12 March 1689: King James II landed at Kinsale, Co Cork on this day. He brought with him some 6,000 French soldiers, attended by a French fleet of over forty warships and transports. On board were 13,000 seaman manning over 2,200 naval guns. King Louis XIV provided him with a purse of 500,000 crowns.
His presence here was somewhat forced upon him as he was reluctant to start a Civil War but he was prevailed upon by his mentor, King Louis, to lead an Expedition to Ireland to attempt to regain the Crowns of England, Ireland and Scotland.
King James was an experienced soldier (he had fought with the great French Marshal Turenne) and also an experienced Admiral and his valour was not in doubt. But the King had not fought in a land campaign since the Battle of the Dunes in 1658 – ironically enough against an Anglo-French Army. He had fought too against the Dutch at sea. However his last taste of battle had been in 1672 after which King Charles II (his older brother) forbade him to engage in action again.
During the years of the Restoration James Duke of York became increasingly drawn to the Catholic Religion and secretly converted. However such a momentous decision could not remain unknown forever and eventually his conversion became known at Court and within Parliament. The Test Act of 1673 meant he had to relinquish the position of Lord High Admiral and leave England for a while. He bided his time however and when his elder sibling suddenly died in 1685 he was crowned King James II in his place. The new King was accepted but not loved by the English Protestants. His rigid interpretation of Royal prerogatives as he saw them and his promotion of Catholic favourites to positions of power and influence welled up into open discontent within the Protestant Oligarchy.
However the tipping point came in the Summer of 1688 when a male heir (the future ‘Old Pretender’ James III) was born. With a Catholic succession now guaranteed the Protestant nobles appealed to William of Orange for help. He landed with a Dutch Army at Torbay in November and some weeks later James was forced to flee to France to seek the protection his most Christian Majesty Louis XIV. Within weeks a force was assembled to be dispatched to Ireland in order to deflect William IIIs attention away from the Low Countries and to give the exiled King James at least a fighting chance of success.
And so it happened that the king landed at Kinsale on the twelfth of March, 1688, old style, that is 1689, new style; with whom came count D'Avaux, ambassador from Louis XIV., the most Christian king, general de Rosen, lieutenant-general Pusignan, lieutenant-general Momont, monsieur Boisselau; James Fitzjames, the duke of Berwick; William Herbert, the duke of Powis; Thomas Cartwright, the Protestant bishop of Chester, in England; the earl of Melfort, Henry FitzJames, lord grand prior, and several others, French, English, Irish, and Scots, lords, knights, gentlemen, officers, and chaplains. The king arrived that night at the city of Cork; from thence he took his journey straight to Dublin, the capital of the kingdom.
A light to the blind
When he landed at Kinsale that day King James’ chances of success looked reasonable. He had a well-trained and well-armed force with him and the promise of substantial aid in his endeavour from the Catholics of Ireland. If he could drive the Protestant armies out of Ireland then he could look forward to at least regaining one of the Kingdoms of his Realm that he considered his own by right of Succession.