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Fort George

Fort George

It is difficult nowadays to understand the fear which the clans of the Highlands inspired in the minds of lowland folk in eighteenth century Scotland and England. Today the Highlands are empty and its people have been scattered around the globe. Before Culloden however, the populations of Scotland and England were much closer in size, and as late as 1755 the bulk of the Scottish population lived above the Highland line, speaking Gaelic and owing little allegiance to governments in the south. The clans were fearsome military machines whose men and officers had gained experience of war as mercenaries in Europe. In 1745 a small Highland army under Prince Charlie penetrated England as far as Derby, prompting the Hanoverian royal family to throw their belongings onto barges on the Thames in preparation for the flight back to Germany. The Highlands were a serious threat.

In response, the Hanoverian government began to construct its final solution to the Jacobite menace after Culloden in 1746. The King's Military Engineer for North Britain William Skinner was ordered to commission a fort that would prevent any repetition of the events of 1715 and 1745. The plans were drawn up by William Adam, the architect father of Robert and James. After an aborted plan to build on the ruins of Cromwell's artillery fort at Inverness, Fort George was finally begun in 1748 on a spit of land jutting into the Moray Firth, eleven miles north east of Inverness. The fort was a massive project covering more than forty two acres and with space to house and equip over twenty two hundred infantry and gunnery troops. A thousand troops alone were used as labourers and to defend the construction site. The fort's magazine could hold over two and a half thousand barrels of gunpowder. The fortifications, based on mutually supporting bastions, ravelins and sally ports, were both state of the art and out of scale to any real threat presented by the clans. The final cost was the vast sum of over £200,000, well over a billion pounds in modern terms. The final result was the biggest and strongest military fortification in northern Europe.

By the time Fort George was completed in 1769 however, Highland life was changing and the dream of restoring the Stewarts to their rightful throne had receded into the history books. Jacobite leaders in Paris and Rome had accepted their comfortable lives in exile while their clansfolk were already beginning to be cleared to new pastures in the colonies. Fort George never had to face attack by the massed ranks of the Highlanders although the long Revolutionary and then Napoleonic wars against France gave it a sense of potential purpose. One commander was even reported to have hoped for Napoleon to invade northern Scotland so that the fort's complex fortifications could be put to the test. An army base today, Fort George remains as an eighteenth century time capsule. No shot was ever fired at it in anger.

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