The Irish Brigade 1670-1745 – The Wild Geese in French Service, D P Graham

The Irish Brigade 1670-1745 – The Wild Geese in French Service, D P Graham

The Wild Geese was the name given to the exiled Irish Jacobites who ended up serving in the French army after the defeat of James II’s cause in Ireland. They gained a romantic reputation as part of the Stuart ‘lost cause’,

Despite its subtitle, this book is actually at its strongest, and most detailed, during the Williamite War of 1688-91, when the supporters of the deposed James II seized power across most of Ireland (but famously not parts of Ulster), encouraging James himself to come from France to Ireland. This war was most famous for the battle of the Boyne, but continued on for some time after that, and ended with the exile of many Irish Jacobites to France after the siege of Limerick. This section fills up well over 150 pages in the centre of the book, and although the French were involved, they didn’t take the lead. As with the later Jacobites, one gets the clear impression that James II never really shared the priorities of many of his supporters – like the Old Pretender and Young Pretender in later periods, James was far more interested in regaining power in London than in ending up as ruler of Ireland or Scotland. 

Of the two periods when the Irish were fighting for the French, the book is stronger on the period before the fall of James II, when the Irish were fighting in French service with at least some support from the government in London, especially under Charles II who was often perfectly happy to let the French recruit in Ireland. One of the interesting things to emerge from this is that the Irish fighting in France weren’t bared from returning to Ireland, and many of their leaders played repeated visits to London (not always happily). The key motive for serving in France were the laws that prevented Catholics serving in the British forces (as a result of various Test Acts).

Unfortunately for James this played a part in his fall, causing concern in the English Protestant establishment about the dangers of a Catholic king who was clearly willing to ally himself with Louis XIV of France. Although some of the anti-Catholic sentiment of the period now comes across as paranoia (in particular the Popish Plot of 1678-81), this was a period of religious warfare and persecution. The brutal Thirty Years War had only ended in 1648, and in 1685 Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, ended any legal protection for the French Protestants. This came at the very start of James II’s reign, so his efforts to remove some of the legal restraints on British Catholics came at the same time as a wave of exiled French Huguenots arrived in the country.

The weakest section is the period of exile after Limerick. Of the 75 years covered in the study, 54 came after the Irish Jacobites went into exile, but the period only gets four of the eighteen chapters (despite being the actual period of the ‘Wild Geese’). Even within this small section there is some repetition, as the same wars are covered from different points of view.

Overall this is an excellent study of the events that led up to the creation of the Wild Geese, and in particular the brutal war in Ireland, a conflict that still has an impact in the present day.

1 – The Irish Diaspora
2 – The Plantation of Ulster
3 – Rebellion 1641-1651
4 – The Gendarmes Anglais
5 – The Irish at War 1671-1685
6 – A Return to Ireland
7 – A Revolution and a King
8 – Justin MacCarthy, Lord Mountcashel
9 – Partrick Sarsfield, Deare Notorious
10 – A Siege
11 – Enniskillen
12 – The First Flight
13 – The Boyne
14 – Aughrim, Limerick and the Second Flight
15 – The End of the Beginning: The Nine Years’ War in Europe
16 – Despair at Saint Germain
17 – Return to the Fight – The War of the Spanish Succession
18 – The Pretenders and a Victory

Author: D P Graham
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 288
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2019

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