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.

lochiel
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.

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

All the best, The Culloden Team

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The Last House Besieged in Britain

270 years ago on 17th March 1746 an assault began on Blair Castle that would make it the last house to be besieged in Great Britain.

Blair Castle has been around, in one form or another, since 1269 and is the ancestral home of Clan Murray and historically the seat of their chief, the Duke of Atholl. It began as a medieval tower that was continually extended over the years. In the 1740’s it was transformed into a stylish home losing its turrets and castellations.

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Blair Castle as it looks today

During the first Jacobite Rising in 1689 the Duke of Atholl remained loyal to the government, despite two of his sons joining the Jacobites. However, the castle itself was taken by the Jacobites and it is said the Battle of Killiecrankie was fought because Viscount Dundee did not want to retreat and surrender the castle. Indeed, the Jacobites, led by  Dundee held a council of war in the castle on the eve of the battle. After the battle, Blair Castle remained in Jacobite hands for some time.

In the 1715 Rising, the house was again divided. The 1st Duke and his second son, James, supported the government, while his eldest and youngest sons, William and George, followed the Jacobites. When the Rising failed, William was stripped of his title and lands and exiled to France. In his absence, James became 2nd Duke on their father’s death in 1724.

During the 1745 Rising Prince Charles Edward Stuart stayed in the castle on two occasions. The first in September 1745 and then again in February 1746. It was after this though that the Jacobites abandoned the castle leaving it open for Government forces to occupy.

On 17th March 1746 Lord George Murray returned with the Atholl Brigade to begin the siege on his family home and put it back in Jacobite hands. George Murray was the brother of the current Duke of Atholl, James Murray so it was very much a family affair with one supporting Prince Charles and the other the government. It is said when Lord George arrived at Blair he had ‘pipes playing and colours flying’.

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Lord George Murray

The Jacobites managed to surprise the government outposts surrounding the castle and by the afternoon of the 17th terms of surrender were issued to Andrew Agnew, the commander of the government forces holding Blair Castle. Interestingly no one in the Jacobite army was found willing to deliver the summons so it was actually given to Molly of Blair Inn who gave it to a young officer of her acquaintance. He then passed it to Agnew. The Jacobites demanded the castle, garrison, military stores and provisions all be given over into the hands of Lord George Murray; the surrender was refused.

On 18th March the Jacobite opened fire with the first shot said to have been fired by Lady Lude whose nearby house had previously been plundered by the garrison. Unfortunately Lord George Murray was unable to make true headway in his attack on the castle. Equipped with only a couple of small field pieces he couldn’t dent the seven feet thick walls of the castle. After discussing various options Lord George Murray decided the best plan would be to starve the men out as they were low on provisions.

Finally after repeated demands from Prince Charles to return to Inverness in preparation of the approaching Government army Lord George Murray raised the siege on 31st March. The main body of Jacobites left to rejoin Prince Charles and Blair Castle remained in Government hands.

We hope you enjoyed the story of Blair Castle and as always please tweet, comment, like, share and why not visit Blair Castle yourself one day.

All the best, K & D.