Battle of Renfrew

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Battle of Renfrew
Part of Scottish internal conflicts
Date around 1164
Location Renfrew, Scotland
Result Royal Victory
Supporters of King Malcolm IV of Scotland Norse-Gaelic Islesmen
Commanders and leaders
Walter FitzAlan Somerled
? ?
Casualties and losses
? ?

The Battle of Renfrew in 1164 was a significant engagement near Renfrew, Scotland. The army of King Malcolm IV of Scotland (Malcolm the Maiden) led by Walter fitz Alan was attacked by forces led by Somerled mac Gillebride (Somerled), the Norse-Gaelic King of Mann and the Isles, Lord of Argyll, Cinn Tìre (Kintyre) and Lorne.[1][2] Somerled was killed and his forces were defeated.[1]


After defeating and deposing the Norse Gofraidh mac Amhlaibh (Godred II), King of Mann and the Isles during the Battle of the Isle of Man, Somerled was approached by powerful Scottish nobles to help in overthrowing Malcolm IV and replace him on the throne with the boy William fitz William, the “Boy of Egremont”, son of William fitz Duncan, grandson of King Duncan II of Scotland.[3] A series of attacks and raids were undertaken by Somerled along the coast of Scotland. Malcolm IV then demanded the fealty of Somerled and the resignation of his lands into the hands of the sovereign (although Somerled would have continued to hold them as a vassal of the Crown). When no response was given, Malcolm IV prepared to enforce his authority by assembling a powerful army at Renfrew Castle, Renfrew.[3]

Battle at Renfrew

Somerled became aware of the Scottish forces gathering at Renfrew and decided to make a preemptive strike, assembling an army of 15,000 from all parts of his kingdom. He then had his army carried to the shores of Firth of Clyde in an armada of 160 birlinns.[1]

After landing and marching towards Renfrew, the two sides met near Paisley and the battle began. The Scottish royal army, led by Walter fitz Alan, the High Steward of Scotland consisted of Scoto-Norman knights and armoured men-at-arms, and Somerled's Gaelic and Norse warriors were unable to break through their line. The fighting is said to have been very bloody on either side. Somerled was wounded in the leg by a javelin and then killed by the sword of his opponents. Somerled's eldest son Gillecallum, from his first marriage, died by his side.[3] With Somerled's death, the Gaelic and Viking army took flight and many were slain, before the survivors escaped back to the ships.


An octagonal plinth monument was erected by Walter FitzAlan commemorating the site of the battle. The plinth was removed in 1779 when the significance of the monument was clouded. On his seal of 1170, Walter FitzAlan is depicted leaning against the pillar.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Paterson 2008, p8
  2. Adam 1970, p233
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Browne, James 1909, vol 8, p215


  • Patterson, Raymond Campbell (2008). The Lords of the Isles, A history of Clan Donald. Edinburgh: Birlinn Limited. ISBN 1-84158-718-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Adam, Frank (1970). The Clans, Septs, and Regiments of the Scottish Highlands. Edinburgh and London: Johnston and Bacon. ISBN 0-7179-4500-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Browne, James (1909). The history of Scotland, its Highlands, regiments and clans. Edinburgh, London and Boston: Francis A. Nicholls & Co. ISBN 0-548-84667-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

Documentary and Narrative

  • Anderson, A. O. ed., Early Sources of Scottish History, 1922.
  • Argyll Family Letters, Maitland Club, 1839.
  • The Book of Clanranald, in Reliquae Celticae, vol. 2, ed. A. MacBain and J. Kennedy, 1894.
  • The Chronicles of Mann and the Sudries, ed. and trans. P. A. Munch, 1874.
  • MacDonald, Hugh, History of the Macdonalds, in Highland papers vol. 1, 1914.


  • Brown A. L. The Cistercian Abbey of Saddell, Kintyre, in the Innes Review, vol. 20 1969.
  • Duncan, A. A. M. and Brown, A. L., Argyll and the Isles in the earlier Middle Ages, in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. 90 1956-7.
  • MacDonald, A & A, Clan Donald, 1896-1904.
  • McDonald, R. A., The Death and Burial of Somerled of Argyll, in West Highland Notes and Queries, 1991.
  • McDonald, R. A., The Kingdom of the Isles: Scotland's Western Seaboard, 1100-c1336, 1997.