Boyne, Battle of the

views updated May 14 2018

Boyne, Battle of the

Undoubtedly the most famous military engagement in Irish history, the Battle of the Boyne occurred on 1 July 1690 (old style; 12 July, new style) along the river of the same name, roughly two miles to the west of the town of Drogheda. There, some 36,000 troops commanded by King William III defeated an army of approximately 25,000 troops led by King James II. For the entire year prior to the battle there were no major military engagements between the two cautious armies. But when William arrived in Protestant-controlled Ulster in mid-June, he moved quickly to engage his rival, whose supporters controlled the rest of Ireland. While James's French advisors suggested burning Dublin and retreating west of the river Shannon, James decided to guard the capital. He chose to make his stand along the river Boyne, the best defensible obstacle between Ulster and Dublin. Drogheda, at the mouth of the river, was well garrisoned, but the Boyne was fordable a few miles to the west near Oldbridge, and this is where James placed his army. Unfortunately for James, there was a loop in the river at Oldbridge, a geographical feature that helped to determine the outcome of the battle. Arriving on the north side of the river on 30 June, William and his advisors recognized their advantageous position and decided upon a diversionary, flanking movement further upstream. On the morning of 1 July, as mist cleared, James decided to split his troops—the French to the left flank and the Irish in the center—lest they all be encircled from behind. With over half of James's troops drawn off, the bulk of William's army easily forded the river at Oldbridge, where they outnumbered the Irish infantry and cavalry by three to one. The latter held out for three hours of fierce fighting before giving way, and news of the action at Oldbridge prompted a general Jacobite (supporters of James) retreat to Duleek, where in confusion the entire army crossed the river Nanny. The Williamite army pursued them no further that day, but the victory was theirs. Within three days James was on a boat to France, never to return to Ireland or any of his three former kingdoms, and within a week William was crowned king of Ireland in Dublin.

One of the most striking aspects of the battle was the internationalism of both armies. William's best troops, the Blue Guards, came with him from Holland, while the rest of his army was comprised of French Huguenots, Germans, Danish, English, and Irish. Although the Williamite army was overwhelmingly Protestant, a number of regiments were predominantly Catholic. James's army was primarily Irish and French, but there were also large numbers of Germans, Walloons, and English. The diverse origins of the soldiers who fought at the Boyne reflect many of the key participants' feeling that the battle was not primarily about who ruled Ireland, or even who was the rightful ruler of England. Rather, the battle was part of a much larger, pan-European conflict between William and Louis XIV of France, who supported James's claim to the crowns of England, Scotland, and Ireland. William's victory at the Boyne was seen in Europe as a defeat for the French, not for the Irish Catholics. This point is illustrated by the behavior of Pope Innocent XI—no friend of Louis XIV owing to the king's lack of support at Innocent's first papal nomination and to his subsequent extension of secular authority in France—who greeted news of the battle with joy, although not, as has sometimes been claimed, with a Te Deum at St. Peter's.

Despite this international dimension, within Ireland the outcome of the battle had dramatic consequences. William's victory gave his forces control of Leinster and much of Munster as well, while placing the supporters of James on the defensive and confining them to Connacht. A year later at Aughrim they were decisively smashed. Jacobites and their spiritual descendants have downplayed the military importance of the Boyne precisely because it was such a great, symbolic victory for the Williamites: two kings, one Catholic, one Protestant, fighting each other on Irish soil for the crown of Ireland, with the Protestant king victorious. Irish Protestants at the time, and indeed many more hence, came to see William's victory as a sign of divine providence and as the event that saved their lands and their lives from Irish Catholics. In Northern Ireland, the Battle of the Boyne is commemorated annually as a state holiday on 12 July, known commonly as "Orange Day."

SEE ALSO Jacobites and the Williamite Wars


Foster, Robert Fitzroy. Modern Ireland, 1600–1972. 1988.

Hayes-McCoy, Gerard Anthony. Irish Battles. 1969.

Murtagh, Harman. "The War in Ireland, 1689–1691." In Kings in Conflict: The Revolutionary Ireland and Its Aftermath, 1689–1750, edited by W. A. Maguire. 1990.

Charles C. Ludington

Boyne, battle of the

views updated May 21 2018

Boyne, battle of the, 1690. James II's attempt in the summer of 1689 to reassert his rule over all Ireland faltered on the resistance of Derry and Enniskillen. The Williamite victory at Newtown Butler in July 1689 was the start of the counter-attack. Derry was relieved the following day and Schomberg landed on 13 August. In June 1690 William III arrived to take personal command and began his advance south. The Jacobites decided to give battle on the line of the Boyne, 30 miles north of Dublin. When they met on 1 July, James's army was some 25,000 strong, William's a little more. William hoped to outflank his opponents by crossing the river to the west towards Rosnaree, but the attack bogged down. In the end, the day was decided largely by a frontal assault across the Boyne, with the advantage of numbers beginning to tell. The Jacobites managed an orderly retreat and William's forces were in no condition to pursue. Though casualties were not heavy, the outcome was decisive. Schomberg was killed in action; William was in Dublin for a Te Deum on 6 July; James, explaining rather unnecessarily to his supporters ‘I do now resolve to shift for myself’, was safe on board a boat at Duncannon within two days.

J. A. Cannon

Boyne, Battle of the

views updated Jun 11 2018

Boyne, Battle of the (July 11, 1690) Engagement near Drogheda, Ireland, which confirmed the Protestant succession to the English throne. The forces of the Protestant William III of England defeated those of the Catholic James II. The battle led to the restoration of English power in Ireland.

Boyne, Battle of the

views updated May 23 2018

Boyne, Battle of the a battle fought near the River Boyne in Ireland in 1690, in which the Protestant army of William of Orange, the newly crowned William III, defeated the Catholic army (including troops from both France and Ireland) led by the recently deposed James II. The battle is celebrated annually (on 12 July) in Northern Ireland as a victory for the Protestant cause.

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