Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Battle of the Boyne
The Battle of the Boyne was a turning point in the Williamite claim on the English throne.
The deposed King James VII of Scotland and James II of England and Ireland and his Jacobite supporters were defeated by James' nephew and son-in-law, William III and his supporters. By the invitation of Parliament, William had deposed James in 1688. Both Kings acted as Commander of their respective armies.
The battle took place on July 1, 1690 (OS) just outside the town of Drogheda on Ireland's east coast. Each army stood on opposing sides of the River Boyne. William's forces easily defeated those of James who led an army of mostly raw recruits. The symbolic importance of this battle has made it one of the best-known battles in British and Irish history and a key part in Irish Protestant folklore. It is still commemorated today, principally by the Orange Institution. As a consequence of the adoption of the Gregorian calendar, the battle is now commemorated on July 12 every year.

A sectarian battle?

The competing sides
The opposing armies in the battle were led by the Roman Catholic former King James of England, Scotland and Ireland and opposing him, his nephew and son-in-law the Protestant William III ("William of Orange") who had deposed James from his English and Scottish thrones in the previous year. James's supporters still controlled much of Ireland and the Irish Parliament. James also enjoyed the support of the French King, Louis XIV, who did not want to see a hostile monarch, such as William, on the throne of England. To support James's restoration, 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 continental Europe as well as from Great Britain.
James was a seasoned general who had proven his bravery when fighting for his brother — King Charles II — in Europe, notably at the Battle of the Dunes in 1658. However, recent historians have noted that he was prone to panicking under pressure and to making rash decisions. William was also a seasoned commander and able general, but had yet to win a full battle. Many of his battles ended in bloody 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 maneuvers 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 Louis XIV of France.
James II's subordinate commanders were Richard Talbot, 1st Earl of Tyrconnell, who was the Lord Deputy of Ireland and James's most powerful supporter in that country; and the French general Lauzun. William's second in command was the Duke of Schomberg, a 75-year-old professional soldier. Born in Heidelberg, Germany, Schomberg had formerly been a Marshal of France, but, being a Huguenot, was compelled to leave his adopted country in 1685 because of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes.

The Williamite army at the Boyne was about 36,000 strong, composed of troops from many countries. Around 20,000 had been in Ireland since 1689, commanded by Schomberg. William himself arrived with 16,000 more in June 1690. William's troops were in general 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 contingent of French Huguenot troops fighting with the Williamites. William did not have a high opinion of his British 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 combat. 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 raised 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 supplied, 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 June 14, 1690 and marched south to take Dublin. It has been argued that the Jacobites should have tried to block this advance in rugged country around Newry, on the present day Irish border. However, James only fought a delaying action there and chose instead to place his line of defence on the Boyne river, around 50 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 by Jacobite artillery while surveying the fords over which his troops would cross the Boyne.
The battle itself was fought on July 1 for control of a ford on the Boyne at Oldbridge, near Drogheda. William sent about a quarter of his men to cross at a place called Roughgrange, near Slane, about 10 km from Oldbridge. The Duke of Schomberg's son Meinhardt led this crossing, which Irish dragoons unsuccessfully opposed. James panicked when he saw that he might be outflanked and sent half his troops, along with most of his cannon, to counter this move. What neither side had realised was that there was a deep ravine at Roughgrange, so that the forces there could not engage each other, but literally sat out the battle. The Williamites there went on a long detour march which, late in the day, almost saw them cut off the Jacobite retreat at the village of Naul.
At the main ford at 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 held off successive cavalry attacks with disciplined volley fire while others were driven into the river. 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, held off the Jacobite cavalry, who 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 casualty figure of the battle was quite low for a battle of such a scale — of the 50,000 or so participants, about 2,000 died, three-quarters of whom were Jacobites. The reason for the low death toll was that in contemporary warfare, most of the casualties 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 Jacobite cavalry screened the retreat of the rest of their army. The Jacobites were badly demoralised by their defeat, however, and 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 besieged.
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. In Irish folk memory, James was derisively nick-named Seamus a' chaca — a title that translates literally to "Shitty James" or "James the Shit."

The battle
The battle was overshadowed in its time in Great Britain by the defeat by the French of an Anglo-Dutch fleet 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 a major victory. Its importance lay in the fact that it was the first proper victory for the League of Augsburg, the first-ever alliance between Catholic and Protestant countries, and in achieving it William of Orange and Pope Alexander VIII (the League's prime movers) counteracted the myth, which emanated particularly from Sweden, that such an alliance was blasphemous. Thus the victory motivated more nations to join the alliance and in effect ended the very real danger of a French conquest of Europe.
The Boyne was not without strategic significance for both Great Britain and Ireland, however. It marked the end of James's hope of regaining his throne by military means and virtually assured the triumph of the Glorious Revolution. In Scotland, news of this defeat moved the Highlanders to gradually abandon the Jacobite Rising which Bonnie Dundee had led. In Ireland, the Boyne was the beginning of the Williamite victory over the Jacobites by which British and Protestant dominance over the country was maintained. For this reason, the Boyne is still celebrated by the Protestant Orange Order on the twelfth of July.

Commemoration of the battle

Main article: The Twelfth The battlefield today

Irish calendar
William III
Irish battles
British military history
Battle of Aughrim
Siege of Derry
Orange Institution
The Boyne Water

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