Highland Independent Companies

My previous post covered the Argyll Militia, formed in the South West of Scotland to counter the Jacobite Rebellion.   Duncan Forbes, Lord Culloden, was Lord President of Scotland, effectively its Governor in the absence of the Secretary of State for Scotland who was in London.

Lord Loudoun


In September 1745, Duncan Forbes was authorised to raise 20 Highland Independent Companies in the North East of Scotland.  These were to operate under the command of Colonel John Campbell, Lord Loudoun, who commanded the 64th Foot.  I had already modelled him since he served as General Cope’s Adjutant General at the Battle of Prestonpans and here he is here.  After Prestonpans he escaped to Inverness and continued to recruit his regiment from there.


Duncan Forbes only in fact raised 18 Highland Independent companies, as per the list below.  This was not due to any lack of recruits, but he wanted to keep the much sought after commissions for two companies as a reserve, to be used if required.

Highland Independent Companies

Almost all of these companies were clan based, to the extent that in many, all of the officers and up to half of the men bore that same clan surname.  The only exception was the Inverness company which was raised from the inhabitants of that town, and commanded by a local magistrate.

The Government expected Duncan Forbes to raise these from amongst the most loyal clans, but Forbes was cleverer than that, deliberately giving some companies to clans which were wavering in their support, so as to deny those men as recruits to the Jacobite cause.  This was particularly true of the MacLeods, who marched off thinking they were going to join the Jacobite Army and who were then told to exchange their white cockades for black ones.  Duncan Forbes secured the loyalty of their Clan Chief, Norman MacLeod, and Sir Donald MacDonald of Sleat, by blackmail.   These two Skye chiefs had planned to sell some of their tenants as slaves to the Americas and West Indies.  Duncan Forbes had found out and agreed not to prosecute them in return for their loyalty.  He also gave three companies to the MacKenzies.  Their Clan Chief, Lord Seaforth, was loyal, but George MacKenzie, Lord Cromartie, had already defected to the Jacobites with his entire company of 64th Foot and had raised a complete Jacobite Regiment.  Having three Independent Companies of MacKenzies was a way of denying Lord Cromartie more recruits.

The two MacDonald of Sleat companies were left in Skye and one of the MacKenzie companies was left in Lewis, just north of Skye.  The other 15 were ordered to concentrate at Inverness, under the command of Lord Loudoun.

Uniforms were proposed, both for the Argyll Militia and these Highland Independent Companies, of red highland jackets with yellow facings and red saltires on the black cockades in their Scots bonnets.  However the Argyll Militia were disbanded in August 1746 and never received any uniforms.  The Independent Companies certainly did have uniforms before they were disbanded in 1747.  It was originally thought that these uniforms were not issued until after Culloden, but I have seen the correspondence between Major Mackay-Scobie (late Seaforth Highlanders and the former curator of the Scottish National Naval and Military Museum) and Captain Campbell (late of the Gordon Highlanders), when the latter was producing an illustration of “A Private Man in his Regimentals – Highland Independent Companies of 1745-7” which accompanied Major Mackay-Scobie’s article of that subject in the Journal of the Society of Army Historical Research in 1941.  This correspondence says of the uniform that “some of the companies did not actually get until after Culloden”.  In a second letter he mentions that “some, at least, of the companies did not get their uniform clothing until they had been in the field for some time”.

This was good enough for me to assume that the majority of companies did get their uniforms before Culloden.  I have assumed that Lord Loudoun’s priority would have been those at Inverness, so those three companies in Skye and Lewis probably did not get uniforms until later.  I did not plan to model those three companies anyway, since they saw no action, so decided to model all 15 of the companies in the main force at Inverness and give them all uniforms.

Prior to uniforms being issued, the Captains commanding the companies were ordered to outfit their men in matching belted plaids, probably on an individual clan basis, and not uniform to all companies.  I have assumed that they would have retained those belted plaids in their various clan tartans when they received their uniform jackets.  There has been plausible speculation that the adoption of uniform tartans by these clan companies was the beginning of the clan tartan system.

The establishment for all of these companies was the same as that for the Argyll Militia, one Captain, one Lieutenant, one Ensign, four Sergeants, four Corporals, one Drummer, one Piper and 100 Centinels (Private soldiers).  I have seen the muster rolls for three of these companies and they were all over 100 men.  I therefore modelled them all as 3 figures per company.  The figures are a mixture of Redbox, Airfix Napoleonics and Italeri Napoleonics, both of the latter heavily converted.

Here are the four MacLeod Companies.  Wherever there are two or more companies to a clan, then I have modelled a command stand of an officer and piper.  The officer is wearing trews, because I just happened to have a 50 year old conversion of an Airfix figure in that dress.


MacLeod of Assynt


There was a 5th MacLeod company, that of MacLeod of Assynt, raised on the mainland as opposed to Skye.  It always operated with the other four MacLeod companies and its tartan is similar, with just a lighter base colour.






Here are the MacKay companies, in a tartan similar to the Black Watch.







Next are the Sutherland companies.







Then the MacKenzie companies.






The Munro’s had just one company.







As did the Grant’s.








And finally, of the clan companies, the Ross company.






I decided to model the only non-clan company, the Inverness company, in Inverness tartan trews.  This makes them look not dissimilar to the illustration of a Loyalist Volunteer on the front cover of Stuart Reid’s “Wargaming with Jacobites 1745“, published by Partizan Press.



Lord Loudoun commanded these companies, and his own 64th Foot, in most of the actions which they took part in.  However in December 1745, he rather rashly split his forces, taking the bulk of his troops on a mission against the Fraser Clan, whilst leaving a separate force to confront the growing Jacobite threat near Aberdeen.  The evidence as to which Independent Companies were in each part of the force is contradictory in various sources, but I have tried to reconstruct it.

Lord Lovat and his Frasers had been loyal to the Government during the previous Jacobite Rebellions in 1689, 1715 and 1719.  However in 1745 Lord Lovat was playing a double game, hedging his bets by promising support to both sides.  In October 1745, as Duncan Forbes was beginning to raise the Independent Companies, a party of some 200 Frasers, led by Lieutenant Colonel James Fraser of Foyers, attempted to kidnap him at his home, Culloden House.  This failed and Lord Lovat’s denials of complicity were not believed.

James Fraser and his men now joined up with a separate force of Frasers under Colonel Simon Fraser, Master of Lovat (Lord Lovat’s son and heir), who were investing (ie blockading) Fort Augustus, just South of Fraser clan territory.  They had no artillery to besiege the fort, but by surrounding it could probably force it to surrender by starvation in time.

Lord Loudoun’s operation was designed to drive the Frasers away and lift the blockade.  His force included part of his own 64th Foot plus some of the Independent Companies.  His Regiment was established for 12 companies, probably 10 with the main battalion and 2 recruiting companies.  Three companies were raised in the South West by the Regiment’s Lieutenant Colonel John Campbell of Mamore, and operated with his newly raised Argyll Militia, at both Falkirk and Culloden.   Two companies (MacDonnell of Lochgarry’s and Cromartie’s) had defected and three and a half companies were captured at Prestonpans.   One company (Major MacKenzie’s) had been left at Inverness, possibly with the other half of the Colonel’s company and the two skeleton recruiting companies.  These were used to rebuild the battalion and by December a further 200 men had been recruited.   I would therefore estimate that four weak companies (perhaps 60 each) was the maximum of the 64th Foot accompanying Lord Loudoun.

I think that the Independent Companies with Lord Loudoun were the two MacKay companies, the two Sutherland Companies, the two MacKenzie companies and the Grant Company.

Loudoun’s force relieved Fort Augustus, then went on to attempt to apprehend Lord Lovat at his home Castle Dounie.  Lovat however escaped.

I think that the force which was left behind at Inverness (based in the old Fort George by the town bridge) comprised the two companies of the 6th Foot, which formed the permanent garrison, plus the 43rd Foot Additional Company,  possibly with a company of 64th Foot, and the Ross Independent Company.

The force to operate against the Jacobites in the Aberdeen area was commanded by Norman MacLeod, Chief of Clan MacLeod, and comprised his own five companies, plus the Munro and Inverness companies.  They were defeated at Inverurie by a Jacobite force commanded by Lord Lewis Gordon.

Norman MacLeod


I therefore needed a model of Norman MacLeod, and based this on a well known portrait of him (see here).  He was known as “The Wicked Man”, possibly because he turned his £10,000 fortune into a £50,000 debt (so that his descendents had to sell off ancestral lands), perhaps because he plotted to sell off some of his tenants as slaves to the Americas and West Indies, but more likely since he locked his second wife in a dungeon until she starved to death.  He is converted from an Imex AWI British Infantry standard bearer.


In February 1746 Lord Loudoun discovered that Prince Charles was staying at Moy Hall with a small escort, so on the night of 15th/16th February 1746 Lord Loudoun collected most of his force and launched an attack on that house.  The force probably included four companies of 64th Foot, one Additional Company of the 43rd Foot, all five MacLeod Companies, both MacKay Companies, both Sutherland Companies, both MacKenzie Companies and the Munro Company, leaving the two companies of 6th Foot, plus the Grant, Ross and Inverness Companies back at Fort George in Inverness.  The attack was a disaster, Prince Charles was forewarned and a handful of Jacobite supporters bluffed the Government forces that they had many more men than than they actually did, allowing Prince Charles to escape.

In late February the Jacobites advanced on Inverness and Lord Loudoun pulled his forces back to the North, initially behind the Cromarty Firth, then behind the Donorch Firth.  He spread his men out along the Firth and the river which continued inland, with the main concentration to the West, since he thought the wide mouth of the Firth was too difficult for the Jacobites to cross, particularly since it was covered by Royal Navy patrols.

However on 20th March 1746 the Jacobites launched a brilliant amphibious assault across the mouth of the Donorch Firth, taking advantage of an early morning mist.  Major MacKenzie, acting commander of the 64th Foot, since Colonel Loudoun was acting as Brigade Commander, rounded up two companies of the 64th and fought a rearguard action.  A number of his officers had previously been captured but had given paroles to the Jacobites.  Cumberland had refused to accept paroles given by rebels and told the officers to return to duty.  Some did, and Maj MacKenzie wanted to give them a chance to escape, as he was not sure how the Jacobites would react if they took them prisoner again.  Once they were clear he surrendered to the overwhelming force opposing him.

Some 300 of Lord Loudoun’s force were captured and the remainder escaped to Skye.  The prisoners included Captain MacKintosh who commanded a company of the 64th Foot.  He was a loyalist but his redoubtable wife, Lady Anne, was an ardent Jacobite and had raised the MacKintoshes (Clan Chattan) for Prince Charles, for which she earned the nickname “Colonel Anne”.  Captain MacKintosh was given parole into his wife’s care.  She apparently greeted him with “Your servant, Captain”, to which he replied “Your servant, Colonel”.

Capt MacKay


There were a couple of very small actions at the end of the Rising.  The first at the Firth of Tongue involved one MacKay and one Sutherland Company, possibly with a 64th Foot company, which captured some, but not all, of the gold landed from the beached ship “Le Prince Charles”.

The second was at Littleferry, where one MacKay and one Sutherland Company captured Lord Cromartie and his men.


There are conflicting accounts of who the overall commander was in both of these operations, but I have assumed it was probably Captain MacKay, so I modelled a figure of him, which could be used for any small action where I needed an Independent Company commander.


Lord Loudoun & Duncan Forbes


Finally, Lord Loudoun really only commanded a Brigade sized force, but at times it was organised as a very small Division, so I decided that I wanted to be able to portray him in that capacity.  Rather than an ADC, I modelled Duncan Forbes as his companion, which was historically correct.  He is wearing sombre civilian clothing, with a Culloden Tartan plaid, since he was Lord Culloden.






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