The 71st were raised in 1777 by John Mackenzie Lord Macleod, (son of the Earl of Cromarty) as the 73rd (Highland) Regiment of Foot (MacLeod's Highlanders), having been raised and disbanded three times since 1758. The recently formed Regiment saw its first action in Gambia, West Africa and during the Mysore War in India. In 1786 the Regiment was re-designated as the 71st (Highland) Regiment of Foot (MacLeod's Highlanders). The Regiment remained in India and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) until 1795 fighting at the Battle of Pondicherry.
After 1809 the Regiment was refitted as a Light Infantry unit and renamed as 71st (Highland) Regiment of Foot (Light Infantry). Light Infantry provide a skirmishing screen ahead of the main body of infantry in order to delay the enemy advance. The Regiment was dispatched to South America in 1806 on the disastrous expedition to seize control of Buenos Aires and other Spanish colonies during the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815). The city was captured but the inhabitants rose against the small British force and took them prisoner.
The Regiment was reformed in 1808 and deployed to Portugal as part of General Moore’s army, acting as a rear guard action against Napoleon’s Army during the evacuation of Corunna which signalled the start of the Peninsular War (1808-1814). It was then deployed on the unsuccessful Walcheren Campaign before participating in the Battle of Waterloo (1815). The Regiment went on to serve in Canada, Bermuda, the West Indies and Corfu and during the Crimean War (1853–1856) fighting at the Siege of Sevastopol and the Kerch Expedition to Eastern Crimea. It also served in India during The Indian Rebellion of 1857 fighting on the North West Frontier at the Battle of Ambela.
The Regiment was amalgamated with the 74th Regiment of Foot in 1881 as part of the Childers Reforms which restructured the British army into a network of multi-battalion Regiments and became the Highland Light Infantry.