Guerrillas of the Glens - Reassessing Glencairn's Rising (1653-1655)

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Over the winter of 1653, Colonel Robert Lilburne, the commander of Commonwealth forces in Scotland, sent several increasingly panicked letters to Oliver Cromwell, the soon-to-be Lord Protector. Lilburne painted a dire picture for his superior. He complained that he lacked the resources and manpower to supress the Scottish Royalist rising which had broken out earlier that year. The country, according to Lilburne, was actively supporting the Royalists and undermining the occupying English forces. Bands of guerrillas launched raids from their highland hideouts deeper and deeper into the occupied lowlands, which Lilburne claimed he was powerless to stop. Collaborators and Commonwealth officers were attacked and had their property ransacked, Commonwealth patrols were ambushed on a regular basis, and support for the rebels amongst the population was steadily growing. In March 1654, Lilburne warned that, without immediate reinforcements, the northern kingdom would be lost. Such an outcome would have provided the exiled Charles II a springboard from which to launch renewed campaigns across the Three Kingdoms, reigniting the British Civil Wars and potentially expediating his restoration to the Stuart crowns. In the end, despite Lilburne’s apocalyptic reports, the rising, led by William Cunningham, Earl of Glencairn, and Major-General John Middleton, was crushed within a year following a major defeat at Dalnaspidal (19 July 1654).

Perhaps due to the rising’s sudden collapse and defeat, the campaign has never attracted the same level of scholarly interest as the conflicts of the 1640s. Informed by fresh archival research, this paper offers a reassessment of Glencairn’s Rising from both an operational and strategic standpoint. By reviewing the organisation and effectiveness of the rising, this paper seeks to uncover whether Lilburne’s distress was justified or not.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 13 Sept 2023
EventWar and Society in Early Modern Europe - University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom
Duration: 12 Sept 202312 Sept 2023


ConferenceWar and Society in Early Modern Europe
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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