Origins of the Irish in French Service (The Wild Geese)

The whole Irish campaign was a patchwork of conflicting objectives. For James, the exercise was to create a bridgehead to land an army in Scotland or England. In other words Ireland was a minor concern. Consequently, at almost every opportunity James pressed Louis for French troops to support a landing in Scotland or England and Melfort was fully behind this approach, waxing lyrically and unrealistically about the enthusiastic welcome James would get on the mainland. Tyrconnell’s main aim was to make Ireland a fortress, and that did not involve England or Scotland at this stage. The French, on the other hand, after the reports they had got from d’Avaux of James’s indecisive leadership and the condition of his troops, were strongly opposed to any attack on England or Scotland or exposure of French troops to such a risk. If James could not take control of Ireland, how could he hope to do so in the other kingdoms? As d’Avaux described it, ‘If the King of England does not take steps to settle Ireland and make it safe for himself before crossing to England he is lost’. Also, Louis and Louvois observed that intelligence-gathering by James and his senior advisors was poor and was chronically prone to overestimations of support. The inability to better predict William’s invasion was a case in point. Meanwhile, James was convinced that the French ministers and king just did not understand reports from the British mainland. Overall, therefore, d’Avaux tended to sympathise with Tyrconnell, but all were united in their disregard for Melfort. His sycophantic behaviour in agreeing with all of the king’s ideas and his ability to seed disharmony in the Council was infuriating. The French commander General Rosen declared that ‘it was impossible to work with a man who said not a word of truth’. Eventually, even James concurred with their criticism of Melfort’s competence and the Secretary was sidelined in early July and left Ireland in late August to return to Saint-Germain in October, slipping away as there were rumours of a plot to have him murdered. Once there, he used his closeness with Mary to press Louis one more time for an invasion of either Scotland or England, but with no success. Having alienated Louvois and much of the French court, Louis and Mary cleared him away to be ambassador to Rome where he took up residence in December.

Back in Ireland a reconstituted council emerged with Henry Jermyn, Lord Dover, James’s old companion during his first exile in France, representing English interests and Seaforth replacing the administrative, but not political, role of Melfort. Immediately, James’s capacity for not believing bad reports caught him out again when in early August Marshal Schomberg, the veteran commander who had fought for and against James in the 1650s, landed a Williamite force of 10,000 at Carrickfergus and made his headquarters at Dundalk. Irish Protestant resistance was more formidable than ever. But over the next two months, judging by d’Avaux’s despatches, James was reinvigorated at the prospect of being pitted against the renowned marshal. He deployed his army in battle order in front of Schomberg’s lines and spent many hours in the saddle like a man half his age. It evoked memories of the glory days of his youth. Even though battle was not joined – because of Schomberg’s caution, deteriorating weather conditions and the marshal’s error in camping on marshy ground – the incident was seen as a morale-boosting ‘victory’ for James and his forces. Both sides suffered thousands of casualties from dysentery and fever.

As a stalemate set in for the winter, D’Avaux and Rosen were recalled to France in November, Rosen in particular at James’s request owing to the dishonourable ferocity of his approach to the siege of Derry. In effect, both Frenchman were replaced by the Comte de Lauzun, a man unpopular at the French court but favoured by Mary for helping her escape from London, though with limited military experience. It was with this individual that Louis made good his promises to Mary to send French troops, and by the end of 1689, progress in the Continental campaign made this possible. In mid May 1690 Lauzun landed with a force of 8,000 yet the lift this gave the Jacobites quickly evaporated. Schomberg’s deployment reflected William’s realisation that the Jacobite threat in Ireland had to be defeated expeditiously so he could concentrate on the Continental war. The arrival of William himself on 14 June with another 15,000 well-trained troops to deliver the final blow simply confirmed Tyrconnell and Lauzun’s estimation that defeat was inevitable. Frustrated with the scale of French support and growing Irish hatred for the French officers, Dover retired to Flanders. But as preparations were made for what proved a Jacobite defeat at the Battle of the Boyne, not far from Dublin, on 1 July 1690 James engaged in more vigorous horsemanship. He showed no sign of such negativity. Fate almost delivered an extraordinary intervention when William was wounded by stray shot the day before the battle, and on the same day the French defeated the Anglo-Dutch fleet off the coast of Beachy Head in the English Channel. The new queen presided over an anxious council meeting in London. As it was, the Boyne was not a brilliant tactical victory by William so much as a battlefield miscalculation by James, who must take some of the blame for the defeat. Essentially, the more numerous and better-trained troops in William’s army were more able to respond to James’s exaggerated defensive deployments than James’s forces were to make the required readjustments. The battle resulted in fewer than two thousand casualties in total, but it was the nature of the defeat that was so debilitating for Jacobite morale. Seeing so many of his Irish army flee in disorder, James promptly left the field, and two days later, after a panicky ride from Dublin to Kinsale, took ship to Brest. He arrived back at Saint-Germain on 16/26 July and, now remarkably unperturbed, began a process of justification and recrimination. He also doggedly appealed to Louis to attack England by land. In some irritation Louis asserted his precondition for any future French landing on the British mainland: it had to follow a domestic rising.8 This would prove the intractable dilemma of Jacobitism for over half a century. The Irish affair also drew questions from Jacobites, let alone French courtiers, about James’s leadership qualities given the ignominious nature of his second flight. James’s only recourse was his faith and he began more than ever to embrace the regularity of his devotions.

The Irish conflict did not conclude as soon as William had hoped, and a number of Scots officers joined in the remaining campaign to eliminate opposition, including Hugh Mackay, who William removed from Scottish duties to serve as lieutenant general under the Dutch General Ginckel. The end would come with the Treaty of Limerick on 3 October 1691. This treaty also allowed for about sixteen thousand Irish Catholic troops to go abroad, some with their families, the so-called ‘Wild Geese’, in a Williamite plan to reduce guerrilla warfare which became a new Jacobite opportunity. They landed in France in the winter of 1691/2 under the command of Major General Patrick Sarsfield who negotiated their departure. It was this treaty rather than the Boyne that marked the return to Anglo-Protestant domination that would persist for more than two hundred years and shape the sectarian history of the island. And while Whig notions of the immaculate and peaceful English ‘Glorious Revolution’ in England are now rightly dismissed – the level of sectarian violence was widespread and sometimes brutal – there was nothing on the mainland to compare with the bloodshed in Ireland.9 In a devastated landscape, those that stayed behind generally fared worse than the ‘Wild Geese’.

The Original Wild Geese so legend has it where formed from what remained of the English Regiment of G Hamilton transferred to French service after the Dutch War of 1672-78). After 1679 the Regiment then led by Colonel Justin Macartie disappears from the French establishment – possibly amalgamated into one of the other French Regiments.

In 1690, James sent following regiments to France in exchange for French Regiments that where sent to Ireland.

Raised Title Colonel

1689   O’Bryan’s Dragoon’s D O’Bryan, Lord Clare

1661 2nd Bn Kings Guards William Dorrington

1689 Mountcashel’s Foot J Macarty, Lord Mountcashel

1689 Tyrone’s Foot R O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone

1689 Kilmallock’s Foot D Sarsfield, Lord Kilmallock

1689 O’Gara’s Foot O O’Gara (Previously O’Farrell’s)

1689 Bagnall’s Foot D Bagnall

1689 D Browne’s Foot D Browne

1689 MacCartie’s Foot O MacCartie

1689 Iveagh’s Foot B Magenris, Lord Iveagh

After Ireland was abandoned in 1691 the Irish Regiments where formed from those regiments in France and the units that had left Ireland. The Irish in French service where as follows:

Roi d’Angleterre – Sheldon’s Horse: formerly Lord Dover’s troop of Life guards – fought with James in Ireland and followed him into exile in 1691. Colonels 1686 Henry, Lord Dover 1689 Patrick Sarsfield 1691 D Sheldon (+1693 Neerwinden) 1698 = Sheldon Irlandais 1701 = La Reine d’Angleterre (+ 1701 Chiari; 1702 Cremona & Luzzara; 1703 Spires; 1704 Blenheim) 1706 Comte de Nugent (+ 1706 Ramilles; 1708 Oudenarde; 1709 Malpalquet & 1712 Denain)

Roi d’Angleterre Dragoons – raised in 1685 as Dongan’s Dragoons on the Irish Establishment. Entered French Service in 1691 as dismounted dragoons – Colonels 1685 William Dongan, Earl of Limerick 1689 Walter Dongan (son of above, + Boyne) 1690 Walter Nugent (+ 1691 Aughrim) 1691 Richard Bellew = King of England’s Dismounted Dragoons 1691 Thomas Maxwell (+ Marsaglia) 1693 Dominick Sarsfield, 4th Viscount Kilmallock 1698 Amalgamated into the Infantry Regiment Bourke

Reine d’Angleterre Dragoons – raised in 1689 in Ireland by Francis O’Carroll for James. Entered French Service in 1691 as dismounted dragoons – Colonels 1689 Francis O’Carroll (+ Marsaglia 1693)  1693 Charles O’Brien 5th Lord Clare 1696 Oliver O’Gara 1698 Amalgamated into the Infantry Regiment Galmoy

Gardes Irlandaisses 2nd Battalion of the Irish Guards (formerly on the Irish establishment) transferred to France. Amalgamated with the Gardes du Roi Angleterre (or the 1st Battalion of the Irish Guards to form Dorringtons regiment in 1698.

Gardes du Roi Angleterre (See Gardes Irlandaisses) (+ 1693 Neerwinden)

Mountcashel Formerly the Duke of Ormonde’s foot on the Irish Establishment. Colonels 1689 Comte de Mountcashel (C MacCarthy) 1694 A de Lee (+ 1703 Hochstadt, 1704 Blenheim) 1704 N de Lee (+ 1708 Oudenarde, 1709 Malpalquet, 1712 Denain)

Clare Formed from O’Briens Dragoons and other Irish Exiles in 1690 Colonels 1690 Vicomte Clare (D O’Brien) (+ 1693 Marsaglia) 1693 A de Lee 1694 Richard, Lord Talbot 1696 Comte de Clare (C O’Brien) (+ 1703 Hochstadt, 1704 Blenheim; 1706 Ramillies) 1706 Comte O’Brien (Morgan) (+ 1709 Malpalquet, 1712 Denain)

Dillon Colonels 1690 A Dillon (+ 1702 Luzzara, 1707 Almanza)

La Reine irlandais Colonels 1691 F Wauchop (+ 1693 Marsaglia) 1696 H Luttrell 1698 Incorporated into the Luttrells Regiment

La Marine irlandais Colonels 1691 N Fitzgerald 1698   Incorporated into the Albemarle’s Regiment

Dublin No Colonel given 1698   Incorporated into the Albemarle’s Regiment

Limerick Colonels 1691 Richard Talbot (+ 1693 Marsaglia) 1698 Incorporated into the Berwick’s Regiment

Athlone Colonels 1691 N Athlone 1693 Walter, Comte Bourke 1698   Incorporated into the Berwick’s Regiment

Klincarthy Colonels 1691 N Klincarthy 1698   Incorporated into the Luttrell’s Regiment

Charlemont Colonels 1691 N Charlemont 1698   Incorporated into the Galmoy’s Regiment

With the Treaty of Ryswick (1698) the following Regiments where formed from the amalgamation of those disbanded.

Dorrington Formed from the amalgamation the Regiments of the Gardes Irlandaisses & the Gardes du Roi Angleterre. Colonels Lord William Dorrington (+ 1703 Hochstadt, 1704 Blenheim, 1708 Oudenarde, 1709 Malpalquet, 1712 Denain)

Luttrell Formed from the amalgamation the Regiments of La Reine Irlandais, & Klincarthy Colonels 1698 H Luttrell 1699 Walter, Comte Bourke (+ 1701 Chiari, 1702 Cremona, Luzzara, 1705 Cassano, 1706 Turin) 1715 F Wauchop – passed into Spanish service

Albemarle Formed from the amalgamation the Regiments of La Marine Irlandais & Dublin Colonels 1698  J Monck, Duke of Albemarle (+1702 Cremona, Luzzara) 1703 N Fitzgerald (+ 1705 Cassano, 1706 Turin, 1708 Oudenarde) 1708 D O’Donnell (+1709 Malpalquet, 1712 Denain) 1715 Disbanded

Berwick Formed from the amalgamation the Regiments of Limerick & Bourke Colonels 1698 J Fitzjames, Duke of Berwick (+ 1701 Carpi & Chiari, 1702 Cremona & Luzzara, 1705 Cassano, 1706 Turin, 1707 Almanza)

Galmoy Formed from the amalgamation the Regiments of La Reine Dragoons & Charlemont Colonels 1698 P Buttler, Vicomte Galmoy (+1701 Carpi & Chiari, 1702 Cremona & Luzzara, 1703 Speyerbach, 1706 Turin) 1715 Disbanded

Berwick Etranger Raised from deserters from the British Army Colonels 1702 J Fitzjames, Duke of Berwick 1704 N O’Berghiez 1708 N O’Davan 1713 Incorporated into the other Irish Regiments


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