In the summer of 1411, Donald MacDonald, Lord of the Isles, and his army met with the forces led by Alexander Stewart, Earl of Mar, over the claims to the earldom of Ross. In 1402, When Alexander Leslie, Earl of Ross, died, his daughter, Euphemia Leslie, became heiress to the earldom and was placed under the wardship of her grandfather, Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany (1406-20). But Donald of the Isles had a strong claim to Ross through his marriage to Alexander Leslie’s sister, Mariota.
The ballad, however, corresponds to a later tradition that saw the Battle of Harlaw as a Highland/Lowland conflict reminiscent of Jacobite struggles. Instead of mentioning the death of Alexander Leslie and the conflict it triggered, the ballads rather emphasize the actions of the Lowland elite in curbing the threat of Highland aggression.