Ireland’s Wars: The Five Factions In 1648

1647 had been a year of cascading disasters for the Confederation of Kilkenny. Following the failed Siege of Dublin, the political divides within the Supreme Council had led to the faltering of the war effort, until both the Leinster and Munster Armies were essentially wiped out at the Battles of Dungan’s Hill and Knocknanuss respectively. Now, the Parliamentarian faction held both Dublin and a large part of Munster, and seemed poised to gain further advantages. The Scottish Covenanters were still entrenched in the north-east, and the Confederation seemed to be incapable of sorting out its own internal differences.

In the early months of 1648, while continuing low-level hostilities keeping the war ticking over, various factions and the personalities within those factions aimed to place themselves on a better footing, heading into the next crucial period of these wars.

In the general assembly, due to meet in November of 1647, the Ormondist “peace” faction did everything that it could to ensure that the returning representatives were of their mind. This probably took the form of political manoeuvring, selective promotions for unfavourable candidates, and outright bribery. Whatever the means, it worked a charm, and by the time the assembly met, the vast majority of its membership could be said to hold the viewpoint of Muskerry and others. The Nuncio faction, while still retaining the support of many, was left with only a small presence in the assembly, mostly in the form of the bishops were permitted a seat.

Rinuccini had the support of the last remaining Confederate force of any great consequence though, in the form of Owen Roe O’Neill’s Army. The fear of this army, and what it could be capable of, probably motivated much of the Ormondists fear and their epic drive to gain dominance of the assembly. But the way that the war had been going was probably cause enough, as it became clear that the Confederates could not continue as they had been. The defeats of the Confederate military, and the increasing militarisation of the Parliamentarians in England, where the New Model Army was growing more and more involved with the political direction of that faction, could not be ignored. Something had to give.

This assembly was dominated by what political and strategic outlook the Confederation should now take. The Ormondist’s were set on some kind of peace terms with the Royalist faction in England, or what was left of it, to take on the Parliamentarians. Owen Roe’s Army could not defend all of the rebels’ territory forever, though for the moment he was probably a factor in the lack of a concerted Parliamentarian push. Hopes flared with the news that Charles had escaped custody in England, only to die just as quickly when he was imprisoned again on the Isle of Wight.

The chances of a negotiated peace with the London legislature was deemed slim – the Parliamentarians attitude towards Ireland and the Confederates could be compared to that of an exterminator faced with a load of cockroaches, going by their official decrees towards the island. But that did not mean that the Confederation was completely without options.

The first was an old reliable: calling upon foreign allies to send help. The Papal States had already sent arms and money to aid in the war effort, and the Confederation was already sending more missives in that direction. But the Ormondist faction were far from the Catholic hardliners that backed the Papal Nuncio, and saw little to pursue in that direction. The Papal States were too distant and small to provide the sort of help that they wanted anyway.

More realistic possibilities were France, perennial English rivals, and Spain, who had sent troops to Ireland in support of rebels before, albeit with disastrous consequences. Both countries had an interest in Ireland, as part of larger strategic goals to be arrayed against England. Both countries showed interest towards becoming, essentially, the overload of an Irish protectorate. But, it has been claimed that the Ormondist faction which now dominated Confederate politics had little interest in really making any such arrangement work.

Instead, they were looking to the man who had given their faction its name, James Butler, the Earl of Ormonde, had been an exile in France since the summer of 1647, situating himself in the foreign court, of Henrietta Maria, the wife of Charles I. While initially acting as if he had enough of Ireland, he continued to scheme and manoeuvre when it came to the Royalist actions towards Ireland, and within the Confederation itself, maintain contact with key individuals, and preparing a way for his eventual return.

The Ormondist’s would have liked nothing more, along with a return to the days of the Ormonde Peace. But they were fearful of a repeat of Rinuccini’s Coup, with the Nuncio still having the backing of Owen Roe, a man whose revolutionary inclinations caused many to fear that he aimed for nothing short of a free Ireland, with himself as its new King, with all of the powers of the “Old English” who made up the Ormondists to be made inferior to his.

To that end, while Owen Roe was left with a standing army and nothing to do with it, the Ormondists moved to send many of the few key remaining Nuncioists out of the country, nominating them to lead the peace missions to the courts of Paris, Rome and Madrid. Many saw through this scheme, and the Bishop of Clogher refused his appointment to the French mission. When the Ormondists moved to have arrested for treason, threats from Owen Roe made them back down, and the Marquis of Antrim was sent instead. Clogher had fought alongside Owen Roe at Benburb and the uneasy relationship between the Confederations political leaders and its military was still plain for all to see.

But Owen Roe was not the all powerful force many might have seen him as. The continuing depredation in Ireland, with so much viable soil left untilled, was causing great hardship, leading to large amounts of his army deserting, to save themselves as much as their starving families back home. Monetary supplies were also starting to dry up. More seriously, many of O’Neill’s subordinates were coming around to the Ormondist way of thinking, probably from a position of sheer practicality. Michael Jones, operating out of Dublin, undertook some limited campaigns in Kildare and Wicklow during this time period, keeping O’Neill on his toes, but the Irish leader was not in a place where he could launch a great offensive against his enemies. His was a position of reaction, and staying in place so as to defend Kilkenny. Still, he had power, and the Ormondists were already manoeuvring around him.

The ambassadors were given power to seek a deal with the foreign powers, as long as the demands for Catholic liberties and retention of captured Protestant land were agreed to, but it is likely that the Ormondist’s agreed to this simply as a matter of course. They knew that the mission to Rome was pointless due to the distance. They knew that the Spanish, while interested in Ireland, would probably not risk sending troops there again after their failures forty years before. And they knew who was really pulling the strings in the court of Henrietta in Paris. The King’s wife heard the requests of the ambassadors, and replied only in the most non-committal way, insisting that someone must be appointed, by her and the Royalists, to negotiate with the Confederates more directly.

That person was obviously going to be Ormonde, who was in constant communication with both the Ormondists military leaders – Preston and Taafe – and the Earl of Inchiquin. Murrough O’Brien was surprisingly close to breaking from the Parliamentarian side. He had joined them several years earlier over disputes with the Royalist leaders, and his view that he was not give  just reward for his efforts in Munster. Now, he felt much the same way towards his current masters, whose monetary award for his victory at Knocknanuss was considered paltry, and who now delayed and scrimped on promised supplies for his men.

In allying himself with Ormonde, Inchiquin saw an opportunity, for a rebel faction that was to be subsumed into the Royalists cause fully, and from there to be a part of a new uprising across the Kingdoms that would see Charles restored to all of his old power.  After that Inchiquin would be sure to be rewarded well for his service. In the early months of 1648, Inchiquin was reduced to more foraging in force, in the County Waterford region, with brief forays into Kilkenny, never with enough commitment to threaten the Confederate capital, but enough to remind the rebels of his potential as a deadly enemy. Supporters of Owen Roe claim that he could have taken on and defeated Inchiquin if he had been allowed to by the council, but this is debatable, considering the continuing weakness of the Ulster Army. Owen Roe contemplated a return to Ulster, to take on the Covenanters once more, but an increasingly panicked Rinuccini convinced him otherwise.

As spring came, so did news from Ormonde, who now began to prepare for his triumphant return to Ireland in earnest. Through intermediaries, he arranged for negotiations between Inchiquin and the Confederates to begin, with an aim for a cessation leading to an alliance. Hopes were high that the dissatisfied Covenanters might also be convinced to join this grand union against Parliament, which would sweep down on Jones in Dublin before aiding Charles across the Irish Sea.

Inchiquin’s requirements for such a cessation were harsh, involving a large monthly stipend, the refusal to allow Catholicism to be openly practised in his lands and the retention of Church lands then in his possession – essentially rejecting the most critical religious aspects of the stated Confederate cause. In return, he would join his armies with those of the Confederation, in preparation for the return of Ormonde, who would be the overall commander of this new force.

That Owen Roe and Rinuccini would not go along with this must have been obvious, but the cards had been stacked against them for several months now. When Rinuccini railed against the proposed truce in the assembly that gathered in April of 1648, he must have done so with the foresight that he was wasting his breath. Inchiquin might have been the man who sacked Cashel in such a brutal way, but the realpolitik of the day had little time for such immoralities. He could possibly have tried to get O’Neill to march on Kilkenny yet again, another coup to match his previous effort, but that would have left the Ulster Army alone to face Jones, Inchiquin, and whatever of the Ormondists remained. That faction insisted that allying with Inchiquin was a strategic imperative in order to defeat Jones.

Rinuccini insisted that O’Neill could defeat Inchiquin if he was given the chance. The Ormondists rejected this assertion, pointing at the necessity for siegework in Cork, Kinsale and Youghal in order to completely defeat O’Brien. Moreover, they felt, now that Inchiquin had essentially re-declared for Charles again, his offer of a truce could not be turned down. They were all supposed to be fighting for the King after all.

Rinuccin had the clergy on his side within the assembly, and little else. Mountgarrett made sure that 300 armed men were in and around Kilkenny this time, in case of any trouble. The truce with Inchiquin was approved, and a new peace was proclaimed throughout Confederate territory. Inchiquin was now openly a member of the Royalist side once more, and was quickly moving to unite his forces with the new “army” that Thomas Preston was in command of, which would have been little more than whatever levies he had been able to conscript since Dungan’s Hill. They were joining up, because they now had a very clear obstacle to overcome. Owen Roe would not accept the truce willingly, and would have to be forced to accept it.

This entry demonstrates some of the most complex and confusing aspects of these wars, with Ireland having the worst of it. As the Inchiquin truce was made, there were no less than five factions operating on the island, many of which were seeing military leaders and other personalities switch sides, some for the second or even third time. The Scottish Covenanters, the Parliamentarians, the Ormondist Confederates, the Nuncio Clericalists and the Royalists were now all engaged in a deadly game of diplomatic subterfuge and military confrontation.

Rinuccini quietly slipped out of Kilkenny after the decision, his hopes for a Catholic Ireland utterly sunk. He had one last, desperate weapon, one last gamble to try and swing things in his favour: an open declaration that anybody who respected the truce were excommunicated from the church, not to be allowed confession or other sacraments, an interdiction that would apply to entire towns that followed the lead of the assembly.

This act divided the church just as much as the military of the rebels was now divided. As summer came to Ireland in 1648, the gloomy spectre of civil war seemed about to engulf the Confederation.

To read the rest of the entries in this series, click here to go to the index.

This entry was posted in History, Ireland, Ireland's Wars, War and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Ireland’s Wars: The Five Factions In 1648

  1. ryan says:

    Really enjoy your blog, as a history major I appreciate the material but especially your style of writing. Very enjoyable.

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