Siege of Fort William

The siege of Fort William began on the 20th of March, 1746. The Jacobites, having just captured the more northerly Fort Augustus after a two-day siege, were eager to expand their territories. The Government leader, the Duke of Cumberland, declared Fort William to be “the only fort in the Highlands that is of any consequence”, and shortly before the siege the fort’s aging governor was replaced with a man Cumberland thought more equal to defending it. This preparation, combined with the superior strength of Fort William, meant that the siege ended up lasting for two weeks before the Jacobites abandoned it.

Fort William’s new governor, Captain Caroline Scott, belonged to Guise’s 6th. This regiment helped to make up a 400-strong garrison, which also included the Argyll Militia. Meanwhile the Jacobite side was made up of Lochiel, Appin and Keppoch’s clansmen, the French regulars and was headed by Lieutenant Colonel Stapleton. These were the same men who had laid siege to Fort Augustus not long ago.

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Donald Cameron of Lochiel

Fort William was better built than Fort Augustus to withstand a siege with its location along Loch Ness making it easier to combat attacks. The previous month, the Government troops had begun to demolish Maryburgh, a nearby town, in order to clear the line of fire towards approaching enemies. Within the fort the armament was made up of enough 12-pounder cannon, 6-pounders, coehorns, 13-inch mortars and smaller pieces that Captain Scott believed that, with a suitable amount of ammunition, withstanding a siege was achievable.

The Jacobites, on the other hand, were disadvantaged in that, though they had some munitions, they lacked enough strong horses to carry heavy guns from Inverness. This, combined with bad weather and an interception on the road, meant that the Jacobites did not have as much good quality arms as they had originally hoped for when they planned their attack.

Nevertheless on the 20th March 1746 they opened fire against Fort William. Armed with cannon and 6-inch mortars, the Jacobites fired using old nails, grapeshot, cold roundshot and scalding lengths of notched iron as missiles. The notched iron was aimed to lodge in timbers. Over the course of the siege it was noted that the Jacobites made the roof of the fort “exceedingly damaged”, but failed to have that much of an effect on its walls. From the loch the Government side was assisted by sloops travelling along Loch Linnhe and with their stores of ammunition they kept the Jacobites at bay.

As March turned into April, the attacks began to lessen. The siege had been raging for two weeks and the Jacobites were no closer to achieving their goal. On the 3rd April the siege was officially abandoned. The Jacobites headed back to join the main army with Prince Charles who was keen to have as many men as possible united and ready to fight the Duke of Cumberland who was bust training his troops in Aberdeen.

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All the best, The Culloden Team

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Jacobite Plots

In 1688, William of Orange invaded England and successfully overthrew James VII of Scotland and II of England and Ireland. The following year, William and his wife Mary were crowned joint sovereigns. The deposition of James lead to the formation of the Jacobite cause (Jacobus being Latin for James). In the 1690s, the Jacobites’ frustration presented itself in the form of several plots to get William off the throne and James, who to them had always been the rightful King, back on it. There were three main plots: the Ailesbury plot, the Fenwick plot and the Assassination plot of 1696.

The Ailesbury plot was planned over the winter of 1691-2. Those involved were mostly peers and gentlemen based in the south of England. The Earl of Ailesbury was an active participant, but the idea itself came from James’s Secretary of State: the Earl of Melfort. The plan was for a French fleet to deliver an army, led by James, to England; the conspirators would raise their tenants to join James and the French to fight to overthrow William and Mary.

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William and Mary

However, the Government soon got word of this plan and sent out people to round up the main plotters whilst arranging ships along the English coast in anticipation of the French. Bad weather kept the French from crossing the Channel, and in May the Anglo-Dutch fleet defeated the French in Normandy at the Battles of Barfleur and La Hogue. The plot was ended before it had truly begun but questions over who had been involved and how far they could have got aroused paranoia and panic on the British Isles.

In 1694 Mary, who had a better claim to the throne than her husband, died childless. The Jacobites still felt anger that William sat on the throne while James and his son lived in exile. The massacre at Glencoe had increased people’s distrust of William, for it was unclear how much involvement he had had in the brutal event.

The following year John Fenwick, the head of a number of Jacobites, led the Fenwick plot. He aimed to secure a port on the south coast of England so that a French army could arrive safely and march with him and his associates to London so they could capture William. It was a dangerous venture, and soon the plan was at a standstill; Fenwick did not want to risk seizing the port until the French had set sail, and the French did not want to set sail until they were sure had Fenwick had secured the port for them. They were stuck in a stalemate.

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James VII & II

All was not lost though as from the Fenwick plot sprang the Assassination plot of 1696.  This plan, organised by Sir George Barclay, was to attack William while he was out in his coach. Once again though word got out of Jacobites meeting and the plot was foiled when one of the men, Thomas Prendergast, revealed everything to the Government. The conspirators of both the Fenwick plot and the Assassination plot were searched for. Later, when questioned, the Jacobites caught insisted that they had only intended to kidnap William, but informers declared that murder had been central in their plan. They met varied ends, with some being executed or imprisoned, and some managing to escape. Of the two men conspirators Barclay managed to escape to France, while Fenwick was eventually executed.

These plots, rather than helping to achieve the ultimate goal actually hurt the Jacobite cause. Many who had before felt apathetic about the situation now felt sympathy towards William. Several of the most prominent Jacobites were now dead, in hiding or intimidated into inactivity.

We hope you enjoyed this post. As always please like, share, comment and tweet.

All the best, The Culloden Team