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Prince Charles Edward Stuart
Blockade of Edinburgh Castle


For some days after the Highlanders resumed possession of Edinburgh, a sort of tacit understanding existed between the garrison and them, under which communication between the castle and the city continued open. A guard of Highlanders was posted at the Weigh-house, an old square building, which stood at the head of West Bow, at the distance of a few hundred yards from the fortress. This guard allowed provisions of every description to pass, particularly for the use of the officers; and matters might have remained for some time in the quiescent state, to the great comfort of the inhabitants, had not the garrison one night, most unaccountably fired off some cannon and small arms in the direction of the West Port. In consequence, it is believed, of this breach of the implied armistice, orders were given to the guards, on the 29th of September, to block up all avenues leading to the castle, and allow no person to pass. On being made aquainted with this order, General Guest sent a letter, in the evening, addressed to the Lord Provost, intimating, that unless the communication between the castle and the city was renewed, and the blockade removed, he would be obliged to dislodge the Highland guards with his cannon, and bombard the city. Nothing could be more unreasonable and absurd than this threat. Though willing, the citizens had it not in their power, either to keep up the communication with the castle, or to take off the blockade, and though they were as unable to remove the Highlanders from the city "as to remove the city itself out of its seat", or prevent them from acting as they pleased, yet the citizens would be the only sufferers in the event of a bombardment; for the Highlanders, if the city were destroyed, would only be obliged to change their quarters, and neither the destruction of the one, nor the removal of the other, could be of any service to the castle. These views were represented to the governor by a deputation from the city; but Guest remained inflexible, and pleaded in his justification a peremptory order, which he said he had received from the king himself, and which left him no discretion. At the earnest solicitation of the inhabitants, Guest was prevailed upon to grant a respite for one night. Next morning, six deputies waited on the prince, at the palace, with General Guest's letter, which was in reality intended for him. After perusing the letter, Charles returned an answer immediately to the deputies in writing, in which he expressed surprise at the barbarity of the orders from the castle, at a time when it was admitted, that the garrison had six weeks provisions on hand, - that, in pleading, as Guest had done, the directions of "the Elector of Hanover", as an excuse, it was evident, that the Elector did not consider the inhabitants of Edinburgh as his subjects, otherwise he would not have made a demand upon them which they could not fulfil, - and that, should he, the prince, out of compassion to the citizens, comply with the extravagant demand now made, he might as well quit the city as once, and abandon all the advantages he had obtained, - that, if any mischief should befall the city, he would take particular care to indemnify the inhabitants for their loss, - and that, in the meantime, if forced by the threatened barbarity, he would make reprisals upon the estates of the officers in the castle, and also upon all who were "known to be open abettors of the German government".

This letter was laid before a meeting of the inhabitants, who sent deputies with it to General Guest. After some altercation, he agreed to suspend hostilities till the return of an express from London, on condition that the Highland army should, in the mean time, make no attempt upon the castle. This condition was, however, infringed by the Highlanders, who, on the following day, discharged some musket shots with the intention, it is supposed, of frightening some persons who were carrying up provisions to the castle. General Guest, considering that he was no longer restrained from executing his threat, immediately opened a fire upon the guard stationed at the Weigh-house, by which some houses were damaged and two persons wounded. Charles retaliated by issuing a proclamation next day, in which he prohibited all correspondence with the castle, under pain of death. This proclamation was followed by an order to strengthen the blockade, by posting additional guards at several places about the castle. To revenge this step the garrison fired at every Highlander they could discover from the battlements, and, by this reckless proceeding, killed and wounded several of the inhabitants. A daring exploit was performed at the same time by a soldier, who slipped down from the castle, set fire to a house in Livingston's yards, where a guard was posted, and after shooting one of the guards dead upon the spot, returned safe to the fortress. Shortly after this occurrence a party sallied out from the castle, killed some of the guards stationed at the same place, took an officer and a few prisoners, and put the rest to flight.

Meanwhile General Guest sent a message to the city, intimating that he meant to demolish the houses where the guards were posted, but that care would be taken to do as little damage as possible to the city. Accordingly, on the 4th of October, about two o'clock in the afternoon, a cannonade was opened from the half-moon battery, near the Castle-gate, which was kept up till the evening. When it grew dark the garrison made a sally, and set fire to a foundry and a house on the Castle-hill which had been deserted. They then dug a trench fourteen feet broad, and sixteen feet deep, across the Castle-hill, about half-way between the gate and the houses on the Castle-hill, and along the parapet made by the earth taken from the trench on the side next the castle, they posted 200 men, who discharged some cartridge shot down the street, killing and wounding some of the inhabitants. The bombardment was resumed next day, with more disastrous effect. No person could with safety appear on the High-street, as the shots from the Castle-hill penetrated as far down as the head of the old Flesh-market close, and shattered several houses. At first, some of the better informed among the citizens were disposed to regard the threat of bombardment as a mere device to induce the prince to discontinue the blockade, as they could not bring themselves to believe that the government could have been guilty of issuing the barbarous order alluded to by the governor of the castle; but the inhabitants in general entertained more correct views, and before the cannonade commenced, the streets were crowded with women and children running towards the gates, in great confusion, while many of the citizens were to be seen carrying their most valuable effects out of the city. During the two days that the cannonade laster, viz, the 4th and 5th of October, the utmost dismay prevailed among the inhabitants, and multitudes of them left the city, without knowing whither to flee or where to look for shelter.

To put an end to this disastrous state of affairs Charles issued a proclamation on the evening of 5th of October, removing the blockade. In this document he stated that it was with the greatest regret that he was hourly informed of the many murders which were committed upon he innocent inhabitants of the city, by the inhuman commanders and garrison of the castle, a practice contrary, he observed, to all the laws of war, to the truce granted the city, and even exceeding the orders which the government, it was alleged, had given upon the occasion, - that he might have, as he had threatened, justly chastised those who had been instrumental in the ruin of the capital, by reprisals upon the estates and fortunes of the supporters of the government; but as he though it noways derogatory to the glory of a prince, to suspend punishment, or alter a resolution, if, by such a course, he could save lives of innocent men, he had allowed his humanity to yield to the barbarity of the common enemy. This proclamation was followed by a cessation of the cannonade; but the garrison still continued to fire occasionally at the Highlanders whenever they made their appearance in the neighbourhood of the castle.

The object of Guest, according to Mr Home, in thus annoying the town, and provoking the Highlanders, was not to secure a supply of provisions, of which he had already an abundance, but to prevent them from marching into England, by keeping them occupied in the siege of the castle. To deceive Charles, he wrote in the beginning of the week following the battle of Preston, several letters to the Duke of Newcastle, one of the secretaries of state, aquainting him that there was but a very small stock of provisions in the castle of Edinburgh, - that he would be obliged to surrender, if not immediately relieved, and recommending that any troops sent to his relief, should be forwarded by sea, to Berwick or Newcastle, for the sake of despatch. These letters, which were intended for the perusal of Charles, were sent so that they might fall into his hands; but lest any of them might find their way to London, Guest sent a letter to the Duke of Newcastle, by a sure conveyance, giving him an account of the real state of the garrison, and informing him of the deception he was endeavouring to practise upon the Highlanders.


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