Ireland’s Wars: The Restoration Coups

So ends the bloody business of the day.


Richard Cromwell had a short honeymoon period upon taking up the office of Lord Protector, with his brother Henry remaining in his position of power in Ireland as well, seemingly a smooth transition for Britain’s new ruling family. But it was not to last. Lacking any of the personal charisma, political experience and iron will of his deceased father, Richard – derisively nicknamed “Tumbledown Dick” by his opponents – was fated to lose control of the situation before too long.

The key issue was the army. Oliver Cromwell’s rule had been solidified and held up by the support of the armed forces, who despite some occasional differences in political opinion and upset at delayed payment of wages, loved their commander who had led them to so many victories in the wars. With the backing of the army Oliver Cromwell had been a powerful man. That army offered little of the same support to his successor, who had not even served, in any great capacity anyway, during the Civil Wars.

After a few months, things came to a head. Amid lack of pay and grumbling at the direction the country was taking, some elements in the army decided to act. In May of 1659, a group of New Model Army “grandees”, headed by Richard’s brother-in-law Charles Fleetwood, moved against him, removing the Lord Protector from office in a quick and carefully orchestrated coup. Richard went quietly, fading into the background of history without much resistance.

The new leadership reinstalled the so-called “Rump Parliament” but essentially governed Britain as a military dictatorship through several committees, the membership of which included Fleetwood and John Lambert, a key Parliamentarian general who remained immensely popular with the rank and file. They aimed to maintain the lack of monarchy and perhaps to even increase the power of the legislature in time – but only under their own terms.

They were opposed by many, not least the slew of remaining Royalists who saw the possible disintegration of their enemies as a chance to get Charles Stuart back into power. A failed uprising in the Cheshire region was a sign of things to come. It was from Scotland, where George Monck remained in command, that the true threat would come.

Monck kept his cards close to his chest during this period. His governorship of Scotland had ended up giving him a large degree of power, not to mention a fine army of his own, and when Richard Cromwell was overthrown Monck was one of the few people in Britain who stood a realistic chance of stepping in successfully. Uninterested in maintaining the rule of the Cromwell’s, he waited, taking advice and pleas from both Parliamentarians and Royalists, refusing to declare support for the designs of Lambert and Fleetwood. In late 1659 he assembled his armed forces and crossed the border, marching decisively south. Lambert, badly caught by these events, rapidly gathered together his own forces and headed north to meet him.

Watching this maelstrom were the figures in charge of Ireland. Henry Cromwell had departed in June, his position as leader of Ireland untenable in the wake of his brothers political demise. The Irish administration took the appearance of a vacuum, with no clear leader and plenty of other personalities in the country in a position to effect things.

These included Charles Coote and Roger Boyle (the Lord Broghill). Both men had gotten much out of the Civil Wars, increasing their estates and their powers, Coote in Connacht and Ulster, Broghill in Munster. Both men were distrustful and suspicious of the other, being political rivals under the Protectorate, but neither man was a hardcore supporter of the Parliamentarian cause. Watching the events unfold in England, they knew that they stood at a decisive moment for Ireland. They had the choice of declaring for the Parliament – though the legislature was hardly behind Lambert in a firm way – or Monck, who many suspected was operating on behalf of Charles Stuart.

It was not an inconsequential manner. The people of Britain and Ireland had barely endured eight years of relative peace after over a decade of bloody strife, and now it seemed as if another round of political violence was in the offing. The wars in Ireland had begun from just a few simple seizures of castles and towns, ballooning into a bitter sectarian conflict that had claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. The acts of a few men now could replicate that process if things were not done carefully.

Moreover, whoever came out on top in England would be in the best position to decide things for the whole Kingdom, but whoever was able to grab power in Ireland would also be in a position to dictate matters, being in control of potentially a very large army, and being able to invite Charles Stuart to land back on the soil he claimed as his own. In Ireland, there were plenty of potential Kingmakers – and killers.

A round of coups ensued as various factions in Ireland sought to control the main centre of administration and political authority: Dublin. Aside from being the nominal capital (with everything that this entailed) it was also the main port on the eastern side of the country, with the easiest possibility of hooking up with supporters in England. Holding Dublin had immense political and military value then, in the event that further fighting broke out in the Commonwealth at large.

The first to seize Dublin was Theophilus Jones, a Parliamentarian and brother of the deceased Michael Jones. He had inherited his brothers former position of governor of Dublin, and now, with a small group of other officers, took military control of the Castle and openly declared for the cause of Parliament.

Jones didn’t last too long in his position. His act was essentially the sound of a starter’s pistol, and soon all the vital areas of Ireland were being seized and controlled by a small number of select players, mostly Coote and Broghill, who secured the majority of Connacht and Munster respectively. Local garrisons and army units were bound to be influenced by the nearest figure of authority, and no one wanted to be caught declaring for the losing side. As such, it was relatively easy for those in the more powerful positions of Irish politics – like Coote and Brogill – to take control of numerous positions of importance without resort to bloodshed.

In the meantime, Edmond Ludlow tried to change things to his own advantage, having been given the nominal appointment of commander-in-chief of Irish military forces by the new Parliamentarian regime. Distracted by the political manoeuvrings in London and distrusted due to his own radical beliefs, Ludlow was unable to really do anything to aid his cause in Dublin, caught between Jones’ military control of the city and the reality of Coote and Broghill’s expanding control of the rest of the country.  Declared a traitor by the officers in Dublin in December, who were not as Republican minded as he was, he fled back to England.

Next up was Hardress Waller, a veteran of Cromwell’s campaigns in Ireland, who had remained a crucial part of the Irish political and military scene under the Protectorate. Retaining control of some forces in the face of the rapid Coote/Broghill takeover, he was able to advance on Dublin in February of 1660 and seize it from Jones, apparently without much bloodshed.

He was wasting his time. Coote and Broghill had secured Galway, Athlone, Limerick, Cork and a host of other positions along the coast. They had also secured control of most of the armed forces remaining in Ireland, purging them of the more radical elements in their leadership who might have had more sympathy for the position of Ludlow and Waller. Only a few days after Waller’s takeover, Charles Coote advanced on Dublin, arriving in greater force than Waller and compelling him to surrender control of the city. Waller was arrested. With Dublin and every other point of strategic and political significance in their hands, the alliance of Coote and Broghill, though tenuous, had grabbed control of Ireland. It had happened entirely bloodlessly as well, something that comes as a surprise given the years off fighting beforehand.

By now, Coote and Broghill had made up their minds. In England Monck’s advance had been irresistible, with Lambert’s larger army dissolving before coming anywhere close to battle, mostly due to lack of pay and political disillusionment. The Parliament, as it was, was increasingly seen as a corrupt and overly wieldy institution, and though Monck publically wavered between announcing for a return to the Long Parliament and a restoration of the monarchy, privately he had all but made up his mind. In contact with Charles Stuart on the continent, plans were already far progressed for the King’s return.

Coote and Broghill, seeing which way the wind was blowing, declared for Monck and, with that, Charles Stuart, promising to hold Ireland in trust for the monarch. Both men urged Charles to land in Ireland at the earliest opportunity and take up his throne there, lest things not go to his advantage in England. The exiled ruler declined, wanting to focus on England alone for the moment, perhaps wary of a regional approach to regaining his throne after the failure of his Scottish alliance. But he trusted Coote and Broghill, despite their Parliamentarian backgrounds, to hold Ireland for him.

The Restoration could not be stopped, despite some desperate last minute manoeuvring by Lambert, who was eventually taken into custody, with Fleetwood stripped of his position by the now victorious Monck.  In early April, from the same place where he had made his ill-fated agreement with the Scottish Covenanters, Charles made the “Declaration of Breda”, promising, in the event of his return, to refrain from widescale persecution of former foes, to bring in religious toleration (with some addendums) and to issue pack pay for Monck’s soldiers. The Declaration was received warmly, and in both London and Dublin, the new Royalists organised Convention Parliaments to oversee the final moves. Charles Stuart was proclaimed king in London on the 8th of May, and in Dublin on the 14th, without opposition. The Parliamentarian radicals had been purged, the republicans captured, killed or exiled, the remainder willing to forgo previous commitments to rule by the legislature in order to facilitate a peaceful return to traditional government. Charles Stuart, now Charles II in actuality, returned home on the 23rd of May. The following year, the newly enthroned King called his first Parliament in both England and Ireland.

With that, we can call an end to the era of Civil Wars in Britain, 19 years after the initial rebellion of 1641. Now was the era of the Restoration, with rewards for those who had supported Charles’ return and punishments for those who had opposed him. We’ve covered a lot of events in Ireland’s Wars, and a lot of personalities, in that 20 year period. Let’s take a look at the fates of some of the more major ones, who were still alive to tell their tales in 1660.

James Butler had been one of the most stalwart supports of the Stuarts throughout this time, and that did not change during the interregnum, when he took up a position as a chief advisor to Charles Stuart during his exile. Butler even took the risk of a disguised trip to Protectorate England in 1658 to assess the chances of a Royalist rebellion. Upon the Restoration, he received back all of his estates in Ireland (and then some) as well as a ranking promotion: now becoming Duke of Ormonde. Starting in 1662, he became once more the dominant political figure of Ireland, well respected and honoured, largely remaining so until his death in 1688, aged 78. His service in Ireland during this period had been of the most immense importance. His military record is shaky, as is his political legacy for the time discussed. But it cannot be denied that, apart from maybe Cromwell, he had the largest impact on Ireland in the course of the Eleven Year Wars.

Returning with him were several figures. Murrough O’Brien, the Baron Inchiquin, had been baptized a Catholic during his exile, serving in a few continental armies. His religion prevented him from gaining any high offices upon the Restoration, but he did receive some estates in Munster, and a title of Earl, for his service to the Royalist cause. He lived quietly until his death in 1674, aged 60. His campaigns were controversial, and when faced with an opponent of even basic competence he seemed incapable of victory, but his impact on the first half of the war was gigantic, especially in maintaining the Parliamentarian position in the country.

James Tuchet, the Earl of Castlehaven, served Charles II in exile and received his former estates upon the Restoration, though his religion barred him from any great legacy of service afterward.  He remained a well regarded figure, even among his Protestant peers. He died in Tipperary in 1684, aged 67. He had been a firebrand in the wars, with a healthy taste for self aggrandisement, but he did have some military talent. But his overall impact was exaggerated – not least by himself – and his military failures outweigh his successes.

Charles Coote had opposed Charles II, but his role in the Restoration was rewarded. He was ennobled as the Earl of Montrath in 1660, but did not live long to enjoy his new title and lands, dying of smallpox the following year, aged 51. He remains a figure of hatred among some Irish Catholic circles, especially in Ulster and Connacht, but his military record speaks for itself. Apart from Cromwell, there is probably no other figure who started the war without titles of nobility who had a bigger impact.

His Restoration ally, Broghill, also received a position of higher nobility, made Earl of Orrery in 1660. He remained a prominent political figure for several years, though he never got on with Ormonde, retiring in 1668 and living quietly until in death in 1679, aged 58. His role in the wars had been of vital importance, if relatively underappreciated – the seizure of the Cork coast in 1649/1650, without much bloodshed, had been a key aspect of the Cromwellian Conquest, an act largely undertaken by the initiative of Broghill.

Other players also received their rewards. The Viscount Muskerry returned, made Earl of Clancarty, dying in 1665. The heirs of the deceased Clanricarde were restored to their former position in Connacht. John Dillon, the defender of Athlone, returned, dying in 1669.

Meanwhile, George Monck, the chief architect of Charles’ return, was awarded numerous honours and positions of high office, including extensive command of England’s navies in an ongoing war with the Dutch. He died in 1670.

And what of the other side, those relevant to Ireland? Charles Fleetwood escaped retribution, but saw his political career destroyed and ended, holding no office of repute until his death, aged 74, in 1692. Hardress Waller escaped a death sentence for his regicide, but spent the rest of his life, until 1666, imprisoned. Edmund Ludlow went into exile when he faced arrest and execution, dying in 1692. Colonel John Hewson, one of Cromwell’s key subordinates in Ireland from 1649 to the Restoration, also went into exile before dying in 1662. Henry Cromwell retired and was left unmolested by the new regime all the way to his death in 1674.

A grimmer fate awaited Oliver Cromwell and Henry Ireton, or at least their bodies. Numerous regicides were arrested, tried and executed and rather than leave the dead alone, the new Royalist regime decided to make a macabre example of Cromwell and Ireton. They were disinterred, their corpses placed on trial for treason. After being found guilty, the bodies underwent the “punishment” of being hung, drawn and quartered, their heads put on public display afterward. 13 of the surviving regicides were executed, 19 others were imprisoned for various amounts of time. They were some of the only people to suffer retribution in the aftermath of the Restoration, which was, overall, a remarkably tolerant time.

There were several decades of relative peace to come, but there would be trials and tribulations throughout all of that time, not least for the Catholic Irish. Many expected a return to their previous lands and the introduction of greater religious toleration following the Restoration. They would be disappointed.

But all of that is a section of history for another day. For now, my “coverage” of what I have decided to describe as the “Eleven Year Wars” has come to an end. They are a series of extraordinary and fascinating conflicts, so misunderstood and misremembered by people today, in Ireland and in Britain. This was an age of political and military titans that have been so largely forgotten in the popular consciousness and remembrance of Ireland’s 17th century. Events like Benburb, Dungan’s Hill, Clonmel and the Restoration coups deserve a higher place in our minds when we think of Ireland’s military history. They were conflicts of politics and religion, bitter feuds and honourable enemies. They became great conflagrations from insignificant beginnings, bringing to mind the words of the Earl of Manchester in 1644:

It was easy to begin the war, but no man knew when it would end.

But now, they were over.

It is has been an extraordinarily long journey from my starting point in April 2013. I’d like to thank all readers, commenter’s, followers and subscribers for giving this website a look and for sticking with me for so long.

Ireland’s Wars will take a short break while I figure out how to move forward. I think I would like to do a summary piece on the Eleven Year Wars akin to this one I did for the Nine Years War, and that will take some time to write. After that, I might press ahead into the prologue of the War of the Two Kings or maybe instead go back briefly and cover parts of Irish military history I have neglected to a certain degree like, say, the finer details of the Norman Conquest. I’ll make that decision in a couple of weeks (and if anyone has a preference, please say so).

Until next time.

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.

6 Responses to Ireland’s Wars: The Restoration Coups

  1. Ryan says:

    I thoroughly enjoy your site and am impressed with the quality and volume of your work.

  2. Cecelia says:

    do enjoy your site – I vote for more details re: the conquest (Norman). Although as a historian myself I would like to give a word re: it being more a Welsh – French not quite conquest.

    • NFB says:

      Thank you for your comments. You’re right to mention the Welsh connection of course – I’ve generally just accepted the terminology of other historical work – but I suppose it really should be the Angevin or Plantagenet Conquest technically.

  3. Pingback: Ireland’s Wars: Index | Never Felt Better

  4. Pingback: Ireland’s Wars: A Summary Of The Eleven Year Wars | Never Felt Better

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