Ireland’s Wars: Robert Lundy

The Siege of Londonderry in 1689 is a pivotal enough event that I feel comfortable spending a bit of extra time on it, and part of that is the events in the immediate proceeding weeks before the siege had actually started (which wasn’t in December of 1688). And that period of time is dominated by the actions of a very strange individual, whose infamy has long outlived his activities: Robert Lundy.

It’s all the more strange considering that we know so little about Lundy before or after the events of 1689. His parentage, upbringing and early life are unrecorded, as are most of the details of his military service prior to this war. After 1690, he vanished into obscurity. For Ulster Unionists, the man is on a par with Benedict Arnold, Victor Quizling, Judas, his very name synonymous with villainy and deceit. So, who was he?

Lundy was, in the spring of 1690, the governor of Londonderry, having marched into the town as the highest ranking subordinate of Mountjoy a little bit earlier. When Mountjoy was sent abroad by Tyrconnell, Lundy stepped into the leadership role of the forces garrisoning the town, forces that subsequently turned against the Dublin administration and joined the fledgling cause of the Protestants in Ulster. With military command came civic command also, and Lundy seems to have been trusted enough by the citizens of Londonderry. He also helped organise the defences of Coleraine during those early days of fighting.

As that first Jacobite campaign wore on, Lundy was overseeing the improvement of defences in Londonderry, though there are plenty of suggestions that he did next to nothing, leaving such tasks in the hands of others. His own account of the siege has an emphasis on the finding of provisions for the city, and how difficult it was. The walls were being strengthened, outworks were being constructed and plans were in place to destroy outlying suburbs if it was required (and it would be).

On the 21st of March, the first firm support from England arrived, in the form of arms and powder, a substantial amount, brought by a Captain James Hamilton. William of Orange saw the importance of Londonderry, and while getting troops together would take just a bit longer, he could still send just about everything else. As well, Hamilton brought a royal commission from William for Lundy, appointing him governor of Londonderry officially, and charging him to manage the defences and take an oath of allegiance. William and Mary’s royal status was proclaimed in Londonderry the next day, though there remains some confusion over whether Lundy ever actually took the oath that had been asked of him.

Londonderry was now firmly in rebellion, and Lundy had assumed something akin to a commander-in-chief position of all forces in Ulster. But his actions did not indicate a man who was capable of such a post, or had any great dedication to the cause that he was employed on. He failed to organise training for the militias that were being formed for the towns defence. He failed to readily have provisions stored in the town in preparation for a siege. He failed to have the approaches to the town properly guarded, and seems to have been lackadaisical about any kind of offensive move.

In fact, he repeatedly ordered withdrawals and retreats until nearly all of the available forces would be bottled up inside Londonderry. Detractors claim that he did so in order to give King James the greatest possible chance of nixing this rebellion in one fell swoop, but it is possible that Lundy was simply unimaginative strategically, and felt like a single defence, before the coming of a Williamite army from England, was the best course to take. Defending everywhere piecemeal might have been seen as unwise in comparison to defending just one place strongly.

But there were bizarre decisions made. Before he took command, places like Dungannon and Sligo, which were key positions on the approaches to Londonderry, and for the travel of armies throughout Ulster, had been in Protestant hands. At Lundy’s orders, these positions were abandoned without a fight, gleefully taken by advancing Jacobites, without the slightest show of resistance.  The Sligo garrison was ordered to fall back, and then stand at the Erne, and then told to take part in subsequent operations near Londonderry itself (see below), but the contradictory nature of all these orders ensured this force of men could never get involved in the fighting properly. The loss of Sligo – or rather, the willing surrender – was a particularly bad move, as it gave up one of the best positions for the defence of western Ulster and severely curtailed, for a time, the Williamite designs on Connacht.

Lundy busied himself with numerous councils of wars and correspondence with London, still failing to properly prepare Londonderry for a siege. In fact, by this time, it is probably likely that Lundy had decided to surrender the town to James, even if he was not openly proclaiming this just yet. By now, (the Jacobite) Hamilton’s army was nearing Londonderry after their march from Coleraine, with King James soon to join up with them personally.

But there were still obstacles to be met. Londonderry has a major natural defence to its east, in the form of the River Foyle. Wide and deep, it was impossible for Hamilton to attempt a crossing closer to the city, and a brief firing from the walls further dissuaded him. So he was compelled, once he reached even the sight of Londonderry itself, to turn south and seek a crossing in a more advantageous spot.

A better and more pro-active commander would have had all bridges and possible fording points guarded sufficiently, if only to inflict some loss on the advancing enemy and slow their movements. But Lundy hadn’t, and his prevarication on this was starting to baffle some. The Jacobites moved to the confluence of the Finn and the Mourne, two smaller rivers which, when joined, formed the Foyle, near the towns of Strabane and Lifford which today straddle the respective sides of the border between the North and the Republic. Lundy ordered troops to assemble at that point to stop them, but the order was sent far too late to garrisons too far distant, Lundy himself only travelling to take command of the effort after it had started.

The Jacobites, the crossing led by a French officer named Rosen, were over the rivers on the 15th of April, scattering a small defending force as they did so. That force had been a bare thirty or so cavalry under a man named Adam Murray: allegedly, Lundy had provisioned them with only enough powder to fire three shots per man. Murray, disgusted, turned his badly outnumbered unit back towards Londonderry, even as more Protestant forces were coming towards them. Seeing his retreat and the fact that the Jacobites were already over the river, they scattered themselves, fleeing headlong back to Londonderry or other nearby garrisons. Lundy met some of them in their flight, and turned tail back to Londonderry himself. There had been a large enough force, albeit only militia, to try and stem the tide of the Jacobite advance, but without proper leadership or provisions, they hadn’t a hope of effecting such an action.

Reaching the town, Lundy locked some of his own units outside in a panicked rush to seal Londonderry up, belatedly allowing them entrance the next day. There was some good news through, in the form of two regiments of infantry just arrived from England, sent by William as a small detachment to aid the defence of the city. Hastily assembled and sent, they arrived via Lough Foyle, though Lundy issued confusing instructions as to their placement almost immediately.

The next day Lundy assembled another council of war and dropped a bombshell, proclaiming that there wasn’t enough provisions in Londonderry to feed the army and the people for more than ten days and that, following the example of the previous day, he could not expect his troops to fight anyway. In a later account written after the siege, Lundy would admit that Londonderry had more provisions than he had previously stated, but that merchants and others kept them hidden from him. He now openly suggested that the town should be surrendered, due to the sheer lack of probability that it could be held against the nearby enemy.

Taking Lundy at his word, many of his officers agreed, though others were unnerved by the development. By now, James had joined his army, and had begun sending messages to Londonderry trying to organise its bloodless surrender. Leading gentry of the town were slipping away via the sea, and the newly arrived regiments had not yet been placed in defensive positions. Eventually, they were ordered to sail away by Lundy, nominally so they would not be captured when the city inevitably fell. They wound up back in England.

The citizenry of Londonderry, seeing the defences fall apart and the soldiers leave, now began to grow rebellious against their commander. Gates were seized (again), messengers were shut out, and soldiers on the walls began to ignore orders.

By the 18th of April the Jacobite army was forming up outside Londonderry, and James himself went forward with a delegation, believing that his presence and command would be enough to have the town surrendered, which it seems likely would have been the case if Lundy got his way. Instead, soldiers on the walls and in command of artillery opened fire, despite Lundy’s orders to the contrary. An officer near James was hit and killed, and the King was obliged to withdraw, puzzled and aggravated by the attack.

At this point, a new development decided matters decisively for Londonderry. Adam Murray had brought his horses to pasture nearby after the flight from Lifford, and so came back to the city late, approaching from a different direction than James’ army. Upon coming into sight of the town, Lundy ordered him to withdraw to a position where he could not be seen, apparently worried that the arrival of these new troops might jeopardise his planned surrender. Confused, Murray disregarded these orders, coming up to the Ship-quay gate. He found it closed against him and his men. After some bizarre negotiations when it was suggested Murray could be hoisted up over the walls alone via a rope, an enterprising captain of the guard opened up the gate without orders, admitting the cavalry.

Murray, apparently a well respected local who had formed his own unit, became, very quickly, a focal point for the resentment felt against Lundy, and the Londonderry citizenry lined up behind him and his promises that he would not surrender. Even as Lundy and his council prepared capitulation documents, they were confronted by Murray and others. Lundy attempted to explain, again, that the city could not hold out. Murray refused to believe him. The meeting broke up without agreement, and for a few hours two authorities existed in Londonderry, divided between Murray and those who wanted to fight, and Lundy and those who wanted to surrender.

Murray’s side won out. The troops in the city had all turned on Lundy, and willingly looked to a man who was ready to lead them and resist the hated Catholic army outside the walls. Seizing control of the defences and armouries, Murray and his men left Lundy as governor just in name.

The game was up. Lundy adopted the disguise of a common soldier and fled, probably with the acquiescence of the new town masters, getting on one of the last small boats leaving the city, eventually making it to Scotland. Charges were brought against him after the siege, and he was obliged to defend himself before a House of Commons committee, which dismissed him from the King’s service. After that, he vanishes from historical record.

He is a difficult personality to address. There seems to be two possibilities. One, that he was a traitor through and through, who conspired to weaken Londonderry as much as he could in preparation for a pre-arranged surrender to the forces of King James. Or, two, that he was a man saddled with an almost impressive degree of military and command incompetence, who simply did not know what he was doing and fell back on the idea of surrender all too easily.

In the end, I am tempted to simple rely on Hanlon’s razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. There is no firm evidence that Lundy was a traitor or that he was some kind of Jacobite sympathiser. That he was actively attempting to sell out the position of Ulster’s Protestants for nefarious reasons does not ring true to me. Rather, I believe that was simply unsuitable for his position: he was unable to properly prepare Londonderry for a siege, was no leader of men in the field and had a certain timidity in his demeanour, which led him to badly overestimate the number and quality of the enemy forces and contemplate surrender very quickly. Perhaps Lundy really did believe that the surrender of Londonderry was the right choice, that his actions would spare the town a siege it could not hope to win which would have been followed by a potentially brutal occupation. History would contradict him of course, but hindsight blinds.

Ascribing treason to him seems a bit much to me, unless that word now covers military bungling. At worst, you could argue that Lundy’s attempts to orchestrate Londonderry’s surrender were motivated by a personal failing of cowardice in the face of the enemy. But in terms of active conspiracy with the enemies of the Williamite cause, beyond those carried out by any garrison commander negotiating a surrender, I think not. Effigies of Lundy are still burned by Unionists today, but I think the sentiment behind such actions is a bit misplaced.

A new government was soon decided for Londonderry. A joint governorship, between a Major Henry Baker and a Reverend George Walker, two officers who had raised regiments and served under Lundy, was appointed by a vote of remaining military leadership, with Murray refusing to stand, happy to be given command of the towns cavalry. Baker took over military affairs, Walker civilian. Now things proceeded more quickly: A great deal of non-combatants, mostly children and elderly, were expelled from the city, and a rapid reorganisation of the remaining soldiers, around 7’000 in number, took place also. The population of Londonderry as it stood was around 20’000, and it remained unclear if they could be fed long enough to hold out, before the Jacobites gave up or William arrived with a larger army.

James made one last effort to negotiate the taking of the city, offering the garrison their lives, liberty, freedom of conscious and pardon for all past crimes. He was resolutely turned down. He and his army, probably around 10’000 initially, but growing in number all the time, now had to prepare for a difficult fight, with inexperienced infantry and inopportune numbers of cannon for the task. The cry of “No Surrender!” was now the motto of Londonderry.

To read the rest of the entries in this series, click here to go to the index.

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4 Responses to Ireland’s Wars: Robert Lundy

  1. Pingback: Ireland’s Wars: Index | Never Felt Better

  2. Pingback: Ireland’s Wars: The 1689 Siege Of Londonderry | Never Felt Better

  3. Pingback: Ireland’s Wars: Enniskilliners | Never Felt Better

  4. Pingback: Ireland’s Wars: A Summary Of The War Of The Two Kings | Never Felt Better

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