Having been crowned King of England, Scotland, and Ireland some 14 months earlier, on April 11th, 1689, William III of England landed in Ireland on this day to confront the Jacobite supporters of his father in law, the deposed King James II. A short military campaign that followed would lead to the Battle of the Boyne just 28 days later.
The events of the battle itself are well known in Ireland. Less so, perhaps, William’s and James’ own history before the war. William had, of course, no true claim to the throne of England. He was chosen by the rebellious barons of England for three reasons: His Protestantism, his sex, and his marriage to James’s daughter Mary.
James II Stuart had succeeded his brother, Charles II, as King of England, Scotland, and Ireland in February of 1685. He was a catholic – ironically, courtesy of Oliver Cromwell, who had executed his father, Charles I, and exiled the royal family to France. It was growing up in the French court that the future James II, unlike the rest of his family, converted to Rome. When his older brother was restored to the throne after Cromwell, died, James’ Catholicism was thought not to matter: Charles II was a protestant, and the throne would pass to his children.
Alas, Charles II, though a popular king, and one who fathered many children, never quite managed to do so in wedlock. The throne being incapable of passing to bastards, and Charles dying quite young and quite suddenly, England found itself with a catholic king – James II.
Though his Catholicism was deeply unpopular with the Barons of England, it was initially tolerated on the grounds that the succession would pass to his daughter, Mary, a devout protestant, who had been raised as such along with her sister Anne on the instruction of Charles II, who was no fan of his brother’s catholicism.
Alas, the birth of James’ son, James Francis, in 1688, changed all that. Now a catholic prince was heir to a catholic king. The situation was intolerable for the protestant establishment in England. And so, in 1688, that very same year, they plotted to depose their king and replace him with a Protestant Prince from overseas.
In truth, James II made a poor effort to fight for his throne. As we all know, he fled to Ireland, an action which a hostile parliament declared to be vacating the throne. In those circumstances, parliament conveniently decided to award it to his nearest Protestant relative – his daughter Mary, and her husband, William of Orange. They were jointly crowned in 1689 while James feverishly, and unsuccessfully, tried to gather military support. William, meanwhile, waited a year before even bothering to confront him.
The war, when it came, was quick, and short. After defeats at Derry and the Boyne, James fled to France, never to return. His sons – the unfortunate Prince James, and his son, known to history as Bonnie Prince Charlie, made efforts to reclaim the throne in two Jacobite wars. They never succeeded. Irish nobles and the public remained Jacobites for hundreds of years thereafter. To this day, there are those, very small in number who, somewhat ironically, hold to the “true” succession of the British Throne, and who recognise Prince Max von Wittelsbach, Duke in Bavaria, as the rightful Catholic heir to James II. To this day, northern unionists and Protestants recognise William as their liberator from “Rome Rule”. The conflict, some might say, continues.
Ironically, William had no children himself, and so his bloodline has entirely disappeared from the succession of the English Kings. When he died, the throne passed to a Stuart again – this time James’ other Protestant daughter, the also childless Anne. When she, in turn, died, the Act of Succession passed during William’s reign excluded Catholics from the throne. It remains in place today. The throne then passed to Anne’s German cousins, the Hannoverian dynasty. It is that German bloodline which, eventually, bequeathed to the world the House of Windsor, from which Elizabeth II was born.
All of that, on this island, at least, began on this day, the fourteenth one of June, in the year 1690, when a son in law arrived to make war on his wife’s own father. A black day, or a glorious one: Take your pick. It might all have been avoided, of course, had these people simply had more children.