Thursday, April 22, 2010

Monarchist Profile: Patrick Sarsfield

General Patrick Sarsfield was possibly the greatest Irish Jacobite hero in the War of English Succession. Despite the great span of time that has passed the war between the Stuart King James II and his son-in-law William of Orange the passions of the adherents to the two factions remains fierce. Yet, no matter to what side one gives his allegiance, few would doubt that Sarsfield was an admirable figure being a brilliant soldier, a loyal son of Ireland, loyal to his religion and loyal to the man who was first his King. Patrick Sarsfield was born at Lucan in County Dublin probably around 1650, the second son of Patrick Sarsfield and Anne O’Moore. Patrick came from Anglo-Norman stock but his mother was a daughter of Rory O’Moore who had organized the Rebellion of 1641 so he had solid roots of devotion to Irish freedom. As he grew older he went to school at a French Military College and in 1678 went to England to take up his appointment as a captain in the infantry regiment under Colonel Dungan.

His star was on the rise and in 1685 he transferred to Hamilton’s Dragoons and the following year was promoted to lieutenant colonel of Dover’s Horse regiment. He served in France with the regiments King Charles II sent to assist Louis XIV. In 1686 Sarsfield was promoted to full colonel, a position he held when things began to go awry for King James II. A Catholic convert, the efforts of James II to enact religious toleration met with great opposition in Parliament but it was his family life that sealed his political fate. The fateful moment came when his beautiful and devout Italian wife, Mary of Modena, gave him a son and heir in 1688. The Protestants of England were not about to allow the possibility of another Catholic monarch and called on the Dutch Prince of Orange, who was the son-in-law of James II and a Protestant, to invade England, depose James and take the throne.

William and his Dutch army landed on November 5 and King James II went to meet him. However, anti-Catholic riots broke out in London and even his supposedly loyal English generals, most crucially Churchill, turned against him in favor of William. Ireland, however, was a different story. Irish Catholics had seen their first glimpse of religious freedom since Protestantism became the state religion in England and they remained loyal to James and none moreso than Patrick Sarsfield. He raised a cavalry regiment of which he was made colonel and was quickly promoted to brigadier general. He assisted the Catholic Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, the Earl of Tyrconnel, who King James had made commander in chief, in reorganizing and training the Irish army. Sarsfield soon came to England with a body of Irish troops requested by King James to try to save the situation, but with the English army turning against him in favor of William, there was little that could be done. After seeing first to the safety of his family he was forced to go into exile in France, accompanied by his loyal Irish general Pat Sarsfield.

King James II, however, had not given up on reclaiming his throne and Ireland was chosen as the place to begin his restoration as it had a large Catholic population whose loyalty could be relied on. Of course, James II was as imperfect as all men are bound to be and he made mistakes, one of which was not making better use of General Sarsfield. Nonetheless, he knew that Ireland was his safest stronghold and the following year he returned to the Emerald Isle, declared independence for the Kingdom of Ireland and launched his bid to restore the Stuart reign.

Despite being underutilized, Sarsfield was busy in 1689, on and off the battlefield. He found the time to marry Honora De Burgo, daughter of the Earl of Clainricarde, at Portumna Castle in Galway and was elected MP for Dublin in May. However, it was the war that was to dominate his mind in these years and it was certainly to be that once William of Orange landed in Ireland with his army, only a minority of which was British, most being Dutch troops and foreign mercenaries whose loyalty could be most relied upon. Sarsfield secured Connaught for the Jacobites (those being the people loyal to James II) and guarded against a possible Orange attack. He was known during his military career as a strict disciplinarian but a commander who was much loved by the soldiers who fought under him. His devotion to Ireland was second to none and over his life he fought a number of duels over the honor of Ireland, and was once badly wounded, for Sarsfield would not suffer his homeland to be insulted. Unfortunately, it took him some time to be used to his full potential as the King and some of those around him believed that, while he was certainly brave and loyal, that he lacked the overall head for a top command because he was always so willing to jump right into the thick of the fight. Time would prove how incorrect that opinion was.

However, that was certainly not to say that the abilities of Sarsfield went unappreciated by the King himself. In fact, in 1690 King James II created him Baron Roseberry, Viscount of Tully and Earl of Lucan as well as being appointed Colonel of the Lifeguards. On two occasions in 1691 he was to serve as Commander-in-Chief of the Jacobite forces in Ireland. Nonetheless, it was his misfortune to be uninvolved in the most decisive actions of the conflict while the King himself was still in Ireland. It was also the misfortune of the King himself who could certainly have used the talents of Sarsfield. This was certainly true at the battle of the Boyne, which is now viewed as the decisive battle of the entire war, though it need not have been as the Jacobite defeat was not as total or as disastrous as it is often made to seem. It did, however, break the will of King James II (whose father had been beheaded by traitors lest we forget) and afterwards he returned to exile in France. However, the war went on in Ireland in his name for some time after, thanks largely to the leadership of Sarsfield.

At the battle of Aughrim, Sarsfield was again underutilized but nonetheless earned great admiration for the way his well ordered cavalry kept a defeat from turning into a total disaster and saving the lives of a great many Irish soldiers. This was one occasion of many when the discipline he instilled in his troops paid off handsomely. It was a seemingly hopeless fight the Irish faced. They were poorly equipped, poorly supplied, poorly armed and faced by a much more numerous army of well stocked professional soldiers. Nonetheless, Sarsfield faced this challenge with his usual zeal and proved his full worth at the epic siege of Limerick. Besieged by a vastly superior enemy the city of Limerick refused to open its gates to King William III and refused to surrender. In a bold and brilliant move, General Sarsfield slipped out of the city with a few of his cavalry, rode all through the night and captured the enemy supply train, blowing up a huge quantity of Orange ammunition and gunpowder.

Soon thereafter, 10,000 Dutch and British soldiers launched an assault on the city of Limerick. William brought up huge siege guns to blast a breach in the city walls and sent his men charging in. For three desperate hours the Irish infantry fought them off before being pushed back. As the Orange forces pushed their way into the city the Irish troops fought them in hand to hand combat. Orange losses were heavy but they pressed on through the streets where they were met by a hostile population. As the soldiers fought on Irish civilians, men and women alike, hurled rocks and bottles down at the attackers. With casualties mounting ever higher in this slow, painful advance, the Irish cavalry then rode around and attacked the Orange forces from the rear. This proved to be the last straw and William III ordered a retreat. The city of Limerick was saved and they had inflicted 3,000 casualties on their enemies while sustaining less than 500 of their own. It was a great victory for the Irish Jacobites and a demoralizing blow for William who then decided that he had had enough of Ireland and went home, leaving the English General John Churchill in command to subdue the island.

Like Sarsfield, the skill and courage of King William and John Churchill after him, could not be doubted and there were other victories for the Orange forces and soon the war settled down to a stalemate typical of Irish history. The British were too powerful to defeat entirely, but the Irish resistance was so effective that they could never be decisively defeated either. Churchill, however, had every material advantage. It became clear to General Sarsfield that while he could continue the war he also could not win it with his exhausted army and to try to do so would only be to waste the lives of his beloved soldiers. In October of 1691 he agreed to discuss terms of peace with William of Orange. To his surprise the British offered a generous peace. Irish Catholics would be free to practice their religion, have full, equal rights like all other citizens and were guaranteed protection from all persecution and harassment. It was more than many Irish leaders had dreamed possible and Sarsfield willingly signed it on the Treaty Stone at Limerick.

This might have been the start of a new and better relationship between Protestant Britain and Catholic Ireland, but it was not. The Treaty Stone still sits in the town square of Limerick but as a reminder of deception rather than goodwill. Once the war was over the Parliament in London passed the Penal Laws which made things worse for Irish Catholics than they had ever been. While religious freedom for all Protestant dissenters was upheld (that is those Protestants outside the Church of England) Irish Catholics were forbidden to practice their religion, not allowed to be educated, not allowed to hold office, not allowed to conduct business or commerce of any kind, they were not allowed to purchase land, not allowed to rent land worth more than 30 shillings a year nor were they allowed to profit from any land already held.

As for Patrick Sarsfield, he left Ireland in December, to follow his defeated king back into exile once again with 12 ships and about 2,600 others escaping Orange rule. Once back in France King James II made him captain of the second troop of Irish Life Guards in 1692. This was the start of the second flight of the Wild Geese as thousands of young Irishmen were forced to go into their exile, many joining Irish units in the militaries of foreign nations. Patrick Sarsfield continued his loyal service until he was mortally wounded leading French troops against his old enemies at the battle of Landen in Flanders in 1693. He died of his wounds three days later in Huy, Belgium with his last words being, as his life slipped away, “If this was only for Ireland”.

Oh Patrick Sarsfield, Irelands Wonder,
Who fought in the fields like any thunder,
One of King James’ chief commanders,
Now lies the food of crows in Flanders.
Och hone, Och hone.

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