Reign of William and Mary page 11
William had, however, difficulties at home to surmount before he could depart for Ireland. Just as he was prepared to set out, the discovery of an extensive traitorous correspondence was made betwixt a number of concealed Jacobites and the court of St. Germains. Some of his own ministers and courtiers were deep in it. Two messengers had been dispatched from James's queen from St. Germains, with letters to the conspiring Jacobites. One of these, of the name of Fuller, was induced by some means to betray the secret. He went boldly to Whitehall, and delivered his dispatches to William. Crone, the other, was arrested, and soon after another messenger of the name of Tempest. The disclosures made through this means revealed an extensive ramification of treason that was enough to appal the stoutest heart and coolest brain. The queen's own relative, Clarendon, was one of the most zealous plotters; Ailesbury and Dartmouth, who had both taken the oaths to the new monarch, were amongst the most guilty; and the latter, though an admiral, was prepared, in connection with other officers, to betray the coast defences, and to carry over their ships to the enemy. William Penn was arrested on account of an intercepted letter to James, and charged with treason; but he denied any treasonable intentions, and that he only corresponded with James as an old friend. Nothing of a criminal nature could be proved against him, and he was soon liberated. Viscount Preston, who had been raised to that dignity by James, but was not admitted by the peers to possess a valid patent of nobility, was another; and what was far more mortifying, the earl of Shrewsbury, who had so recently resigned the seals as secretary of state, was discovered to be deeply implicated. It was found that the conspiracy was spread far and wide through the country, and that the Jacobites in Worcestershire, Lancashire, Yorkshire, and other northern counties, were laying in arms and ammunition; and gentlemen who had received commissions from James were actually mustering and drilling troops on the solitary moorlands. The correspondence was as active betwixt England and Ireland, as betwixt England and France.
Amid dangers of such magnitude, it may seem strange that William should venture to leave England, and burthen his wife with the cares and responsibilities of such a crisis, amid the machinations of so many determined enemies; but his affairs as imperiously demanded his presence in Ireland, and he therefore took the best measures that he could for the assistance and security of the queen. He appointed a council of nine of the most efficient and trusty persons he could think of, some whigs, some tories. They were Devonshire, Dorset, Monmouth, Edward Russell, Caermarthen, Pembroke, Nottingham, Marlborough, and Lowther. In making this selection William must have put aside many personal prejudices. Marlborough was appointed as most likely to advise the queen as to military affairs, though he was the known partisan and adviser of Anne. Russell, who was an admiral and treasurer of the navy, was the person to advise her in naval matters, and Caermarthen was, from his experience, and as having a great regard for the queen, the man on whom she could most rely for the management of the main business of the state. William solemnly laid upon them the great trust which he reposed in them, and called upon them, as men and statesmen, to afford the queen every assistance which her being left under such trying circumstances demanded for her. He likewise informed Rochester that he was well acquainted with the treasonable practices of his brother Clarendon, and bade him warn him from him to tempt him no further to a painful severity.
Having arranged this matter, William set out on the 4th of June for Chester, where he embarked on the 11th, and landed at Carrickfergus on the 14th. He proceeded immediately towards Belfast, and was met by Schomberg on the way. William was attended by prince George of Denmark, the duke of Ormond, the earls of Oxford, Scarborough, and Manchester, Mr. Boyle, and many other persons of distinction. He appointed the whole of his army to rendezvous at Loughbrickland, and immediately set about organising his plans, and preparing his stores for an active campaign. Before we enter upon that, however, we must take a hasty glance at what Schomberg had done during the autumn, winter, and spring.
This was little for so numerous an army, commanded by so experienced a general. Schomberg was - it is true, eighty years of age - and many complained that time had diminished his fire, and that much more ought to have been effected. But William, who may be supposed a most competent judge, cast no blame upon him; on the contrary, he thanked him for having preserved his army at all, his troops having had to contend with all the horrors of a deficient and most villanous commissariat, as we have already shown.
Schomberg on landing had taken Carrickfergus, Newry, and Dundalk, where he entrenched himself. He had found the country through which he passed a perfect waste. It could afford him no provisions, and, if he were compelled to fall back, no shelter. James, on his landing, had advanced from Dublin to Drogheda, where he was with twenty thousand men, besides vast numbers of wild Irish, armed with scythes, pikes, and skeans. But Schomberg found himself in no condition for fighting. His baggage could not reach him for want of wagons, and from the state of the roads. His arms were many of them good for nothing, being the vile rubbish furnished by the contractors under the management of the fraudulent ministry and the infamous commissary-general Shales. His soldiers were suffering from want of proper clothing, shoes, beds, and tents. James advanced to Ardee, and the Irish were eager to fight, but Schomberg lay still, and wrote to William on the 27th of September, that the best thing he could do was to lie still under the circumstances. This was very different conduct to what the coffee-house politicians of London were expecting from him. They contended that, with such an army, Schomberg ought very speedily to overrun all Ireland and drive James into the sea. William, however, was too old a general to expect any man to fight with soldiers who were half starving, fast falling into fever from bad food or none, and from lying in Irish bogs without bedding amid the rains and fogs of autumn. On the 12th of October Schomberg wrote again - "If your majesty was well informed of the state of our army and that of our enemy, the nature of the country, and the situation of the two camps, I do not believe you would incline to risk an attack. If we did not succeed, your majesty's army would be lost without resource. I make use of the term, for I do not believe, if it was once put into disorder, that it could be re-established." In fact, there was no fighting with an army sent out as English contractors and war ministers generally send out English armies if they be not well looked after. James, encouraged by Schomberg's caution, advanced from Ardee, posted his army in the face of Schomberg, and dared him to battle. Schomberg lay still, and he had good cause. Besides the disabling circumstances mentioned, he had got mutiny in his camp. Amongst the Huguenots in his service had enlisted a number of French refugees of a very low character, vagabonds, thieves, and deserters, who had passed themselves off as protestants, to escape from the French in Flanders; and these wretches were now discovered to be in full correspondence with Avaux, the French minister, engaging, for a pardon and employment under James, to play the traitors whenever they should be brought out to battle. Had Schomberg, therefore, been weak enough to be induced by James's bravado to go out, he would have seen several companies of the French go over to the enemy in the midst of the action - a circumstance which would have produced a fatal effect on his troops, many of them raw and undisciplined, and discontented with their treatment. Schomberg probed into the conspiracy, which was revealed through some intercepted letters; six of the ringleaders were hanged, and two hundred others sent under guard to England. This discovery cast suspicion on all the French refugees, and the English soldiers were in a state of indignation against them almost amounting to insubordination. This was no state of things for action.
Worse still, the soldiers were fast perishing with fever. Bad food, bad clothing, bad lodging, and drenching and continued rains without proper shelter, were fast doing their work on the English army. Schomberg did his best. He stimulated his soldiers to make roofs to their huts of turf and fern, and to make their beds of heather and fern, raised on dry mounds above the soaking rains. But all was in vain. The soldiers were become spiritless and demoralised. They were either too listless to move, or too excited by whisky, which they managed to get, to follow his recommendations. Scenes like those which appeared in London during the plague now horrified his camp. The soldiers gave way to wild license, drank, swore, sung bacchanalian songs, drank the devil's health, and made seats of the corpses of their dead comrades at their carouses, which they declared were the only ones they had to keep them out of the wet.
The sickness appeared at the same time in the English fleet which lay off the coast at Carrickfergus, and. swept away almost every man from some of the vessels. By the commencement of November, Schomberg's army could not number more than five thousand effective men. The Irish in James's army did not suffer so much, and they rejoiced in the pestilence which was thus annihilating their heretic enemies. But the weather at length compelled James to draw off, first to Ardee, and then into winter quarters in different towns. Schomberg, thus set at liberty, quickly followed his example, and quartered his troops for the winter in the different towns of Ulster, fixing his head-quarters at Lisburn. His army had, however, lost above six thousand men by disease.
In February, 1690, the campaign commenced by the duke of Berwick, James's natural son, who attacked William's advanced post at Belturbet; but he met with such a reception that he nearly lost his life, being severely wounded and his horse killed under him. In fact, the condition of the two armies had been completely changed during the winter by the different management of the two commanders. Schomberg had been diligently exerting himself to restore the health and to perfect the discipline of his troops. As spring advanced he received the benefit of William's exertions and stern reforms in England. Good, healthy food, good clothing, bedding, Lents, and arms arrived. Fresh troops were from time to time landing, amongst them regiments of German and Scandinavian mercenaries. By the time of William's arrival the army was in a fine and vigorous condition, and amounted to thirty thousand men.
Not so the army of James; it had grown more and more disorderly James and his court had returned to Dublin, where they spent the winter in the grossest dissoluteness and neglect of all discipline or law. Gambling, riot, and debauchery scandalised the sober catholics, who had hoped for a saviour in James. Of all the army the cavalry alone had been maintained by its officers in discipline. The foot soldiers roamed over the country at pleasure, plundering their own countrymen. James's own kitchen and larder were supplied by his foragers from the substance of his subjects, without regard to law or any prospect of payment. It was in vain that remonstrances were made, James paid no attention to them. His bad money was all gone; he had used up all the old pots, pans, and cracked cannon, and applied to Louis for fresh remittances, which did not arrive. To complete the ruin of his affairs, he requested the withdrawal of Rosen and Avaux, who, heartless as they were, saw the ruinous course things were taking, and remonstrated against it. Lauzan, an incompetent commander, was sent over to take their place, accompanied by about seven thousand French infantry. When Lauzan arrived in Ireland, the desolation of the country, the rude savagery of the people, and the disorders of the court and capital, were such as to strike him and his officers with astonishment and horror. He declared in his letters to the French minister, Louvois, that the country was in so frightful a state that no person who had lived in any other could conceive; that James's chief functionaries pulled each his different way, instead of assisting the king; and that "such were the wants, disunions, and dejection, that the king's affairs looked like the primitive chaos."
Unfortunately, Lauzan was not the man to reduce chaos to order. He had accompanied Mary, the queen of James, in her flight from London to Paris, and had there too won the good graces of Madame Maintenon; and by the influence of these ladies, who imagined him a great general, he obtained this important command. He had to fill the place of both Avaux and Rosen, of ambassador and general, without the sagacity and skill which would have fitted him for either. He conceived the greatest contempt and hatred of the Irish, and was not likely to work well with them. Such was the condition in which James was found on the landing of king William.
William on landing pushed on without delay to Belfast, and thence, without permitting himself to be delayed by the congratulatory multitudes that surrounded him, he hastened forward to his main army at Loughbrickland. The news of his arrival was carried all over Ulster by the firing of cannon and by bonfires on the heights. The protestants were in a state of wild exultation, the Irish in one of equal consternation. Dublin was thrown into a dread panic. The hour, it was felt, was at hand, when the great contest must be decided; and to all reflecting men the condition of James's army, or the prudence and abilities of its commanders, were not such as to inspire much confidence. On the other hand, the Protestant inhabitants were full of confidence that the moment of their deliverance was arrived. Their elevated spirits did not escape the eyes of their enemies. Deep suspicions of their rising and seizing the city in the absence of the army fell on the authorities, and they issued a proclamation ordering all protestants to confine themselves to their houses from sunset to sunrise on pain of death, nor during the day were they to assemble in numbers more than five under the same penalty. Nor did they stop here, but they seized such numbers of leading men, both laity and clergy, that the prisons could not contain them, and they confined them in the churches under strong guards.
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