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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of Thomas Blood, Anglo-Irish Officer

thomas-bloodColonel Thomas Blood, Anglo-Irish officer and self-styled colonel best known for his attempt to steal the Crown Jewels of England and Scotland from the Tower of London in 1671, dies at his home in Bowling Alley, Westminster on August 24, 1680. He is also known for his attempt to kidnap and, later, to kill, his enemy, James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormond.

Sources suggest that Blood is born in County Clare in 1618, the son of a successful land-owning blacksmith of English descent. He is partly raised at Sarney, near Dunboyne, County Meath. He receives his education in Lancashire, England. At the age of 20, he marries Maria Holcroft, the daughter of John Holcroft, a gentleman from Golborne, Lancashire, and returns to Ireland.

At the outbreak of the First English Civil War in 1642, Blood returns to England and initially takes up arms with the Royalist forces loyal to Charles I. As the conflict progresses he switches sides and becomes a lieutenant in Oliver Cromwell‘s Roundheads. Following the Restoration of King Charles II to the Crowns of the Three Kingdoms in 1660, Blood flees with his family to Ireland.

As part of the expression of discontent, Blood conspires to storm Dublin Castle, usurp the government, and kidnap James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, for ransom. On the eve of the attempt, the plot is foiled. Blood manages to escape to the United Dutch Provinces in the Low Country although a few of his collaborators are captured and executed.

In 1670, despite his status as a wanted man, Blood returns to England. On the night of December 6, 1670, he and his accomplices attack Ormonde while he travels St. James’s Street. Ormonde is dragged from his coach and taken on horseback along Piccadilly with the intention of hanging him at Tyburn. The gang pins a paper to Ormonde’s chest spelling out their reasons for his capture and murder. Ormonde succeeds in freeing himself and escapes. Due to the secrecy of the plot, Blood is not suspected of the crime.

Blood does not lie low for long, and within six months he makes his notorious attempt to steal the Crown Jewels. After weeks of deception, on May 9, 1671, he convinces Talbot Edwards, the newly appointed Master of the Jewel House, to show the jewels to him, his supposed nephew, and two of his friends while they wait for a dinner that Mrs. Edwards is providing. The jewel keeper’s apartment is in Martin Tower above a basement where the jewels are kept behind a metal grille. Reports suggest that Blood’s accomplices carried canes that concealed rapier blades, daggers, and pocket pistols. They enter the Jewel House, leaving one of the men to supposedly stand watch outside while the others joined Edwards and Blood. The door is closed and a cloak is thrown over Edwards, who is struck with a mallet, knocked to the floor, bound, gagged and stabbed to subdue him.

As Blood and his gang flee to their horses waiting at St. Catherine’s Gate, they fire on the warders who attempt to stop them, wounding one. As they run along the Tower wharf it is said they join the calls for alarm to confuse the guards until they are chased down by Captain Beckman, brother-in-law of the younger Edwards. Although Blood shoots at him, he misses and is captured before reaching the Iron Gate. The Jewels are recovered although several stones are missing and others are loose.

Following his capture, Blood refuses to answer to anyone but the King and is consequently taken to the palace in chains, where he is questioned by King Charles, Prince Rupert and others. To the disgust of Ormonde, Blood is not only pardoned but also given land in Ireland worth £500 a year. The reasons for the King’s pardon are unknown although speculation abounds.

In 1679 Blood falls into dispute with the Duke of Buckingham, his former patron, and Buckingham sues him for £10,000, for insulting remarks Blood had made about his character. In the proceedings that follow, Blood is convicted by the King’s Bench in 1680 and granted bail, although he never pays the damages.

Blood is released from prison in July 1680 but falls into a coma by August 22. He dies on August 24 at his home in Bowling Alley, Westminster. His body is buried in the churchyard of St. Margaret’s Church (now Christchurch Gardens) near St. James’s Park. It is believed that his body was exhumed by the authorities for confirmation as, such was his reputation for trickery, it is suspected he might have faked his death and funeral to avoid paying his debt to Buckingham.


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The Battle of Fontenoy

battle-of-fontenoyThe Irish Brigade of France, a brigade in the French Royal Army composed of Irish exiles most commonly identified in Irish history as The Wild Geese, achieve its most glorious victory at the Battle of Fontenoy on May 11, 1745 during the War of the Austrian Succession.

The battle takes place in the Belgian municipality of Antoing, near Tournai. A French army of 50,000 commanded by Marshal Maurice de Saxe defeats a slightly larger Pragmatic Army of 52,000 consisting of the Dutch Republic, Great Britain, Hanover and the Holy Roman Empire, led by Prince William, Duke of Cumberland. The Irish Brigade is led by Justin McCarthy, Viscount Mountcashel and is comprised of six regiments.

Despite setbacks elsewhere, at the end of 1744 the French hold the initiative in the Austrian Netherlands, and their leaders consider this theatre offers the best opportunity for a decisive victory. In late April, they besiege Tournai, which controls access to the upper Scheldt basin, which makes it a vital link in the North European trading network and the Allies march to its relief.

Leaving 22,000 men in front of Tournai, Saxe places his main force five miles away in the villages of St. Antoine, Vezin and Fontenoy, along a naturally strong feature which he strengthens with defensive works. After a series of unsuccessful flank assaults, the Allies attack the French centre with a column of 15,000 men.

Colonel Arthur Dillon‘s regiment, which had already been badly shot up earlier in the fight, along with the brigade’s other five, charge the British as they seem on the verge of breaking the French line. Fifty years of Irish frustration and British betrayal now come back to haunt the British. As the men of the Irish Brigade close through a hail of British bullets, their shouts are heard above the din: “Cuimhnígí ar Luimneach agus ar fheall na Sasanach!” (Remember Limerick and the Saxon Faith).

Nothing can withstand the wave of hatred and revenge that breaks on the hapless British line that day. The victory is won but the cost is high. Colonel Dillon is dead and Lord Clare is wounded twice. The brigade suffers 656 casualties in all, the highest percentage of all the French units.

Although the Allies retreat in good order, Tournai falls shortly afterwards, followed by Ghent, Oudenaarde, Bruges and Dendermonde. The withdrawal of British forces in October to deal with the Jacobite Rising facilitates the capture of Ostend and Nieuwpoort. By the end of 1745, France controls much of the Austrian Netherlands, threatening British links with Europe.

However, by early 1746, France is struggling to finance the war and begins peace talks at the Congress of Breda in May. Despite victories at Rocoux in October 1746 and Lauffeld in July 1747, the war continues until the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748.

It is a day never to be forgotten by the Irish worldwide. At Manassas, Virginia, 116 years later, Thomas Francis Meagher cries out to the 69th New York, another regiment of Irishmen, “Remember Fontenoy!”

(Pictured: The Irish Brigade, presenting a captured British colour to Louis XV and the Dauphin)


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Death of William III, King of England, Scotland & Ireland

Kneller, Godfrey, 1646-1723; King William III (1650-1702)William III, also widely known as William of Orange, dies at Kensington Palace on March 8, 1702 following a fall from his horse when it stumbles on a molehill. Upon his death, Anne accedes to the throne of Britain and Ireland.

William is sovereign Prince of Orange from birth, Stadtholder of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Gelderland and Overijssel in the Dutch Republic from 1672 and King of England, Ireland and Scotland from 1689 until his death in 1702. As King of Scotland, he is known as William II. He is sometimes informally known in Northern Ireland and Scotland as “King Billy.”

William is born on November 4, 1650 at Binnenhof, The Hague, Dutch Republic. He inherits the Principality of Orange from his father, William II, who dies a week before William’s birth. His mother, Mary, is the daughter of King Charles I of England. In 1677, William marries his fifteen-year-old first cousin, Mary, the daughter of his maternal uncle James, Duke of York.

A Protestant, William participates in several wars against the powerful Catholic King of France, Louis XIV, in coalition with Protestant and Catholic powers in Europe. Many Protestants herald him as a champion of their faith. In 1685, William’s Catholic uncle and father-in-law, James, becomes king of England, Scotland and Ireland. James’s reign is unpopular with the Protestant majority in Britain. William, supported by a group of influential British political and religious leaders, invades England in what becomes known as the Glorious Revolution. On November 5, 1688, he lands at the southern English port of Brixham. James is deposed and William and his wife become joint sovereigns in his place.

William’s reputation as a staunch Protestant enables him to take power in Britain when many are fearful of a revival of Catholicism under James. William’s victory at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 is still commemorated by loyalists in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

William and Mary reign together until Mary’s death from smallpox on December 28, 1694, after which William rules as sole monarch. Despite his conversion to Anglicanism, his popularity plummets during his reign as a sole monarch. His reign in Britain marks the beginning of the transition from the personal rule of the House of Stuart to the more Parliament-centred rule of the House of Hanover.

On March 8, 1702, William dies of pneumonia, a complication from a broken collarbone following a fall from his horse, Sorrel. The horse had been confiscated from Sir John Fenwick, one of the Jacobites who had conspired against William. Because his horse had stumbled into a mole’s burrow, many Jacobites toast “the little gentleman in the black velvet waistcoat.” Years later, Winston Churchill, in his A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, states that the fall “opened the door to a troop of lurking foes.” William is buried in Westminster Abbey alongside his wife. His sister-in-law, Anne, becomes queen regnant of England, Scotland and Ireland.

William’s death means that he would remain the only member of the Dutch House of Orange to reign over England.


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The Navigation Act 1651

The Navigation Act 1651 is passed on October 9, 1651, by the Rump Parliament led by Oliver Cromwell. It authorises the Commonwealth of England to regulate trade within the colonies. It reinforces a long-standing principle of government policy that English trade should be carried in English vessels. The Act is a reaction to the failure of the English diplomatic mission led by Oliver St. John and Walter Strickland to The Hague seeking a political union of the Commonwealth with the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands, after the States of Holland had made some cautious overtures to Cromwell to counter the monarchical aspirations of stadtholder William II, Prince of Orange.

The stadtholder dies suddenly, however, and the States are now embarrassed by Cromwell taking the idea too seriously. The English propose the joint conquest of all remaining Spanish and Portuguese possessions. England would take America and the Dutch would take Africa and Asia. But the Dutch have just ended their war with Spain and already taken over most Portuguese colonies in Asia, so they see little advantage in this grandiose scheme and propose a free trade agreement as an alternative to a full political union. This again is unacceptable to the British, who would be unable to compete on such a level playing field, and is seen by them as a deliberate affront.

The Act bans foreign ships from transporting goods from outside Europe to England or its colonies, and bans third-party countries’ ships from transporting goods from a country elsewhere in Europe to England. These rules specifically target the Dutch, who control much of Europe’s international trade and even much of England’s coastal shipping. It excludes the Dutch from essentially all trade with England, as the Dutch economy is competitive with, not complementary to the English, and the two countries therefore exchange few commodities. This Anglo-Dutch trade, however, constitutes only a small fraction of total Dutch trade flows.

The Act is often mentioned as a major cause of the First Anglo-Dutch War, though it is only part of a larger British policy to engage in war after the negotiations have failed. The English naval victories in 1653 (the Battle of Portland, the Battle of the Gabbard and the Battle of Scheveningen) show the supremacy of the Commonwealth navy in home waters. However, farther afield the Dutch predominate and are able to close down English commerce in the Baltic and the Mediterranean. Both countries hold each other in a stifling embrace.

The Treaty of Westminster (1654) ends the impasse. The Dutch fail to have the Act repealed or amended, but it seems to have had relatively little influence on their trade. The Act offers England only limited solace. It cannot limit the deterioration of England’s overseas trading position, except in the cases where England herself is the principal consumer, such as the Canary Islands wine trade and the trade in Puglian olive oil. In the trade with the West Indies, the Dutch keep up a flourishing “smuggling” trade, thanks to the preference of English planters for Dutch import goods and the better deal the Dutch offer in the sugar trade. The Dutch colony of New Netherland offers a loophole through intercolonial trade wide enough to drive a shipload of Virginia tobacco through.

The 1651 Act, like other laws of the Commonwealth period, is declared void on the Restoration of Charles II of England, having been passed by “usurping powers.” Parliament therefore passes new legislation. This is generally referred to as the “Navigation Acts,” and, with some amendments, remains in force for nearly two centuries.


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Coronation of James II as King of England & Ireland

The coronation of James II as King of England and Ireland takes place at Westminster Abbey on April 23, 1685. He is also crowned King of Scotland as James VII. He is the last Roman Catholic monarch of England, Scotland and Ireland.

The second surviving son of Charles I, James ascends the throne upon the death of his brother, Charles II. There is little initial opposition to his accession, and there are widespread reports of public rejoicing at the orderly succession. The new Parliament that assembles in May 1685, which gains the name of “Loyal Parliament,” is initially favourable to James, and the new King sends word that even most of the former exclusionists will be forgiven if they acquiesce to his rule.

Members of Britain’s Protestant political elite increasingly suspect him of being pro-French and pro-Catholic and of having designs on becoming an absolute monarch. When he produces a Catholic heir, leading nobles call on his Protestant son-in-law and nephew William of Orange to land an invasion army from the Dutch Republic, which he does in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. James flees England and thus is held to have abdicated. He is replaced by his eldest, Protestant daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange.

James makes one serious attempt to recover his crowns from William and Mary when he lands in Ireland in 1689. After the defeat of the Jacobite forces by the Williamites at the Battle of the Boyne in July 1690, James returns to France. He lives out the rest of his life as a pretender at a court sponsored by his cousin and ally, King Louis XIV.

James is best known for his struggles with the English Parliament and his attempts to create religious liberty for English Roman Catholics and Protestant nonconformists, against the wishes of the Anglican establishment. This tension makes James’s four-year reign a struggle for supremacy between the English Parliament and the Crown, resulting in his deposition, the passage of the Bill of Rights, and the accession of his daughter and her husband as king and queen.