The History of Leith

February 7, 2012

The Siege of Edinburgh Castle-1688/89

On the 9th of April, 1688, William and Mary were proclaimed at the cross king and queen of Scotland, after an illegally constituted Convention of the Estates, which was attended by only thirty representatives, declared that King James had forfeited all title to the crown, thus making a vacancy. A great and sudden change now came over the realm. ” Men,” says Dr. Chambers, “who had been lately in danger of their lives for conscience* sake, or starving in foreign lands, were now at the head of affairs! The Earl of Melville, Secretary of State; Crawford, President of Parliament; Argyle, restored to title and lands, and a Privy Councillor; Dalrymple of Stair, Hume of Marchmont, Stewart of Goodtrees, and many other exiles, came back from Holland, to resume prominent positions in the public service at home; while the instruments of the late unhappy Government were either captives under suspicion, or living terror-struck at their country houses. Common people, who had been skulking in mosses from Claverhouse’s dragoons, were now marshalled into a regiment, and planted as a watch on the Perth and Forfar gentry. There were new figures in the Privy Council, and none of them ecclesiastical.
There was a wholly new set of senators on the bench of the Court of Session. It looked like a sudden shift of scenes in a pantomime rather than a series of ordinary occurrences.” For three days and nights Edinburgh was a wild scene of pillage and rapine. The palace was assailed, the chapel royal sacked; and the Duke of Gordon, on finding that the rabble, drunk and maddened by wine and spirits found in the cellars of cavalier families who had fled, were wantonly firing on his sentinels, drew up the drawbridge, to cut off all communication with the city; but finding that his soldiers were divided in their religious and political opinions, and that a revolt was impending, he called a council of officers to frustrate the attempt; and the Lieutenant-Governor, Colonel John Winram, of Liberton and the Inch House, Colonel of the Scots Foot Guards in 1683, undertook to watch the men, forty-four of whom it was deemed necessary to strip of.their uniforms and expel from the fortress. In their place came thirty Highlanders, on the1th of November, and soon after forty-five more, under Gordon of Midstrath.
By the Privy Council the Duke was requested, as a Roman Catholic, to surrender his command to the next senior Protestant officer; but he declined, saying, ” I am bound only to obey King James VII.”
A few of’ the Life Guards and Greys, who had quitted the Scottish army on its revolt, now reached Edinburgh under the gallant Viscount Dundee, and their presence served to support the spirits of the Royalists, but the friends of the Revolution brought in several companies of infantry, who were concealed in the suburbs, and 6,000 Cameronians
marched in from the west, under standards inscribed, ” For Reformation according to the Word of God,” below an open Bible. These men nobly rejected all remuneration, saying, with one voice, ” We have come to serve our country.”
Their presence led to other conspiracies in the garrison, and the Duke of Gordon had rather a harassing time of it.
The friends of William of Orange having formed a plan for the assassination of Dundee and Sir George Mackenzie of Rosehaugh, compelled them and all loyalists to quit the city. ” At the head of his forlorn band, consisting of sixty cavalier troopers—Guardsmenand Greys mingled—Dundee, the idol of his party, quitted Edinburgh by the Leith Wynd Port; and, through a telescope, the Duke of Gordon watched them as they wound past the venerable church of, the Holy Trinity, among the cottages and gardens of Moutries Hill, and as they rode westward by the Lang Gate, a solitary
roadway bordered by fields and farmhouses.” According to Balcarres this was on the i8th of March, 1689, and as Gordon wished to confer with the viscount, the latter, on seeing a red flag waved at the western postern, rode down the Kirk Brae, and, quitting his horse, all heavily accoutred as he was, climbed the steep rock to hold that conference
of which so little was ever known. He is said to have advised the duke to leave the Castle in charge of Winram, on whom they could depend, and seek their fortunes together among the loyal clans in the north. But the duke declined, adding, ” Whither go you ? ” ” Wherever the shade of Montrose may direct me,” was the pensive and poetical reply, and then they parted to meet no more. But the moment Dundee was gone the drums of the Cameronians beat to arms, and they came swarming out of their places of concealment, mustering for immediate action, while, in the name of the Estates, the Earls of Tweeddale and Lothian appeared at the gate of the fortress, requesting the duke to surrender it within four-and-twenty hours, and daringly offering a year’s pay to every soldier who would desert him. “My lords,” said he, “without the express orders of my royal master, James VII., I cannot surrender this castle.”
By the heralds and pursuivants the Duke of Gordon was now, as the only alternative, declared a traitor. He tossed them some guineas to drink the health of James VII., adding, with a laugh, ” I would advise you not to proclaim men traitors who wear the king’s coat till they have turned it.” Under the highest penalties, all persons were now forbidden to correspond with him or his garrison, and the Earl of Leven was ordered to blockade the rock with his Cameronians, to whom were added 300 Highlanders under Argyle. and the 26th, or Cameronians, whose appointments bear the five-pointed mullet—the arms of their first colonel; while three battalions of the Scots Brigade, from Holland, were on their march, under Lieutenant-General Hugh Mackay of Scoury, to press the siege. Daily matters looked darker and darker for the gallant Gordon, for now seventy-four rank and file demanded their discharges, and were, like their predecessors, stripped and expelled,
The gates were then barricaded, and preparations made for resistance to the last; but though Sir James Grant of Dalvey (formerly King’s Advocate), and Gordon of Edintore, contrived to throw in a supply of provisions, the duke wrote King James that he could not hold out beyond the month of June unless relieved. The entire strength of the garrison, including officers and gentlemen-volunteers, was only eighty-six men,) had to work twenty-two pieces of cannon (exclusive of field-pieces) ranging from 4 2 to 12-pounders. They had no doctor, no engineer, no money,
and only thirty barrels of powder in actual quantity. It was truly a desperate hazard ! By the i8th the entire rock was fully and hopelessly invested by the Earl of Leven, a Brandenburg colonel, who displayed a great want of skill; and on the following night the battlements were blazing with bonfires and tar barrels in honour of King James’ arrival in Ireland, of which tidings had
probably been given by Grant of Dalvey. On the 25th came Mackay, with the three battalions of the Scots Brigade, each consisting of twelve companies, all splendidly-trained soldiers, a brigade of guns, and a great quantity of woolpacks with which to form breastworks. All within the Castle who had gun-shot wounds suffered greatly from the want of medical attendance, till the duke’s family physician contrived to join him, probably by the postern.
On the 13th of March he heavily cannonaded the western entrenchments, and by dint of shot and shell retarded the working parties; but General Mackay now formed a battery of i8-pounders, at the Highriggs, opposed to the royal lodging and the half-moon. On the 3rd of April the Duke discovered that the house of Coates, the ancient seat of the Byres of that ilk, was full of soldiers ; he cannonaded it from the present mortar battery, and did great execution. On the 1st of April a parley was asked by beat of drum, during the funeral of Sir George Lockhart, who had been assassinated by Chiesley of Dairy, and whose remains were laid in the Greyfriars’ churchyard.
Fresh troops now came in, under Lieutenant- enerals Sir John Lanier and James Douglas of Queenbury.
Among these (according to the records of the 4th Hussars) were the Royal Scots Grey Qragoons, Colchester’s Cuirassiers (now 3rd Dragoon Guards;, and the Prince Anne of Denmark’s Dragoons (now 4th Hussars), and to resist longer seemed more than ever madness rather than chivalry.
A new battery was formed where the Register House stands now. another of mortars in rear of Heriot’s Hospital. A breach was effected in the western wall, but the steepness of the rock rendered
an assault impossible. Many bombs fell into the Portsburgh, greatly to the terror of denizens there, who found themselves between a cross fire. On the 2ist sixteen bombs exploded in the Castle, and
one blew up the stone steps of the chapel. At this time snow was falling heavily till it was two feet deep ; and it was industriously saved by the garrison for water. By the 22nd every building in the place was roofless, yet the now tattered and half-clad soldiers stood manfully to their guns day and night, till worn with toil and hunger, the gallant duke, though sinking with fever, keeping their enthusiasm alive. At this crisis he beat a parley, asking medical aid for the wife of a soldier who was taken in labour, and, with singular inhumanity, it was
refused. On the 3ist Sir John Lanier began to entrench himself under the half-moon, though sorely impeded by musketry, and four days after the besiegers opened with showers of hand-grenades from their mortar batteries. Colonel Winram proposed a sally, to which the duke objected. John Grant, a volunteer, daringly went out in the night to discover if there was any hope of relief, and two days after he signalled from the Lang Gate, ” None !” ”
There were scarcely men left now to relieve the guards, and still less to man the breaches ; and those who were most effective were on sentinel duty
from ten at night till three in the morning. The wells now were completely dried up, and for ” ten consecutive days this handful of brave fellows, environed as they were by a regular British army,
subsisted on dry bread and salt herrings, eaten raw, for they were now without other food. Their ammunition was nearly expended, and the duke, despairing of relief from King James in Ireland,
beat a parley.” Attired in his full uniform as a Scottish officer of James VII, and wearing the order of the Thistle, the duke conferred with Major Somerville at the edge of the fosse; but their interview ended in nothing, so the bitter cannonade began again.
That night, about twelve o’clock, a strong column of infantry crept up the north side of the Castle Hill, till a sharp fire from the tete-dn-pont drove it down to the margin of the loch; but next morning it fairly effected a lodgment across the esplanade, under cover of the woolpacks. There were only nineteen men in the t’ete-du-pont at this time, yet their fire proved very destructive, and all the while they were chorusing loudly,
“The kng shall enjoy his ain again.”
For nearly four-and-twenty hours on both sides the fire was maintained with fury, but slackened about daybreak. ” In the Castle only one man was killed—a gunner, whom a cannon ball had cut in two, through a gun-port, but many were weltering in their blood behind the woolpacks and in the trenches, where the number of slain amounted to 500 men.” This enumeration probably includes wounded.
On the 13th of June the duke pulled down the king’s flag, and hoisted a white one, surrendering, on terms, by which it was stipulated that the soldiers should have their full liberty, and Colonel
Winram have security for his life and estates; while Major Somerville, at the head of 200 bayonets, took all the posts, except the citadel.
The duke drew up his forlorn band, now reduced to fifty officers and men, in the ruined Grand Parade, and thanking them for their loyal services, gave each a small sum to convey him home; and as hands were shaken all round, many men wept, and so ended the siege. Though emaciated by long toil, starvation, and gangrened wounds, the luckless soldiers were cruelly treated by the rabble of the city. The capitulation was violated; Colonel Winram was seized as a prisoner of war, and the duke was placed under close arrest in his own house, in Blair’s Close, but was released on giving his parole not to serve against William of Orange. He died in the year 1716, at his residence in the citadel of Leith.

source-Old and New Edinburgh

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