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The 1689 Siege Of Derry

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The Northern Irish city of Londonderry, known to the world as Derry, is famous for the siege of 1689. To understand the siege, it is important to know the causes of the conflict, and those who played a part in it.


The year 1685 saw many changes in western Europe. In England, James II became the first Catholic monarch since Mary I1. As soon as he came to the throne, Catholic reforms began in the three kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland.

The first to be affected was the army; James had to ensure his men were in control. Catholic officers loyal to King James started to replace Protestant commanders. Whole regiments were replaced or re-stationed to ensure strategic positions were secure.

Protestants in Europe were also having problems. France was led by King Louis XIV, who at the time had just suspended the Treaty of Nantes. This was an important treaty that granted religious freedom to all, and vital to the Protestant Reformed Church of France, whose members were known as Huguenots.

It was at this time that the War of the League of Augsburg began. The war started when France commenced active expansion of its territories into the lands of its Protestant neighbours2. The League was formed by Emperor Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Hungary, to resist France; it was an association of the countries affected by French expansion. One of leaders of the League was William Henry Nassau, Prince of Orange and one of the heirs to the throne of the Netherlands. The League's member states were:

Austria, Bavaria, Brandenburg, the Dutch Republic, the Holy Roman Empire, the Palatinate, Portugal, Savoy, Saxony, Spain, Sweden, and the United Provinces, the seven united provinces of the Netherlands.

Ireland was also undergoing the same radical changes. Richard Talbot, the Earl of Tyrconnell, was dismissing prominent Protestant officers in control of key strong points in the kingdom and replacing them with Catholic officers. This was resisted most strongly in the province of Ulster, as it contained the greatest proportion of Protestant settlers of Scottish and English origin.

In June, 1688, a watershed was breached when James II had a son, James Francis Edward Stuart3, by his second wife, Mary of Modena. A Catholic succession had now been established and James' Protestant heir, Princess Mary (now 23 years old), by his first wife, Lady Anne Hyde4, was relegated to second-in-line. While they were content to wait for Protestant Mary to eventually succeed her father James II and become Queen after his death, the Protestant nobility were not prepared to allow the new prince James Francis Edward to succeed and establish a lasting Catholic dynasty in Britain.

James' problems multiplied in June, 1688 when seven prominent members of the nobility started a conspiracy to replace him. They were concerned that his reforms were damaging religious freedoms in Britain and shifting the power base in favour of the Catholics. These nobles were:

  • The Earl of Danby
  • The Earl of Shrewsbury
  • The Earl of Devonshire
  • The Viscount Lumley
  • The Bishop of London (Henry Compton)
  • Edward Russell
  • Henry Sydney

These nobles set out to rid the country of 'the tyrant race of Stuarts'. All was set in motion at Chesterfield in Derbyshire. The conspirators wrote to William Prince of Orange and offered him and his wife Mary, who had married William on 4 November, 1677, the throne; both were the grandchildren of Charles I. The letter was delivered to The Hague in July, 1688 by Rear Admiral Arthur Herbert. It was hoped this would establish a stable Protestant monarchy. William and Mary accepted the throne, and in November, 1688, William sailed to England. He landed in Brixham, Devon, with an army of 15,000 men.

When William landed, the Protestant officers 5 who had remained in James' army defected, and the troops refused to obey the orders of the remaining Catholic officers. What support James had left in England evaporated, so he had no choice but to negotiate. This failed. On 11 December, James attempted to flee the country, but failed. He was arrested on the Kent coast and returned to London. Then on 23 December, James tried again and succeeded, and finally reached France.

He appealed to King Louis XIV of France to assist him in his efforts to regain the throne. As France was at war with William and Mary, support for James would be a natural extension to the war, dividing the enemy's resources.

William's invasion was a success. He took the country without fighting, and on 13 February, 1689 parliament declared that the throne was vacant and William and Mary were appointed as sovereigns. They were crowned on 11 April, 1689.

An Act of Defiance

Although James was pre-occupied with raising an army at this time, his appointed viceroy in Ireland, Richard Talbot, the Earl of Tyrconnell, was still actively carrying out the king's orders. One of the many instructions he was given was to replace the garrisons in the cities of Enniskillen and Londonderry with more reliable men. Tyrconnell issued orders to Alexander MacDonnell, the Earl of Antrim, to replace Mountjoy's regiment and take command of Londonderry. He recruited a regiment of 1,200 men, known as the 'Redshanks', and marched for Londonderry in late November. The population of the city were horrified when the news broke, as they were fearful of a repeat of the 1641 massacres of Portadown and Tully Castle.

The city's governor at the time was Lieutenant Colonel Robert Lundy; he had been appointed by James and had his position confirmed by William.

To add to the fears of the citizens, a letter that appeared to confirm their worst fears was found in Comber. It told of plans to stage a massacre on 9 December, and that

Irishmen through Ireland is sworn, that on the ninth day of this month they are to fall on, to kill and murder, man, wife, and child.
The letter's author was never recorded, but it did cite the events of 1641.

Surviving records show that on 7 December, 1688, when the Earl of Antrim and his men approached the city, the garrison had received no clear orders from Governor Lundy, whose immediate actions had been to delay preparations for battle. A story has evolved that 13 apprentice boys took the initiative and closed and locked the gates. It is not clear who they were; however, the names of apprentices have been recorded as:

  • Mr William Cairnes
  • Mr Henry Campsie
  • Mr John Coningham
  • Mr William Crookshanks
  • Mr Alexander Cunningham
  • Mr Samuel Harvy
  • Mr Samuel Hunt
  • Mr Alexander Irwin
  • Mr Robert Morison
  • Mr Daniel Sherrard
  • Mr Robert Sherrard
  • Mr James Spike
  • Mr James Steward

It appears that they may not, however, have been apprentice boys, but a group of middle-class young men.

The shout of 'no surrender' was given from the city walls, and has become the Protestant watchword of the city since that day.

Still, the siege6 did not start here. The Earl of Tyrconnell, upon receiving dispatches conveying the news, sent another force. These troops were more neutral and were allowed to enter the city. It is not clear, but it is likely that the population of Londonderry increased from 2,000 to over 7,0007 as the Protestant population living outside the walls sought shelter within.

March 1689

On 12 March, 1689, James arrived in Ireland to reclaim the throne. He landed his army of 6,000 French soldiers at Kinsale. James first took Dublin, where he was welcomed and men joined his army. He now had an army of French Royalists and loyal Irishmen, both Protestant and Catholic. Placing Tyrconell in charge of Dublin, James headed north to Londonderry, travelling via Charlemont to Omagh. It was after he left Omagh that James received correspondence from Governor Lundy offering him the city of Londonderry. James set out for Londonderry, where he would arrive with his army on 18 April.

April 1689 - The Siege of Londonderry Begins

When news of the approach of the Jacobite army reached the city, Governor Lundy held a meeting of his officers and advocated the surrender of the city. On 14 April, he had turned away reinforcements led by Colonel Cunningham when they arrived in the River Foyle, stating that the city was to be surrendered. When news of his plan to surrender was discovered, he lost control of the city and was forced to escape in disguise; he made his way to Scotland.

The defence of the city was left in the hands of Major Henry Baker, Major the Rev. George Walker and Colonel Adam Murray. The rallying cry of the Rev. Walker was 'no surrender'; the citizens supported the new commanders and prepared to defend the city.

On 15 April, James received a letter from Governor Lundy disclosing the state of the city, and further one stating the city would surrender as soon as the garrison discovered he was leading the army. This was not the case, and as James approached the city there was some gunfire, causing the Jacobites8 to fall back. After this, James, persuaded by his French advisers, left for Dublin, leaving General Maumont in command, with General Richard Hamilton as second-in-command and Lieutenant-General Pusignan as senior officer.

On 18 April, 1689, the Jacobite forces laid siege to the city of Londonderry. The besiegers were unable to take the city by storm, as they lacked the numbers or equipment to do so. Therefore it was decided to attempt to starve the city into submission. The besiegers started harrying the defences with cannon and mortar fire. Little damage was done to the walls. However, the roofs of some buildings were soon damaged and fires broke out. Attempts to control the fires were hampered by falling masonry as upper floors and chimneys collapsed, injuring some of the civilian population. Dead and injured littered the street, but the resolve of the defenders held.

Things went on like this until 21 April when the defenders decided to strike back. Murray led a force to the north of the city in the direction of Pennyburn and attacked the besiegers' lines with such ferocity that a savage skirmish ensued. General Maumont led a troop of cavalry to engage the skirmishers, but most of the cavalry was lost when they were ambushed by Murray's musketeers. General Maumont was shot in the head and died on the field.

The fight raged on for some time. The besiegers lost several more officers and 200 men before they pushed Murray and his men back into the city. Murray himself was lucky to survive. His horse was killed, and if George Walker had not come to his aid he would have been taken or killed.

May 1689

General Richard Hamilton took command of the Jacobite army after the death of General Maumont. He was a good enough soldier, but his lack of experience would prolong the siege. General Pusignan was more capable and had experience in siege warfare. However, he was a victim of the second sally that took place on 6 May. Early on that day, the garrison attacked the besiegers' lines and took the Jacobites by surprise. Many of the defenders were killed; General Pusignan was shot in the stomach while fighting to hold the line. The defenders fell back into Londonderry with several captured flags as trophies.

The wounded General Pusignan was taken to the Jacobite camp. Owing to the lack of a surgeon, a messenger was dispatched to Dublin to summon one. General Pusignan passed away complaining about the 'ignorance and negligence' to be found among the Jacobites and Ireland in general. As communications were so slow, the doctor arrived just after the funeral. (The event led to the establishment of a daily courier between Londonderry and Dublin.)

It was at this time that it was decided to attempt to undermine the walls. A bastion was chosen and work commenced on a tunnel to the base of it. This mine would be used in the attack of 28 June.

The Windmill Hill Fight

Half a mile to the south-west of Londonderry there is a prominence called 'Windmill Hill'. This was held by a small garrison of defenders.

It was perceived by Hamilton as a key point, as it overlooked a redoubt that protected the southern side of the city. Late on 5 May, he dispatched a force of 3,000 men to take the hill. They approached under the cover of darkness, and after a minor skirmish took possession of the hill.

The following day, a force of 1,000 defenders attacked the hill. After a brisk skirmish, they retook the hill and drove the Jacobite forces back to their lines. Murray, seeing the weakness of his position, responded by building a line of fortifications from Windmill Hill to the boggy ground to the north-west, and from the south-east of Windmill Hill to the Foyle. This strengthened the western defences of the city considerably.

May brought no further military action. The Jacobites were now at a low ebb; the wet weather of that spring caused disease and discomfort in the camp. The fate of General Pusignan had proved there was virtually no medical service, making matters worse. In the city things were also deteriorating; disagreements between the officers as to the next move started to occur. The civilian population were becoming desperate as food was short, and the water supply was now erratic and often polluted.

June 1689 - The Second Windmill Hill Fight

By this time, James was getting impatient to have this siege finished, and dispatched orders to Hamilton to storm the city. There were to be no half measures; James sent word that the full force of the Jacobite army was to be used in the storming of the city. So on 4 June, 84 days after the start of the siege, the besiegers arranged their forces on the high ground near the Bogside. It must have been a daunting sight for the defenders: 10,000 men; 15 companies on horses and 12 on foot stood ready to attack the city.

Fortunately for the defenders, the Jacobite army was flawed. Hamilton had wanted a night assault; however, his troops were so poorly prepared and trained that a night attack would have been a disaster. Hamilton trusted he could control the battle and his forces in daylight and through weight of numbers would carry the day.

Hamilton launched his assault simultaneously from the east and west. The eastern force, which included the companies on horse led by Colonel Butler, came along the river. The western force crossed the marshy ground and up the bank towards the city walls.

The Western Force

The western force initially drove the defenders back into the city. Colonel Baker was prepared and ordered his reserve force into the breach. The defenders' cannons, loaded with case shot9, caused many casualties in the attacking force and it slowed to a halt, then fell back in some disorder.

The Eastern Force

Colonel Butler and the eastern force fared little better. He led his force into the breach, with the horses jumping the defences. The assault soon failed, as the horses were cut down, and only three of the first wave survived to retreat. This force retreated along the line of its advance, taking musket fire from the walls as it fell back.

The attack was a resounding defeat for the Jacobite forces: more than 420 killed, 150 wounded and over 100 men captured; the weapons taken were issued to the defenders, too. The whole city resisted the attack, as women loaded muskets and boys carried munitions. The horses that were killed in action also fed the defenders for a short time; they had been reduced to eating corpse-fattened rats by this stage.

Within a week of the battle, a look-out on the north-eastern wall saw four English ships led by HMS Dartmouth sailing into the Foyle. It was the relief force of 2,000 seasoned troops sent out at the beginning of June under the command of Major General Percy Kirke. Unable to pass the defensive boom10 placed across the river by the Jacobite forces, Major General Kirke disembarked to the north of the city and set up camp. He sent out couriers to attempt to make contact with the city. Eventually contact was established and the message General Kirke received told of imminent starvation.

On 28 June the mine was ready and Jacobite forces launched an attack. Two cannons fired on Butchers gate and the mine at Gunners Bastion was fired. In the fierce fight that followed the defenders managed to force the Jacobites back. This was the last serious attempt to breech the walls of the city.

July 1689 - The Last Effort

After the failure of 4 June, and spurred on by the appearance of General Kirke's troops, Hamilton prepared to offer the city terms of surrender with very favourable conditions for the defenders. Just prior to opening negotiations, General Conrad de Rosen arrived with orders from James to take the town. General Rosen decided he would force the issue. Knowing the defenders were starving, he herded some Irish civilians into the area between the opposing sides. He then issued an ultimatum: take them into the city or watch them starve. The defenders were made of sterner stuff. A gallows was erected and prisoners brought out. The defenders in turn issued an ultimatum: let those civilians go or watch the prisoners hang. General Rosen very rapidly changed his mind and the civilians were soon allowed to go.

Major General Percy Kirke decided to attempt to relieve the city. He had the troops re-embark and sailed around the coast and into Lough Swilly. He disembarked his troops and set up camp near Burnfoot. This now put him in a position to attack Hamilton and the Jacobite army from the rear.

James, in danger of losing the city, saw the danger of the situation and told Hamilton to open surrender talks and offer terms so generous the city would be forced to accept. The talks went on for days. Meanwhile, the position of the Jacobite army became worse when smallpox broke out in the camp.

General Kirke stayed put in his camp waiting for orders. On 16 July, his orders arrived: he was to re-embark and return to the River Foyle; there he was to force the boom and enter Londonderry. On 25 July, General Kirke's force was ready, and awaited the naval assault on the boom.

On 28 July, the merchant ship Mountjoy, supported by HMS Dartmouth under the command of Captain John Leake, ran the boom. The Mountjoy, commanded by Capt Browning, was damaged, and was run aground to prevent it from sinking. Capt Browning was killed on deck during the assault. A second ship, the Phoenix, followed by the Jerusalem, passed the boom and ran the Jacobite guns with little damage, as the crews were reported to be drunk, and made it through to the city with a cargo of food.

August 1689

After the boom was forced, the Jacobite army, realising it was defeated, withdrew from the city on 1 August 1689, and after 105 days the siege was broken. The cost of the siege was high: 11,600 soldiers died; while 3,500 of the city's population also perished, from pestilence, starvation and military action. The Jacobite losses were highest, at 8,000; the defenders lost 3,600. There are still many captured French and Jacobite standards in Derry Cathedral to bear witness to the savage fighting.

The city of Londonderry is now famous as the location of one of the longest sieges in Irish history. Derry is also called The Maiden City, because her defences were never breached. Each year celebrations are held to mark the closing of the gates, and the relief of the city.

Derry and the Legacy of the Siege

The name Derry comes from the Irish Doire Calgach or the Oak Grove of Calgach - a pre-Christian chieftain who had a stronghold in the area. The name was later altered to Doire Colmcille after St Columb. In the following years, Doire became Derry. The name Londonderry comes from the prefix added in 1610 by The Honourable The Irish Society of London, a group of London livery companies, to commemorate the society's connection with the city.

Of all the cannons used in the siege of 1689, the most famous was Roaring Meg. Marked with the guild name and date 'Fishmongers London 1642', it was one of 24 cannons sent from London for the defence of the city. The cannon was given the name because of the loud noise it made when fired.

The siege holds a place of huge significance within the Ulster Protestant psyche. It has added to its vocabulary, with the cry of 'No surrender' becoming a slogan that is still used by some unionist politicians and served as inspiration down the centuries. The Apprentice Boys Association was established after the siege, and is still active today. Parades are held in December to remember the closing of the gates, and an effigy of Lundy, portrayed as a traitor, is burned. Parades marking the relief of Derry have in recent years become a more inclusive week-long Maiden City festival, evolving into a more multi-cultural event with additional diverse musical events.

Derry's walls are some of the best preserved in Europe, and a unique visitor attraction. They were built to protect the city during the rebellions of the early 17th century - and to fulfil an obligation to protect the city in return for land grants as set out in a charter granted by James I. The charter was granted to The Honourable The Irish Society. The task of construction was given to Peter Benson. He was to build the walls to the design of Sir Edward Doddington of Dungiven. The work started in 1614, and the 1.5km city wall was completed in 1619.

The walls have an average thickness of five metres and completely enclose the city, which is protected by the River Foyle from Cowards bastion in the north, to the Ferry Quay gate in the south-east. In addition to the Ferry Quay gate, there are Bishops gate to the south-west, Butcher gate to the north-west and Shipquay gate to the north-east.

The defences were put to the test when the city was besieged three times in 1641 and 1649, and finally in the famous siege of 1689. Please note that the other gates were added in the years after the 1689 siege: New Gate in 1789, Castle Gate in 1803 and Magazine Gate in 1865.

The many other things of interest in and around the city include St Columb's Cathedral, erected from 1628 - 1633 and serving as a shelter during the siege. The cathedral has a plaque and memorial stained glass window, and within the grounds is the siege heroes' mound, which was once a tomb housing the remains of the 13 apprentice boys.

There is also a memorial garden at the spot where once stood an 80-foot high pillar topped by a statue of Governor George Walker, one hand stretched out to where the river boom had been. Inside the pillar were 105 steps of a spiral staircase, to mark the 105 days of the siege. The monument was destroyed by a bomb in 1973.

1Reigning from 19 July, 1553 to 17 November, 1558, she restored Roman Catholicism to England.2Holland, Spain, Savoy, Lorraine and The Dutch Republic.3As James II and Mary of Modena were firm Catholics, the new prince would be brought up as one. The child was later to become known as the 'Old Pretender'. He, and later his son, (the 'Young Pretender') Charles Stewart or Bonnie Prince Charlie, were to attempt to retake the throne for nearly 30 years.4While James II was still The Duke of York, he and his first wife, Lady Anne Hyde (who died on 31 March, 1671), had two children: Mary, born 30 April, 1662, at St. James' Palace, London (she later married William Prince of Orange and became Mary II), and Anne, born 6 February, 1665 (later Queen Anne). Lady Anne, who was a Protestant, became a Catholic after the birth of Mary and Anne; however, they were brought up as Protestants by their relatives.5One of which was John Churchill, later Duke of Marlborough.6A siege starts when a force surrounding a city prevents all access to men and supplies entering or leaving it.7Some estimates put the population of Derry at the start of the siege as high as 30,000.8A Jacobite was a supporter of the Stewart kings and their return to the throne of England.9Canvas bags filled with musket balls, stones, flint or even scrap metal. These burst when fired and cut down all of those within range.10This had been placed across the River Foyle near Culmore Fort at the start of the siege by the French Artillery commander Jean-Bernard Desjeans, Sieur de Pointis.

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