In the wake of the Treaty of Utrecht, King Philip V of Spain sought to reassert Spanish power in Europe. After invading Sardinia and Sicily, Spain was notified by the British that they were in violation of the agreement. Unwilling to back down, Spain declared war in 1718. Guided by Cardinal Giulio Alberoni, the Spanish devised a plan to carry the war to Britain in order to prevent fighting in Spain. Taking advantage of recent disputes over the British throne, Alberoni sought to support the Jacobite cause with the goal of returning the Stuart dynasty to power.
This restoration was to be accomplished through a two-prong assault. In the north, George Keith, the Earl Marischal of Scotland, would land with a contingent of Spanish marines and launch an uprising of the largely Jacobite Highland clans. This would be supported by a 7,000-man army led by James Butler, Duke of Ormonde, which would invade southwest England or Wales. Together, the two forces would move towards London and would depose King George I. Departing Spain, Keith's force sailed north and landed on the Isle of Lewis off the Scottish coast.
Ormonde left Cadiz in early March 1719, but encountered a severe storm at sea three weeks later. With his fleet scattered and damaged, he was forced to return to Spain. At Lewis, William Murray, Earl of Tullibardine, took command of the ground forces from Keith. Unaware of Ormonde's setback, they moved forward with the plan and crossed the Minch to Scotland. Landing at Lochalsh on April 13, Keith sent out agents to raise the clans. Despite his efforts, the response was minimal as many were weary of battle after the failed uprising of 1715. All told, around 1,200-1,300 ultimately joined the "Little Rising."
Lacking the numbers to immediately march east to Inverness, Keith and Tullibardine occupied Eilean Donan castle. After additional Highlanders arrived, including the folk hero Rob Roy McGregor, the army moved south with the goal of increasing its numbers. A small garrison of 40-50 men was left to guard the castle. In early May, three British frigates, HMS Worcester, HMS Flamborough, and HMS Enterprise sailed up Loch Duich to Eilean Donan. On May 10, they opened fire on the castle after their demand to surrender was refused by the Spanish garrison.
The following evening, British marines stormed the castle and succeeded in capturing the defenders. After securing the area, the British looted and demolished the castle. Over the next several weeks, Tullibardine and Keith tried in vain to raise the clans. Now aware that Ormonde was not coming, they elected to attempt an assault on Inverness. Alerted to this, Major General Joseph Wightman departed the city on June 5 with 850 infantry, 120 dragoons, 130 loyal clansmen, and 6 mortars with the goal of intercepting the Jacobites.
With their base captured and Government troops approaching, Tullibardine and Keith elected to make a stand at Glen Shiel, near the Five Sisters Hills. On June 9, their troops took up positions astride the River Shiel and a small drovers road. To the north of the river, 250 Spanish marines under Colonel Don Nicolás Bolaño formed the center, with clansmen under the Earl of Seaforth on the left. South of the river, forces under Tullibardine and Lord George Murray formed the Jacobite right. To strengthen the position, the road was barricaded and hasty entrenchments erected.
Approaching the Jacobite position on the afternoon of June 10, Wightman's troops quickly drove back the enemy pickets and deployed for battle. Advancing around 5:00 PM, Wightman's men attacked Murray's position south of the river. After initially being repulsed, they succeeded in forcing the Jacobites to retire. Switching to the Jacobite left, Wightman's men fought up the hill in an attempt to outflank them. Fighting gallantly, Seaforth was reinforced by McGregor and his clansmen but was unable to hold. Wounded, Seaforth and his men fell back
With the Jacobite army collapsing, Wightman focused his shelling on the Spanish marines. Seeing no other option, Bolaño ordered his men to retreat up the hill. By 9:00 PM the fighting died out as the Jacobites departed the field.
Through the night and the following morning the Highlanders began fleeing the area to avoid capture and execution. Though he wished to renew the battle, Bolaño was persuaded to surrender his men. First taken to Inverness, they later were held in Edinburgh before being repatriated to Spain. The defeat at Glen Shiel effectively ended the "Little Rising" and its leaders were forced to flee to the Continent. The Jacobite cause would not be revived in earnest until the arrival of Prince Charles Edward Stuart in 1745. Government casualties in the fighting numbered 21 killed and around 100-121 wounded. Casualties for the Jacobites are unclear but are estimated at around 100 killed and 100+ wounded.