New book reveals details of forgotten naval battle near Inverbervie

A naval engagement fought between the British and the French close to Inverbervie in 1708 features in a new book which has just been published.

Tuesday, 21st September 2021, 6:33 pm
Slains Castle's history is linked across the north-east coast
Slains Castle's history is linked across the north-east coast

This long-forgotten episode is revealed by Mike Shepherd and Dacre Stoker (great-grand nephew of Bram Stoker in their new publication, Slain's Castle's Secret History: Warlords, Winston Churchill & Dracula.

Two eye-witness accounts of the engagement have been written down:

'The fleets were only about two or three miles or thereby off land, and when they came up to Inverbervie they were not over half-a-mile from our view, at which time they began to fire fastest, and I thought there would have been near 20 sail engaged. At Inverbervie they made out to the sea, and the smoke of their guns eclipsed several of these that lay furthest off.'

The new book cover

'The Laird of Catterline is positive there was a skirmish at sea yesterday, which began off Inverbervie about 3 o’clock, and he saw two distinct fleets, one consisting of about 26 sail the other about 30, and four ships at a distance from either. After some scattering single shots he saw five of the last fleet of great bigness and force attack two of the first fleet about their own size, which two maintained a running fight from between four and five to eight, yet they got out of his sight. He saw several broadsides given on both sides and the water visibly rise with the ball.'

The engagement happened during the failed Franco/Jacobite invasion of Scotland in 1708. France was at war with the newly-formed United Kingdom, and hoped to distract the British armies fighting in Europe by launching an invasion of Scotland in tandem with the exiled Jacobites living in France.

An invasion fleet of 28 ships left Dunkirk with the intention of landing an army of 5,000 men at Leith. Also on board was James Edward Stuart, the 'old pretender'. The ships reached the Firth of Forth, only for the British navy to turn up with 50 ships intent on chasing the French fleet. The French ships, whose hulls had been recently cleaned of barnacles, were faster and escaped by sailing up the NE coast. Some were slower, and by Inverbervie, the British navy had caught up with the stragglers.

The main action - call it an engagement or a skirmish - took place between five British ships and two or three French ships. The French ship, the Salisbury (which had previously been captured from the English, hence the name) was overwhelmed and struck her colours. The rest of the French fleet eventually returned to Dunkirk with the forlorn James Edward Stuart.

Mike said: “I lived in Inverbervie as a teenager. I remember reading a local history book in Inverbervie library which mentioned that cannonballs had been found in people's gardens in and around Bervie. The book speculated that this was the result of the bombardment of the village by a Spanish ship in the aftermath of the Spanish Armada in 1588. When I read the eyewitnesses account given above, it was obvious where the cannonballs had come from.”

Slain's Castle's Secret History: Warlords, Winston Churchill & Dracula by Mike Shepherd is published in paperback by Wild Wolf Publishing, priced £12.99.