The Battle of the Boyne - celticgoods

The Battle of the Boyne

The Battle of the Boyne, fought on July 1, 1690, was a significant event in Irish and British history, marking a pivotal moment in the Williamite War in Ireland. The conflict emerged from the broader context of the Glorious Revolution in 1688, which saw the overthrow of King James II of England and the ascension of William III (William of Orange) to the English throne.

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James II was the King of England and Ireland and was known as James VII as King of Scotland beginning in February, 1685 on the death of his brother, Charles II. The years prior to his coronation saw tensions rising between the Catholics and the Protestants. During the 1650’s, under the rule of Oliver Cromwell, Irish Catholics were stripped of much of their property and incentives were put in place for English Protestants to settle in Ireland to reduce the power of the Irish Catholics.    

James II placed Richard Talbot, Earl of Tyrconnell in charge of neutralizing Protestant militias and forming an Irish army loyal solely to the crown.

James had widespread support from all three countries but was unable to pass several measures from the English and Scottish parliaments. Much of this opposition may have been due to political principles as well as religious ones.

James Francis Edward Stuart was born to James and his wife Mary of Modena in June 1688. His birth signified the potential of establishing a Catholic dynasty, which would have excluded his daughter, Mary II and her husband, William III, who was a nephew of James II.

The Glorious Revolution was sparked by the fear of a Catholic succession in England. King James II's Catholicism raised concerns among Protestant leaders and Parliament, leading to the invitation of William of Orange, a Protestant and James's son-in-law, to intervene.

William landed in England in November 1688, and James II fled to France the following month, which effectively handed the throne to William.

Richard Talbot had raised an army of Irish Catholics in support of the now exiled James II, known as Jacobites. Over the next few months, his army suppressed a majority of the Protestant resistance in Ireland.

In France, James II was gathering French support to take back the throne and on March 12, 1689, he arrived at Kinsdale in southern Ireland. His focus was on two Protestant strongholds: Derry and Enniskillen.     

The Siege of Derry took place on April 18, 1689 and was a significant early event in the conflict, where the predominantly Protestant population resisted a Catholic siege, reinforcing the sectarian nature of the war.

Three days later in England, William and Mary were crowned joint sovereigns of Britian by Parliament, declaring that James II had abdicated the throne.

Back in Ireland, Derry held out for three months against James II when a Williamite army arrived in July, forcing a retreat of the Jacobites. That same month, the Jacobites attempted to take Enniskillen, but were forced to withdraw by the Protestants.

In August, William III sent an army of near 20,000 men under the Duke of Schomberg to Bangor in Northern Ireland. From there he seized Carrickfergus and began heading south to Dublin. James II’s army was also on the move towards Dublin. In September both armies arrived at Dundalk, camping out on opposite sides of the town. Fighting ceased for the duration of the winter and in March 1690, an additional 6000 French musketeers arrived in southern Ireland.   

William, now King William III, arrived at Carrickfergus in Ireland on June 14, 1690, aiming to confront James and his French allies. Accompanying him were an additional 15,000 reinforcements. On June 29, James and his army took up a defensive position on the southern banks of the River Boyne in County Meath. This location, roughly 25 miles north of Dublin, would provide a natural defense against the Williamite army. On the opposite side of the river, William set up his headquarters.   

William III, who skillfully defended the Netherlands against France, commanded the Williamite forces, while James II led the Jacobite army. James II’s reputation as a strong commander was questionable at best.

The Williamites, numbering around 37,000, were mainly comprised of Dutch, English, and Danish troops. The Jacobites, with roughly 29,000 men, were a mix of Irish, French, and English Catholic troops. Aside from the French, most of his army was not experienced. The army of William III had modern flintlock muskets in comparison to James’ army, who possessed mostly outdated weapons. As for artillery power, William had roughly eight times the amount of James’s army.

Early on July 1st, William’s army began to move. Cavalry and an infantry of thousands were set to cross the river at Slane. Simultaneously, the Duke of Schomberg would focus on a bulk of James’ army, bombarding them with artillery. While these two actions were in place, roughly 8000 men of William’s forces crossed the Boyne near Rosnaree. He was met with Jacobite resistance and James sent additional reinforcements attempting to halt William’s progress.

William ultimately divided his army to locations at Drybridge, Yellow Island, and Oldbridge. James initially moved back to gain a more strategic advantage but ordered a counterattack after seeing William’s movement. The next few hours of the battle were pivotal in slowing the Williamite army, even killing the Duke of Schomberg. Ultimately James II could only slow the army but not defeat it. By this time, William arrived at the banks of Mill’s Ford and James withdrew his army.

The Williamites secured a victory, but the outcome was not as decisive as it might have been.

The battle did not result in the overall destruction of James's army nor the Jacobite movement. James II again returned to France, never to set foot in Ireland again.

The Battle of the Boyne reinforced William III's control over Ireland and solidified Protestant dominance. It had lasting political and religious implications, contributing to the marginalization of Catholics in Ireland.

The war continued after the Boyne, leading to the Treaty of Limerick in 1691. The terms were relatively lenient, allowing Catholics to retain their lands and practice their religion. However, subsequent events, such as the Penal Laws, ultimately undermined these provisions.

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