Under James Graham, the Marquis of Montrose, the Royalist army had achieved success at Inverlochy and Dundee.
He made camp with his 1750 men and 250 horses at Auldearn, around three miles to the east of Nairn. The Covenanters were marching through the night from Inverness to fight him.
Sir John Hurry’s men had the advantage of surprise were they to attack at once. The rain had been heavy and Sir John, concerned that their muskets might be charged with damp gunpowder and therefore unreliable, ordered his men to fire and reload.
Scouts from Alasdair MacDonald’s Irish soldiers heard the discharges. His soldiers attacked immediately only to find themselves in a bog and in trouble.
The Gordon cavalry arrived at that point and aided them, followed by Montrose and the infantry. Completely surrounded, half of Hurry’s Covenanters were killed.