Battle of the Boyne

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXXIII

William had intended for some time to conduct the Irish campaign in person. He embarked near Chester on the 11th of June, and landed at Carrickfergus on the 14th, attended by Prince George of Denmark, the Duke of Wurtemburg, the Prince of Hesse Darmstadt, the Duke of Ormonde, and the Earls of Oxford, Portland, Scarborough, and Manchester, with other persons of distinction Schomberg met him half-way between Carrickfergus and Belfast. William, who had ridden so far, now entered the General's carriage, and drove to Belfast, where he was received with acclamations, and loud shouts of "God bless the Protestant King!"

There were bonfires and discharges of cannon at the various camps of the Williamites. The officers of several regiments paid their respects to him in state. On the 22nd the whole army encamped at Loughbrickland, near Newry. In the afternoon William came up and reviewed the troops, pitching his tent on a neighbouring eminence.[1] The army comprised a strange medley of nationalities. More than half were foreigners; and on these William placed his principal reliance, for at any moment a reaction might take place in favour of the lawful King.

The Williamite army was well supplied, well trained, admirably commanded, accustomed to war, and amounted to between forty and fifty thousand. The Jacobite force only consisted of twenty thousand,[2] and of these a large proportion were raw recruits. The officers, however, were brave and skilful; but they had only twelve field-pieces, which had been recently received from France.

On the 22nd, news came that James had encamped near Dundalk; on the 23rd he marched towards Drogheda. On the same day William went to Newry; he was thoroughly aware of the movements of his hapless father-in-law, for deserters came into his camp from time to time. James obtained his information from an English officer, Captain Farlow, and some soldiers whom he made prisoners at a trifling engagement which took place between Newry and Dundalk.

James now determined on a retreat to the Boyne through Ardee. His design was to protract the campaign as much as possible,—an arrangement which suited his irresolute habits; but where a kingdom was to be lost or won, it only served to discourage the troops and to defer the decisive moment.

The hostile forces confronted each other for the first time on the banks of the Boyne, June 30, 1689. The Jacobite army was posted on the declivity of the Hill of Dunore—its right wing towards Drogheda, its left extending up the river. The centre was at the small hamlet of Oldbridge. Entrenchments were hastily thrown up to defend the fords, and James took up his position at a ruined church on the top of the Hill of Dunore.

The Williamite army approached from the north, their brave leader directing every movement, and inspiring his men with courage and confidence. He obtained a favourable position, and was completely screened from view until he appeared on the brow of the hill, where his forces debouched slowly and steadily into the ravines below. After planting his batteries on the heights, he kept up an incessant fire on the Irish lines during the afternoon of the 30th. But James' officers were on the alert, even if their King were indifferent. William was recognized as he approached near their lines to reconnoitre. Guns were brought up to bear on him quietly and stealthily; "six shots were fired at him, one whereof fell and struck off the top of the Duke Wurtemberg's pistol and the whiskers of his horse, and another tore the King's coat on his shoulder."[3]


[1] Eminence.—Journal of Captain Davis, published in the Ulster Archaeological Journal, vol. iv.

[2] Twenty thousand.—Captain Davis' Journal.

[3] Shoulder.—Davis' Journal. The coat was exhibited at the meeting of the British Association in Belfast, in 1852. It had descended as an heirloom through Colonel Wetherall, William's aide-de-camp, who took it off him after the accident.