All  
Oliver Cromwell, Cromwellian Conquest of Ireland.

Rebel Judge and Executioner? The Brutal Cromwellian Conquest of Ireland

Print

In 1642, The English Civil Wars broke out. On one side were the supporters of the king, Charles I, while on the other were his opponents. In England, it was the Parliamentarians (supporters of the Parliament of England) who fought against Charles’ rule. Over in Ireland, it was the Confederates (who fought for self-rule) who opposed the king. In 1649, Charles I was executed, and England entered a period known as the Interregnum or Commonwealth. In Ireland, the Confederates formed an alliance with the Royalists, which was seen as a threat by the Commonwealth, leading to the invasion of the island by the English under Oliver Cromwell.

What Led Up To The Rebellion of 1641 and the Cromwellian Conquest of Ireland?

The Nine Years’ War ended in 1603, marking the completion of English dominion in Ireland. Nevertheless, there was still tension between the Irish, the majority of whom were Catholic and the English settlers and administrators who were Protestant. Anti-Catholic laws were passed, and reforms promised by James I and Charles I never materialized.

Towards the end of the 1630s, the popularity of Charles I plummeted, as taxes were raised in England and Scotland without parliamentary approval. Additionally, Charles I attempted to impose high Anglican practices on the Church of Scotland. As a result, the Scots revolted against Charles I in the Bishops’ Wars, which lasted from 1639 to 1640.

Monarch of the Three Kingdoms: Charles I in Three Positions – England, Scotland, and Ireland - by Anthony van Dyck, painted in 1633 before the Cromwellian Conquest of Ireland. (DcoetzeeBot / Public Domain)

Monarch of the Three Kingdoms: Charles I in Three Positions – England, Scotland, and Ireland - by Anthony van Dyck, painted in 1633 before the Cromwellian Conquest of Ireland. (DcoetzeeBot / Public Domain )

The English suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Scottish Covenanters which was a blow to the king’s prestige. This emboldened the Irish to make demands for reforms. Moreover, the poor harvest as a result of exceptionally cold and wet weather caused tensions to escalate further between the Irish and the English. These factors led to the Irish Rebellion of 1641, which saw the Irish Confederation pitted against the English Royalists. By 1642, most of Ireland came under the control of the Confederates and an Irish Catholic government based in Kilkenny was formed.

Before Cromwellian Conquest of Ireland, The Royalists and Confederates Joined Forces

In the same year that the Irish seized power in Ireland from the English, the Parliament of England rebelled against Charles I . The king was defeated and eventually executed in 1649. With their king dead, the Royalist forces in Ireland decided to sign a peace treaty, the Second Ormond Peace, with the Confederates. In addition, the two factions formed an alliance, which was seen as a threat by the English Commonwealth, as the Royalists would now be able to invade England from Ireland to restore Charles I’s son, Charles II, onto the English throne.

Charles II, the Royalists wanted to invade England from Ireland to restore Charles II onto the English throne. (Dcoetzee / Public Domain)

Charles II, the Royalists wanted to invade England from Ireland to restore Charles II onto the English throne. ( Dcoetzee / Public Domain )

As a consequence, the English resolved to strike first, and Oliver Cromwell was sent to Ireland at the head of an army to crush the rebels, and to reconquer Ireland. On the 15 th of August 1649, Cromwell arrived in Dublin and was greeted enthusiastically by its inhabitants. Moreover, as the main field army of the Royalists had been destroyed at the Battle of Rathmines on the 2 nd of August, Cromwell faced no opposition as he landed in Dublin.

Cromwell and his army first moved to the north, where they besieged Drogheda, a strategic point guarding the most direct route between Dublin and Ulster. Cromwell issued his first official summons to Sir Arthur Aston, the defending commander, on the 10 th of September. Aston refused to surrender and continued to fight on. The town was breached the following evening and a bloodbath ensued. Not only were the defenders killed, but also civilians, as well as members of the Catholic clergy . The survivors of the siege were sent to Barbados to work as slaves in the sugar plantations.

A 19th-century representation of the massacre at Drogheda - Cromwellian Conquest of Ireland. (OgreBot / Public Domain)

A 19th-century representation of the massacre at Drogheda - Cromwellian Conquest of Ireland. (OgreBot / Public Domain )

The Massacres of The Cromwellian Conquest of Ireland

The brutality and violence displayed by Cromwell at Drogheda is said to be motivated by revenge, as Protestants were massacred during the Irish Rebellion of 1641. Cromwell himself felt that his actions were justified and believed that he was passing God’s judgment on these wretched people. The atrocities did not stop at Drogheda but went on as Cromwell continued his campaign in Ireland.

Although Cromwell is still remembered and hated, for the massacres he carried out, it may also be pointed out that the towns that surrendered without a fight were spared. As an example, two days after issuing his summons, the town of Ross surrendered to the Parliamentarians. Cromwell promised to protect the town’s inhabitants from looting and violence and allowed the garrison to march away under arms. Freedom of worship, however, was not granted.

In the meantime, the Irish and their Royalist allies were not faring well against the Parliamentarians. They were losing one city after another and their only general who could match Cromwell in the field of battle, Owen Roe O’Neill, died of a mysterious illness in November 1649.

Owen Roe O’Neill, died of a mysterious illness in November 1649, while fighting the Cromwellian Conquest of Ireland. (Blight55 / Public Domain)

Owen Roe O’Neill, died of a mysterious illness in November 1649, while fighting the Cromwellian Conquest of Ireland. (Blight55 / Public Domain )

In the following year, Cromwell returned to England, as the country was threatened with invasion by Scotland, as the Scots recognized Charles II as king. Henry Ireton was left in command of the Parliamentarian forces in Ireland. By this time, the Irish themselves broke into factions and were using guerrilla warfare to fight against the English, though to no avail. After Ireton died of the plague in 1651 , he was replaced by Edmund Ludlow and Charles Fleetwood. The Cromwellian conquest of Ireland was completed in May the following year, when the last city to resist, Galway, surrendered.

Galway; the last Irish town to fall in Cromwellian Conquest of Ireland. (Red King / Public Domain)

Galway; the last Irish town to fall in Cromwellian Conquest of Ireland. (Red King / Public Domain )

Top image: Oliver Cromwell, Cromwellian Conquest of Ireland. Source: Soerfm / Public Domain .

By Wu Mingren

References

Ashley, M. & Morrill, J. S., 2019. Oliver Cromwell. [Online] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Oliver-Cromwell
Dorney, J., 2014. The Eleven Years War 1641-52 – A Brief Overview. [Online] Available at: http://www.theirishstory.com/2014/01/10/the-eleven-years-war-a-brief-overview/#.XIc57SIzbIU
Mulraney, F., 2018. Oliver Cromwell’s war crimes, the Massacre of Drogheda in 1649. [Online] Available at: https://www.irishcentral.com/roots/history/oliver-cromwells-massacre-of-drogheda-1649
Ohlmeyer, J. H., 2019. English Civil Wars. [Online] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/event/English-Civil-Wars
Plant, D., 2008. Cromwell in Ireland: Overview. [Online] Available at: http://bcw-project.org/military/third-civil-war/cromwell-in-ireland/
Sweeney, C., 2019. The Cromwellian Conquest of Ireland In 1649. [Online] Available at: https://www.enjoy-irish-culture.com/cromwell-in-ireland.html
www.historynet.com, 2006. Irish Confederate Wars: Oliver Cromwell’s Conquest of Ireland. [Online] Available at: https://www.historynet.com/irish-confederate-wars-oliver-cromwells-conquest-of-ireland.htm

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Next article