Michael McNally - By the end of 1690, although much of the country east of the Shannon lay in their hands, the Williamite forces – despite all of the propaganda – had failed to secure the decisive victory that would bring the war to a successful conclusion. Indeed given the dual nature of the War, it could be argued that the French victories at Beachy Head and Fleurus, the latter being ironically fought on the same day as the Boyne, did more than negate any benefits that had been accrued in the wake of King James’s defeat and precipitate flight from Ireland.
The strategic situation was therefore apprised by both parties in two fundamentally different ways – For William, Flanders, effectively the southern part of his Dutch homeland, would always be the most important theatre of operations and thus by the end of 1690 military activity in Ireland had been scaled down slightly with a number of senior commanders such as Heinrich, Count Solms – the commander of William’s Dutch Guards – or Meinhard, Count Schomberg, following the King to the Low Countries whilst Godaard van Reede (known to posterity as Count van Ginkel, the title that he inherited upon his father’s death in October 1691 and incidentally William’s third choice for the army command) would lead a reduced army, albeit one that was to be reinforced by the introduction of a protestant militia in a series of mopping up operations that would gradually and step by step constrict the enemy, eventually delivering them up with or without the necessity of having to fight a pitched battle.
For the Jacobites, the outlook was decidedly different for despite the steady flow of arms and equipment which were regularly convoyed from France, the main requirement was for trained personnel and thus, by necessity they were obliged to remain – wherever possible –on the defensive, using the advantages conferred by interior lines of communication to switch troops as needed in order to meet and counter any enemy thrusts, in anticipation of the news of a major French victory in Flanders which many, outside of Ireland, viewed as the main Theatre of Operations.
The Marquis de St. Ruth personality model available from Warfare Miniatures
Painted by Barry Hilton
A veteran commander who had led both ‘regular’ and ‘irregular’ forces in Spain and Northern Italy, Charles de Chalmont – or as he is more commonly referred to, the Marquis de St.Ruth – was perhaps the best possible choice to assume the overall command of the Jacobite forces for, more of a fighting soldier than a courtier, he was intolerant of politicians and amateur strategists. Thus not only would his new position of ‘Marshal of Ireland’ supersede all other military appointments, it meant that, in his own sphere of expertise at least, his word was the final one. In this manner it was hoped that much of the petty factionalism and cronyism that had plagued the Jacobite high command ever since the beginning of the war would, at long last, be neutralised. In the final analysis, and given the unique composition of the Irish army, it was inevitable that such hopes would eventually be dashed but, at the beginning at least, the new commander was able to capitalise upon Patrick Sarsfield’s reorganization of the army and implement a number of measures that would ensure that when it finally took the field in 1691 the Jacobite army would, it could be argued, be in the best fighting posture than it had been since the Tyrconnel had begun to issue army commissions in the wake of the ‘Glorious Revolution’ and the deposition of King James II.
Given the strategic position in Ireland that he had inherited from his predecessors, and the obvious need to hold the ‘Line of the Shannon’, St. Ruth elected to establish a number of garrisons in places such as Galway, Limerick and, perhaps most importantly, Athlone whilst bringing the remainder of the army forward into a position where it could support the front line positions. It came as no surprise therefore, when it became clear that the Williamites’ initial objectives for 1691 would be the capture of the various Jacobite outposts along the Dublin – Galway road which would be a preliminary to forcing a crossing point across the Shannon, the most likely target being Athlone, the capture of which would enable van Ginkel’s forces to maintain control over the vital roadway, thus facilitating the transport of men, supplies and, above all, heavy artillery, into the western heartlands.
We would like to thank Michael McNally for contributing to the League of Augsburg blog as a guest author. Most of our readers will recognize Mike as the author of Osprey's The Battle of the Boyne 1690: The Irish Campaign for the English Crown and The Battle of Aughrim 1691. Mike has other Osprey titles in other periods as well, but will have another title in the League of Augsburg period next year in October 2014... Ramilies 1706: Marlborough's Tactical Masterpiece from Osprey Publishing. All text in The Controversy of Defeat series is Copyright 2013 Michael McNally and used with kind permission.