William arrives in Ireland; James leaves Dublin, unites the French and Irish armies and advances seeking battle.
Continuing James II Invades Ireland,
our selection from The History of England by Tobias G. Smollott published in 1765. The selection is presented in four easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in James II Invades Ireland.
Place: Londonderry, Ireland and the River Boyne, Ireland
King James trusted so much to the disputes in the English Parliament that he did not believe his son-in-law would be able to quit that kingdom, and William had been six days in Ireland before he received intimation of his arrival. This was no sooner known than he left Dublin under the guard of the militia, commanded by Luttrel, and, with a reinforcement of six thousand infantry which he had lately received from France, joined the rest of his forces, which now almost equalled William’s army in number, exclusive of about fifteen thousand men who remained in different garrisons. He occupied a very advantageous post on the bank of the Boyne, and, contrary to the advice of his general officers, resolved to stand battle. They proposed to strengthen their garrisons, and retire to the Shannon, to wait the effect of the operations at sea.
Louis had promised to equip a powerful armament against the English fleet, and send over a great number of small frigates to destroy William’s transports, as soon as their convoy should be returned to England; the execution of this scheme was not at all difficult, and must have proved fatal to the English army, for their stores and ammunition were still on board; the ships sailed along the coast as the troops advanced in their march; and there was not one secure harbor into which they could retire on any emergency. James, however, was bent on hazarding an engagement, and expressed uncommon confidence and alacrity. Besides the river, which was deep, his front was secured by a morass and a rising ground; so that the English army could not attack him without manifest disadvantage.
King William marched up to the opposite bank of the river, and as he reconnoitered their situation was exposed to the fire of some field-pieces, which the enemy purposely planted against his person. They killed a man and two horses close by him, and the second bullet rebounding from the earth, grazed on his right shoulder, so as to carry off part of his clothes and skin and produce a considerable contusion. This accident, which he bore without the least emotion, created some confusion among his attendants, which, the enemy perceiving, concluded he was killed, and shouted aloud in token of their joy; the whole camp resounded with acclamation, and several squadrons of their horse were drawn down toward the river as if they intended to pass it immediately and attack the English army. The report was instantly communicated from place to place until it reached Dublin; from thence it was conveyed to Paris, where, contrary to the custom of the French court, the people were encouraged to celebrate the event with bonfires and illuminations.
William rode along the line to show himself to the army after this narrow escape. At night he called a council of war, and declared his resolution to attack the enemy in the morning. Schomberg at first opposed his design, but, finding the King determined, he advised that a strong detachment of horse and foot should that night pass the Boyne at Slane bridge and take post between the enemy and the pass at Duleck, that the action might be the more decisive; this counsel being rejected, the King determined that early in the morning Lieutenant-general Douglas with the right wing of the infantry, and young Schomberg with the horse, should pass at Slane bridge, while the main body of the foot should force their passage at Old bridge, and the left at certain fords between the enemy’s camp and Drogheda. The Duke, perceiving that his advice was not relished by the Dutch generals, retired to his tent, where, the order of battle being brought to him, he received it with an air of discontent, saying it was the first that had ever been sent to him in that manner. The proper dispositions being made, William rode quite through the army by torchlight, and then retired to his tent after having given orders to his soldiers to distinguish themselves from the enemy by wearing green boughs in their hats during the action.
[1: The Duke of Schomberg, who commanded for William, had accompanied him to England in 1688. The Duke is further spoken of below. “Young Schomberg” was his son.–ED.]
At six o’clock in the morning, General Douglas, with young Schomberg, the Earl of Portland, and Auverquerque, marched to Slane bridge, and passed the river with very little opposition. When they reached the farther bank they perceived the enemy drawn up in two lines, to a considerable number of horse and foot, with a morass in their front, so that Douglas was obliged to wait for reinforcements. This being arrived, the infantry was led on to the charge through the morass, while Count Schomberg rode round it with his cavalry, to attack the enemy in flank. The Irish, instead of waiting the assault, faced about, and retreated toward Duleck with some precipitation; yet not so fast but that Schomberg fell in among their rear, and did considerable execution. King James, however, soon reinforced his left wing from the centre; and the Count was in his turn obliged to send for assistance.
At this juncture King William’s main body, consisting of the Dutch guards, the French regiments, and some battalions of English, passed the river, which was waist-high, under a general discharge of artillery. King James had imprudently removed his cannon from the other side; but he had posted a strong body of musketeers along the bank, behind hedges, houses, and some works raised for the occasion; these poured in a close fire on the English troops before they reached the shore; but it produced very little effect. Then the Irish gave way, and some battalions landed without further opposition; yet before they could form, they were charged with great impetuosity by a squadron of the enemy’s horse, and a considerable body of their cavalry and foot, commanded by General Hamilton, advanced from behind some little hillocks to attack those that were landed as well as to prevent the rest from reaching the shore; his infantry turned their backs and fled immediately; but the horse charged with incredible fury, both on the bank and in the river, so as to put the unformed regiments in confusion.
[2: French Protestants or Huguenots.–ED.]