King William's Letter to Rev. George Walker and John Mitchelburn

From Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689 by Thomas Witherow

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CHAPTER VII...continued

On Wednesday, the 7th of August, a day of thanksgiving was observed at Enniskillen, for the great victory of Newtonbutler, and for the security that followed it; and on the same day, the Rev. Andrew Hamilton was sent by the town to congratulate Kirke on the relief of Derry. Following the example set by their neighbours, the Enniskillen people also resolved to send a representative to wait upon the King, and to present an address.[5] Mr. Hamilton of Kilskerry, who had gone already on so many missions in the service of the town, was sent to present this address to the King, and he was fully authorized to treat on behalf of the garrison in regard to pecuniary affairs.[6] He was received graciously at Hampton Court, and on the 12th of October he presented the Enniskillen address to their Majesties.

But long before Hamilton or even Walker had reached London, the King was aware of what had occurred. So early as Sabbath, the 4th of August, William being at the time at Hampton Court, the news reached him, by an express sent directly from Major-General Kirke, that Derry was relieved; and, with as little delay as possible, he forwarded the following letter to the Governors, which was enclosed to Kirke by the Duke of Shrewsbury, one of the Secretaries of State. The letter being intended for the officers in chief commanding at Derry, whose names were not known in London at the time the letter was written, Kirke was directed by the Secretary to fill up the superscription with the proper names, which, of course, he did.[7]

"To our trusty and well-beloved GEORGE WALKER, and JOHN MITCHELBURNE, Esq., Governors of Londonderry.


"Trusty and well-beloved, we greet you well. The eminent and extraordinary service that you have performed unto us and our kingdoms in general, by your late resolute and unparalleled defence of that our city of Londonderry, as it does oblige us in the first place to an humble acknowledgment to Almighty God for His signal mercy in supporting the hearts and courages of our good subjects, amidst their great and various difficulties and distresses, arising from a furious opposition without, and a yet more pressing necessity within those walls, and sending them at last deliverance, and bringing them by your conduct to triumph over their enemies; which we cannot but attribute to an immediate Divine assistance, inspiring them with a zeal for the true religion and love for their country, and an unshaken fidelity towards us, and must ever own as a continuation of that miraculous Providence, which hath hitherto conducted us throughout in our endeavours to resettle these nations in all their civil and religious rights and liberties. So in the next place, taking into a serious consideration, as well the importance of this success, as that constancy and bravery by which it hath been brought to pass, we would not omit signifying unto you the just sense we have of this whole action, in which having the greatest opportunity that can be put into the hands of any subjects of obliging their Prince, you have in all points acquitted yourselves to our satisfaction, even beyond what could have been expected, insomuch that it now lies on our part to make such retribution as well to you the Commanders-in-Chief (who have been the happy instruments under God of that deliverance) as others who have signalised their loyalty, courage, and patience, in this time of trial, that all our subjects being encouraged by this example, may be stirred up to the imitation of it in the like hazardous but honourable enterprises. We will, therefore, that you rely on our royal favour towards you, and also that in our name you assure the officers, soldiers, and inhabitants of that our city, that we will take fitting occasions to recompense their services and suffering in our cause, so that neither they, nor any of our loving subjects, shall ever have reason to repent them of a faithful discharge of their duty, and so we bid you farewell.

"Given at our Court, at Hampton Court, this 16th of August, 1689, in the first year of our reign.
"By His Majesty's command.

When this letter reached Derry, the joy it excited can scarcely be described. Unused to the ways of Courts and statesmen, the simple people thought that the promises of a Protestant Government were as good as performances. The soldiers and inhabitants were summoned to the Diamond by beat of drum, and His Majesty's letter was read by order of Governor Mitchelburn. Cannon were fired from the walls and from the ships in the river, and several barrels of ale were placed at the Market-house, that the populace might drink to the health of their Majesties, the Royal Family, General Schomberg, etc., and at every health a volley of small shot was fired off. The popular gratitude for the King's letter found expression in a reply, which has been preserved.[9]

Perhaps it would have been the more prudent course had Derry restrained all avowal of its thanks, until this profuse expression of gratitude had assumed some more tangible form. Something tangible was needed, and they had a right to expect it. Most of the citizens had perished in the defence; those who had not perished, had lost everything except life and honour. The survivors deserved something more substantial than words. Deeds were to follow in due time.

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[5] See Appendix, No. 19.

[6] Hamilton, p. 60.

[7] Hamill's Memorial, p. 15, contains the postscript of a letter from the Earl of Shrewsbury to Major-General Kirke, dated at Hampton Court, 16th of August:—"The King's letter being intended for the officers in chief commanding at Derry in the time of the siege, and it not being known here who those are, I desire you to fill up the superscription with such names as are proper to be addressed to." The friends of Walker afterwards attached importance to the fact that his name occurs first in this document, as showing that he was the principal, if not sole Governor. The above extract shows that the insertion of the names in the document was the work of Kirke, whose obsequious protege Walker was, and that Government, up to this time, knew little of either of them.

[8] Walker's Vindication, p. 28; Hamill's Memorial, pp. 13-15.

[9] See Appendix, No. 20.

Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689

Thomas Witherow's thoroughly researched and well-annotated work is a classic account of the Siege of Derry, from the shutting of the gates against the Jacobite forces by the thirteen apprentice boys to the relief of the city by Major-General Kirke's fleet in July 1689. The defence of Enniskillen and the counteroffensive actions of the Enniskilleners is also ably documented.

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Fighters of Derry

William R. Young’s Fighters of Derry has for decades been one of the most overlooked works on the Siege of Derry and as a local genealogical resource. First published in 1932, the book was the product of ten years’ research into identifying participants at the siege which the author undertook when suffering from ill-health in the latter part of his life.

The book is essentially divided into two parts: the first contains 1660 biographical entries relating to the defenders of Derry, tracing, where possible, the family lineage; and the second part includes 352 entries on the Jacobite side. Apart from individual accounts of eminent protagonists in the siege, such as David Cairnes, Rev. George Walker, the Duke of Schomberg, Patrick Sarsfield, etc., there is also background given to many of the most influential families involved in the conflict.

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The Actions of the Enniskillen-men

While the epic siege of Derry is usually accorded its proper place in history, the contemporaneous exploits of the Enniskillen men are often overlooked. This is manifestly unjust because the Enniskilleners demonstrated bravery and heroism in battle at least equal to that of the defenders of Londonderry. Some, of course, rate the actions of the Enniskillen men more highly. As far as Revd Andrew Hamilton, the Rector of Kilskeery and author of A True Relation of the Actions of the Inniskilling Men (1690), was concerned ‘The Derry men saved a city but the Enniskilleners saved a kingdom.’

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