History of the Stewarts | Battles and Historic Events
If you are a Stewart Society Member please login above to view all of the items in this section. If you want general information on how to research your ancestors and some helpful links - please look in background information.
If you have a specific question you can contact our archivist.
The Battle of the Boyne
Ist July 1690
The two men were linked by blood and family ties. James II was both the uncle of William of Orange and his father-in-law. In 1688, William was invited to seize James II´s throne by Protestant nobles who feared James was founding a Catholic royal dynasty. James, who chose not to oppose him, was captured then allowed to escape to exile in France. In March 1689, James landed in Ireland with troops supplied by King Louis XIV of France. France was the greatest military power in Europe at the time and Louis was William´s sworn enemy. James saw Ireland as the back door through which he could invade England and regain his crown. Predominantly Catholic Ireland readily rallied to the Jacobite cause. Throughout his reign, William´s focus was always firmly on his fight to bring to an end Louis XIV´s domination of Europe. The crowns of England, Scotland and Ireland were vital to his ongoing struggle. James´ army represented a significant threat that William had to deal with decisively.
William´s invasion force was the largest Ireland had ever seen. Altogether he had more than one thousand horses to draw his artillery and gun equipment. An eye-witness recalled Belfast Lough (the body of water connecting Belfast to the sea) looking like a wood:
"There being no less than seven hundred sail of ships in it, mostly laden with provisions and ammunition. The great numbers of coaches, waggons, baggage horses and the like is almost incredible to be supplied from England, or any of the biggest nations in Europe. I cannot think that any army of Christendom hath the like."
William himself stepped ashore at the northern port of Carrickfergus on 14 June 1690, where this pale asthmatic monarch, his face lined with the constant pain of fighting ill health, said in halting English that he had come to ensure the people of Ireland would be "settled in a lasting peace". William is celebrated to this day as a champion of Protestantism, but he was nonetheless backed by the head of the Catholic Church, Pope Alexander VIII. The Pope was part of a ´Grand Alliance´ against Louis XIV´s warring in Europe and supported William´s reconquest of Ireland.
The River Boyne lies 30 miles north of Dublin. It was the last natural barrier facing William as he marched south towards the city and James´ stronghold. James chose to make a stand at the Boyne, enshrining it as the location where, for the last time, two crowned kings of England, Scotland and Ireland would meet in battle.
William was known for his sometimes reckless courage and the Boyne was no different. He decided to investigate the river´s crossing points for himself and was shot at by Jacobite officers. It was rumoured that William was dead, but a bullet had only grazed his shoulder. He shrugged it off, reputedly saying: "Ce boulet est venu bien pres. Ce n´est rien" ("The ball came close enough, but it´s nothing").
After four hours of fierce fighting a significant body of William´s men had made it across to the Boyne´s southern riverbank. James´ cavalry had them pinned down, but they held and James gave the order to retreat. A rout was avoided by Louis XIV´s cavalry covering the withdrawal. Despite his army retreating in good order, James abandoned them and returned to exile in France. William marched into Dublin and finally secured his reconquest of Ireland with the Treaty of Limerick in 1691. William´s victory ended James II´s hope of regaining his throne. William was now securely in control of England, Scotland and Ireland, which would ultimately help him to reverse Louis XIV´s military conquests in Europe.
For Protestants, it secured their ascendancy in Ireland. In Ulster it ensured the survival of the Protestant, English-speaking colonies known as the Plantation. The victory is still celebrated every 12 July in Northern Ireland by the Orange Order, named for William of Orange.
Why 12 July?
The Battle of the Boyne was fought on 1 July 1690, according to the old Julian calendar. This was reformed and replaced with the Gregorian calendar across the British Empire in 1752, repositioning the ´date´ of the Battle of the Boyne to 11 July. The method of altering historical dates was somewhat complicated, with eleven days being added to ´old style´ dates occurring after 1700, but only ten days to those taking place before that.