Ordinance of no quarter to the Irish

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The ordinance of no quarter to the Irish[1] was a decree[2] of the English Long Parliament passed on 24 October 1644 in response to the Irish Confederation of Kilkenny threat to send troops from Ireland to support King Charles I during the English Civil War. The decree ordered Parliamentary officers to give no quarter to Irish soldiers fighting in England and Wales, and Irish Confederate sailors at sea.


The Kilkenny Confederacy sent 2,000 troops in three regiments under the command of Alasdair MacColla to support Montrose's Royalist army in Scotland who were fighting against the Covenanters in 1644.[3] During the years 1643 and 1644 they also promised to send 10,000 troops to England and Wales. The troops were never sent, because the negotiations with Charles I broke down over the public practice of Catholicism and the independence of the Irish Parliament.[4] A ceasefire deal between the Irish Confederates and English Royalists did result in the return of some 5,000 Royalist troops from Ireland in 1643-44. The confusion of these regiments with the Irish Catholics, associated in Parliamentarian minds with the massacres of the Irish Rebellion of 1641, did much to frighten English Protestant opinion.[5] English Parliamentarians had often taunted Prince Rupert that he was a German mercenary,[6] and while they could just about tolerate foreign Protestants and English Roman Catholics fighting as Royalists, they considered support by foreign Roman Catholics a much greater threat.

Even before the Ordinance was passed Irish prisoners were in danger of being summarily executed. For example, in July 1644 Colonel William Sydenham defeated a Royalist plundering party from the garrison of Wareham at Dorchester, and hanged six or eight of his prisoners as being "mere Irish rebels".[7] This gave rise to reprisals on the part of the Royalists.[8][9]


The English Parliament's response to the Kilkenny Confederacy's proposed expeditionary force to England was to pass the Ordinance of no quarter to the Irish:

... no quarter shall be given hereafter to any Irishman, nor any Papist whatsoever born in Ireland, who shall be taken in hostility against the Parliament ... every officer that shall be remiss or negligent in observing the tenor of this ordinance shall be reputed a favourer of that bloody rebellion in Ireland.[10]

This Ordinance was effective only in England and Wales and did not apply to Scotland or Ireland (as they were not part of the same realm, they were countries beyond English jurisdiction).


The relative absence of Irish Catholic soldiers in England meant that the Ordinance was rarely acted upon. However, after the cessation of arms between the Confederates and the Royalists in 1643, this allowed Ormonde to send 8,000 troops from Dublin and Munster and aid the King.[11] Although most were in fact Englishmen, a small contingent consisted of Irish Royalists. In the instances where these Irish were captured, execution swiftly followed. After the Parliamentarians' capture of Shrewsbury, a number of Irish soldiers were hanged in accordance with the law.[12] In response, Prince Rupert executed an equal number of Parliamentarian troops, much to the English Parliament's disgust.[13] Similarly, after the fall of Conway Castle, seventy-five Irish prisoners were executed.[14] One example of the severity of this law was the massacre of some Welsh civilian camp followers (who were mistaken for Irish) by Parliamentarian soldiers after the Battle of Naseby in 1645. The Welsh, mostly women, were speaking the Welsh language, which the Roundhead troops mistook for Irish. Historian Charles Carlton has commented that the incident "was so unusual that it caused considerable comment".[15][16]

Irish military historian Pádraig Lenihan explains that, in practice, although the war at sea was covered by the Ordinance, as the Irish privateers captured more English sailors than the English did Irish and held English prisoners to exchange them for Irish prisoners, the ordinance for naval warfare lapsed. As he explains, "The 'laws' of war evolved like any primitive legal code, from the principle of reciprocity; self-interest counselled against brutality if there was the chance of being paid back in the same coin".[17]

Reciprocity in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms[edit]

In Ireland, the Irish Confederate Wars were waged with considerable brutality. Irish military historian Pádraig Lenihan makes the point that the Ordinance "... illustrates the depth of the conviction that the Irish shared a common and irredeemable blood guilt. The pitiless execution of Covenanters by Mac Colla's followers would seem to show that for the Irish, too, battle against British forces was waged without moral restraint. In practice, however, [in Ireland] there were restraints. For example, O'Neill, immediately after Benburb, sent 150 prisoners (excluding officers, whom he kept for ransom) under escort back to Scottish quarters (Hogan, war in Ireland)."[10]

In England as in Ireland and on the high seas, expedient reciprocity often won over other principles. For example, at the start of the First English Civil War Major John Lilburne was captured at the Battle of Brentford. Not only was he the most senior Parliamentary officer captured during the first campaigning season but also he was well known for his radical views. Plans to try him for "bearing arms against the king" were dropped when the Parliamentary side threatened to retaliate in kind, and he was exchanged for a Royalist officer. At the end of the Second English Civil War and the apparent utter defeat of the Royalist cause, the Parliamentary side was far less lenient than at the end of the first war. In the view of the Parliamentarians, Royalist leaders who had participated in the second war (and who in some cases had broken their parole given at the end of the first war not to take up arms against Parliament) had caused pointless bloodshed for a lost cause,[18] and so, for example, three of the five prominent Royalist peers who fought in the second war and were captured by the Parliamentarians were beheaded at Westminster on 9 March 1648.[18] This opinion reached all the way to the top of the Royalist cause, with the Grandees of the New Model Army, who before the second war had wanted a negotiated settlement with Charles I, reluctantly coming round to the radicals point of view that "Charles Stuart, that man of blood"[19] should be tried – and possibly executed, as he was in January 1649.


  1. ^ Also known as Ordinance of no quarter to Irish and Ordinance of October 24 (1644)
  2. ^ As the King would not consent to Bills from a Parliament at war with him Acts of Parliament at this time were styled Ordinance (Manganiello 2004, p. 401)
  3. ^ Bartlett (1997), p. 305
  4. ^ Kenyon, p. 87–88
  5. ^ Lenihan (2001), pp. 75–76
  6. ^ Fraser, Antonia. The robber prince, The Guardian, 23 June 2007, a review of Prince Rupert: The Last Cavalier by Charles Spencer (Weidenfeld)
  7. ^ Firth 1898, p. 254 cites: Devereux, Lives of the Earls of Essex, ii. 418; Vicars, God's Ark, p. 286.
  8. ^ Firth 1898, p. 254 cites: Ludlow, Memoirs, i. 95.
  9. ^ Ludlow 1751, pp. 103, 104.
  10. ^ a b Lenihan (2001), p. 211
  11. ^ "This treaty, equally reprobated by violent Catholics and fanatic puritans, was of no real service to the king. Lord Byron, at the head of 3,500 troops sent by Ormond to England, was defeated in Cheshire by Fairfax with the loss of nearly half his force, and all his artillery, baggage, and ammunition. Though further reinforcements were sent from Ireland, nothing of consequence was effected. Some of the transports being intercepted by ships of war belonging to the parliament increased the number of victims sacrificed by the rage of civil and religious bigotry." (Wilkes 1812, p. 132)
  12. ^ Wright 1826, p. 120.
  13. ^ Wright 1826, p. 121.
  14. ^ Manganiello 2004, p. 401.
  15. ^ Kenyon, p. 273
  16. ^ Questions & Puzzles: Where did the atrocities take place?, Naseby Battlefield Project, Retrieved 2009-05-24. "John Rushworth wrote the next day, '…the Irish women Prince Rupert brought upon the field … our souldiers would grant no quarter too, about 100 slain of them, and most of the rest of the whores that attended that wicked Army are marked in the face or nose, with a slash or cut.'"
  17. ^ Lenihan (2001), p. 212
  18. ^ a b Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition article GREAT REBELLION; 49. Preston Fight
  19. ^ Man of Blood, Bartleby.com quoting E. Cobham Brewer 1810–1897. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898.


  • Bartlett, Thomas; Jeffery, Keith (1997). A Military History of Ireland. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-62989-8.
  •  Firth, C.H. (1898). "William Sydenham". In Lee, Sidney. Dictionary of National Biography. 55. London: Smith, Elder & Co. p. 254.
  • Kenyon, John; Ohlmeyer, Jane. the Civil Wars. Publisher, date of publication and ISBN are needed.
  • Lenihan, Pádraig (2001). Confederate Catholics at War, 1641-49. Cork University Press. ISBN 1-85918-244-5.
  • Ludlow, Edmund (1751). Memoirs of Edmund Ludlow, esq. ...: With a collection of original papers, serving to confirm and illustrate many important passages contained in the Memoirs. To which is now added, The case of King Charles the First. With a copious index. 1. W. Sands. pp. 103, 104.
  • Manganiello, Stephen C. (2004). The Concise Encyclopedia of the Revolutions and Wars of England, Scotland 1639-1660. Scarecrow Press. p. 401. ISBN 0-8108-5100-8.
  • Wright, Thomas (1826). The history & antiquities of the town of Ludlow and its ancient castle: with lives of the presidents, and descriptive and historical accounts of gentlemen's seats, villages, &c. Procter and Jones. p. 120, 121.
  • Wilkes, John (1812). "Ireland". Encyclopaedia Londinensis, or, Universal dictionary of arts, sciences, and literature. p. 312.

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