The Battle of the Boyne
The battle of the Boyne took place in July, 1690. It was an unusual battle for a number of reasons, not least because it actually took place on July 1st, but because of the changeover from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar the day is now commemorated on the 12th of July.
Towards the 17th century there were two claimants for the English throne - William and James. James was a Catholic, William was a Dutch Protestant married to James’ sister.
William III claimed the throne of Great Britain in 1689. This also gave him a claim to the title of King of Ireland. However, James II still had control of many parts of Ireland. In July of that year James tried unsuccessfully to capture Derry. Later that year William sent 16,000 men to the North of Ireland, but they didn't engage in any battles. In June of 1690, William came to Ireland to take command.
The battle for the supremacy of the English throne was also a battle to determine the status quo throughout Europe. The southern Irish supported James, believing that he might be more lenient with Catholic Ireland than William. The northern Irish, being largely Protestant, backed William. This religious divide was seen throughout Europe, with English, Belgian and French Catholics backing James and their Protestant fellow-countrymen backing William. William also had the support of a large Dutch contingent, and some Swiss, Swedish and Finnish mercenaries.
The two armies met at the Boyne river, near Drogheda. James and his mainly Irish army of about 26,000 were on the south bank, William and his followers, about 36,000 in all, on the north.
The battle began in the early morning. General Schomberg led some 7,500 soldiers westwards, away from the battlefield, intending to attack further up the river and come upon James from the rear. However, this move was primarily a decoy, and James took the bait. He sent a large part of his army, including his most seasoned troops, to attack Schomberg’s men. Schomberg crossed the Boyne and marched North, tracked by the opposing soldiers. However, neither side attacked the other because there was marshy ground separating them.
James himself did not lead his troops, withdrawing instead to a hilltop well away from the scene of the battle. It is widely believed that this difference in leadership styles played a large part in the swift victory of the Williamite forces. The Irish cavalry fought desperately to save the day but they had been outmaneuvered and were never able to recover the ground lost due to being deployed by James against the decoy created by Schomberg.
Within a few hours it was clear that the Williamites would win and James retreated hastily towards Dublin. There are several stories told about his actions on the day. One story tells of Sarsfield, an Irish General in the Jacobite army who was jeered by an opposing General following the defeat. He is reputed to have said: "Change Kings and we'll fight you again!” Another story tells of King James complaining as he reached Dublin that the Irish troops ran away. A woman who lost several relations in the battle apparently replied "Congratulations, You majesty, on winning the race!”
The battle of the Boyne was a decisive European battle, one of the biggest battles of its time. The defeat of James left the throne of England, and with it control of Ireland, to William. The repercussions of this victory were felt right across Europe and persist in Ireland to the present day. On July 12th every year in Northern Ireland tens of thousands of "Orangemen", so called because they commemorate William of Orange, march in celebration of the great victory at the battle of the Boyne.