Ireland’s Wars: Wild Geese And Broken Treaties

Firstly, before discussing what came after, we need to look at the military situation, in Limerick and in the larger conflict, if we are to understand what occurred there in late September and early October.

The facts are simple: Ginkel’s Williamite army surrounded Limerick City from both sides of the Shannon River, covering all approaches, bridges and gates. They had a sizable enough force and a large amount of artillery. Inside Limerick, a large garrison, one poorly supplied with arms, powder and training, held the city still, with enough numbers to man most of the defences. Further, they had additional cavalry forces based northwards in County Clare.

The season was rapidly moving on, and poor weather was already having an effect on the siege. Ginkel’s Williamites would not be able to stay in the field for much longer: maybe as a short as a few weeks, or maybe a month, between the threat of rain, mud, disease and lack of supplies.

So, the question then becomes why, as so many Jacobite sympathisers have bitterly asked since, was Limerick surrendered?

The answer isn’t simple, but the reasons can be seen.  In the immediate context of Limerick, the Williamite crossing of the Shannon, the disaster on Thomond Bridge and the terrible relationship between the officers in charge of the garrison, not to mention its poor supply of guns and training, were all combining to destroy Jacobite morale, which had already taken a hammering over the previous few months. The Williamites kept winning success after success, and the Jacobite cause seemed hopeless.

In a larger sense, resistance could only be justified if there was a larger chance of victory. Yes, the Jacobite could have held out in Limerick that year, and forced the Williamites to extend the fighting into 1692. But to what end? More French reinforcements and supplies? They had not proven the gamechanger many had thought they would be before, and were in no way guaranteed.

The Jacobite cause was in bits. Its figurehead had fled the country, its armies were destroyed, and most of its territory lost. Extending resistance only made sense if the situation was recoverable and, more and more, the people left in charge of the Jacobite movement did not view it as such. In that case, would it not be getter to enter into peace negotiations before their last fortress was taken, before the last of their armed forces were killed or captured, so that they had something to bargain with? After all, the war was fought, largely, over the rights of Catholics in Ireland as much as putting James back into power. If there was still a chance to fight that battle, why not take it?

Many commentators then and since, have questioned why Limerick surrendered when it did, but it simply comes down to lack of belief that further fighting would have any productive end, for Ireland or for the people fighting. Personally, I can lay little criticism on the heads of those who had such a belief. The Williamite war machine was not something that the Irish could beat on their own, and the support they had taken from France had not been enough to balance the scales. It could have been different, but for a twist of fate at Aughrim, but counter-factual history cannot cloud reality.

In the aftermath of Thomond Bridge, a change in leadership occurred. Some sources paint this as a sort of coup, perpetrated by Irish officers over French, but it seems like the French were happy to relinquish responsibility for the defence into the hands of those who now sought a way out. Chief among those was Patrick Sarsfield, who would take a leading role in what would follow. On the 24th of September, shortly after taking command in Limerick (whether it was by force or not) he raised a white flag and arranged a ceasefire with the Williamites, in lieu of more complicated negotiations.

Those negotiations would eventually become about much more than the surrender of Limerick, but a larger peace agreement to bring the war to a close. The talks lasted for over a week, between various Irish Catholic nobles and clergy on one hand, and Ginkel on the other, with all manner of issues, civil and military, being discussed. Forces on both sides held their breath, fearful of the talks breaking down and the fighting being resumed.

The eventual end product of these negotiations was what became known as the Treaty of Limerick. In military terms, it offered the remnants of the Jacobite military, those from ordered regiments anyway, the opportunity to leave the country with their arms and flags, to take Williamite arranged ships to France to continue serving James II there, an article that was even extended to rapparees. They could also take the opportunity to join the Williamites, which a minority did, or simply disband and head home. Those who choose to do so, and would submit to the rule of William and take an oath to that effect, would be free from persecution or land claims, or any prosecution for actions during the war. All prisoners of war, from both sides, would be released, and the surrender terms would be extended to every garrison still held by Jacobites.

The civil articles were just as lenient, to a truly surprising extent. Rights for Catholics to worship freely as they had under Charles II were upheld, along with protections from land seizure and prosecution. A new Parliament to make this all legal was ordered to be assembled, merchants had their livelihoods guaranteed, and a general pardon was offered for all who would submit to the terms of the treaty. Ginkel was desperate, for reasons previously discussed, for the fighting to stop, which might explain how generous the terms were. On paper, they were no less than what many Jacobites had been fighting for the whole time. The only problem was that it all depended on the victorious Williamites for implementation.

Signed on the 3rd of October 1691 by the leading figures of both sides, the treaty marks the end of the War of the Two Kings.

An overall death toll for the conflict is a little hard to find, as records for this war are especially negligent. Gigantic battles took place, but more lives were lost in sieges and in guerrilla warfare, not all of which was properly recorded. With the relatively short length of the war and small number of large scale engagements, it is not improper to suggest that the overall tally was not especially large by the standards of the wars fought in Ireland during the 17th century. Looking over battle and siege losses, I can give a very general estimate that somewhere in the region of 25’000 to 30’000 people died in the fighting, but this must be added to by the accompanying factors with war: disease, starvation from bad harvests, civilian atrocities etc. With those added, it is possible that the true cost of the war might have been double that number. We’ll never really know for sure, but Ireland avoided the demographic catastrophe of the last bout of political violence.

Thousands of Jacobites, maybe as many as 14’000 along with scores of women and children, took boat for France, among them the likes of Patrick Sarsfield, in an event known afterwards as the “Flight of the Wild Geese”, these men to take up arms in the service of many foreign Kings, chief among them Louis XIV and his recently formed “Irish Brigade”. Many of them were very much in two minds about the decision, with some sold on the idea that, with the help of France, they would return to Ireland to put James back on the throne within a year. They would form the nucleus of a notable fighting force, and numerous efforts to invade Britain and Ireland. Somewhat ironically part of the fleet that helped transport them had arrived in Ireland with reinforcements for the war effort, though probably not enough to drastically revearse the situation.

Like the “Flight of the Earls” just under a century previously, it was watershed moment for Ireland. Here was large proportion of Irish Catholic gentry and manpower leaving the country, never to return. Those that were left, the disbanded Jacobites and Catholic civilians, now had to live under confirmed Williamite rule, as what garrisons and lands still in Jacobite control – large parts of Mayo, Cork, Kerry and Limerick primarily – changed hands.

Limerick was forever bound up in its history with the War of the Two Kings, the two sieges contested there among its most famous moments. Indeed, the city’s modern nickname, “the Treaty City”, its population known sometimes as “Treatyites” (maybe just for GAA season though) comes from that period, and one of its most enduring symbols is the Treaty Stone, the large rock that the treaty itself was allegedly signed on, which still lies near Thomond Bridge.

Of course, Limerick has another nickname, one less used, but no less notable: “the city of the Broken Treaty”.

Because the treaty was broken, and quickly too. Elements of the English Parliament were outraged by its leniency, and worked against it from the start. When the Irish Parliament was resurrected, dominated by Protestants who had little time for Catholic rights and land protection, most of the civil articles were never ratified, and Catholic representation was gutted by an insistence that an Oath of Supremacy, as well as Allegiance be taken, essentially an oath that called for the taker to renounce Catholic teachings. The early days of this Parliament were full of dispute, suspensions and sectarian back and forth, with the end result being the beginnings of what would be known afterwards as the “Penal Laws”, a set of legislative decisions that upheld the largely already existent Protestant ascendency, stripped rights and legal protections from Catholics and did as much as the previous years of war in creating an atmosphere of ever-lasting animosity between the Christian divide.

But this series is about military affairs, and the effects of the Penal Laws on Ireland are for another conflict and another post. For now, it is enough to offer a brief biography for the key surviving figures of the War of the Two Kings, in the aftermath of the conflict.

Richard Hamilton, one of the leading Jacobite officers early in the conflict, had been captured before the end of the war, travelling to France to join the exiled court of James II when the conflict was over. Caught up in numerous plans for James’ restoration and other schemes, he eventually fell out of favour, dying destitute in a convent in 1717. Conrad de Rosen, the French general who had been unable to make a dent in Londonderry’s defences, returned to France, fought more campaigns, gained more promotions, before dying at the ripe old age of 87 in 1715. James FitzJames, the Duke of Berwick, followed his father into exile and spent decades fighting in the armies of Louis XIV, winning many battles and creating a tremendous martial reputation in numerous wars. He was killed by cannon fire at the Siege of Phillipsburg, Germany, in 1734.

Patrick Sarsfield joined the army of Louis XIV and fought in Flanders for a few years, rising to the rank of Marshal, before being mortally wounded during the Battle of Landen in 1693 while leading a cavalry unit. Dying a few days later, his final words are often held to have been “Oh, that this were for Ireland”. He was 33.

Percy Kirke, who led the relief fleet that saved Londonderry, died campaigning in Flanders in 1691. Charles Schomburg, who taken the place of his deceased father, continued to fight for William in Europe after his time in Ireland came to an end. Like his father, he died in battle, at Marsaglia, Italy, in 1693. The Duke of Marlborough would go on to become one of the most famous soldiers of his time, and an icon in British military history. Fighting in Europe against France numerous times, his most famous victory might be that of Blenheim in 1704. Endlessly controversial, he fell in and out of royal favour over the course of his career, and died in 1722.

Godert de Ginkel received a cavalcade of praise for his role in closing out the war in Ireland, from both the King and Parliament, despite some apprehension over the Treaty he helped to craft. Granted large estates in Limerick as well as the titles “Earl of Athlone” and “Baron of Aughrim” in recognition of his services, he went on to serve the Williamite cause again in the Low Countries numerous times, dying in 1703.

Louis XIV, “the Sun-King”, is one of the most famous monarchs in history, reigning for an astonishing 72 years, up to his death in 1715. Under him France was, perhaps, the greatest power of its day, and Louis himself has become the poster-boy for absolutist rule during the period.

And then there are the two men who give their titles to the War of the Two Kings. William would reign as King of England, Scotland and Ireland for another 11 years. His war with Louis in Europe, that always dominated his thinking, was brought to an end in 1697, though conflict flared again between the two a few years later. His wife and joint monarch, Mary, died of smallpox in 1694, and William’s popularity suffered somewhat as a sole ruler, though he was able to create a working relationship with Parliament. In March, 1702 he suffered a bad fall from a horse that had tripped over a mole burrow – an animal Jacobite supporters toasted ever since –breaking his collarbone and then coming down with pneumonia, from which he died, aged 52. Lacking any children, he had arranged for the crown to pass to his sister-in-law, Anne.

And what of James? He continued to live in exile, on the charity of Louis XIV, assembling a court and continuing with efforts to achieve a restoration, though none were successful. Following the peace agreed between William and Louis in 1697, the French King ceased pushing James’ claim to the throne of England, but agreed to let James live in France, and even tried to get him elected as the King of Poland. In his final days, James lived as an penitent, and spent much of his time advising his eldest son, James also, on how to properly govern England when and if he regained the crown for the Stuart line. James suffered a brain haemorrhage and died in September, 1701. He was 68. The Jacobite cause would long outlive him.

A summary of the War of the Two Kings will come next week.

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, Limerick, War and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Ireland’s Wars: Wild Geese And Broken Treaties

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

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