The Battle of the Boyne

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The Battle of the Boyne (Irish: Cath na Bóinne) was a turning point in the Williamite claim on the English throne. The deposed King James VII of Scotland and James II of England and Ireland and his Jacobite supporters were defeated by James' nephew and son-in-law, William III and his supporters. By the invitation of Parliament, William had deposed James in 1688. Both kings acted as commander of their respective armies. The battle took place on July 1, 1690 (Old Style) just outside the town of Drogheda on Ireland's east coast. Each army stood on opposing sides of the River Boyne. William's forces easily defeated those of James who led an army of mostly raw recruits. The symbolic importance of this battle has made it one of the best-known battles in British and Irish history and a key part in Irish Protestant folklore. It is still commemorated today, principally by the Orange Institution. As a consequence of the adoption of the Gregorian calendar ("New Style" dating), the battle is now commemorated on July 12 each year. A sectarian battle?

The battle of the Boyne is seen as the decisive encounter in a war that was primarily about James' attempt to regain the thrones of England and Scotland and was the result of Parliament's move to put William on the throne, but is especially widely remembered as a crucial moment in the struggle between Irish Protestant and Catholic interests. Recent analyses have played down the religious aspect of the conflict. In fact, both armies were religiously mixed; William of Orange's own elite force — the Dutch Blue Guards — had a papal banner with them on that day, many of them being Dutch Catholics. They were part of the League of Augsburg, a cross-Christian alliance designed to stop a French conquest of Europe, supported by the Vatican. The war in Ireland was also the beginning of a long-running but ultimately unsuccessful campaign by James' Jacobite supporters to restore the Stuarts to the British thrones. While most Jacobites in Ireland were indeed Catholics hoping to have their seized lands given back to them, many English and Scottish Jacobites were Protestants and were motivated by loyalty to the principle of monarchy (considering James to have been illegally deposed in a coup) or to the Stuart dynasty in particular, rather than by religion. A handful of English Jacobites fought with James at the Boyne. In addition, some French regiments fighting with the Jacobites were composed of German Protestants. In a European context, therefore, the battle was not a religiously motivated one, but part of a complicated political, dynastic and strategic conflict. In an Irish context, however, the war was a sectarian and ethnic conflict, in many ways a re-run of the Irish Confederate Wars of 50 years earlier. For the Jacobites, the war was fought for Irish sovereignty, religious toleration for Catholicism, and land ownership. The Catholic upper classes had lost almost all their lands after Cromwell's conquest, as well as the right to hold public office, practice their religion, and sit in the Irish Parliament. They saw the Catholic King James as a means of redressing these grievances and securing the autonomy of Ireland from the English Parliament. To these ends, under Richard Talbot, 1st Earl of Tyrconnel, they had raised an army to restore James to his throne after the Glorious Revolution. By 1690, they controlled all of Ireland except for the province of Ulster. Most of James II's troops at the Boyne were Irish Catholics. Conversely, for the Williamites, the war was about maintaining Protestant and English rule in Ireland. They feared for both their lives and their property if James and his Catholic supporters were to rule Ireland. In particular, they dreaded a repeat of the Irish Rebellion of 1641, which had been marked by widespread killings, including of Protestant planters. For these reasons, Protestants fought en masse for William III. Many Williamite troops at the Boyne, including their very...
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