause in England, because Charles's last English field army had already been destroyed at Langport in July. In contrast, Montrose had destroyed the last Covenanter army in Scotland and, if he could now raise sufficient Lowland forces, control of Scotland for the king was a genuine possibility. However, Montrose was unable to generate much support in the Lowlands, where Presbyterianism was much stronger, and his summoning of a Parliament in Glasgow on 20 October is unlikely to have been successful. As it was, he was unable to hold the Glasgow Parliament as he was defeated in September at the battle of Philiphaugh. He had lost the support of the Highland footsoldiers by punishing their looting of Glasgow, and had lost the majority of his cavalry when he passed over Aboyne and chose the Earl of Crawford as his cavalry commander. This left him with few troops, while the defeat at Kilsyth had forced the Covenanters to bring home detachments of the now battle-hardened Scottish army in England under David Leslie to counter Montrose. Thus, Kilsyth was a dramatic victory with substantial potential that was never realised.

It is also of importance as a battle where the action was in a partially enclosed landscape with a significant part of the action being fought by disbanded forces for control of enclosures and buildings. As such it provides a very different terrain to that over which most of the battles of the Civil Wars were fought , regardless of which of the two main sites is the correct one. As such, given the apparent survival of much of the landscape it provides an important opportunity to explore and understand the nature of battle archaeology in such a context.

Events & Participants

Victory over the Covenanters at Alford in July had opened the way into the Lowlands for Montrose, who now moved south unopposed. However, his hope that he would now have supporters flocking to him was not to be realised. Despite all of his successes, Montrose was attracting few new supporters and the Covenanter government appeared to be as secure as ever. As he advanced on Glasgow, he had two Covenanter armies in pursuit: one under the Earl of Lanark and the other under William Baillie, who Montrose had defeated at Alford in July. As Baillie caught up at Kilsyth, Montrose decided to turn and fight.

James Graham was the fifth Earl of Montrose and the first Marquis of Montrose. He was the chief of Clan Graham. Montrose had been a supporter and signatory of the National Covenant in 1638, but had then become a Royalist, although he was driven by motives other than a desire to impose the Divine Right of Kings upon Scotland. He and Archibald Campbell, the eighth Earl of Argyll, were bitter rivals, and Montrose believed that the Covenant had become nothing more than a vehicle for Argyll's ambition. Always a moderate among the Covenanters, Montrose considered that the agreement in 1641 with Charles that had removed episcopacy from Scotland had fulfilled the demands of the Covenant and that to continue in opposition to him would be breaking that agreement. Following the signing of the Solemn League and Covenant in September 1643, Montrose presented himself to Charles I service at his headquarters in Oxford. On behalf of the King, he then fought a campaign intended to draw Covenanter forces away from supporting the Parliamentarians in England, and in this it was a success. Montrose fought a series of seven battles against Covenanter armies across the Highlands in 1644 and 1645, beginning with Tippermuir and ending at Philiphaugh, where he suffered his only defeat He attempted to do the same on behalf of Charles II in 1650, but on this occasion fought only a single battle at Carbisdale. After his defeat there, he was captured and brought to Edinburgh for trial. On 21 May 1650, he was hanged and then beheaded. His head was fixed to a spike on Edinburgh's Tollbooth, his body quartered, and his limbs were displayed in Stirling, Glasgow, Perth and Aberdeen. Following the Restoration of Charles II as king in 1660, Montrose's remains were collected together once more and were interred in the High Kirk of St Giles in Edinburgh in May 1661.

Alasdair Mac Colla was the son of Coll 'Colkitto' MacDonald. He is widely credited with the creation of the 'Highland Charge', a tactic used with such devastating effect by Highlanders throughout the subsequent century, although some of the credit should likely also go to his compatriot Manus O' Cahan. He had fled to Ireland in 1638 to escape Campbell depredations in MacDonald territory within Scotland, and he fought for the MacDonnell Earl of Antrim in the Irish Rebellion of 1641. In 1644, he was dispatched to Scotland with between 1500 and 2000 Ulster and MacDonald troops to support Royalist efforts there, and to attempt to draw Covenanter forces out of Ireland and relieve pressure on the Irish Confederacy. Mac Colla gladly accepted the task, as Archibald Campbell, the Earl of Argyll, was not only the leading Covenanter in Scotland, he was also the clan chief of the Campbells, giving Mac Colla a chance to strike back against his hated foe. He landed in Argyll lands in July, immediately seizing the castle at Mingary. He continued to build his support in the north-west until he finally moved to Blair Atholl, where he joined his forces with Montrose at the end of August. This was the beginning of an immensely successful partnership, with Mac Colla present at the Royalist victories at Tippermuir, Aberdeen, Inverlochy, Auldearn and Kilsyth. However, Mac Colla's focus remained in his homelands in the north-west, so when Montrose moved south towards England, Mac Colla dispatched Manus O' Cahan with 700 of the Irish troops to go with Montrose while he returned to the north-west. After Montrose's defeat at Philiphaugh, Mac Colla continued to fight against the Campbells and the Covenanters in Scotland, with particular brutality displayed to any Campbells he encountered, until a concerted effort to defeat him in 1647 forced him to withdraw back to Ireland in May 1647. Later that year Mac Colla was serving in the Confederate Army of Munster when he was captured and shot at the Battle of Knocknanuss on 13 November.

William Baillie was the commander of the Covenanter army recalled to Scotland after the destruction of Sir John Hurry's army at Auldearn. Baillie was a veteran soldier who had led a regiment under Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden on the Continent in the 1630s. He had also commanded the Scottish vanguard at Marston Moor. He spent May and June manoeuvring after Montrose and trying to bring him to battle, only to be defeated by the Royalists at Alford. Baillie continued to pursue Montrose after this, however, facing him a second time at Kilsyth, although he had actually tendered his resignation to Parliament on 4 August 1645 as a result of the earlier defeat. By the time of Kilsyth, Baillie was still in command of the army because his successor had not yet been appointed. He was therefore in the difficult position of being both in command of the army but with all of his officers aware that he had already resigned under a cloud.


In 1638 the National Covenant was signed by many in Scotland, pledging opposition to the reforms proposed by Charles I, the King of the two separate nations of England and Scotland. Amongst other proposals Charles wanted to replace the democratic Presbyterian system with a hierarchy of bishops and create a church modelled on High Anglican lines, and to finance his reforms by re-possessing the former land holdings of the Catholic Church which had been sold on at the Reformation and now formed the basis of many landowners' status and wealth. In 1639 and 1640 Charles was defeated in the two Bishop's Wars. Desperately short of finance, Charles was forced to recall the English Parliament, the so-called Long Parliament, and they reached a peace with the Covenanters in the Treaty of London in 1641. However, Charles and the English Parliament remained at odds over who should control the army, and the first English Civil War began in 1642. Initially the Royalists and the Parliamentarians were relatively evenly matched, and the Parliamentarians opened negotiations with the Covenanters for their assistance in breaking the deadlock. In 1643, under the terms of the Solemn League and Covenant, the Covenanter government of Scotland allied itself with the English Parliament and entered the war in England in early 1644, marking a major turning point in the war. Charles attempted unsuccessfully to foment rebellion in Scotland and the Scottish army went on to make a major impact in the campaign for the north of England. Following crushing defeat at Marston Moor on 2 July 1644 the King tried again, appointing James Graham, the 5th Earl of Montrose, as his military commander in Scotland. Montrose had been part of the abortive rebellion and was a former Covenanter himself who had joined the King in 1643. On 28 August 1644, Montrose raised the royal standard and embarked on a campaign against the Covenanter forces in the Highlands (Reid 2003).

Over the next two years, Montrose, with forces which changed constantly in size and composition, won a series of victories over the Covenanters under a number of different commanders, including: Tippermuir (1 September 1644), Aberdeen (13 September 1644), Inverlochy (2 February 1645), Auldearn (9 May 1645), Alford (2 July 1645) and Kilsyth (16 August 1645) and was elevated to 1st Marquis of Montrose by Charles as reward. However, he was defeated at Philiphaugh near Selkirk on 13 September 1645 by much superior Covenanter forces commanded by Lieutenant-General David Leslie. He endeavoured to carry on his campaign in the North-East, and also tried to threaten Glasgow, but lack of co-operation and poor relations between the leading Royalist commanders meant that they achieved little success and Montrose's campaign petered out in early May when his forces besieging Inverness were taken by surprise by Major-General Middleton's advance and fled without a fight. Although Huntly, another Royalist commander, stormed Aberdeen on 14 May, a few weeks later Charles, who had surrendered at Newark on 5 May, ordered his forces in Scotland to lay down their arms. Although Montrose was reluctant to do so, he finally disbanded his forces at Rattray on 30 July after agreeing terms with Middleton and then fled abroad (Reid 2003).

Battlefield Landscape

The general location of the battle is well established, but within this broad area the exact location of the preliminary deployments and action is open to considerable dispute as the landscape descriptions within primary sources are extremely vague. These sources are further confused due to the battle beginning whilst both armies were still manoeuvring. As there are numerous interpretations of the location of the fighting and deployments in the different secondary works on the battle, the debate is only likely to be resolved through archaeological field work.

The Covenanters seem to have initially taken up position on higher ground on the south side of the valley, perhaps on or close to Girnal Hill. Baillie was then told to move north to deploy across the line of the valley by the Committee of the Estates.

An important landscape feature of the battle was an area of cottages and gardens that saw the initial exchanges of fire. Unfortunately, there is insufficient detail in the primary sources to locate these structures in the landscape, but physical elements may have survived which could be recovered through fieldwork.

Some of the secondary works place the Royalist advance and the initial deployment at the bottom of the valley, meaning that part of the battlefield may lie under Banton Loch. However, Roy's 18th century map shows the bottom of the valley as marshland and it is likely that this was the case in 1645. It is also possible that the marsh was dry given the summer date of the battle.

The battle was fought across the north side of the valley of the River Kelvin, on the lower slopes of the Kilsyth Hills. While the exact location of the battle and the initial deployments of the armies may be unclear, the broad landscape of the battleground survives largely as open countryside with areas of farmland and forestry plantations. Extensive areas have been dramatically transformed with the drainage of marshland for the construction of Banton Loch, field enclosure and the development of Banton village. Girnal, Ruchill and Shawend hills appear to be the high ground on which the Covenanter army stood overlooking the glen of the Shaw End Burn to the west and the low marshland to the north are still open ground and these important views are intact. This high ground was key to the outcome of the battle, as the Covenanter army made its ill judged movements from one hill to another causing the discipline of the battle array to dissolve. The complex broken terrain of houses and enclosures which formed the battleground has not been located, but the spatial relationships between the hill summits to the south, the location of the former marshland at Banton Loch and the approach of the Royalist army east from Kilsyth are clear.

Apart from the loch, the main alteration to the landscape in the proximity of the battlefield is the construction of the Forth-Clyde canal. Kilsyth has expanded considerably eastward since the 17th century, but it has not impinged on the battlefield, and the presence of Colzium House has acted as a barrier to the urban growth.


One source indicates the battle was fought 'in the plaines of Kilsyth' (Fraser & Mackay, 1905), while another says the field 'equal almost betwixt the two Camps' (anon, 1645), which would place the battlefield approximately in the area of Girnal Hill, but the description almost certainly should not be take quite so literally. In the mid 19th century it was believed locally that the battle had been in the valley, rough and stony, below Riskend farm-house (Anon, 1841). There is however substantial differences of view amongst the various secondary works of the late 19th century onwards as to the location and even the orientation of the deployments, let alone the extent of the action, and none provides a wholly satisfactory interpretation. The available evidence of primary accounts, historic terrain, placenames and archaeology all conflict in one way or other and it is likely that the matter probably will only ever be resolved through systematic investigation of the battle archaeology.

Resorting to the primary accounts does not resolve the issues, even when an attempt is made to place them within the historic terrain. This is because the topographical detail provided by the primary accounts is not sufficiently specific and could accord to several different locations. Terrain reconstruction is largely limited to the Roy map, which unfortunately does not provide sufficient detail. However, combining the accounts with the cartography is enough to contradict some of the main secondary works and raise doubts about others.

The approach of the Covenanter army probably can be identified fairly securely, for Baillie says that because the road was a 'rough and uneasy ' way' the Covenanter army marched nearby it. Given the fall of the ground to the south of the road, this can only have been to its north side. He also says they marched over corns and braes, and these would accord well with the area of fields shown by Roy between the stream east of Auchinloch and Ruchill. What is then unclear is how far west of Ruchill he went before he reached the hill on which he deployed with impassable ground to the west. The hill must have lain fairly near to the road, but there is nothing more known about its location. It might have been Ruchill itself, which has a scarp to its west, where Gateside now stands, where Reid puts the Covenanter deployment; it might have been Girnal Hill, to the west, where Gardiner places them; or even the hill further west by Shawend, overlooking on its west the meadows below Bar Wood.

Placing the armies accurately on the ground also demands an understanding of the course Montrose followed out of Kilsyth. In the mid 18th century, the main road did not run on its present short course on the north side of Bar Wood to Shawend, but left the town on the south side and ran along the southern edge of Bar Wood. This is now decayed to just a minor road, which joins the modern alignment where it crosses the Shawend Burn. A bog is shown in the northern area in the 18th century and the route may in 1645 have been impassable. If Montrose advanced along what was then the main road, then it seems highly improbable that he would have made an initial move right out to the far end of the valley of Shawend Burn or even further north to Slaughter Howe and Drum Burn, especially as Roy shows a large bog occupying the site of the present reservoir. This bog poses major problems for Reid's interpretation of the northern hill and the houses and gardens being around Auchinrivoch; it creates even greater problems for Gardiner's hypothesis, which sees Montrose's advance up the burn. Moreover, Roy shows no enclosures or settlements in the glen, nor is it easy to determine where the brae would be that Baillie crossed and re-crossed to see the rebel positions as opposed to his own. Even the brook mentioned by Baillie, which his troops crossed before the battle and then re-crossed in the rout, could be the Shaw End Burn, as Gardiner suggests, or the streams to the east of Ruchill or to the east of Auchinloch.

Only Warner's interpretation, with the Royalists to the south and the Covenanters to the north of the present reservoir, can be dismissed with confidence. This is because the armies approach the battlefield from east and west; the manoeuvres of both armies were in order to take higher ground, rather than one army holding the high ground; and because Baillie is very specific that, when Hume advanced out of the intended Covenanter battle line towards the enemy, he did so westward. Thus it is clear that the Covenanter deployment was facing broadly westward, in their direction of advance, and that the hill that they were attempting to take was on the north side of the hill on which they had originally embattled. In this all the other secondary accounts concur, except that Reid places Montrose's forces on the hill above the reservoir at the beginning of the manoeuvres, which would demand that he had approached the battlefield immediately eastward from Kilsyth.

The Roy map would suggest two contending areas for the main action, as he shows only two groups of farms and enclosures near the glen, which almost all authors take as the Shaw End Burn. One is where the main road crosses the burn, to the south of the reservoir, which would fit with the 18th century reports of large numbers of bullets from Bullet Knowe. The other is upstream of the reservoir around the settlements of Auchinrivoch, which could relate to the Baggage Knowe, Slaughter Howe and Drum Burn place names (Sinclair, 1791). With the bog between the two areas and with a mile separating them it seems unlikely that the action could have spread between both locations as Anton has suggested (Anton, 1893).


Terrain had an important influence on the nature and outcome of the battle, with walled and ditched fields and buildings forming the focus of key action. However, there had been a dramatic transformation of the landscape before the first detailed mapping was provided by the Ordnance Survey in 1864. Major changes include not only the construction of the canal, with the associated drainage of Dullatur Bog and construction of the reservoir of Banton Loch, but also the enclosure of the landscape and the construction of new settlement of Banton, associated with the mining industry.

The major road in the mid 17th century along the valley of the river Kelvin and the Bonny Water, between Falkirk and Glasgow, ran on the edge of the higher ground on the north side of the valley, turnpiked in the later 18th century but already in place in the 1750s (Taylor and Skinner, 1776). This route had been downgraded by 1817 in favour of the present route to the north of Bar Wood (Grassom, 1817). The extent of the Dullatur Bog, to the south of the battlefield, and the course of the Shawend burn, where the Townhead Reservoir now lies, is recorded in 1785 in the plans of the Forth-Clyde canal (NAS RHP44612. The earlier, 1768, plan for the construction of the canal from the east end to Kirkintilloch has not been located and examined. In addition, Blaeu indicated a wood immediately adjacent to Calumbeau in his 1654 map, though based on Pont's late 16th century survey (Blaeu & Pont, 1654).

While on many battlefields, the geological mapping provides a valuable guide to the historical terrain, at Kilsyth it does not appear to provide significant assistance. The surface geology is mainly fluvio-glacial sands, gravels and silts with some overlying alluvial deposits, particularly in the boggy areas, and small exposures of solid geology where sills stand up through these later deposits.


By 1841, part of the area was already covered by Banton Loch: 'The site of the battle is not very visible to the eye'. Indeed, a significant part of the battlefield, as interpreted by most authors, appears to lie beneath the reservoir, although Reid seems to place much of the action to the north-east and east of the reservoir. Given the uncertainties about the exact location of the deployments and action, it is unclear how much of the battlefield has actually been lost beneath the reservoir. The 1st Edition Ordnance Survey mapping shows coal and ironstone mines and several limestone quarries across particularly the western part of the battlefield.

Archaeological & Physical Remains and Potential

Apart from the 19th century construction of Banton Loch, the majority of the area of the battle appears to have remained undisturbed and the potential for surviving in-situ evidence associated with the battle is high. Due to the reported heavy fire-fights throughout the battle, a large amount of musket balls could be located across the battlefield. There may also be cannon shot, either round shot such as the Colzium House example or case shot and the rout may have contributed to the deposition of personal items such as buttons and coins. Given the high mortality reported amongst the Covenanter troops, there is also great potential for further burials to lie within the battlefield.

The physical remains of the battle, where not already out of reach due to the construction of the Banton Loch in the early 19th century, should be extensive because of the intensity of the fire-fights. There is one record of bullet distribution, from the late 18th century, on Bullet Knowes

'In the Bullet Knowe and neighbourhood, bullets are found every year; and in some places so thick, that you may lift three or four without moving a step.' (Sinclair 1791).

Coins are also reported to be most commonly found in the battlefield area, though no specific location is given. This raises problems for the Auchinrivoch interpretation of the battle, and would suggest substantial action close to where the main road crosses the Shaw End Burn. A traditional site of Covenanter burial lies even closer to Kilsyth, to the west of Craigstone Wood, but in the absence of firm evidence of association with the battle the attribution appears improbable as it seems to lie too far to the west (WoSAS SMR number 48,798). Other reports of finds of human remains are equally widely scattered, from Slaughter Howe in the north to Dullatur Bog in the south, indeed it was said that

'bones and skeletons maybe dug up everywhere; and in every little bog or marsh for 3 miles' (Sinclair, 1791).

In 1841, further reports were made of burial discoveries

'on the land of Wester Auchincloach, north-east of Kelvinhead, human bones have been frequently dug up. About twelve years ago, a quantity of human bones, mostly of a small size, were found in a corner of a field, north of Wester Auchincloach. The tradition that the drummers and fifers were buried there, was thus confirmed.'

As this is in the line of the pursuit, it has perhaps has more likelihood of a link to the action. Other references include discoveries of the hilt of a sword and part of a saddle, and various coins (Anon 1841), but no locations are given and even the discovery of several bodies when the Firth/Clyde canal was dug through Dullatur Bog in c.1770 is vague and gives no real locational information. Even recent finds have no sure association, such as the 'well rusted cannonball' of 1.5 pounds which was reported in 1980 as 'recently' found in the House policies, now a public park, and given to the museum (Millar 1980).

Cultural Association

The Battle of Kilsyth has drawn little popular attention and has left no trace in popular culture through ballads or verse. There are two modern monuments within the designated area; one within the grounds of Colzium House commemorating the battleground and one on the south side of Banton Loch erected by the 1st Marquis of Montrose Society in 2003. There is no on-site interpretation. A battlefield memorial to Francis Gordon (one of Baillie's cavalry) was apparently removed from the battlefield to Kilsyth parish churchyard.

Local traditions are positioned in the landscape through a number of place names, most notably Baggage Knowe, Slaughter Howe, Bullet Knowes and Drum Burn.

Commemoration & Interpretation

One reported memorial is that of Francis Gordon, one of Baillie's cavalry, who was killed in the flight near Bonny-Water, the main stream running east from the battlefield. It is said that he was buried where he fell and a slab placed over his grave, but that this stone was removed to Kilsyth parish churchyard (Anton 1893).

The battle is a staple in discussions of Montrose and his campaigns, and references to the battle appear in virtually any work relating to Montrose and the fighting in Scotland.



Gardiner, S. R. 1893 History of the Great Civil War: 1644-45. Longman, London.

Reid, S. 1990 The Campaigns of Montrose: a military history of the Civil War in Scotland 1639 to 1646. Mercat Press, Edinburgh.

Information on Sources & Publication

Kilsyth is a well documented battle, thanks particularly to the account prepared by Baillie as part of the inquest into the disastrous Covenanter defeat. This is complemented by several Royalist accounts. The two strands of Royalist accounts, Gordon's and Wishart's, emphasise very different aspects of the battle, the one focussing on the cavalry attack of Aboyne, the other on the rash action of the Highlanders. Both are seen as the decisive actions that turned the battle at the outset. However, Wishart's account is supported by (or perhaps partly derived from) the wholly contemporary True Relation, and in minimal form is supported by the Clanranald account and indeed by Baillie's Covenanter report. Hence, although Wishart's account is generally said to be of very little value, in reality it provides considerable detail. In contrast, Gordon shows only a very small part of the action, claiming this cavalry action determined the battle, yet all the other accounts suggest that it was the intense infantry fire-fight for the ditches and walls of the enclosures that proved the critical focus of the action. As at Auldearn, Gordon's account focuses just upon a limited part of the battle and troops in which he had a particular interest. Though he does give some incomplete evidence on the battle array of the Covenanter vanguard, which complements that from Baillie, he provides no topographical detail at all with which one can place the action.

The Clanranald account is a useful complement to Wishart, but it was intended to represent the role of the 'Gaels' in the Civil War, which it claims is little noticed and asserts that it was they who 'did all that was done' on the king's side; as a result, it presents everything from a distinct perspective (Nimmo & Gillespie, 1880). Of the other reports, none add much of substance, Fraser's being close to detail in Wishart and the others such as Guthry's seemingly wholly derivative.

There is substantial difference of view between several of the secondary sources as to the exact deployment of the forces, the viability of, and reasons for, Baillie's outflanking move and indeed the sequence and nature of the whole action. Gardiner, using the main primary sources and considering the terrain, is probably the most effective of the early studies (Gardiner 1893). This has now been superseded by Reid, who effectively exploits the primary sources, and reassesses numbers and deployments, providing conjectural plans for the location of the various stages of the action (Reid, 1990). None of the other discussions provide significant additional insights.

Primary Sources

anon 1645 The True relation of the late & happie victorie at Kilsyth, 15 August, 1645. J. Brown, Aberdeen

Baillie's 'Vindication' Baillie, R. 1775 Letters, and journals: containing an impartial account of public transactions, civil, ecclesiastical, and military, in England and Scotland, from the beginning of the civil wars, in 1637, to the year 1662. Creech & Gray, Edinburgh. 264-79.

Clanranald Manuscript: reprinted in (Nimmo and Gillespie, 1880) I, 226

Fraser, J. & Mackay, W. 1905 Chronicles of the Frasers: the Wardlaw manuscript entitled 'Polichronicon seu policratica temporum, or, The true genealogy of the Frasers', 916-1674. Scottish History Society, Edinburgh. 299-301.

Gordon, P. & Dunn, J. 1844 A Short Abridgement of Britane's Distemper: from the yeare of God MDCXXXIX to MDCXLIX. Spalding Club, Aberdeen. 139-45.

Wishart, G. 1720 A Complete History of the Wars in Scotland; under the conduct of the illustrious James Marquis of Montrose. London. 119-34

Cartographic & Illustrative Sources

No further information.

Secondary Sources

Anton, P. 1893 Kilsyth: a parish history. J. Smith & Son, Glasgow.

Baillie, R. 1775 Letters and Journals: containing an impartial account of public transactions, civil, ecclesiastical, and military, in England and Scotland, from the beginning of the civil wars, in 1637, to the year 1662. Creech & Gray, Edinburgh.

Blaeu, J. & Pont, T. 1654 Theatrum Orbis Terrarum sive Atlas Novus: Atlas of Scotland.

Gardiner, S. R. 1893 History of the Great Civil War: 1644-45. Longman, London.

Millar, H. B. 1980 The History of Cumbernauld and Kilsyth: from earliest times: including a guide to places of interest in the district. Cumbernauld Historical Society, Cumbernauld.

Nimmo, W. & Gillespie, R. 1880 The History Of Stirlingshire. Hamilton, London.

Reid, S. 1990 The Campaigns of Montrose: a military history of the Civil War in Scotland 1639 to 1646. Mercat Press, Edinburgh.

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