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Reign of William and Mary page 13


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It might have been expected that Tyrconnel and Lauzun would yet rally their forces at Dublin, and make a resolute stand there. But the decisive defeat of the Boyne, the untrustworthiness of the Irish infantry, the loss on the field amounting to upwards of one thousand five hundred, and those chiefly cavalry, the desertion of vast numbers of infantry on the road southward, and the precipitate flight of James, discouraged them. Towards evening of the same day that James left, Tyrconnel and Lauzun mustered their forces and marched out of the city, determining to make their stand on the Shannon, within the strong defences of Athlone and Limerick. No sooner had they evacuated the city than the protestants issued from their retreats, liberated all the prisoners, and sent off messengers to invite William to enter his new capital in triumph.

William had lost only about five hundred men in this most important battle; the next day Drogheda had opened its gates, and on receiving the message of the people of Dublin announcing the flight of James and his army, he dispatched the duke of Ormond with nine troops of horse to occupy Dublin till his arrival. He then put his army in motion, and on the 8th of June entered that capital in triumph. He came enriched by the capture of nearly all the baggage and stores of the defeated army, the Enniskilleners alone having taken the baggage and equipage of Tyrconnel and Lauzun, including ten thousand pounds in money, a great quantity of plate and jewels, and three hundred cars laden with stores or ammunition.

The exultation of the protestants in Dublin was beyond all control. At length they had become rid of their spoilers in a manner which promised that it would be permanent. To them and to William alike came the joyful tidings that James had not only fled from the conqueror, but had quitted the island altogether. Before him the news of William's death had spread terror through Holland and Germany, and exultation through France. With him came the startling assurance of the contrary fortune, that William was alive and victorious, his banner waving from the castle of Dublin, and James a fugitive once more at St. Germains, cursed and despised by the army and the people that he had so miserably abandoned. The people of Paris had rushed into a premature illumination, with firing of cannon, feasting, and wine flowing freely in the streets. William had been burnt in effigy, and the protestants had their shops ransacked by the rabble, before the true intelligence arrived, and swamped their joy. The infamous Melfort wrote to James's queen, saying that Herod and the devil of Luny were dead, and that now they must have a signal vengeance on England. He rioted in imagination on the repeal of the habeas corpus act, the suppression of the power of the commons, and the extermination of all those who had been concerned in the revolution without any useless juries, but at the order of the crown and its own appointed judges. In a word, all that James had ever been aiming at was now to be accomplished, and the slavery of England completed. Nothing could exceed the rage of this minister when the news reached Rome - where he was - that the whole was an empty rumour, and that the Austrians had had the audacity to sing a Te Deum in St. Stephen's at Vienna for William's victory,

The effect of the news in London, first of William's wound, then of the total defeat of James's army, may be imagined. To the honour of Mary, she wrote in haste to her husband to entreat that all care should be taken of her father; but James had taken good care of himself. The dispatch from William announcing to his queen and ministers his victory arrived at the moment that parliament was being prorogued, and with the members went into every part of England the rapid news of the great event.

William pitched his camp at Finglass, about two miles from Dublin, and took up his quarters there with his troops. On the 6th of July, however, he went in procession from the castle, attended by his staff, by the principal protestant bishops and clergy, by the mayor and corporation in their robes, and by a vast crowd of citizens, having the crown on his head, to the cathedral of St. Patrick, where he returned thanks to God for his success; and there they entombed the remains of marshal Schomberg, intending afterwards to convey them to England, which, however, never was done. On the 9th he marched southward with his army in pursuit of the enemy, dispatching Douglas to besiege Athlone, and himself, with the main division, advanced towards Waterford.

William's object in reaching Waterford was to take ship for England - not, like James, to abandon his army out of mere cowardice - but in order to protect England too. He had received news that the French, under Tourville, were hovering on the southern coast of England; that they had again defeated the British fleet under the wretched Torrington, and were meditating invasion of the country. He hastened on; the Irish troops at his approach abandoned Clonmel and Kilkenny. Waterford was similarly evacuated, and William, nominating count Solmes commander-in-chief during his absence, was about to embark, when he received further intelligence. Tourville had made a partial descent at Teignmouth, in Devonshire, sacked it, and then drawn off in consequence of the menacing attitude of the inhabitants of the western counties. He therefore hastened to rejoin his army, which was on the way towards Limerick, where Douglas had found such resistance that he had been compelled to raise the siege. On the 9th of August he sate down before that town, and found the Irish determined to make a resolute defence of it.

The Irish, ashamed of their conduct at the battle of the Boyne, and seeing their Saxon masters once more rapidly recovering their ascendancy in the island, one and all, men and officers, determined on here making a stand to the death. They did not owe their spirit to their French allies, for Lauzun and his officers ridiculed the idea of defending the place, which they regarded as most miserably fortified. Tyrconnel joined them in that opinion; but Sarsfield encouraged his countrymen, and exhorted them to cast up breastworks of earth, which, in our times - as at Hamburg and Sebastopol - have convinced military men that they are far more impervious to cannon than stone or brick walls. He could not convince the French, who had lost all faith in Irish prowess, and who pined to return to France from the miseries and privations of Ireland; nor Tyrconnel, who was old, and completely dispirited by the action of the Boyne. He and the French drew off with the French forces into Galway; and Boisseleau, a Frenchman, who did sympathise with the Irish, and Sarsfield, were left to defend the place. They had yet twenty thousand men, who were animated by a new spirit, and were destined to make the defence of Limerick as famous as that of Londonderry.

Limerick stood partly on an island in the Shannon; and to take that part it was necessary to have boats, for only a single bridge connected the two parts of the town, or the two towns, as they were called - the English and the Irish. William had a quantity of tin boats on the way for this service, and his cannon and ammunition were also following him. Sarsfield seized immediately on this circumstance when it came to his knowledge. He got out of the city in the night, surprised the escort of the guns, and destroyed the guns, blew up the powder, and made good his return to the town. This exploit raised Sarsfield wonderfully in the opinion of his countrymen, and at the same time raised their own spirits.

William sent for fresh guns from Waterford, and pressed on the siege; but the autumnal rains began to deluge the low, marshy banks of the Shannon, and to sweep away his men with fever. The Irish, on the other hand, had received a fresh stimulus to exertion in the arrival of Baldearg O'Donnel, the chief of one of the most famous old races of Ulster, who had been in the service of Spain, and had returned to assist his countrymen in this last effort to throw off the yoke of the Saxon. The high veneration for the name of the O'Donnel, and the character of the man, placed him at the head of a large class of the Irish in Limerick. There was a prophecy that an O'Donnel was to conquer the English, and the enthusiastic Celts believed that this was the time. And, in truth, the prediction appeared beginning to verify itself, for, after a desperate attempt to take the town by storm on the 27th of August, William resolved to raise the siege, and place his troops in healthy quarters for the winter. During this attempt, William had another narrow escape from a cannon-ball. His men, too, after breaching the walls in several places, and carrying the counterscarp, or covered way, suffered great loss. On the 30th the siege was raised, and William hastened to Waterford, and thence to England. He left the government of the island in the care of three lords-justices, namely, viscount Sidney, lord Coningsby, and Sir Charles Porter. About the same time Tyrconnel and Lauzun quitted Ireland for France, leaving the affairs of James in a council of civilians, and the army under a commission, at the head of which stood the duke of Berwick as commander-in-chief, and in the very lowest place the brave Sarsfield, of whom the aged Tyrconnel entertained a jealousy worthy of himself and of his master.

We must now take notice of what had been passing in England and Scotland during William's campaign in Ireland. Immediately after his departure the traitor Crone was brought to the bar, and, after a full and fair trial, convicted and condemned to death. Pardon, however, was offered him on condition of his revealing what he knew of the Jacobite machinations. After a violent struggle with himself, and after two respites, he complied, and gave important information to the privy council. The evidences of an active conspiracy of the Jacobites were too prominent to be overlooked. Tourville, the French admiral, was hovering on the coasts of Devon and Dorsetshire, and the Jacobites, as expecting a descent of a French force, were all in a state of the greatest excitement. It was deemed necessary to arrest a number of the most dangerous, amongst whom was Clarendon, the queen's uncle; and he and the rest were committed to the safe keeping of the Tower. Torrington was ordered to join the fleet in the Downs, and chase the French admiral from the coast. At St. Helen's he was joined by a powerful Dutch squadron, under the command of admiral Evertsen, and they lay off Ventnor, whilst Tourville with his fleet lay off the Needles. An engagement was expected every hour, when Torrington was seen to draw off from the coast of the Isle of Wight, and retreat before the French admiral towards the straits of Dover. The alarm in London became excessive. The scheme of the Jacobites, as it was revealed to the council, was to enter the Thames, the Jacobites in London had agreed to rise and seize the queen and proclaim James. James himself had engaged to leave Ireland to Lauzun and Tyrconnel, and throw himself once more amongst his adherents in England. Another squadron of the French was to land at Torbay; and the country once in their possession, the united French fleet was to cut off the return of William from Ireland. With a knowledge of these plans, and the doubtful conduct of Torrington, the privy council was in a state of great agitation. Caermarthen was for the most decisive measures, in which he was energetically supported by Monmouth. They proposed that Russell, who was not only a first-rate officer but a determined one, should be sent over to the fleet, and Monmouth, at his own request, as a military officer, was sent with him. A despatch, however, was sent before them, ordering Torrington to come to an engagement at all hazards, and this compelled him to act before Russell and Monmouth could get on board. On the 30th of June, the day before the battle of the Boyne, he felt himself compelled to come to an engagement with Tourville off Beachy Head. Tourville had eighty-two men-of- war; the united fleet of England and Holland did not exceed sixty; but a Blake or Russell would have thought little of the difference. Torrington, as had been too plainly evident by the affair of Bantry Bay, was a man of very different stuff. When compelled to fight, he determined that the Dutch should bear the brunt of it. He therefore placed the Dutch vessels in the van, and gave the signal to engage. The Dutch fought with their usual bravery, and for many hours sustained almost the whole fury of the battle, little supported by the English. Torrington showed no disposition to engage, but appeared rather disposed to see the Dutch, whom he hated, annihilated. A few of the English captains did their duty gallantly; but, so far as Torrington was concerned, had it not been for the Dutch, the French might have ascended the Thames, as Van Tromp formerly, and insulted the whole seaboard of the country at their pleasure. When the Dutch had lost two admirals and many other officers, and their ships being in a terribly shattered condition, they drew off. One of their dismantled ships fell into the hands of the French, the others Torrington ordered to be either burnt or towed away; and, ignominiously retiring into the Thames, pulled up the buoys, to prevent the French following him. Tourville, however, had suffered so much from the Dutch, that he drew off towards his own coast, and left the Londoners to suffer all the alarms without the danger of invasion. London, indeed, was in the same state of terror as in the time of the Dutch invasion of the Thames. The wildest rumours were every hour arriving. The confidence in Torrington was gone, and he was generally denounced as being a traitor to the government. Either he was a most incompetent commander or his heart was not to the cause: and the latter was no doubt the fact; for, though his treason was not patent at this time, it afterwards became certain enough that he maintained a close correspondence with the courts of both St. Germains and Versailles. But, whether traitor or imbecile, London was in no degree confident of his being able to repel the French. It was believed by numbers that the dockyards at Chatham would be destroyed, the ships in the Thames under protection of the Tower be set fire to, and the Tower itself be cannonaded. To add to the gloom and affright, the news of the defeat of count Waldeck at Fleurus, in the Netherlands, by Luxembourg, Louis's general, just then arrived. Paris was ablaze with fireworks and rejoicings, London was all gloom and panic.

And truly these were very menacing circumstances. Tourville was insolently bearding us on our own coasts; Torrington dared not or would not go to encounter him; and marshal Humieres lay with a strong force on the opposite shores, not far from Dunkirk, in readiness, it was believed, to go on board Tourville's fleet and make a descent on England, where the Jacobites were all in readiness to join the invaders. But on the fourth day after the battle of Beachy Head, arrived the news of William's splendid victory on the Boyne, and the spirit of the nation rose at once. It was felt that the ascendancy of James was over, and the news of his ignominious flight, which soon followed, completely extinguished the hopes of his partisans, and gave stability to the throne of William and Mary.

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