Tuesday, 19 September 2017

The Scots Fencibles

In the many forgotten parts of history are the various military organisations  and formations of the past. When there was little or no policing in many parts of Britain this entailed military units to contain any revolutionary movements who might use force.

The plan of raising Fencible Corps in the Highlands was first proposed and carried into effect by Mr Pitt (afterwards the Earl of Chatham), in the year 1759. During the three preceding years both the fleets and armies of Great Britain had suffered reverses, and to retrieve the situation great efforts were necessary.

In England county militia regiments were raised for internal defence in the absence of the regular army; but it was not deemed prudent to extend the system to Scotland, the inhabitants of which, it was supposed, could not yet be safely entrusted with arms.

Groundless as the reasons for this caution undoubtedly were in regard to the Lowlands, it would certainly have been hazardous at a time when the Stuarts and their adherents were still plotting a restoration to have armed the clans.

An exception, however, was made in favour of the people of Argyll and Sutherland, and accordingly letters of service were issued to the Duke of Argyll, then the most influential and powerful nobleman in Scotland, and the Earl of Sutherland to raise, each of them, a Fencible regiment within his district.

Unlike the militia regiments which were raised by ballot, the Fencibles were to be raised by the ordinary mode of recruiting, and like the regiments of the line, the officers were to be appointed and their commissions signed by the king.

The same system was followed at different periods down to the year 1799, the last of the Fencible regiments having been raised in that year.

The following is a list of the Highland Fencible regiments according to the chronological order of the commissions, with the date of their embodiment and reduction:-

The Argyll Fencibles (No. 1), 1759 - 1763
The Sutherland Fencibles (No. 1) 1759 - 1763
The Argyll or Western Fencibles (No. 2), 1778 - 1783
The Gordon Fencibles, 1773 - 1783
The Sutherland Fencibles (No. 2) 1779 - 1783

The Grant or Strathspey Fencibles (three battalions), 1793 - 1799
The Breadalane Fencibles (three battalions),1793, 1794-1799 and 1802
The Sutherland Fencibles (No. 3) 1793- 1797
The Gordon Fencibles (No. 2), 1793 - 1799
The Argyll Fencibles (No. 1), 1793 - 1797

The Rothesay and Caithness Fencibles (two battalions), 1794 and 1795 - 1802
The Dumbarton Fencibles, 1794 - 1802
The Reay Fencibles, 1794 - 1802
The Inverness-shire Fencibles, 1794 - 1802
The Fraser Fencibles, 1794 - 1802

The Glengarry Fencibles, 1794 - 1802
The Caithness Legion, 1794 - 1802
The Perthshire Fencibles (No. 4), 1794 - 1802
Argyll Fencibles (No. 4), 1794 - 1802
Lochaber Fencibles, 1799 - 1802

The Clan-Alpine Fencibles, 1796 - 1802
The Ross-shire Fencibles, 1796-1802
Regiment of the Isles, or Macdonald Fencibles, 1799.
Argyll Fencibles (No. 5) 1796 - 1802.
The Ross and Cromarty Rangers, 1799 - 1802
The Macleod Fencibles, 1799 - 1802

This was drawn from The Military History Index a few years ago. When you add the numbers of men in such regiments to those in the regular Army and Royal Navy it can bring you up to proportions of the male population in service equivalent to those of the two recent World Wars.

Moreover, the units were not located in their home areas but sent elsewhere. Who better than Scots to police the Irish and the English?


  1. "the inhabitants of which, it was supposed, could not yet be safely entrusted with arms"

    Prudent. They were Fencibles after all.

  2. Were the units independent, thereby making them indyfencibles?

  3. "it can bring you up to proportions of the male population in service equivalent to those of the two recent World Wars."

    Interesting, but on reflection perhaps not a surprise.