Battle of the Boyne
These days the Battle of the Boyne is seen as a sectarian conflict, Catholic against Protestant, marked in particular by the Orange Order in celebrations of Protestant power in Ireland. But the true situation at the time was far more complex.
James II recently deposed as King of England and Scotland (and in theory of Ireland, though he in fact held power there still), had support from many Protestants in Ireland and Scotland (the latter keen to see the Stuart dynasty continue in authority). And William III , Jamesís son-in-law, was supported by the Pope, who had joined with him in The League of Augsburg in opposition to Louis XIV of France who threatened to dominate the whole of Europe. Williamís army contained many Dutch Catholics, fighting for him as their Stadtholder and as a papal ally.
The bulk of Williamís army, commanded by the Duke of Schomberg, a German who had once been a Marshal in the French army until forced out because of his Protestant religion, had been in Ireland for some time, holding territory in Ulster and elsewhere. James controlled Dublin and most of the country. Their forces were more or less equal, with James enjoying greater popular support from the Catholic nobility which had been disenfranchised and robbed of its lands since Cromwell ís time. James failed to hit this force when he had the best chance, and indeed when William landed in Ireland with another 16,000 or so troops he allowed them to move almost unhindered towards Dublin.
The armies came together at the River Boyne, some 30 miles from Dublin. William had more than 35,000 men, James two thirds that number. And even more importantly, Williamís force had large numbers of professional infantry armed with the latest flintlock muskets; Jamesís foot, though he did have several regiments of French soldiers provided by his ally Louis XIV, were largely peasants pressed into service, poorly and hastily Ďtrainedí, the majority armed with whatever sharp implements came to hand. His musketeers also possessed far more outdated matchlock muskets than flintlock, rendering them less effective.
In the battle Williamís infantry in the centre of the line pushed over the river, its superior firepower driving back the enemy foot. This force was held for a time by the Jacobite cavalry composed of Catholic gentry, fighting for their own future with great courage and ferocity. The respite was temporary, the stalemate being broken when Williamís cavalry crossed the river and tipped the battle decisively in his favour.
For a clash involving such huge numbers the casualties were relatively low, the Jacobites in the region of 1,500, Williamís force around half that, the figures kept low by the bold rearguard action fought by the Jacobite cavalry which prevented a rout and the slaughter that would have ensued.
In terms of depletion of numbers therefore the battle was far from decisive. But the Jacobite morale had been mortally wounded. Desertions depleted their ranks. And James lost his nerve and fled the country, abandoning the very people who could have launched his counter-coup. As William relied on the Parliamentary classes for his rule in England, he accepted Parliamentary sovereignty in that country, in stark contrast to the absolutism for which James stood, so The Boyne was to have enormous significance in political terms in Englandís future.
More famous dates here
7934 views since 20th February 2007
On this day: