12 June 1685
The Battle of Ardkinglas was the largest encounter between the Earl of Argyll’s Whig Army and the Government forces of King James VII in 1685.
Why was there a Battle at Ardkinglas?
In 1685, as part of the Whig Invasion of Britain, the Earl of Argyll had landed in Scotland with a small Army. His objective was to create a diversion, while the Duke of Monmouth landed in England and advanced on London. To do this Argyll needed a strong defensive location while he waited for news from Monmouth. After reconnoitring the coast, he selected the Cowal Peninsula, with Eilean Dearg Castle at one end and the Castle at Ardkinglas at the other.
Argyll moved his Army camp to Glendaruel and turned Eilean Dearg into a fortified arsenal by building a new battery facing out to sea. By 7 June, his base of operation was secure, and his attention returned to Inveraray, sending Colonel Rumbold north to Ardkinglas with a Regiment of Foot and two troops of Horse. As Rumbold reached Ardkinglas, three Royal Navy frigates and two yachts blockaded the entrance of Loch Riddon in sight of Eilean Dearg. On 11 June, Atholl reacted to the Whig move north and ordered Captain McKenzie to block the road from Ardkinglas to Inveraray.
What happened at the Battle of Ardkinglas?
On the morning of 12 June 1685, seeing the Whigs at Ardkinglas, Captain McKenzie ordered a boat to cross the Loch and scout out their positions. As this vessel approached the shore, Rumbold sent out his own boat and a troop of Cavalry to intercept the Government scouts. The larger Whig boat forced the scouts to the shore where they took up a defensive line within a small enclosure. From across the Loch, McKenzie saw the danger his men were in and sent his own horse out to rescue his scouts. As the morning unfolded, Rumbold ordered a company of infantry to intercept the Government cavalry.
With his scouts and cavalry being chased back to his camp near Clachan Kirk, McKenzie deployed his small Army of 300 into line blocking the Inveraray road and sent a messenger back to Atholl asking for reinforcements. Meanwhile, with word that Argyll was only a few hours away with the rest of the Army, Rumbold advanced his whole Whig Army of 500 around the Lochhead to attack the Government line. The first Battle of the Monmouth Rebellion was under way.
The Afternoon Battle at Ardkinglas
McKenzie’s front was no more than 250 yards wide and placed his troop of Horse on the Loch shore, anchoring his right flank. His battle line then extended along a stream up to the Kirk that rested on the top of the rise under the mountain crags. Within the walls of the Kirk, a Section of Highlander Watch held the left flank. Facing this defensive line, Rumbold anchors his right and left flanks with his troops of horse, in the centre his three companies to foot advanced to engage the Government line.
With the Loch on his left and the crags on his right flank, Rumbold’s Whig cavalry dismounted and attacked the Kirk, pushing back the Highlanders. In turn, McKenzie pulled his line back to the next rock-strewn stream. Once more the Whigs had to assault the Highlander musketeers in a strong position. Each time the flank was broken the Government pulled back to the next defensive line, with their left flank covered by craggy streams.
Rumbold’s men were starting fatigue when a fresh company of Whig infantry arrived from Argyll main Army. Rumbold threw these new soldiers into the fight on the left flank hoping to break the Highlanders and encircle McKenzie’s smaller force. As the Government force had been pulling back a gap had started to grow between McKenzie’s centre and left wing. However, two new companies of Highland Watch arrived, and McKenzie placed these on the high ground and amongst the crags on his left flank. As the Whigs soldiers once more pushed back the Highlanders, the Government line pulled back, but this time they had broken through the defensive line. As the Whigs advanced in triumph hoping to trap their enemies, McKenzie fresh Highland struck hard, charging into their disorganised and exhausted foes. It was now time for Rumbold to pull back, turning attack in defence, and pulling back from stream to stream.
The Whigs hold the Battlefield
By now Argyll had brought up the bulk of the Whig Army allowing Rumbold to pull back into the fresh battle line. It was late in the day and Argyll saw no advantage at pressing on that evening. His men had marched hard all day and fighting at night in rough ground could cause disaster. However, McKenzie made one last attempt to break the Whigs. Once more he loaded boats up with soldiers and sent them across the Loch hoping to cut the Whigs line of communications. As they approached the shore, the Whig rear guard were waiting for them and opened fire, while fresh boats entered the Loch from Ardkinglas. Overwhelmed, the Government boats fled down the Loch towards Inveraray. As his boats sailed away, McKenzie ordered his Army back towards Inveraray, leaving the Whigs in control of the battlefield. That evening the Whigs camped at Loch Fyne head and celebrated their victory. They now controlled the Inveraray to Glasgow and the road into the central highlands.
This account is based on a more detail description of the Battle of Ardkinglas, available from Helion & Company in my Book Fighting For Liberty.