Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Barclay, George

BARCLAY, Sir GEORGE (fl. 1696), the principal agent in the assassination plot against William III in 1696, was of Scotch descent, and at the time of the plot about sixty years of age. He is characterised as ‘a man equally intriguing, daring, and cautious.’ He appears to have been a favourite officer of Viscount Dundee, and at the battle of Killiecrankie was joint commander of the regiment of Sir Donald M'Donald of Sleat, along with that baronet's son (Macpherson, Original Papers, i. 370). After the death of Dundee he passed over into Ireland, landing there from Mull with the Pink, 19 March 1690 (Macpherson, i. 173). Being held by the Highlanders ‘in high esteem,’ he returned in 1691 to Scotland, with ‘a warrant under King James's hands to treat with the Highland clans’ (Carstares's State Papers, 140). As an opportunity for a rising did not present itself, he returned again to France; but though he held the appointment of lieutenant in the ex-king's regiment of horse guards, commanded by the Duke of Berwick, he was also frequently employed along with Captain Williamson in negotiations with the adherents of James in England. In 1696 he arrived in England with a commission from James ‘requiring our loving subjects to rise in arms and make war upon the Prince of Orange, the usurper of our throne.’ According to the Duke of Berwick, 2,000 horse were to be raised to join the king on his arrival from France, Sir John Fenwick to be major-general, and Sir George Barclay brigadier (Memoirs of the Duke of Berwick, i. 134). Barclay, however, interpreted his commission as allowing him a certain discretion in the methods to be employed against ‘the usurper.’ Making the piazza of Covent Garden his headquarters, he gathered around him a body of conspirators—forty men in all, well mounted—who were to pounce on William as he was returning from Richmond to London, the spot selected being a narrow lane between Brentford and Turnham Green, where his coach and six could not turn. The time fixed was 15 Feb., but the plot having been revealed, the king remained at home both on that day and on the 22nd. The principal subordinates were captured, with the exception of Barclay, who made his escape to France. In a narrative published in Clarke's ‘Life of James II,’ Barclay exonerates his master from all knowledge of the plot; but that he did not strongly reprobate it, is sufficiently proved by the fact that he received Barclay again into his service. During the negotiations with France in 1698, the Earl of Portland demanded that Barclay should be delivered up; but Louis replied that the regiment he commanded had been disbanded, and that he did not know what had become of him.

[Clarke's Life of James II; Howell's State Trials, vol. xiii.; Melville and Leven Papers; Macpherson's Original Papers; Carstares's State Papers; Memoirs of the Duke of Berwick; Dalrymple's Memoirs; Burnet's History of his own Times; Wilson's James II and the Duke of Berwick; the Histories of Macaulay, Ranke, and Klopp.]

T. F. H.