300-year-old ammunition discovered at 'forgotten' Jacobite battlefield
Rare fragments of shot and shell have been discovered at the often-overlooked site of the 1719 Jacobite Rising. The decisive and chaotic battle marked the end of the ‘Old Pretender’ James Francis Edward Stuart’s ambitions for the throne of Great Britain and stifled the Jacobite cause for the next 30 years.
The artefacts, found by an archaeological team led by the National Trust for Scotland, include large fragments of Coehorn mortar shells. The Battle of Glenshiel was the first time the mortars were used on British soil and were fired at Lord George Murray and the Jacobite right wing. A flattened musket ball fired by government forces loyal to George I was also uncovered.
“Finds like this are really important,” said Derek Alexander, the National Trust for Scotland’s Head of Archaeology, “They are the tangible remains of historic events, which can be quite rare. We hold something in our hands that we know came from a single event, 300 years ago - that is incredibly powerful.”
The 1719 Rising saw over 1,000 Jacobite forces, supplemented with troops from Spain, march to take Inverness. Taking place on 10th June, the battle lasted several hours amid disorientating conditions and superior government firepower. The Jacobites were forced into retreat and scattered. Many of the leaders returned to exile overseas or accepted government pardons while the Spanish troops surrendered the day after the battle. They were held in Edinburgh Castle until they were released later in the year. Many Jacobites, including Lord Murray, believed that the rising hurt the Jacobite cause rather than helping it.
As well as 1000 troops, the government forces under General Joseph Wightman had four Coehorn mortars. They were small squat guns that could lob shells in high arcs onto the Jacobite and Spanish positions on the higher ground, causing noise and explosions that would have created disorder and panic within the Jacobite lines. One reference of the battle suggests that red hot fragments from the explosions set the surrounding grass and heather alight, adding to the confusion.
All the artefacts were found just below the Spanish position, where there is a large outcrop of bedrock with a vertical face. The musket ball was found using a metal detector and had been flattened with the force of hitting the ground.
“It had been fired from below, up at the Spanish position. It hit the bedrock, flattened and fell to the ground and lay there,” explained Mr Alexander.
The ball is going to be tested further to determine its calibre and who fired it, as the government troops used a variety of muskets and carbines. The tests will help historians to create a fuller picture of what happened during the battle and to bring the events to life.
The battlefield of Glenshiel is often described as one of Scotland’s most picturesque battlefields. It has remained largely untouched since the rising, and the walls and defences built by the Jacobites for cover during the mortar barrage can still be seen. The condition of the battlefield suggests that there are more archaeological treasures to be found.
While it is often overshadowed by the ’15 and ’45 Risings, the ‘19 Rising defeat has a lasting impact of both the Highlands and the Jacobite cause.
“The rising fizzled out, but it led to the arrival of General Wade and his building of road systems and garrisons in locations across the Highlands. It fixed the Government’s mind on the clans and the Jacobites,” commented Mr Alexander, “It’s failure also meant that there was little appetite for another uprising until Bonnie Prince Charlie and the ’45.”
Added: 13th June 2019