Tour Scotland
Home Page

Clan Cameron


The Battle of the Clans

In the year of grace 1396 there took place on the North Inch of Perth, before King Robert III and his court, that incident in Scottish history known as the “Battle of the Clans.” The Earls of Crawford and Dunbar, at the King’s command, had tried to get two feuding clans to compose their differences, and, failing in their mission, had suggested to the two chiefs concerned that they should settle their quarrel by open combat between picked
representatives of their clans—the King to award honours to the victors and pardon to the defeated. To this the clansmen had readily agreed, and the place selected
was the North Inch of Perth; and the date...?

Sir Walter Scott, in his “Fair Maid of Perth,” says the day of the battle was Palm Sunday. One historian, however, fixes the day as October 23, and another gives September 28. Alexander Mackintosh Shaw, in his privately printed “Clan Battle at Perth,” affirms that the day was not Palm Sunday, but “a Monday morning about the end of September, 1396”; and he goes on to point
out that there was a later fight between Clan Chattan and Clan Cameron, in 1430, and this was on Palm Sunday, which might account for the error in Sir Walter Scott’s book. We shall leave the last word on this matter to Alexander Mackintosh Shaw, for whose opinion there is at least some corroboration! As regards the identity of the two warring clans, there are also considerable differences of opinion. One historian comments:
“Nobody to this day can make out, with any certainty, whence these men came, whom they represented, or why they fought.” Lardner, in his history of Scotland, says: “A confederation of clans called Clan Chattan were at variance with another union of tribes called the Clan Kay, or Clan Quhele.”

Sir Walter Scott indicates that the two clans concerned were Clan Chattan and Clan Quhele. Alexander Mackintosh Shaw states: “There is sound historical ground for the view that the parties to thefight were Clan Chattan and Clan Cameron, Clan Chattan comprising Mackintoshes, Macphersons, Davidsons, Macgillivrays,
Macbeans.” Marshall’s “History of Perth” has the following: “It is generally admitted that the Clan Chattan were the Mackintoshes, but, as it always happens with the unfortunate, no sept or clan is willing to claim kindred with the Clan Kay. “The Davidsons disclaim all connection with such unhonoured Highlanders; the Mackays, through their own historian, say, ‘There are the most cogent reasons to think that the opponents of the Mackintoshes were the Camerons.’ What the latter heroic, at least
in modern times, and most respectable clan say in reply to the assertion of the Mackays we have never learned, and must, therefore leave the subject to be settled by Celtic antiquarians.” An attitude that the present writer feels obliged to adopt as well! Preparations for the battle went briskly ahead. Barriers were erected on three sides of the North Inch to keep off spectators, the River Tay forming the fourth side. The Gilded Arbour summerhouse of the Dominican Monastery, which overlooked the Inch, was adapted as a grandstand for the King and his court.
Exchequer accounts for the year contained this entry: “For timber, iron and making lists for 60 persons fighting on the Inch at Perth, £14 : 2s. :10id.”

The day of the contest dawned, and the clans marched through Perth to the North Inch, to the sound of the pibroch, and armed with bows and arrows, swords, targes, knives and axes. Fittis in his “Perthshire Miscellany,” observes: “The Highlanders won most of their victories with the claymore, or two-handed sword.
It was with this tremendous arm that the clansmen contended in the pitched fight on the North Inch of Perth, under the eye of Robert III.”

When all was ready, it was found that Clan Chattan were one man short, making their number 29. Some accounts state that the missing man’s courage had failed him and he had fled; the Mackintosh MS History affirms that one of the clansmen had fallen sick. However that may be, Clan Chattan refused to fight one man short, and no clansman of Clan Kay would volunteer to withdraw to even the numbers. So, for a time, it seemed as if the affair would have to be abandoned, no doubt to the huge relief of the weak Robert III! And then there stepped into the limelight of history a Perth harness-maker and armourer, ”Small in stature, bandy-legged, but fierce.. .“ Known variously as Henry Smith, Hal o’ the Wynd, the
Gow-Chrom, meaning “Crooked Smith,” for half a French crown of gold and the promise that he would be maintained for life if he survived, he volunteered to fill the empty space in the ranks of Clan Chattan. The offer was accepted with alacrity, and the battle began.
“It was the nature of these beings brought together to fly at each other like wild cats and kill in any way they could,” comments Burton in his “History.”

The most vivid account, if somewhat imaginative, coming from the pen of Sir Walter Scott, bears out this commentary: “The trumpets of the King sounded a charge, the bagpipes blew up their screaming and maddening notes, and the combatants, starting for-
ward in regular order, and increasing their pace, till they came to a smart run, met together in the centre of the ground, as a furious land torrent encounters an advancing tide. “Blood flowed fast, and the groans of those who fell began to mingle with the cries of those who fought. The wild notes of the pipes were still heard above the tumult and stimulated to further exertion the fury of the combatants. “At once, however, as if by mutual agreement, the instruments sounded a retreat. The two parties disengaged themselves from each other to take breath for a few minutes.. About 20 of both sides
lay on the field, dead or dying; arms and legs lopped off, heads cleft to the chin, slashes deep through the shoulder to the breast, showed at once the fury of the combat, the ghastly character of the weapons used, and the fatal strength of the arms which wielded them.”
Presently the battle was resumed, and the fighting went on till only 11 of Clan Chattan were left alive—and these all sorely wounded, and one survivor of Clan Kay. He, seeing his cause was hopelessly lost, jumped into the Tay and swam to safety, thus leaving Clan Chattan victorious. Accounts of the battle make it clear that no little credit for the victory was due to the doughty Hal o’ the Wynd, who was among the survivors, although it was afterwards said that when asked the name of the clan whose cause he had supported, he was not able to
tell, saying that he had “fought for his own hand.”
Tradition has it that he later accompanied Clan Chattan to the Highlands, and there became the progenitor of numerous descendants, by name Smiths and Gows.
Thus ended the Battle of the Clans, a brutal spectacle, and one of the least creditable incidents in Scottish history, on a par with bloody gladiatorial exhibitions of heathen Rome. It reflected little credit on King Robert III who had weakly assented to it, and then lowered himself to be a spectator of it!

Return To Perthshire History

Tour Scotland
Tour Edinburgh
Tour Island Of Skye

Rent A Self Catering Hoilday Cottage In Scotland

Share This Tour Scotland Web Page

Top Destinations
Tour Europe