Former Governor of Londonderry Colonel Robert Lundy’s name has become a byword for traitor in Unionist history. Historian Gordon Lucy explores whether this reputation is truly deserved.
Remembered to this day as “Lundy the Traitor”, Colonel Robert Lundy, the Governor of Londonderry from December 1688 to April 20, 1689 is one of the most controversial figures in the history of the Siege.
His name has become a byword for traitor within the Unionist community. Since 1788 an 18-foot effigy of Lundy has been burned every December. Writing in the mid-nineteenth century, Macaulay, observed: “His name is, to this day, held in execration by the Protestants of the north of Ireland; his effigy is still annually hung and burned by them with marks of abhorrence similar to those which in England are appropriated to Guy Fawkes”.
J. G. Simms noted in the 1960s that Lundy’s name remained “part of the vocabulary of present-day political abuse”.
Robert Lundy was a Scottish Episcopalian. He had been commissioned into Lord Dumbarton’s Regiment and had served on the continent in French service until 1678. He then served in England and Ireland until 1680 when the regiment was sent to Tangier, which had formed part of Catherine of Braganza’s dowry when the Portuguese princess had married Charles II in 1662. There he was seriously wounded in action against the Moors on October 27, 1680 and subsequently received £80 bounty in respect of these wounds.
Married to Martha Davies, daughter of the Dean of Cork, through her influence he was able to secure a commission as a Lieutenant Colonel in Viscount Mountjoy’s Regiment in 1688. Under Lundy’s command the overwhelmingly Protestant regiment constituted the garrison of Londonderry until November 1688 when it was recalled to Dublin to make way for a Roman Catholic regiment.
After the events of December, 7 1688, when the Apprentices boys closed the gates in the face of the Earl of Antrim’s “Redshanks”, a predominantly Roman Catholic regiment drawn from the Scottish Highlands, Tyrconnel sent Lieutenant Colonel Lundy and Mountjoy’s Regiment back to Londonderry to pacify the Protestants.
It is worth noting that in accepting Mountjoy’s Regiment the citizens of Londonderry were accepting a garrison which at least nominally owed allegiance to James II. Viscount Mountjoy, whose views would have been similar to those of Bishop Hopkins, undertook to seek a pardon for the inhabitants of the city and Lundy became governor of the city.
As a Scottish Episcopalian, Lundy almost certainly also subscribed to the traditional Anglican doctrine of non-resistance to the Lord’s anointed and was unhappy with the closing of the gates.
On February 13, 1689 William and Mary, having accepted the Bill of Rights, the crucial document of the Glorious Revolution, became joint monarchs of England and Scotland.
On March 21, the Deliverance brought news of these significant developments, instructions for the defence of the city, arms, supplies and a Williamite commission for Lundy.
William and Mary were proclaimed King and Queen in Londonderry “with great joy and solemnity”. Lundy probably accepted the commission from William with great reluctance. At any rate, before he was handed the commission he was required to take an oath of allegiance to William and Mary. He insisted on doing so privately and subsequently refused to so in public. Lundy’s refusal to take the oath in public generated considerable unease as to his loyalties.
Nevertheless between December 1688 and the spring of 1689 Lundy had vigorously set about making Londonderry’s defences as strong as possible, persuading a reluctant corporation to spend money on the project.
During this period Lundy had repairs carried out to the carriages of the guns on the walls, had repairs carried out to the walls and the gates, purchased new stocks for 500 old musket barrels, arranged for the removal of “two great dung hills without the walls almost as high as themselves”, purchased powder, cannonballs and 500 matchlocks, persuaded the corporation to demolish buildings immediately outside the walls to deny the enemy cover and to give the defenders a clear field of fire, constructed a ravelin (a detached work with two embankments which make a salient angle) at Bishop’s Gate and had outworks built at Windmill Hill and between Windmill Hill and the Foyle.
The fact that the city did not fall to James II’s army in the summer of 1689 owes much to Lundy’s efforts.
In March 1689, before the siege, George Walker noted: “The opinion they - the people of Londonderry - had of his experience, and Zeal for the Cause they were to maintain, gave all the People great expectation from his conduct.”
On April 10, Lundy presided over a council of war and was appointed commander-in-chief in the field despite the reservations of some about his loyalty. Both George Walker and John Mackenzie in their otherwise conflicting accounts concur in blaming Lundy for the failure of Protestant forces to halt the Jacobites at the river crossings at Clady and at Lifford on April 15. However, the Protestant forces at Clady and at Lifford did not exactly distinguish themselves either: on the whole they offered negligible resistance.
On April 14 English ships appeared in the Foyle with reinforcements for Lundy under Colonel Cunningham. Lundy persuaded Cunningham that there were not enough provisions within the city, that the city was impossible to defend, and that troops should not disembark. Lundy’s pessimistic assessment was by no means wholly unrealistic or irrational. The city’s 70-year-old walls had been constructed to protect the Plantation from the native Irish.
They did not measure up to contemporary European standards with which he would have been familiar. To quote Macaulay, they probably would have “moved disciples of Vauban to laughter”. If the Jacobites had had heavy artillery, proper siege guns could have reduced the walls to rubble within hours. Furthermore, there was the serious problem of feeding an inflated population of 30,000.
Negotiations had taken place between representatives of the city and the Jacobite commanders before James II arrived at Londonderry on the morning of April 18. The Jacobite commanders had assured the city’s inhabitants that, if they submitted and handed over their weaponry, they would be allowed to live peaceably. The Jacobites had also undertaken not to come within four miles of the city walls and had given the city until noon on April 18 to respond. James, possibly ignorant of the former stipulation, and Rosen, a Baltic-German general in French service, rode up to the walls with part of his army and flying colours. James was met with “a discharge of musketry and cannon from the troops stationed in the church bastion” and “the triumphant shout of No Surrender”. One of James’s aides-de-camp was killed at his side.
Rumours was rife in the city that Lundy was planning to surrender, so much so that he was obliged to take refuge in his house to escape the wrath of an irate populace led by Adam Murray.
Lundy relinquished the governorship. Invited at a council of war to resume the governorship, Lundy declined to do so. Accordingly, on April 19 Henry Baker and the Rev Dr George Walker were elected joint governors in his place.
The following day, with the connivance of Walker and Baker, Lundy, disguised as a common soldier, slipped over the wall and escaped in an open boat to the island of Islay. He was arrested in Scotland but released by the Governor of Dumbarton, a relation of his. He then made his way to London and was placed in the Tower of London. However, Lundy had also managed to antagonize the Jacobites: like Bishop Hopkins, he was attainted by James II’s Parliament in Dublin.
What were Lundy’s motives? Macaulay attributed Lundy’s conduct to “faintheartedness and poverty of spirit”. J G Simms similarly takes the view he was “a defeatist rather than a traitor”. Was Lundy a Jacobite agent or a Williamite who honestly believed that Londonderry was untenable? If he was a Jacobite surely he would simply have joined the Jacobite forces besieging the city.
His hazardous escape in an open boat strongly suggests he was not a Jacobite agent. Was he simply a man struggling to cope with the moral dilemma with which the Glorious Revolution had confronted him? Having given his allegiance to James, had he difficulty with transferring his allegiance to William? If so, in this Lundy would have been by no means unique. Five of the seven Church of England bishops imprisoned in the Tower of London by James, at least 400 other clergy and a number of prominent laymen found themselves in exactly the same unhappy position.
In August 1689 Lundy was brought before a House of Commons Committee established “to inquire into the miscarriages relating to Ireland and Londonderry”. The committee initially recommended that he be sent back to Londonderry to face trial for treason. George Walker strongly advised against this because Lundy continued to enjoy considerable support in the city.
Lundy remained in the Tower until February 1690 when a writ of Habeas Corpus was issued on his behalf. His bail was fixed at £12,000, £2,000 of which was put up by the Earl of Clarendon, the former Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Lundy was never brought to trial.
Lundy left the army but significantly returned to it with the death of William III in 1702. Perhaps in this context the death of James II in exile at Saint-Germain-en-Laye in September 1701 was almost equally important. In 1704 he was dispatched to Lisbon with a letter of recommendation for employment by Queen Anne and was appointed adjutant-general of the King of Portugal’s forces but his salary was paid by Queen Anne. He held this position until 1712.
In 1704 he brought reinforcements to Gibraltar and served in Gibraltar until that great siege was raised in 1705. In 1707 he was captured at sea by the French but was released in June 1709 when he was exchanged for 20 French prisoners. Lundy then inexplicably disappears from the pages of history. It is generally held that he died some time before 1717.