Edinburgh World Heritage - News Article


Archive Anecdotes

Snippets from the city's archives

Sep 8, 2015

Three hundred years ago, on 8 Sept 1715, some Jacobite opponents of the Hanoverian succession of 1714 attempted the capture of Edinburgh Castle.

During the first year of George I’s reign, John Erskine, the Earl of Mar, had raised a ‘formidable Jacobite army’ in Scotland in support of the restoration of the Stuart dynasty. The capture of Edinburgh Castle from Hanoverian hands was a priority for the rebel force. W Forbes Gray in his 1948 history of Edinburgh Castle explained why it was:

‘a prize worth securing, for it would not only put the Jacobites in possession of the most important stronghold in Scotland, but make them owners of the military stores intended for Hanoverian consumption, likewise of £60,000, known as the Equivalent. This had been allocated to Scotland at the Union of Parliaments in 1707, and had lain unused in the castle ever since.’

The attempt was led by James, Lord Drummond, who had around 100 men, chiefly Highlanders, in his scaling party. The castle was defended by a strong garrison of the Edinburgh Regiment (25th Foot), so stealth and surprise were to be the order of the day, courtesy of some Jacobite sympathisers within the garrison who were primed to drop a rope ladder. If the scaling was successful, Drummond’s troops would fire three rounds of artillery from the castle as a signal for Mar to march on Edinburgh. Gray describes how the attempt was bungled:

‘the affair was badly handled by the Jacobites. For one thing, the scaling party did not appear at the appointed time, and for another, the rope-ladder, which was intended to carry four men abreast, was found too short. Then, in the midst of the embarrassment, came the change of the watch, a circumstance of itself calculated to make the scaling party uneasy.’

The castle's depute governor had been forewarned of the attack and as a result:

‘The whole garrison was put under arms and the sentries doubled. Meanwhile the attacking party had got some way up the Castle Rock, but, when in a precarious state, a shot was fired from above which gave the alarm. Realising that the game was up, the scaling party hastily descended and made off. William Ainslie, a sergeant in the castle who had deserted to the Jacobites, was hanged over the postern wall, while a corporal and two privates were flogged for having fraternised with the enemy. Thus miscarried what Wodrow, the Kirk historian, characterises as "a most dreadful design".’


  • W. Forbes Gray, A Short History of Edinburgh Castle. The Moray Press. Edinburgh 1948.
  • Drawing by John Elphinstone, engineer, engraved by Parr. Published in William Maitland's History of Edinburgh, 1753.

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