In order to understand the next phase of the Irish Confederate Wars, and the way that the war in Ireland could alter the way things were going in England, we need briefly discuss some of the foreign powers that were getting involved. Plenty of European nations like France and Spain, were delighted to see England tearing itself apart, but it was the Papal States, that nation centred around Pope Innocent X’s rule in Rome, that would be having the most tangible effect on Ireland.
The Papacy had never quite given up on Ireland as a potential point to hit back at England, that bastion of the Protestant faith, although it had been many generations since the last batch of Papal troops had made landfall to aid Irish rebels, the expedition that ended so brutally at Smerwick in 1580.
The Papacy, seeing what was going on in Ireland from 1641 on and the inherently Catholic nature of it, wanted a foot in the door. In 1643, at the behest of Irish clergy, Pierfrancesco Scarampi, an Italian priest, was sent to Ireland to act as a Papal Envoy – an ambassador of sorts, though with far greater power in a way – to the Irish Confederate government.
Scarampi was a well-regarded figure, noted for his opposition to any cessation with the English, which he (correctly) judged to be nothing more than a delaying tactic to make up for Royalist weaknesses. He also saw the divisions within the Supreme Council of the Confederacy as its key weakness, and counselled against those divisions within that arm of government as best he could, although his success was not great. Present at the siege of Duncannon and generally well-treated everywhere he went, Scarampi established firm relations between Kilkenny and the Holy, which led to a modicum of tangible support in the form of monetary resources and the like.
Scarampi was recalled in 1645, replaced by a figure who would fulfil the same function, but who would play a far more important role in the rest of the Confederate Wars: Archbishop Giovanni Battista Rinuccini.
Rinuccini was a Roman born clergyman, and at the age of 53 was a well-noted legal advocate within the Papal States when he was given his new appointment to Ireland. His mission was clear: to aid the Confederates in gaining the rights the Catholic population of Ireland has been denied, and making sure that the Confederates could continue their war until that goal was achieved. Arriving in the summer of 1645, at Kerry, Rinuccini appeared at Kilkenny with a sizable retinue, cash for the Confederates, as well as supplies of guns and powder (which he retained control of, crucially), all gratefully received and aiding the new Envoy in making an immediate impression on the rebels.
In fact, so powerful was that impression, that a divide within the government of the Confederate was dubbed as one between the “Nuncionists” (Rinuccini being the new Papal Nuncio to Ireland) and the “Ormondists”.
The Nuncionists, with Rinuccini now as their figurehead, were in opposition to any of the treaty negotiations being carried out with the Royalists, with those in support of such measures being the Ormondists. The negotiations with Charles’ representatives deserve their own bit of commentary, as they took place along two very different routes.
The first were the open negotiations with the Earl of Ormond in Dublin, the talks that had dominated Kilkenny’s political life for well over a year now. Charles wanted the Confederates and their troops to come and aid his increasingly desperate cause in England, but the terms he offered were generally seen as weak. Ormond refused to really engage with the Confederates on any of their most basic demands, like freedom of conscious and the like, and as such the negotiations were bogged down and dragged out.
What Ormond was hiding was that Charles had already undercut him, ordering Edward Somerset, the Earl of Glamorgan, to negotiate secretly for the Confederates on much more compliant grounds. While Ormond’s work would be the public face of Charles policy towards Ireland, seeming tough and unyielding in the face of Parliamentarian propaganda, influenced by the actions of Alasdair MacColla and his Irish troops in Scotland, Glamorgan’s work would be the actual negotiations that would get Charles what he wanted. The defeat at Naseby had been terrible, and only tangible support from the Confederates could save Charles now. Glamorgan had his own ambitions, of leading an army of Irish Catholics in the vein of those serving under MacColla in Scotland, of destroying the Parliamentarian position in the west of England, especially around the key town of Chester, near Liverpool and the Welsh border, which was being besieged by the legislatures forces at the time, a critical fight that was severely testing the Royalist capacity for further resistance.
These talks lasted around five months before a secret treaty was agreed to. The Confederates got much of what they wanted: Aside from freedom of conscience, Catholics in Ireland would be exempt from Protestant control and would gain possession of all church land seized since 1641. In return, the Confederates pledged to raise an army of 10’000 men to fight for Charles in England, which Glamorgan would command.
When Rinuccini found out about the secret talks, he argued forcefully for even more concessions from the Royalists and, probably to the surprise of the Confederates, they were granted. They included a pledge to never appoint a Protestant Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and the establishment of a Catholic university. Such terms were an extreme change in the former policy of Charles, and if ever implemented would be a firm alliance between the crown and Catholicism, being little more than a firm step on the road to counter-reformation. In fact, they were too extreme, and Charles was never likely to implement them. But events surrounding the so called “Glamorgan Treaty” had already overtaken both sides long before it was agreed to a second time.
Connacht had been relatively quiet for much of the war, especially following the capture of Galway town and the nearby fort in 1643. Ulick Burke, the Earl of Clanrickarde, was still the senior figure in the province, but he had been caught up in a diplomatic game with the Royalist power over land and titles, and had not joined the Confederates as had been expected by many. While the rebel position in the western province had seemed strong by the time of the cessation, it was, in reality, gradually weakening due to a lack of manpower and the continuing holdout of many English garrisons, such as the few in Roscommon that refused to honour the cessation, or the nominally Confederate units in Mayo that operated for a long time outside of Kilkenny’s authority, until Castlehaven, with a quick campaign before his Ulster Expedition, returned them more fully to the fold.
But Connacht remained a possible weakpoint for the Confederates, loosely held and full of possible subversives. The Parliamentarians saw this too, and in the summer of 1645, decided upon an attack. Their chosen commander for this endeavour, was Charles Coote.
Coote was an Irish peer, son of another Charles (briefly mentioned for his part in the early phase of the war here), who had settled in Ireland after being involved in the Battle of Kinsale. When the war had broken out, the younger Coote had initially fought for Charles, under the command of Ormond, but had been captured by the Confederates in Kildare. Released under the terms of the cessation, he grew agitated and disillusioned with the Royalist cause, and the soft power approach being undertaken towards the rebellious Irish Catholics, whom Coote despised, perhaps because of the desolation suffered by his lands across the Shannon, lands which had nominally passed to him on the death of his father in the war a few years earlier. Gaining many followers for his views among the dissatisfied in Dublin and beyond, Coote defected to the Parliamentarian side, and with their backing, was sent against the Confederates in Connacht, created the new Lord President of the province.
Coote landed in Derry with a small force of soldiers in June of 1645, hovered up a score of volunteers from the (mostly Protestant) surrounding area and actual Scottish and Parliamentarian armies in the locality. What Robert Monro and Robert Stewart must have thought of this is not recorded in detail, but the orders were clear. Assembling his force of around 4’500 men in Tyrone, Coote headed south-west towards his objective: the town of Sligo.
Sligo was an important position, a coastal town near the entrance to the old Gaelic Kingdom of Tyrconnell, guarding one of the only passable places into Ulster. Much fighting had gone on in the vicinity during the Nine Years War, but things were far quieter in this conflict. Sligo town and the castle had been held since near the start of the war by the Confederates, in the form of Tahg O’Connor, who had done so without much opposition. While the various nobles and aspirants of rank in Connacht faced off with each, Sligo had remained untouched.
That changed with the approach of Coote, whose army, while probably inexperienced, faced few obstacles on the way to Sligo. What forces there were in Connacht for the Confederates were centred on Galway or other static garrisons, busy with trying to rein in the likes of Miles Bourke (the Viscount Mayo) or second guessing the activities of the Clanrickarde.
Further, the other nearby commander who should have been able to help out, Owen Roe O’Neill, had seen his army waste away in inaction following the pitiful Ulster Expedition of the previous year, and was in no position to do anything to stop Coote. The final cherry on top was an increasing refugee crisis in the region, as people driven out of Ulster by the war or by hunger added to an already chaotic situation in northern Connacht.
Coote was outside Sligo by July. The siege is not recorded in any great amount of detail, only that it was short and ended bloodily, and entailed some degree of naval support from a merchantman outside the port. A smattering of artillery fire was enough to convince the garrison of the town and the castle to surrender, and a massacre followed that made Coote as infamous as his father had been.
With Sligo captured, a large part of Coote’s army, especially those under Robert Stewart of the Laggan Army, headed back to Ulster while Coote went about appointing a new government for the province he now, according to London anyway, commanded. The Confederates were badly caught out by this action, and were obliged to open up the coffers for Owen Roe O’Neill, whose Ulster Army had fallen to an effective strength of only 900 men. Re-establishing his command fully and drawing his army back up to its larger strength would have far-reaching consequences the next year, but for now it allowed O’Neill to launch some raids into the north Connacht area which, while doing little to turf the Parliamentarians out, did at least limit their appetite for further advancement southwards.
The real attempt to retake Sligo took place in farcical circumstances in October, when the Archbishop of Tuam, Malachy O’ Queally, who also happened to be a member of the Supreme Council, organised and led a small force to try and catch the, now slightly reduced, garrison of Coote off guard.
Coote was forewarned about the movements of the Archbishop, and was able to use his cavalry to surprise, ambush and largely wipe out this aspiring attacker while he made camp on the road to Sligo. O’Queally had received little support for his endeavour from Kilkenny anyway, so it is unlikely to have ever succeeded, but its failure had a disastrous consequence on the war effort. The Archbishop was killed in the sudden assault, and in his captured baggage was found a full copy of the secret Glamorgan Treaty.
For the Parliamentarians, whom Coote wasted no time in informing, the capture and publication of the treaty was a propaganda coup. While it had been a poorly kept secret that Charles was seeking Irish troops to fight for him in England, the captured treaty offered physical proof of such plans. The sections detailing those plans for an Irish army to aid Charles in England were extremely damaging to his cause. Ormond, whether he had known about the secret negotiations or not, put on a public display of shock at the news, and both he, and Charles, would eventually move forward on the grounds that Glamorgan had operated with forged credentials from the King. Glamorgan was imprisoned briefly in Dublin as a result of this, although he was quietly released and sent back to renew negotiations with the Confederates on Charles’ urging, but such talks were essentially doomed, given the severity of Charles’ position in England and the distrust shown for the extremely charitable position of Glamorgan. The Supreme Council was still eager to prove their loyalty to Charles and to try and secure the terms of the Glamorgan Treaties through the promised military support, but it did not take long for such efforts to collapse.
The fighting in Connacht and its connection to the negotiations in Kilkenny demonstrated starkly the precarious position of the Confederates in so many respects. The defence of Connacht had been neglected in favour of other areas, like Munster, and when trouble arose that threatened Confederate control there, they had noone available with the power to take Sligo back. O’Neill’s Ulster Army had been allowed to deteriorate to a deplorable state and the Archbishop of Tuam’s loosely organised expedition had been poorly supported. This allowed Coote to stake a claim to northern Connacht, holding a positing that would be a consistent thorn in the Confederate side for the next few years. It also eased any possible pressure on Ulster, especially the area of operation for the Laggan Army in modern day Donegal.
The Confederate negations had become linked with this area of campaign following the capture of the secret treaty terms by Coote. Glamorgan’s talks always had the stink of saying anything, agreeing to anything if it would get the Confederates to send troops to England, and the protracted talks with Ormond, while probably more honest, were going nowhere. The discovery of the Glamorgan Treaty., in combination with the destruction of Charles’ position in England, made the entire enterprise pointless in any case.
The Confederates were in trouble politically and militarily, having failed in all four provinces in the past while. Ulster had been abandoned and the army meant to retake it was now in recovery mood. Inchiquin remained encamped firmly in Munster. Ormond had proved an implacable foe diplomatically in Leinster and now Connacht was beginning to slip.
But while things might have seemed to be on an inevitable downward spiral, few could have predicted that the Confederates would soon be marching towards a high water mark.
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