Inventory Battlefield

Battle of Inverlochy IBTL34

Date of Battle: September 1431

Status: Designated


Where documents include maps, the use of this data is subject to terms and conditions (

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
Local Authority
NN 11916 74877
211916, 774877

Overview and Statement of Significance

The first Battle of Inverlochy is significant as part of the major struggles between the Scottish monarchy and the Lords of the Isles in the 15th century. The Lords of the Isles held enormous influence and authority in the western Highlands and the Western Isles, which caused problems for a number of Scottish Kings. The Battle of Inverlochy was the culmination of six years of effort by King James I to bring the Highlands fully under his control.

The first Battle of Inverlochy is one of several battles fought by James I in his attempts to reduce the extensive power of Alexander of Islay, Lord of the Isles. In September 1431, Donald Balloch, younger cousin of Alexander, sailed up Loch Linnhe and landed at Inverlochy, where the King's forces were stationed. Balloch attacked the Royal forces from the south, while Alasdair Carrach of Tor Castle launched a simultaneous attack from the north. Alexander's forces inflicted one of the most serious defeats ever suffered by a Royal army in the Highlands. After he lost this battle, James I was forced to make use of Alexander's power as Lord of the Isles to control the region, rather than continue to attempt to break the lordship's hold on the region.

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 Inverlochy I is defined on the accompanying map and includes the following areas:

  • Tom na Faire, the hill from which Carrach's archers inflicted heavy casualties on the Royalist army.
  • Inverlochy Castle, where the Royal army was camped at the beginning of the battle.
  • Na Liosan, the level ground of the playing fields between Tom na Faire and the River Lochy where fighting may well have occurred.
  • The River Nevis which forms the south-west boundary of the area.
  • The Allt a'Mhuilinn which forms the north-west boundary.
  • The aluminium works where artefacts related to the Battles of Inverlochy I and II are reported as having been found.

Historical Background

The Royal army was camped at Inverlochy Castle, between the River Lochy and the hills just south-west of the castle. They were unaware that they were being approached from two directions. Donald Balloch and his brother, Ranald Bane, had summoned their kin to meet at the Isle of Carna in Loch Sunart. From there, the combined force set sail northward through Loch Linnhe, landing two miles south of Inverlochy. Alasdair Carrach, Balloch's cousin, had been forced to retreat from Inverlochy Castle by the arrival of the Royal army and was in the hills to the north, awaiting the arrival of Donald Balloch.

Having seen Balloch approach, Carrach's bowmen moved undetected into position on Tom na Faire, the hill to the south-east of the castle. The Royal army needed provisions, and Mar had sent some of them out to forage for supplies and gather cattle. Donald's army seized the opportunity for a surprise attack. Balloch attacked the Royal forces from the north-east, while Carrach launched a simultaneous attack from the other side. Alasdair Carrach's bowmen on Tom na Faire shot down onto the Royal army's flank, with the archers said to have inflicted the worst damage on the Royal army. Meanwhile, Balloch and the remainder of Carrach's men charged from either direction, trapping the King's force between them. The action very quickly degenerated into a series of small skirmishes across the landscape, during which the Earl of Caithness was killed. The Royalist army suffered heavy losses, while the MacDonalds only had very light casualties.

The Armies

The Royal Army: The army advanced into Lochaber under the control of the Earl of Mar and the Earl of Caithness. The Royalist army contained members of the Clan Cameron.

Donald Balloch: Donald's force of island clansmen attacked the Royal forces from the south and Alasdair Carrach of Tor Castle, son of Alexander, launched a simultaneous attack from the north.


The Royal Army: The total number of the army is not recorded, although the casualty figures suggest a force well in excess of the 1,000 reportedly killed.

Donald Balloch: Donald sailed north with his brother, Ranald Bane, MacIain of Ardnamurchan and Alan MacAlan of Moidart, along with 600 clansmen. Alasdair Carrach supplied 200 men, including archers.


The Royal Army: Almost 1,000 men from the Royal force were allegedly killed. The Earl of Caithness was killed and the Earl of Mar was wounded, both by the bowmen of Alasdair Carrach, though the Earl of Mar was able to escape the battlefield.

Donald Balloch: Less than 30 men are reported to have been killed, although the number may have been underestimated to enhance the success of the force.


No further information.

Aftermath & Consequences

The crushing defeat suffered by the King's forces at the Battle of Inverlochy was a culmination of various rebellions in the Highlands, following James Stewart's rebellion in 1425. These rebellions demonstrated that King James I's Highland policies were proving to be wholly inadequate at quelling disorder in the region. Parliament was convened in October 1431 and James requested additional funds to launch a fresh campaign in the Highlands. Weary of the constant northern campaigns, the nobles were reluctant to grant this request and James was instead forced to come to terms with Alexander, so bringing his lengthy war with Clan Donald to an end.

Alexander was freed and pardoned and he quickly extracted his revenge on the Camerons, forcing their chief, Donald Dubh, into exile in Ireland, though Donald's mother remained a hostage under the supervision of the scholar, Walter Bower, at Inchcolm. Alexander was later granted concessions and his power continued to increase: he was eventually appointed to the office of Justiciar (sheriff) of the kingdom north of the Forth. He later became the Earl of Ross, by when he had this region and the entire Western Isles under his control. He based himself at Easter Ross, which strained his links to the Clan Donald ancestral lands and culminated in the unravelling of kinship bonds. This led to tensions between Alexander's successor, John, and his kin on the Isles, and between John and James II, who stripped him of the earldom of Ross and lands in Knapdale and Kintyre.

Events & Participants

The Royal army was led by the Earls of Mar and Caithness. Alexander Stewart, Earl of Mar, was the illegitimate son of the Wolf of Badenoch and was a similarly predatory noble who had taken his earldom by force in 1404; he had fought against Domhnall MacDonald, Lord of the Isles, in 1411 at the Battle of Harlaw, when the Stewart army had managed to hold the field against the onslaught of the MacDonalds. He survived James I's purge of Albany's relatives in 1424 and had been appointed Admiral of the Realm of Scotland. He remained the most important of the north-eastern lords until his death in 1435.

The Earl of Caithness was Allan Stewart, a grandson of Robert II by his second wife. His father was Walter Stewart, 1st Earl of Atholl, who had actively pursued the release of King James I from his detention in England. However, he subsequently conspired in the murder of James I in 1437 and, as a result, was tortured over three days in particularly gruesome fashion before his execution in Edinburgh.

Donald Balloch, the 18-year old son of John Mor and young cousin of Alexander of Islay, Lord of the Isles, who was now chief of the Macdonalds of Dunyveg and the Glens, fought alongside Alexander's possibly illegitimate son, Alasdair Carrach of Tor Castle, in reaction to the arrest of Alexander. Following the victory at Inverlochy, Donald Balloch extracted revenge on Clans Cameron and Chattan for siding with the King by ravaging their lands before fleeing to Ireland. He was declared an outlaw and James I was determined to see him punished despite his exile. A head purporting to be Donald's was sent to James I by Hugh Boy, Chief of the O' Neills of Ulster; the King's honour was restored and he no longer pursued Donald. However, it transpired that the head did not belong to Donald, who was later involved in several further actions against the Stewarts before his death in 1476.

Alasdair Carrach appears to have been known by Alexander's previously bestowed title of Lord of Lochaber, but some Lochaber lands and Keppoch lands, including Glen Roy and Glen Spean in Brae Lochaber, were granted to Malcolm Mackintosh of Clan Chattan by the King, who had stripped the lands from Lochaber and gifted them to Mackintosh as a reward for his loyalty during the Battle of Inverlochy. Mackintosh managed to retain the lands even after the death of the King, when Alexander confirmed the land grant on 21 February 1443; he also granted Malcolm the Castle of Dingwall in November 1447, which led to tensions between the Clan Chattan and the MacDonalds for centuries to come.


James I had come to the throne in difficult circumstances. He had been held prisoner by the English for 18 years after attempting to escape to France from his murderous uncle, who had probably already had James' brother killed. Within days of his capture, James' father Robert III died, leaving the 12-year old boy as King. His uncle, the Duke of Albany, became regent, but ruled making little attempt to recover the young King. James was eventually released in 1424 after Albany's death, and took revenge on Albany's descendants, with the execution of Murdoch, Albany's successor, and most of his family. Only one of Albany's sons survived: James Mór, who was a focus for those who saw James I as an English pawn who had even fought in the English army in France. James Mór received protection and support from several of the Highland lords, including John Mór MacDonald, uncle of Alexander MacDonald who was Lord of the Isles. James I clearly suspected Alexander of being party to a conspiracy to replace him as King with James Mór.

In 1428, King James I summoned a parliament to Inverness to determine a means of dealing with disorder in the Isles. When Alexander arrived to participate in the meeting, he was arrested and imprisoned, together with his mother and around 50 of the Highland chieftains. In the next few weeks, events spun out of control for James I, with an attempt to arrest John Mór MacDonald ending in the latter's death; this may be less surprising considering that the arrest party was led by a James Campbell. Realising that he was now in a very difficult position, James released Alexander and his mother, hoping that Alexander would hold to his promise of good behaviour. Alexander quickly gathered his forces and started to take revenge for the insults to the MacDonalds. He was now openly favouring the claim of James Mór to the throne, but just when James Mór seemed to be about to take the throne, he died suddenly. By this point, Alexander had sacked and burned Inverness and was in open rebellion.

James I took an army north to deal with the rebellion. Meeting Alexander in Lochaber, possibly on the Badenoch border, James I defeated him in battle, helped to a large degree by the defection of the Camerons and Chattans to the Royal army. No longer having a viable candidate for the throne, Alexander's position was drastically weakened. Alexander escaped, but James chased him across the Highlands and into the Hebrides. On 27 August 1429, Alexander surrendered to James at Holyrood and was imprisoned in Tantallon Castle.

Although Alexander was removed from the scene, James was not to gain any peace. Donald Balloch and Alasdair Carrach still wanted revenge for the murder of John Mór MacDonald (he was Donald's father, and it is alleged that Carrach was his illegitimate son). They also wanted to obtain the release of their clan chief and so they continued the unrest in the north. James sent an army north in 1431 under the reliable Earl of Mar and the Earl of Caithness. They advanced to Lochaber to settle the insurrection, stopping at Inverlochy Castle, where Carrach had been garrisoned.

Battlefield Landscape

The battle took place on the coastal plain at the northern end of Loch Linnhe, in an area adjacent to Inverlochy Castle. The precise location is unclear from the sources, but it was probably in one of two areas: the area which now includes the aluminium works; or on the area of flat ground by the River Lochy, known as Na Liosan, which is now occupied by playing fields and the railway. A significant feature of the battlefield landscape was the hill Tom na Faire that lies to the south-west of the castle.


The battle took place in the low ground between the River Lochy and a hill just to the south of Inverlochy Castle, in the district of Lochaber, north-east of the town of Fort William. The precise location of where the troops fought is not clear because of the lack of information in the sources. However, there are some fixed points: the Royalist army was camped between the River Lochy and the hills, probably Meallan t-Suidhe; Alasdair Carrach's bowmen took their positions on Tom na Faire, the hill overlooking the playing fields adjacent to the River Lochy (called Na Liosan); while Balloch's men came by ship up the loch from the south-west. There is a sense in the sources that the Royalists were sandwiched between Carrach and Balloch, but their precise location is unclear. If the archers on Tom na Faire were north of the Royalists, then the Royalist army would have been in the area where the aluminium works now stand; however, that puts them at quite a distance from the castle, which would have been an obvious point to anchor. If the Royalists were on Na Liosan beside the River Lochy and south-west of the castle, then Carrach's archers would have been to the south, rather than to the north. However, this interpretation would work if Carrach's men came around the eastern end of Tom na Faire, between the hill and the castle, while Balloch's men came from the south-west. The Royalists would then be caught between the two forces, with Tom na Faire blocking their escape to the south and the river blocking the north.


The battle probably took place on the relatively flat lands south-west of Inverlochy Castle, in the western end of the Great Glen. The shore of the loch is largely flat, with Tom na Faire the highest ground in the immediate area, overlooking the flat area around Inverlochy. This flatter ground is ringed by hills, with only the north having lower hills. To the west, the loch creates a barrier, with steep hills on the western shore. The River Nevis cuts off the ground to the south-west, while the Allt a'Mhuilinn cuts across the eastern approach, with the River Lochy forming the northern limit of the battlefield area.


Parts of the area in the immediate vicinity of Inverlochy Castle remain undeveloped. However, a large aluminium works, with associated pipe-lines, has been constructed within the potential area of the battlefield, south-east of the castle.

Ordnance Survey maps record the progress of development on the site. The first edition shows the North Road (A82) running south-west to north-east through the area with General Wade's Military Way. The second edition (1905) shows further developments, including the West Highland Railway line running parallel to the North Road, and the Ben Nevis Distillery to the north-east of Inverlochy Castle. By 1945, the village of Inverlochy had expanded on the south-western edge of the site and a number of houses were constructed along the North Road. By now, the railway was part of the London and North Eastern Railway, and the aluminium works had been built. The modern OS map shows further development in the area, including a large hotel (Inverlochy Castle Hotel), a depot, a business park, an industrial estate and two electricity sub-stations. While the scale of this development will have had an impact on the survival of evidence from the battle, much of the north-eastern and eastern part of the site remains undeveloped.

Archaeological & Physical Remains and Potential

It is reasonably likely that archaeological evidence remains. There are reports that material from both of the battles of Inverlochy was recovered during construction of the aluminium works and donated to the West Highland Museum, Fort William, though no records are currently available for find location or nature of the material. Hand-to-hand fighting in a defined battlefield area would result in the deposition of a variety of physical remains from clothing, armour and weapons. Carrach's archers were a significant element of the fighting, which means that arrows are likely to be present, although many will have been collected up after the battle because of their value. Iron artefacts, including arrowheads, may not survive particularly well in the soil conditions of the Western Highlands.

Cultural Association

There is a traditional pibroch, Piobaireachd Domhnull Dubh, which commemorates the battle. One of Sir Walter Scott's songs, entitled Pibroch of Donald Dubh, is based on this traditional MacDonald pibroch. It is also known as Black Donald, Black Donald the Piper and Black Donald's March, and it records the events of Inverlochy I in 1431.

Commemoration & Interpretation

The Battle of Inverlochy I took place close to Inverlochy Castle. When the British Aluminium Works was built in the 1930s, it was believed that it had been constructed within the bounds of the battles of 1431 and 1645. Relics of the battles were apparently recovered during construction of the works and were donated to the West Highland Museum, Fort William. A notice was erected by the Lochaber Historical Society at the Aluminium Works in 1969 to mark the presumed location of the battles.



Mackay, D. N. 1922. Clan Warfare in the Scottish Highlands. Paisley: Alexander Gardner.

Paterson, R. C. 2001. The Lords of the Isles: A History of Clan Donald. Edinburgh: Birlinn.

Pollard, T. and O. Oltean. 2007. Fort William and Inverlochy Archaeological Project (Historic Conflict in the Highlands): Data Structure Report. Glasgow: GUARD.

Scott, Sir W. 1833. Pibroch of Donald Dubh.

Information on Sources & Publication

Very few primary sources are available for the Battle of Inverlochy I. Both primary and secondary sources provide sparse information and are predominantly restricted to broad overviews of the battle, rather than giving detail about the forces involved or the specifics of combatants or battle tactics.

Primary Sources

Acts of the Lords of the Isles, 1336-1493. 1986.(eds.) J. Munro and R. W. Munro, Edinburgh: Scottish Historical Society

Acts of the Parliament of Scotland.

Ane Breve Chronicle of the Earldom of Ross. 1850

Calendar of Documents Relating to Scotland preserved in Her Majesty's Public Record Office, London. J. Bain (ed). Edinburgh: HMSO, p. 317-47, 742, 960, 1114, 1156

The Clan Donald. 1860. A. Macdonald. Inverness: Northern Counties Publishing Company

History of the MacDonalds and Lords of the Isles.

John of Fordun's Chronicle of the Scottish Nation: The Historians of Scotland. Vol. IV. 1872. (Trans) F. J. H. Skene. (ed) W. F. Skene. Edinburgh: Edmonston & Douglas

The Kinrara Manuscript. c. 1679. Lachlan Mackintosh

Monro's Western Isles of Scotland and the Genealogies of the Clans. 1961. R. W. Monro (ed). Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd

McIntyre, J. 1834-45. Parish of Kilmonivaig. New Statistical Account of Scotland. Vol 14: 503-12

Ross, T. 1791-9. Parish of Kilmonivaig. Statistical Account of Scotland. Vol. 39: 543-51

Cartographic & Illustrative Sources

No further information.

Secondary Sources

Lee, H. J. 1864. History of the Clan Donald, the Families of MacDonald, McDonald and McDonnell. New York: Polk & Co.

Leslie, J. (ed. T. Thomson) 1830. The History of Scotland, from the Death of King James I in the Year MCCCCXXXVI to the Year MDLXI. Edinburgh: Bannatyne Club.

MacCulloch, D. R. 1939. Romantic Lochaber, Arisaig and Morar. Edinburgh and London: W & R Chambers.

Mackay, D. N. 1922. Clan Warfare in the Scottish Highlands. Paisley: Alexander Gardner.

McKenzie, A. 1884. History of the Camerons: with Genealogies of the Principal Families of the Name. Inverness: A & W McKenzie.

Mackenzie, A. 1881. History of the MacDonalds and Lords of the Isles :with Genealogies of the Principal Families of the Name. Inverness: A and W Mackenzie.

Mackintosh, A. M. 1903. The Mackintoshes and Clan Chattan. Edinburgh: James Skinner & Co.

Macmillan, S. 1971. Bygone Lochaber: Historical and Traditional. Glasgow: K & R Davidson Ltd.

Paterson, R. C. 2001. The Lords of The Isles: A History of Clan Donald. Edinburgh: Birlinn.

Pollard, T. and O. Oltean. 2007. Fort William and Inverlochy Archaeological Project (Historic Conflict in the Highlands): Data Structure Report. Glasgow: GUARD.

Scott, Sir W. 1833. Pibroch of Donald Dubh.

Scott, Sir W. 1833. The Complete Works of Sir Walter Scott; with a Biography and his Last Additions and Illustrations. New York: Conner and Cooke.

Sinclair, A. M. 1906. The Combatants on the North Inch of Perth. The Celtic Review, 3(9): 1-9.

Historic Scotland. Inverlochy II: Inventory of Historic Battlefields. [Last accessed: 18/09/2011]

RCAHMS. Inverlochy Battle Site.Site No. NN17NW 3. [Last accessed: 12/09/2011]

RCAHMS. Inverlochy Castle. Site No. NN17NW 1. [Last accessed: 12/09/2011]

Historic Environment Scotland Properties

Inverlochy Castle

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Related Designations

  1. Inverlochy CastleSM90172

    Designation Type
    Scheduled Monument
  2. Battle of Inverlochy IIBTL24

    Designation Type

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Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating sites and places at the national level. These designations are Scheduled monuments, Listed buildings, Inventory of gardens and designed landscapes and Inventory of historic battlefields.

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The inventory is a list of Scotland's most important historic battlefields. Battlefields are landscapes over which a battle was fought. We maintain the inventory under the terms of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.

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