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 of Derry, it is important to know the reasons that caused 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, and as soon as James came to the throne, Catholic reforms within the three kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland, started. The first to be affected was the army. James had to ensure that his men were in control. Catholic officers loyal to King James started replacing Protestant commanders, and whole regiments were replaced or restationed to ensure strategic positions were secure.

Meanwhile, the Protestants in Europe were also having problems. France was led by King Louis XIV, who at this time had just suspended the treaty of Nantes. This was an important treaty that had granted religious freedom to all, and this was vital to the Protestant Reformed Church of France, who's members were known as Huguenots. At this time a war began, that became known as the war of the League of Augsburg. This started when France commenced an 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. This was an association of the countries affected by French expansion. One of leaders of this league was William Henry Nassau, Prince of Orange 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 Tryconnel, 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's 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 James II and establish a lasting Catholic dynasty in Britain.

James's 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 the religious freedom 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 William and Mary were the grandchildren of Charles I. The letter was delivered to The Hague in July, 1688, by Rear Admiral Arthur Herbert and 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 Brixhan, Devon with an army of 15,000 men.

When William landed, the Protestant officers 5 who had remained in James's 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 he 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. James 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 who had taken his throne, support for James would be a natural extension to the war, dividing the enemy resources.
The invasion of William 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 raising an army at this time, his appointed Viceroy in Ireland, Richard Talbot, the Earl of Tryconnel, was still actively carrying out the king's orders. One of the many instructions he was given was that he was to replace the garrisons in the cities of Enniskillen and Londonderry. They were to be replaced with more reliable men. Tryconnel issued orders to Alexander MacDonnell, the Earl of Antrim, that he was to replace Mountjoy's regiment and take command of Londonderry. He recruited a regiment of 1,200 men, the regiment 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 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 Earl of Antrim and his men approached the city, the garrison had received no clear orders from Governor Lundy who's immediate actions had been to delay preparations for battle. A story has evolved that the gates were closed by 13 apprentice boys who 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 who acted on their own initiative and closed the city gates, and shout of 'no surrender' was given from the city walls. The cry of no surrender has become the Protestant watchword of the city since that day.

Still, the siege6 did not start here. The Earl of Tryconnel, upon receiving dispatches conveying the news, sent another force. These troops, who were more neutral, 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 the city.

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. He first took Dublin where he was welcomed and men joined his army. Now with an army of French Royalists and loyal Irishmen both Protestant and Catholic. Placing Tyrconel in charge of Dublin, James headed north to Londonderry travelling via Charlemont to Omagh. It was after he left Omagh , 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 was left in the hands of Major Henry Baker, Major the Rev. George Walker and Colonel Adam Murray. The rallying cry of the Rev. George Walker was 'no surrender' the citizens supported the new commanders and prepared to defend the city.

On the 15 April, James received a letter from Governor Lundy disclosing the state of the city, and further 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 advisors 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 lay siege to the city of Londonderry. The besiegers were unable to take the city by storm as they lacked the numbers or the 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 of the 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. Some 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 some 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 but was a victim of the second sally that took place on 6 May. Early on that day, the garrison attacked the besiegers' lines, they 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, but 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 in the Jacobites and Ireland in general. As communications were so slow, the doctor arrived just after the funeral. This event led to the establishment of a daily courier between Londonderry and Dublin. It was at this time it was decided to attempt to undermine the walls. A bastion was chosen and work commenced on a tunnel to the base of the bastion. This mine would be used in the attack of the 28 June .

The Windmill Hill Fight

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

This was perceived as a key point by Hamilton, 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, they took possession of the hill.

The following day, a force of 1,000 defenders attacked the hill, and after a brisk skirmish, 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 northwest, and from the southeast 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 that there was virtually no medical service, and this just made matters worse. In the city things were 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 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 arrayed 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 the 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 they 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 they fell back.

The attack was a resounding defeat for the Jacobite forces: more than 420 killed and 150 wounded and over 100 men captured, the weapons taken were issued to the defenders. The whole city resisted the attack as women loaded muskets and boys carried munitions. One benefit that the Jacobites did not foresee was that the horses that were killed in the action fed the defenders for a short time, as thay had been reduced to eating corpse fattened rats by this stage.

Within a week of the battle, a lookout on the north-eastern wall saw four English ships led by HMS Dartmouth sailing into the river 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, General Kirke disembarked to the north of the city and set up camp. Major General Kirke sent out couriers to attempt contact with the city. Eventually contact was established and the message General Kirke received told of imminent starvation.

On the 28 June the mine was ready, and Jacobite forces launched an attack. Two cannon fried on Butchers gate and the mine at Gunners bastion was fired. In the fierce fight that followed the defenders managed to forced 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 to 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 that he would force the issue. Knowing that the defenders were starving, he herded some Irish civilians into the area between the opposing sides. He 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 were brought out. They 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 round 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 with the city and offer terms so generous they would be forced to accept. The talks went on for days, and the position of the Jacobite army became worse when smallpox broke out in the camp. Meanwhile, General Kirke stayed put in his camp, waiting for orders. On 16 July, General Kirke's 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 sinking, Capt Browning was killed on deck of Mountjoy the 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 that they were 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 had died, there were 3,500 of the city's population who also died from pestilence, starvation and military action. The Jacobite losses were highest at 8,000, the defenders lost 3,600, there are many captured French and Jacobite standards still 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 seiges 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 to commemorate the societies connection with the city.

Of all the cannon 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 cannon 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, the cry of "No Surrender" is a slogan 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 more recent years become a more inclusive week-long Maiden City festival, evolving into a more multi-cultural event with additional diverse musical events.

These are some of the best preserved city walls in Europe and are a unique visitor attraction. The walls of Derry 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 a group of London livery companies known as 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 city wall of 1.5km was completed in 1619.

The walls have an average thickness of 5 meters and completely enclose the city are were 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, the Castle Gate in 1803 and the Magazine Gate in 1865.

There many other things of interest in and around the city. St Columb's Cathedral erected 1628-33, and served as a shelter during the siege. The Cathedral has a plaque and a memorial stained glass window, and within the grounds there is the siege heroes mound, which was once the tomb of 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.

1Reigned from 19, July 1553, to 17, November 1558, she restored England to Roman Catholicism .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 a Catholic. 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 was Lady Anne Hyde (who died on 31 March 1671). had two children Mary born 30 April 1662, at St. James's 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 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 the city prevents all access to men and supplies entering or leaving the city.7Some estimates put the number of the population of Derry at the start of the siege as high as 30,000.8A Jacobite, is a supporter of the Stewart kings and the return of the Stuart kings 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 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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