Battles for the Three Kingdoms: The Campaigns for England, Scotland and Ireland 1689-92

Battles for the Three Kingdoms: The Campaigns for England, Scotland and Ireland 1689-92

by John Barratt

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The Battle of the Boyne in 1690 was the culmination of the ferocious struggle between two kings, James II and William III. This book makes use of research and sources, including eyewitness accounts, to analyse the opposing forces, their strategy, tactics and conduct of the war and the reasons for its eventual outcome.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780752495989
Publisher: The History Press
Publication date: 02/15/2007
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 224
File size: 866 KB
Age Range: 18 Years

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Battles for the Three Kingdoms

The Campaigns for England, Scotland and Ireland 1689 â" 92

By John Barratt

The History Press

Copyright © 2013 John Barratt
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7524-9598-9



When James II succeeded to the British thrones in February 1685 following the death of his brother, Charles II, he seemed as secure in his inheritance as any monarch in Europe. Yet, in less than four years he would be a dethroned exile, overthrown by the 'Glorious Revolution' of 1688 and poised to engulf the British Isles in bloody civil war in an effort to regain his crown.

There were always those who doubted James's ability. In his earlier career, fighting in exile in the service of France and Spain, James had been an energetic and apparently courageous soldier, although always in a relatively junior capacity, and had displayed similar bravery of a passive kind as a fleet commander against the Dutch.

James's instincts were always authoritarian, with compulsion the first resort, as demonstrated when he was given responsibility for suppressing the Protestant Covenanters in Scotland. Indeed, religion was the key motive in most of James's actions and in his eventual fall. Converted to Catholicism during his exile, James fervently embraced his religion, and this was a major cause for the widespread opposition that the prospect of his succeeding to the throne created.

In the end, the strong grip that Charles II had established in his later years, and the support of the dominant Anglican–Tory interests, were enough to secure James's accession with little opposition, and indeed with some enthusiasm, although conditional on his working within the existing political and religious framework. Yet within less than a year, encouraged by the easy defeat of the rebellions of Monmouth and the Duke of Argyll, James would be embarking on a collision course with increasing numbers of his subjects.

Nobody ever credited James with great intelligence. A cold and generally humourless man, he lacked the cleverness and wit of his elder brother. The Duke of Buckingham said of the brothers: 'the king could see things if he would; the duke [of York] would see things if he could.' Catherine Sedley, one of the numerous, usually remarkably ugly, mistresses kept by James in contradiction to his strong devoutness, commented: 'we are none of us handsome, and if we had wit, he has not enough to discover it', while Charles himself feared that 'my brother will lose his kingdom by his bigotry and his soul for a lot of ugly trollops'.

With haste sharpened by his advancing years, James attempted to push through policies favouring his Catholic co-religionists. As they comprised only 2 per cent of the English population, otherwise predominantly anti-papist Protestants, a collision was virtually inevitable, and James's readiness to ignore or override existing legislation and Parliament in order to gain his ends led to growing alarm.

James's long-term plans remain the subject of debate. Was he aiming at a British version of the absolute monarchies that were a feature of contemporary Europe, or was he following the narrower plan of emancipating his Catholic co-religionists, with the hope that their greater prominence would be followed by increasing numbers of conversions among the rest of the population?

There were grounds for concern because of his known authoritarian tendencies, and still more due to his steady expansion of his regular army, where commissions were now granted to Catholics, although even by 1688 only about 10 per cent of the officers were of that faith.

Alarm grew when James's activities in his kingdoms of Scotland and Ireland were observed. In Scotland, where the proportion of Catholics was similar to that in England, James tested out his pro-Catholic policies before applying them in England, but encountered so much opposition, especially from the Presbyterian section of the community, that by 1688, even before the Revolution in England, royal government had almost broken down.

In Ireland James began with the advantage of 97 per cent of the population being Catholic. But the social and political situation was complex. There was a complicated divide between the 'new' settlers (those who had arrived in the post-Reformation period, and particularly during the Cromwellian Settlement of the 1650s), the 'Old English' (descendants of the pre-Reformation settlers, who had remained Catholic), and the 'native' Irish or 'Gaels'. The remaining 3 per cent of the population were Protestant, of whom the most hostile to James and his plans were the mainly Scottish Presbyterians of Ulster.

Prominent in Catholic Ireland was Richard Talbot. Born in 1630, Talbot was an 'Old English' Catholic who fought against Cromwell, narrowly escaping from the massacre at Drogheda in 1649. A close friend of James in exile and procurer of his mistresses, Talbot was described by Bishop Burnet as 'a man who had much cunning, and had the secrets both of his master's pleasures and of his religion'. Talbot opposed the Restoration Land Settlement which left the 'New English' settlers in possession of most of their recent territorial gains, and became regarded as the principal spokesman of the 'Old English'.

Talbot prospered both financially and in influence under James, who, in 1685, created him Earl of Tyrconnel, and two years later appointed him Lord Deputy, with the task of expediting his Catholicisation programme, particularly in the Irish army. In 1685 nearly all the troops were Protestant; a year later 67 per cent of the privates were Catholic, along with 40 per cent of the officers. As a result, increasing numbers of alarmed Protestants fled to England.

Matters came to a head from the spring of 1688. James, like his brother before him, had accepted financial subsidies from King Louis XIV of France. He had been unhappy with Louis's insatiable ambition to expand French influence in Europe, and attempted to remain neutral in the contest between Louis and his principal adversary, the Protestant William, Prince of Orange, Stadtholder of the Netherlands and James's son-in-law by marriage to his daughter Mary. However, popular opinion in England regarded James as a virtual French puppet.

In 1686 Emperor Leopold of Austria and a number of other European states, including the Netherlands, had formed the League of Augsburg, pledged to resist further French expansion. Two years later, Louis invaded the Palatinate, ostensibly in support of the claims to the territory of his sister-in-law, the Duchess of Orleans. By 1688 French troops were launching devastating raids deep into Imperial territory. The League of Augsburg was activated, and Europe was once more at war.

William of Orange, the moving force behind the League, and Louis's inveterate foe, was an unattractive man. Cold, cynical and suspicious by nature, William reserved any warmth for his female mistresses and male lovers; and for his troops, who regarded him with enthusiasm despite William's uninspiring military record.

From the opening of hostilities, William's overriding aim was to bring England into the war on the side of the League. This was clearly unlikely while James was on the throne, and, as early as April 1688, William was considering a landing in England if he could be assured of sufficient support there to overthrow or neutralise James. Matters in England were brought to a head by two events. First, the strength of popular opposition to James's policies was demonstrated by the acquittal of the seven bishops, tried for their refusal to endorse the King's latest Declaration of Indulgence suspending all anti-Catholic legislation. Secondly, on 10 June James's queen, Mary of Modena, gave birth to a son. Attempts were made to suggest that the new Prince of Wales had been 'planted', but in reality there could be no doubt that James now had a male heir, who would be brought up a Roman Catholic and supplant as heir to the throne his two Protestant half-sisters, Mary and Anne. Instead of a temporary religious aberration under James, the king's opponents were now faced with the prospect of a Roman Catholic dynasty stretching into the future.

The outcome was the invitation three weeks later, by seven leading figures in the Church, aristocracy, army and navy, to William of Orange to land in England to settle affairs there – and, if as yet only tacitly, to overthrow James.

William landed at Torbay on 5 November with an army of 15,000 men. Although James could theoretically muster almost three times that number, after he had called in reinforcements from Ireland and Scotland, his regime literally fell apart. Shaken by the desertion of trusted officers such as John Churchill and the Duke of Grafton, James suffered something approaching mental collapse, and fell back on London virtually without striking a blow, disbanded his army, and attempted to follow his wife and son in flight to France. His first attempt ended in failure. Brought back to London, James briefly met his chief Scottish supporters, the Earl of Balcarres and John Graham, Earl of Claverhouse, recently created Viscount Dundee. A kinsman of the great Montrose, though with less of his military talent, Claverhouse had gained some notoriety for his ruthless suppression of Scottish Covenanters and was the natural choice to lead any Stuart counterrevolution in Scotland. He and Balcarres were sent back north to await instructions.

On 23 December, an embarrassment to his Dutch son-in-law, James was permitted to make a second, this time successful, escape attempt. In France he was warmly welcomed by Louis, and installed in the palace of Saint-Germain. In England and Scotland, James's flight was presented as de facto abdication, and Conventions in both countries proclaimed William and Mary as joint monarchs in his stead.

William had achieved his immediate aim of bringing Britain into the League of Augsburg, and a declaration of war on France followed in May. In Scotland there was no immediate opposition to the change of regime, but in Ireland, after some apparent initial hesitancy and abortive negotiations with William via Richard Hamilton, an Irish officer taken in England who had been paroled to talk with Tyrconnel, the latter declared for James and began raising troops, and Hamilton joined him.

In England, once James's stranded Irish troops had been rounded up, the new regime seemed shakily established, and there were hopes that James might accept the status quo and comfortable exile in France.

This at first seemed not unlikely; James still wanted to be king, but lacked the determination to attempt this, while the French courtiers were unimpressed with the prematurely aged and indecisive monarch. But, although his War Minister, Louvois, wanted to concentrate all efforts on the war in Europe, Louis had some personal regard for James, and both he and his Naval Minister, the Marquis de Seignelay, saw support for James in Ireland as a useful diversion of enemy resources, and as a way of perhaps eventually restoring him as a client monarch.

James proved reluctant to oblige. Tyrconnel in the end had to demand of the king whether 'you can with honour continue where you are when you possess a kingdom of your own', and assured him that he need remain in Ireland only for a short time to organise matters there, and could then return to France. The great French military engineer Vauban commented caustically to Louvois: 'I have an idea that when a man plays his last stake he ought to play it himself or be on the spot. The king of England seems to be in this condition. His last stake is Ireland; it appears to me that he ought to go there.'

In the end, pressure from Louis and a certain recovery of confidence on James's part, tipped the scales. On 25 February 1689, seen off by Louis with the enigmatic comment 'the best I can wish you is that we shall never see each other again', James left Saint-Germain bound for the port of Brest and thence to Ireland. In his Irish kingdom, Tyrconnel's troops were preparing to march on Ulster, where Protestant-held Derry and Enniskillen defied him. The War of the Three Kingdoms was about to begin.


Warfare in the Late Seventeenth Century

Late-seventeenth-century Europe was overshadowed by the legacy of the Thirty Years War. Its terrible impact had led to a widespread desire to limit the effects of conflict.

This did not mean that no atrocities took place, whether carried out by unauthorised individuals, or as deliberate acts of policy – such as the notorious 1670s dragonnades by the troops of Louis XIV against the French Huguenots. But, overall, most governments and commanders made conscious efforts to moderate the effects of their military operations.

Warfare remained largely seasonal. Communications were, generally, fairly basic and bad weather quickly turned most roads into muddy quagmires, unusable for up to seven months of the year, while it was customary to lay up the largest warships for the winter.

The rise of professional armies, which had been a feature of much of the century, also played a fundamental role in the nature of late-seventeenth-century warfare. Such armies were expensive to raise, equip and train, and casualties were difficult to replace quickly with recruits of the same calibre. Consequently, siege warfare was generally preferred to pitched battles, as the latter were both expensive in terms of casualties and risky in their outcome.


Objectives were often limited by supply considerations. Logistics were a nightmare for most commanders, worsened by the steady growth in the size of armies, which by the end of the century had, on average, doubled to around 100,000 men. This increase was not the result of population growth, or indeed desired by most generals, who preferred smaller and more manageable forces, but was seen by monarchs as a visible sign of their power and prestige. The development of relatively efficient centralised governments also made it easier to recruit and equip such large forces.

The growth in the size of armies was not matched by a corresponding increase in ability to maintain them. The horse remained the predominant means of bringing supplies to an army in the field. The unauthorised foraging which had been a feature of the Thirty Years War was now usually discouraged.

As a result, it was necessary to maintain huge depots, from which supplies were carried to the army by means of horse- or ox-drawn supply convoys along the frequently appalling roads, or, when possible, by water. Only fairly densely populated and heavily farmed areas produced the quantities of food necessary to feed these large armies. It was not only the requirements of the combat troops themselves that had to be met, but also those of the large numbers of civilian camp followers of various kinds, who often added as much as half again to the numbers of an army.

Supply demands were huge. Even a relatively small force of 60,000 men needed 95 million pounds of bread in a six-month period, and this in turn would require the services of 60 ovens and 240 bakers. Nearly 60 tons of bricks would be needed to construct the ovens, and 1,400 wagon-loads of fuel would be required each month to fire them.

On campaign, 40,000 horses, drawing 10,000 wagons, required 10,000 quintals of fodder a day, while the team of horses drawing a supply wagon would consume much of what it carried for its own subsistence before it reached the army.

It is not surprising that even the best logistical arrangements frequently proved inadequate. In such circumstances an army was forced to revert to more traditional and unwelcome methods of foraging. The 'Grand Forage', as it was known, frequently saw the bulk of troops in an army being employed in systematic ransacking of the surrounding countryside, which might yield sufficient supplies to last for four or five days.

Even in good weather, it was usually impossible for a depot adequately to feed an army more than five days' march (about 70 miles) away. Strategy was increasingly dictated by the need to keep an army supplied, and this led to sluggish and formalised campaigning, in which a general could not risk out-marching his supplies.

As a result, commanders became increasingly obsessed with real or imagined threats to their lines of communication. Enemy garrisons to their rear had to be either reduced or neutralised, a process that consumed both time and manpower, which meant that even a major victory, unless gained very early in the campaigning season, could not be fully exploited. Such a situation faced William III after his victory at the Boyne in July 1690, which proved too late in the season to allow him to reduce Limerick before the weather broke.

Given an average daily march of about 10 to 12 miles, these factors meant that, after a victory gained in the middle of the campaigning season, an army might have left to it an effective range of no more than 300 to 350 miles, and this in practice was frequently considerably less, because of the need to spend time neutralising enemy garrisons or detachments threatening lines of communication. By the time this had been achieved, the onset of winter would provide opportunity for the enemy to recover.

The major supply worry for any commander lay in obtaining sufficient fodder for his huge numbers of horses. Each horse on a daily basis ate about 18–30 kilos of green fodder in summer, and half its own weight in corn in winter. As a result, a large effort had to be concentrated on providing sustenance for the horses.


Excerpted from Battles for the Three Kingdoms by John Barratt. Copyright © 2013 John Barratt. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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Table of Contents


List of Maps,
1. Introduction,
2. Warfare in the Late Seventeenth Century,
3. The Rival Armies,
4. Jacobite High Tide,
5. The Braes of Killiecrankie,
6. Stalemate in Ireland,
7. The End of the Highland Army,
8. The Road to the Boyne,
9. The Irish Recovery,
10. The War at Sea,
11. The Bloody Field,
12. The Flight of the Wild Geese,
13. La Hogue,
14. Epilogue,

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