Intended to serve as an impregnable base for Government soldiers, Fort George was constructed in the wake of the 1745 Jacobite rebellion which had seen its predecessor, Inverness Castle, fall to the rebels. It took over 21 years to complete and was later modified for a coastal defence role.
Throughout the ages, successive Governments (Scottish, English and British) found that domination of the Great Glen was key to successful control of the Highlands. Extending from Fort William in the south-west to Inverness in the north-east, it was once a key artery for trade and movement through the otherwise impenetrable mass of the Highland massif. The medieval period saw castles built at Inverlochy, Urquhart and Inverness to control the area and these were augmented by numerous smaller fortifications. In the seventeenth century, following Oliver Cromwell's victory at the second Battle of Dunbar (1650), large garrison forts were built at both ends of the Great Glen. These large citadels, at Inverlochy and Inverness, were decommissioned after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 but they provided the template for the eighteenth century measures, which would include Fort George, implemented to secure the Highlands following the Jacobite rebellions.
The Glorious Revolution in 1689 saw the overthrow of the pro-Catholic James VII (II of England) and his replacement by the Protestant William of Orange and his wife, Mary Stuart. Whilst this regime change was met with enthusiasm in England, in the northern Kingdom there was reluctance to displace the Stewart dynasty which had ruled Scotland since the fourteenth century. Resistance was particularly strong amongst the predominantly Catholic and Episcopalian Highlanders. A rebellion ignited immediately but came to an end with the death of its leader - John Graham, Viscount Dundee - at the Battle of Killiecrankie (1689). However, the Government immediately recommissioned Inverlochy Citadel, which was renamed Fort William, and also substantially strengthened Inverness Castle. Two decades of uneasy peace followed but tensions grew with the introduction of the Act of Settlement (1701), which barred Catholics from the throne, and the Act of Union (1707) which merged the English and Scottish Governments. Discontent turned into rebellion following the death of the last Stewart monarch, Queen Anne, in 1714. She was followed by George I, the first of the Hanoverian family, prompting a large uprising in northern Scotland the following year. Again this rebellion was quickly suppressed but, to prevent further trouble, the Highlands were placed under military occupation. This was anchored on three major garrison forts along the Great Glen at Fort William, Fort Augustus and Inverness Castle (now renamed Fort George after the King). Smaller garrisons were also established at purpose built barracks at Glenelg, Inversnaid and Ruthven whilst older castles such as Braemar and Corgarff were taken over for similar purposes. A network of roads, constructed by Generals George Wade and William Caulfield, was constructed to improve access throughout the area.
New Fort George
The extensive military building programme did little to quell Highlander dissatisfaction with the British Government and when Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) landed at Eriskay in 1745 this ignited a new rebellion. By-passing the Highland defences, the Jacobite forces pushed south into England penetrating as far south as Derby before turning back. With their advance into England having failed, the Prince turned his forces against the fortresses along the Great Glen. Both Fort George (constructed around the old Inverness Castle) and Fort Augustus fell to the rebels. Although the Government’s victory at the Battle of Culloden in April 1746 effectively ended the rebellion, there was concern about how easily these supposed strongholds had been taken. Accordingly the decision was made to construct a brand new citadel at Inverness as a direct replacement for the existing structure.
The new Fort George was built in a different location from its predecessor, partly for tactical reasons and partly due to complaints from the populace of Inverness. The new site was eleven miles north-east of Inverness on an uninhabited spit of land jutting out into the Moray Firth. Work started in June 1748 based on a design by Lieutenant General William Skinner. Utilising the latest angle bastion design, it enclosed over 40 acres within its walls and had sufficient facilities to garrison a force of 2,000 soldiers.
Construction of the new facility was slow due to the significant logistical challenges of building on such a remote site. Most of the labour and virtually all construction materials had to be imported and accordingly work was not completed on Fort George until 1769. The project cost an eye-watering £200,000, roughly £20million by today's prices, but undoubtedly delivered a state-of-the-art fortress. Dr Samuel Johnson, who visited Fort George in 1773, was amazed that such a modern military facility could be found in such a remote location.
A New Role
By the time Fort George had been completed its original purpose, to provide a secure base against the Jacobite threat, had ceased to be relevant. Economic and political factors meant there were no more Jacobite rebellions after the 1745/6 uprising. Too much had been spent on the fortress to abandon it and so it was used as a basic training facility for soldiers recruited to fight in the French and American Wars. It remained in this role until the mid nineteenth century when fears of French re-armament led to a reassessment of coastal defence arrangements. Fort George, with its prominent position on the Moray Firth, was ideally placed to guard the narrow channel into Inverness and accordingly the facility was upgraded with enhanced batteries. Fort George also became the Regimental depot of the Seaforth Highlanders and remained so until they were amalgamated with the Cameron Highlanders in 1961. The coastal defence role has now ended but the site remains in use by the military. Subsequent cutbacks and re-organisations to the Army have regularly changed the unit stationed at the fort but it is currently garrisoned by the Third Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland (3 SCOTS).
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Visit Official Website
Fort George remains in use as a military barracks but the site is open to the public. The complete circuit of ramparts of the eighteenth century fort survive along with various support buildings.
Fort George. Given how easily the original Fort George had been captured during the 1745 Jacobite rebellion, its successor was built to be impenetrable with its bastion design representing the very forefront of eighteenth century military design.
Barrack Blocks. These remain in use by the military and are not open to the public.
Fort George Layout. The fort represented a state-of-the-art facility which utilised the very latest thinking in fortification design. It prompted favourable comments from Dr Samuel Johnson who commented he was amazed that such a modern military facility could be found in such a remote location.
Military Occupation. Following the Jacobite rebellions northern Scotland effectively became subject to a military occupation. Three major facilities along the Great Glen - Fort William, Fort Augustus and Fort George - were the lynchpin of the occupation whilst there were also smaller garrisons at other locations including Braemar, Corgarff, Glenelg and Ruthven. The facilities were linked by a series of military roads largely built by George Wade and William Caulfield.
Original Fort George. Following the 1715 rebellion, the medieval Inverness Castle was substantially adapted and rebuilt into a new citadel named Fort George. However the facility quickly fell during the 1745 Jacobite rebellion and accordingly a new fortification was built as its direct replacement on a new site 10 miles to the north-east. Inverness Castle (Fort George 1) was rebuilt in the nineteenth century into its current form.
Coastal Defence. Rather than redevelop the old Inverness Castle (Fort George 1), a new location was selected for the new facility. The site chosen was a promontory jutting out into the Moray Firth and this ensured the fort could assume a coastal defence role as relations with France deteriorated. Located opposite Chanonry Point, all shipping heading to or from Inverness passed under the fort’s northern, western and southern batteries.
Entrance. The fort was accessed via a bridge connecting to the Ravelin.
Barracks. Reconstruction of eighteenth century barracks.
Rampart Access. Earthwork ramps provided access to the ramparts.
Magazine. The fort's powder magazine.
Fort George is a major tourist attraction and accordingly well sign-posted. There is a dedicated visitor car park directly adjacent.