The Two Kings: William III and James II

From Derry and Enniskillen in the Year 1689 by Thomas Witherow

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CHAPTER VII...continued

The raising of the siege of Derry, and the victory at Newtonbutler, left almost all Ulster in the hands of the Williamites. Kirke sent to Enniskillen for two hundred of the able-bodied prisoners taken at Newtonbutler to be sent down to Derry, to empty the storeships and to cleanse the town;[10] and the five hundred horse and two hundred dragoons who took these prisoners from Enniskillen to Derry, were led forward by Kirke to the County Antrim, in order to meet Duke Schomberg, who was now expected every day to land at Carrickfergus. It is not recorded that Derry was so grateful as to shed tears when its deliverer departed; nevertheless, it had not grown cold to the cause, nor did it take less interest in the progress of King William's arms, now that the tide of war had rolled away from its own doors. Before the Enniskillen men sent upon this march had reached Newtownlimavady, the Jacobite garrison which occupied Coleraine heard of their approach, and deserting that town, fled to Charlemont; and a short time after, by the adroit management of Lieutenant-Colonel Gore at Ballyshannon, Sarsfield found it necessary to retreat from Sligo, and that place also fell into the hands of the Williamites. When Schomberg landed at Bangor, on the 13th August, 1689, the whole northwest of Ulster was in possession of the friends of King William, and no sooner had he landed, than all the north-east also submitted; Charlemont and Carrickfergus Castle being the only places of strength in the North which still held out for King James.[11]

It is not the purpose of this narrative to describe the subsequent events of the civil war, which terminated with the capitulation of Limerick in 1691, and resulted in the complete success of the Revolution.[12] But for the satisfaction of our readers, it will be necessary to say something in regard to the subsequent history of the two Kings who figure in our story; and what is to be said may be as well said here.

King James was an elderly man, fifty-six years of age, at the siege of Derry. After the Battle of the Boyne he escaped to the Continent, and, although his friends did not lay down their arms for more than a year after, he never saw Ireland again. He resided the remainder of his life in France, where Louis XIV. treated him kindly, assigned him as a dwelling the Palace of St. Germains, near Paris, and granted him a pension. Here he surrounded himself with a mock court, composed of such of his followers as, dissatisfied with the Revolution, clung to his fallen fortunes, and looked for another Restoration with that hope which sickens the heart. Men often spoke of the uncrowned King as the man who had lost three kingdoms for a mass. He occupied his time with the diversion of hunting, corresponding with discontented English nobles, fomenting secret conspiracies against the life of King William, and paying punctilious attention to the rites of devotion, and to the penances imposed by his confessor. He died on the 16th September, 1701, some six months before his distinguished son-in-law and rival. After the death of his daughter, Queen Anne (the last of the Stuarts), his son, the Pretender, in 1715, made an effort to recover the throne; and a still bolder attempt was made by his grandson, Prince Charles Edward, the young Pretender, aided by the Highland clans, in 1745. Both attempts were in vain. What folly lost, neither skill nor courage could regain. The House of Stuart had passed away for ever. Their title had descended to one more worthy of a crown; and should the successors of Queen Victoria follow her wise and virtuous example, no man is likely to see another change of the Royal House while the Empire of England lasts.

King William was exactly thirty-eight years of age when he landed in England as deliverer of the nation, having been born on the 4th November, 1650. He reigned thirteen years. He died, in consequence of a fall from his horse, on the 8th March, 1702.

"He was," says Harris, "as to his person, of a middle stature, with a thin and weak body; had a light-brown complexion, an aquiline nose, bright and piercing eyes, and a countenance composed of gravity and authority." He was a man of fair ability and steady temper, distinguished at all times for moderation and good sense, but so cold and reserved in manner that he must have seemed an inscrutable mystery to many who were about him. He was by birth and education a Presbyterian, and before coming to England was the First Magistrate of the Presbyterian Republic of Holland; but he does not seem to have cherished any decided views as to Church Government, and when he became King of England he conformed to the Protestant Episcopal Establishment, deviating from the path of High Church orthodoxy in this only, that he was the warm friend of Protestant Dissenters, and that he constantly resisted, so far as he safely could, everything bordering on persecution for religious opinion.

The two subjects with which he was most conversant were politics and war. The great object for which he seemed to live, was to keep in restraint the great and growing power of France, and to sustain the cause of Protestantism and of liberty throughout Europe. As became the descendant of William the Silent, the founder of the Dutch Republic, he had sounder views of toleration, and was more disposed to practise it than any ruler of his time. Persecution for religious belief was contrary to his very nature. He never could enter into the feelings of men who, because they were Protestants, thought it their duty to afflict their neighbours with civil pains and penalties, for no other offence than that they were Roman Catholics, and who, because they were Churchmen, loved to give expression to their orthodoxy and loyalty by fining and imprisoning Dissenters. He was in favour of all Protestants, whether within or without the Establishment, living in friendship and harmony with each other; and he was anxious that the Roman Catholics, so long as they continued to live at peace and obey the law, should be protected in their property and civil rights, and should be allowed in these kingdoms the same liberty of conscience as they possessed in Holland. He was not in favour of admitting them to Parliament, nor to offices of trust and power in the State; the nation was not then prepared for such a step in advance; popular feeling in the seventeenth century-ran too high to admit of such a measure; nor, indeed, with the elder branch of the Royal Family in exile, professing the Romish faith and claiming the Crown, would such a bold proposal have been either politic or safe. But judging from the broad and tolerant views which the King entertained in other matters, there can be little doubt that in more quiet times he would have gladly sanctioned the extension of equal political privileges to all; provided that it could be done consistently with the preservation of the Protestant faith, that such a measure was demanded by the growing intelligence of the nation, and that it would bring to the governing authority of the Empire any real element of strength.[13]

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[10] The letter of Kirke on this occasion is in Hamill's Memorial, p. 12. It is not worth inserting.

[11] MacCarmick, p. 66.

[12] The author subsequently changed his mind on this point, and published The Boyne and Aghrim, in continuation of the present narrative.

[13] See Harris, pp. 93 and 499.

William R. Young’s Fighters of Derry has for decades been one of the most overlooked works on the Siege of Derry and as a local genealogical resource. First published in 1932, the book was the product of ten years’ research into identifying participants at the siege which the author undertook when suffering from ill-health in the latter part of his life.

The book is essentially divided into two parts: the first contains 1660 biographical entries relating to the defenders of Derry, tracing, where possible, the family lineage; and the second part includes 352 entries on the Jacobite side. Apart from individual accounts of eminent protagonists in the siege, such as David Cairnes, Rev. George Walker, the Duke of Schomberg, Patrick Sarsfield, etc., there is also background given to many of the most influential families involved in the conflict.