Battle of the Boyne
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|Battle of the Boyne|
|Part of the Williamite War in Ireland|
Painting of the battle by Jan Wyck c. 1693
|Commanders and leaders|
|James VII and II
Earl of Tyrconnell
Duc de Lauzun
Duke of Schomberg †
|Casualties and losses|
|~1,500 casualties||~750 casualties|
The Battle of the Boyne (Irish: Cath na Bóinne IPA: [ˈkah n̪ˠə ˈbˠoːn̪ʲə]) was a battle in 1690 between the English King James II, and the Dutch Prince William of Orange, who, with his wife, Mary II (his cousin and James's daughter), had overthrown James in England in 1688. The battle took place across the River Boyne near the town of Drogheda on the east coast of Ireland, and resulted in a victory for William. This turned the tide in James's failed attempt to regain the British crown and ultimately aided in ensuring the continued Protestant ascendancy in Ireland.
The battle took place on 1 July 1690 in the Old Style (Julian) calendar. This was equivalent to 11 July in the New Style (Gregorian) calendar, although today its commemorative parades are held on 12 July.[b] William's forces defeated James's army, which consisted mostly of raw recruits. The symbolic importance of this battle has made it one of the best-known battles in the history of the British Isles and a key part of the folklore of the Orange Order. Its commemoration today is principally by the Protestant Orange Institution, which records the first commemorative parades as having been held in 1791.[c]
The battle was the decisive encounter in a war that was primarily about James's attempt to regain the thrones of England and Scotland, resulting from the Invitation to William and William's wife, Mary, to take the throne. It is regarded[by whom?] as a crucial moment in the struggle between Irish Protestant and Catholic interests.
The previous year William had sent the Duke of Schomberg to take charge of the Irish campaign. He was a 75-year-old professional soldier who had accompanied William during the Glorious Revolution. Under his command, affairs had remained static and very little had been accomplished, partly because the English troops suffered severely from fever. William, dissatisfied with the state of affairs in Ireland, decided to take charge in person.
In an Irish context, the war was a sectarian and ethnic conflict, in many ways a re-run of the Irish Confederate Wars of 50 years earlier. For the Jacobites, the war was fought for Irish sovereignty, religious tolerance for Catholicism, and land ownership. The Catholic upper classes had lost almost all their lands after Cromwell's conquest, as well as the right to hold public office, practice their religion, and sit in the Irish Parliament. They saw the Catholic King James as a means of redressing these grievances and securing the autonomy of Ireland from England. To these ends, under Richard Talbot, 1st Earl of Tyrconnel, they had raised an army to restore James after the Glorious Revolution. By 1690, they controlled all of Ireland except for the province of Ulster. Most of James II's troops at the Boyne were Irish Catholics; however, there were also Scots-Irish Presbyterians fighting for James II.
The majority of Irish people were Jacobites and supported James II due to his 1687 Declaration of Indulgence or, as it is also known, the Declaration for the Liberty of Conscience, that granted religious freedom to all denominations in England and Scotland and also due to James II's promise to the Irish Parliament of an eventual right to self-determination.
Conversely, for the Williamites, the war was about maintaining Protestant and English rule in Ireland. They feared for their lives and their property if James and his Catholic supporters were to rule Ireland, nor did they trust the promise of tolerance, seeing the Declaration of Indulgence as a ploy to re-establish Catholicism as the sole state religion. In particular, they dreaded a repeat of the Irish Rebellion of 1641, which had been marked by widespread killing. For these reasons, Protestants fought en masse for William of Orange. Many Williamite troops at the Boyne, including their very effective irregular cavalry, were Ulster Protestants, who called themselves "Inniskillingers" and were referred to by contemporaries as "Scots-Irish". These "Inniskillingers" were mostly the descendants of Anglo-Scottish border reivers and large numbers of these reivers had settled around Enniskillen in County Fermanagh, hence the name "Inniskillingers".
Ironically, historian Derek Brown notes that if the battle is seen as part of the War of the Grand Alliance, Pope Alexander VIII was an ally of William and an enemy to James; the Papal States were part of the Grand Alliance with a shared hostility to the Catholic Louis XIV of France, who at the time was attempting to establish dominance in Europe and to whom James was an ally.
The opposing armies in the battle were led by the Roman Catholic King James II of England, Scotland, and Ireland and opposing him, his nephew and son-in-law, the Protestant King William III ("William of Orange") who had deposed James the previous year. James's supporters controlled much of Ireland and the Irish Parliament. James also enjoyed the support of his cousin, Louis XIV, who did not want to see a hostile monarch on the throne of England. Louis sent 6,000 French troops to Ireland to support the Irish Jacobites. William was already Stadtholder of the Netherlands and was able to call on Dutch and allied troops from Europe as well as England and Scotland.
James was a seasoned officer who had proven his bravery when fighting for his brother – King Charles II – in Europe, notably at the Battle of the Dunes (1658). However, recent historians have noted that he was prone to panicking under pressure and making rash decisions, possibly due to the onset of the dementia which would overtake him completely in later years. William, although a seasoned commander, was hardly one of history's great generals and had yet to win a major battle.
Many of his battles ended in stalemates, prompting at least one modern historian to argue that William lacked an ability to manage armies in the thick of conflict. William's success against the French had been reliant upon tactical manoeuvres and good diplomacy rather than force. His diplomacy had assembled the League of Augsburg, a multi-national coalition formed to resist French aggression in Europe. From William's point of view, his takeover of power in England and the ensuing campaign in Ireland was just another front in the war against King Louis XIV.
James II's subordinate commanders were Richard Talbot, 1st Earl of Tyrconnell, who was Lord Deputy of Ireland and James's most powerful supporter in Ireland; and the French general Lauzun. William's second-in-command was the Duke of Schomberg. Born in Heidelberg, Germany, Schomberg had formerly been a Marshal of France, but, being a Huguenot, was compelled to leave France in 1685 because of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes.
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The Williamite army at the Boyne was about 36,000 strong, composed of troops from many countries. Around 20,000 troops had been in Ireland since 1689, commanded by Schomberg. William himself arrived with another 16,000 in June 1690. William's troops were generally far better trained and equipped than James's. The best Williamite infantry were from Denmark and the Netherlands, professional soldiers equipped with the latest flintlock muskets. There was also a large (4,200) contingent of French Huguenot troops fighting with the Williamites. William did not have a high opinion of his English and Scottish troops, with the exception of the Ulster Protestant irregulars who had held Ulster in the previous year. The English and Scottish troops were felt to be politically unreliable, since James had been their legitimate monarch up to a year before. Moreover, they had only been raised recently and had seen little battle action.
The Jacobites were 23,500 strong. James had several regiments of French troops, but most of his manpower was provided by Irish Catholics. The Jacobites' Irish cavalry, who were recruited from among the dispossessed Irish gentry, proved themselves to be high calibre troops during the course of the battle. However, the Irish infantry, predominantly peasants who had been pressed into service, were not trained soldiers. They had been hastily trained, poorly equipped, and only a minority of them had functional muskets. In fact, some of them carried only farm implements such as scythes at the Boyne. On top of that, the Jacobite infantry who actually had firearms were all equipped with the obsolete matchlock musket.
William had landed in Carrickfergus in Ulster on 14 June 1690 OS and marched south intending to take Dublin. He was heard to remark that 'the place was worth fighting for'. James chose to place his line of defense on the River Boyne, around 30 miles (48 km) from Dublin. The Williamites reached the Boyne on 29 June. The day before the battle, William himself had a narrow escape when he was wounded in the shoulder by Jacobite artillery while surveying the fords over which his troops would cross the Boyne.
The battle itself was fought on 1 July OS (11th NS), for control of a ford on the Boyne near Drogheda, about 2.5 kilometres (1.6 mi) northwest of the hamlet of Oldbridge (and about 1.5 kilometres (0.9 mi) west-northwest of the modern Boyne River Bridge). William sent about a quarter of his men to cross the river at Roughgrange, about 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) west of Donore and about 6 miles (9.7 km) southwest of Oldbridge. The Duke of Schomberg's son, Meinhardt, led this crossing, which Irish dragoons in picquet under Neil O'Neill unsuccessfully opposed. James, an inexperienced general, thought that he might be outflanked and sent half his troops, along with most of his artillery, to counter this move. What neither side had realised was that there was a deep, swampy ravine at Roughgrange. Because of this ravine, the opposing forces there could not engage each other, but literally sat out the battle. The Williamite forces went on a long detour march which, later in the day, almost saw them cut off the Jacobite retreat at the village of Naul.
At the main ford near Oldbridge, William's infantry, led by the elite Dutch Blue Guards, forced their way across the river, using their superior firepower to slowly drive back the enemy foot soldiers, but were pinned down when the Jacobite cavalry counter-attacked. Having secured the village of Oldbridge, some Williamite infantry tried to hold off successive cavalry attacks with disciplined volley fire, but were scattered and driven into the river, with the exception of the Blue Guards. William's second-in-command, the Duke of Schomberg, and George Walker were killed in this phase of the battle. The Williamites were not able to resume their advance until their own horsemen managed to cross the river and, after being badly mauled, managed to hold off the Jacobite cavalry until they[clarification needed] retired and regrouped at Donore, where they once again put up stiff resistance before retiring.
The Jacobites retired in good order. William had a chance to trap them as they retreated across the River Nanny at Duleek, but his troops were held up by a successful rear-guard action. The Dutch secretary of King William, Constantijn Huygens Jr., has given a good description (in Dutch) of the battle and its aftermath, including subsequent cruelties committed by the victorious soldiers.
The casualty figures of the battle were quite low for a battle of such a scale—of the 50,000 or so participants, about 2,000 died. Three-quarters of the dead were Jacobites. William's army had far more wounded. At the time, most casualties of battles tended to be inflicted in the pursuit of an already-beaten enemy; this did not happen at the Boyne, as the counter-attacks of the skilled Jacobite cavalry screened the retreat of the rest of their army, and in addition William was always disinclined to endanger the person of James, since he was the father of his wife, Mary. The Jacobites were badly demoralised by the order to retreat, which lost them the battle. Many of the Irish infantrymen deserted. The Williamites triumphantly marched into Dublin two days after the battle. The Jacobite army abandoned the city and marched to Limerick, behind the River Shannon, where they were unsuccessfully besieged.
Soon after the battle William issued the Declaration of Finglas, offering full pardons to ordinary Jacobite soldiers but not to their leaders. After his defeat, James did not stay in Dublin, but rode with a small escort to Duncannon and returned to exile in France, even though his army left the field relatively unscathed. James's loss of nerve and speedy exit from the battlefield enraged his Irish supporters, who fought on until the Treaty of Limerick in 1691; he was derisively nicknamed Seamus a' chaca ("James the shit") in Irish.
There is an oral tradition stating that no battle took place at all, that a symbolic victory was shown by the crossing of the River Boyne and that the total fatalities were a result of Williamite cavalry attacking the local able-bodied men.
It is well documented that Williams' horse on that day was black, despite all Orange Order murals depicting it as white with William holding his sword between the horse's ears to make it resemble a unicorn as a symbol of his "Saviour" status. Depictions of William have been strongly influenced by Benjamin West's 1778 painting The Battle of the Boyne.
The battle was overshadowed by the defeat of an Anglo-Dutch fleet by the French two days later at the Battle of Beachy Head, a far more serious event in the short term; only on the continent was the Boyne treated as an important victory. Its importance lay in the fact that it was the first proper victory for the League of Augsburg, the first-ever alliance between the Vatican and Protestant countries. The victory motivated more nations to join the alliance and in effect ended the fear of a French conquest of Europe.
The Boyne also had strategic significance for both England and Ireland. It marked the beginning of the end of James's hope of regaining his throne by military means and probably assured the triumph of the Glorious Revolution. In Scotland, news of this defeat temporarily silenced the Highlanders supporting the Jacobite Rising, which Bonnie Dundee had led. In Ireland, the Boyne fully assured the Jacobites that they could successfully resist William. But it was a general victory for William, and is still celebrated by the Protestant Orange Order on the Twelfth of July. Ironically, due to the political situation mentioned above, the Pope also hailed the victory of William at the Boyne, ordered the bells of the Vatican to be rung in celebration.
The civil war in Ireland ended with the Treaty of Limerick. It allowed James to leave for France and allowed most Irish land owners to keep their land provided that they swore allegiance to William of Orange. Few did so within two years and the concession was withdrawn from the remainder.
Originally, the 12 July commemoration was that of the Battle of Aughrim, symbolising Irish Protestants' victory in the Williamite war in Ireland. At Aughrim, which took place a year after the Boyne, the Jacobite army was destroyed, deciding the war in the Williamites' favour. The Boyne, which, in the old Julian calendar, took place on 1 July O.S., was treated as less important, third after Aughrim and the anniversary of the Irish Rebellion of 1641 on 23 October O.S.
In 1752, the Gregorian calendar was also adopted in Ireland. However, even after this date, "The Twelfth" continued to be commemorated at Aughrim, on 12 July NS, following the usual historical convention of commemorating events of that period within Great Britain and Ireland by mapping the Julian date directly onto the modern Gregorian calendar date (as happens for example with Guy Fawkes Night on 5 November) But, after the Orange Order was founded in 1795 amid sectarian violence in County Armagh, the two events were combined in the late 18th century.
"The Twelfth" in Great Britain and Ireland today
The Battle of the Boyne remains a controversial topic today in Northern Ireland, where some Protestants remember it as the great victory over Catholics that resulted in the sovereignty of Parliament and the Protestant monarchy.
In recent decades, "The Twelfth" has often been marked by confrontations, as members of the Orange Order attempt to celebrate the date by marching past or through what they see as their traditional route. Some of these areas, however, now have a nationalist majority who object to marches passing through what they see as their areas.
Each side thus dresses up the disputes in terms of the other's alleged attempts to repress them; Nationalists still see Orange Order marches as provocative attempts to "show who is boss", whilst Unionists insist that they have a right to "walk the Queen's highway". Since the start of The Troubles, the celebrations of the battle have been seen as playing a critical role in the awareness of those involved in the unionist/nationalist tensions in Northern Ireland.
The battlefield today
The site of the Battle of the Boyne sprawls over a wide area west of the town of Drogheda. In the County Development Plan for 2000, Meath County Council rezoned the land at the eastern edge of Oldbridge, at the site of the main Williamite crossing, to residential status. A subsequent planning application for a development of over 700 houses was granted by Meath County Council and this was appealed by local historians to An Bord Pleanala (The Planning Board). In March 2008 after an extremely long appeal process, An Bord Pleanala approved permission for this development to proceed. However, due to the current economic climate in Ireland, no work has yet started on this development.
The current Interpretive Centre dedicated to informing tourists and other visitors about the battle is about 1-mile (1.6 km) to the west of the main crossing point. The battle's other main combat areas (at Duleek, Donore and Plattin – along the Jacobite line of retreat) are marked with tourist information signs.
On 4 April 2007 in a sign of improving relations between unionist and nationalist groups, the newly elected First Minister of Northern Ireland, the Reverend Ian Paisley, was invited to visit the battle site by the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern later in the year. Following the invitation, Paisley commented that "such a visit would help to demonstrate how far we have come when we can celebrate and learn from the past so the next generation more clearly understands". On 10 May the visit took place, and Paisley presented the Taoiseach with a Jacobite musket in return for Ahern's gift at the St Andrews talks of a walnut bowl made from a tree from the site. A new tree was also planted in the grounds of Oldbridge House by the two politicians to mark the occasion.
- Harris, Tim (2006). Revolution: The Great Crisis of the British Monarchy, 1685–1720. London: Allen Lane. p. 440. ISBN 978-0-7139-9759-0.
- Magennis, Eoin (1998). "A 'Beleaguered Protestant'?: Walter Harris and the Writing of Fiction Unmasked in Mid-18th-Century Ireland". Eighteenth-Century Ireland. 13: 6–111. Retrieved 16 March 2012.
- How the battle of the Boyne earned its place in history The Guardian, 11 July 2000
- Observaties van een Zeventiende-eeuwse wereldbeschouwer, Constantijn Huygens en de uitvinding van het moderne dagboek. Dekker, Rudolf, Amsterdam 2013 p. 45-47.
- Chambers, Robert (1832). The Book of Days: A Miscellany of Popular Antiquities in Connection with the Calendar, Including Anecdote, Biography, & History, Curiosities of Literature and Oddities of Human Life and Character, Volume 2. London: W. & R. Chambers Limited. Retrieved 7 January 2016.
- Lenihan, Padraig (2003). 1690 Battle of the Boyne. Tempus. pp. 258–259. ISBN 9780752425979.
- ‘The Pope’s new invention’: the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in Ireland, 1583-1782, page 9 History Department, University College Cork, 1 April 2006
- Staff, BBCNews – Paisley and Ahern visit 1690 site, BBC, 11 May 2007
- Padraig Lenihan, 1690 Battle of the Boyne, Tempus Publishing, Gloucestershire, 2003. ISBN 0-7524-3304-0.
- G. A. Hayes McCoy, Irish Battles, Belfast, 1990, ISBN 0-86281-250-X.
- Richard Doherty, The Williamite War in Ireland 1688–1691, Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1998. ISBN 1-85182-375-1.
- Battle of the Boyne visitor centre at Oldbridge, plus battle information
- Boyne Valley Tourist Portal – Information on Battle of the Boyne
- Tourist Information on Battle of the Boyne Visitor Centre
- Primary and secondary sources relating to the Battle of the Boyne (From the National Library of Ireland's Sources database)
- Modern mapping of the area Ordnance Survey Ireland Select "Historic mapping" to see site of the "Boyne Obelisk" (destroyed, 1923) on the northern side of the [subsequent] bridge.
- Interview with historian Padraig Lenihan on the Battle of the Boyne