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Ireland and the War at Sea, 1641-1653

Ireland and the War at Sea, 1641-1653

Elaine Murphy
Volume: 85
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Ireland and the War at Sea, 1641-1653
    Book Description:

    The conflict on the Irish seaboard between the years 1641 and 1653 was not some peripheral theatre in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. As this first full-length study of the war at sea on the Irish coast from the outbreak of the Ulster rising in 1641 to the surrender of Inishbofin Island, the last major royalist maritime outpost, in April 1653, shows, it was instead the epicentre of naval conflict with important consequences for the nature and outcome of the land conflicts in Ireland and elsewhere. The book provides a clear and comprehensive narrative account of the war at sea, accompanied by careful contextualisation and a full analysis of its Irish, British and European dimensions. This includes the strategic importance of Irish ports, conflict between organised navies and formidable bands of privateers and pirates, the adoption of new naval technologies and tactics and the relationship between conflict on land and sea. Moving beyond traditional accounts of naval campaigns, it integrates warfare at sea into the wider dimension of political and economic developments in Ireland, England and Scotland. Extensive use is made of a wide range of archival material, in particular the High Court of Admiralty papers held in the National Archives at Kew. Dr Elaine Murphy is a Research Associate working on the ‘Writings and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell’ project at the Department of History, University of Cambridge.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-056-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Figures, Maps and Tables
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-vii)
    Elaine Murphy
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  6. Glossary
    (pp. ix-x)
  7. Maps
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  8. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    In September 1656 Henry Cromwell, the head of the English administration in Ireland, wrote from Dublin to the admiralty in London about the activities of pirates in the Irish Sea. He complained that ‘severall Pyratts whoe are newly come uppon these Coastes, and for want of a sufficient guarde of shipps of force they doe us much mischeiff; they have alreadie taken many men tradeing hither; and indeed will wholly spoyle our trade if you doe not apply a speedie remedie’.¹ His complaint echoes one made fourteen years earlier that warned of the dangers posed by Wexford privateers who ‘profess...

  9. PART I: THE WAR AT SEA, 1651–1653

    • 1 The Outbreak and Spread of the Rebellion, October 1641–September 1643
      (pp. 13-34)

      The leaders and planners of the 1641 rebellion did not envisage fighting a long war. Their plans for the rebellion did not therefore include any maritime dimension such as the seizure of key ports or coastal citadels. Instead they sought to capture the seat of English power in Ireland, Dublin Castle, and to seize a number of strategically important inland fortifications in Ulster. From this position of military strength they hoped to negotiate concessions from King Charles I and parliament. On the evening of 22 October 1641 the plot to seize Dublin came undone as one of the conspirators revealed...

    • 2 ‘Weathering the Storm’, September 1643–July 1646
      (pp. 35-52)

      The Cessation of 1643 offered a number of immediate maritime benefits to the confederates and royalists in Ireland, allowing them to concentrate their military and naval war efforts against the parliamentarians in Ireland and elsewhere in the Three Kingdoms. The parliamentarian cause in Ireland thus in the short term suffered from the brokering of a truce. In particular the loss of access to ports put parliamentary naval forces on the back foot in the Irish Sea. In the following three years, much of the fighting that took place in the seas around Ireland or at outposts along the coast stemmed from...

    • 3 ‘Infested with Pirates’, August 1646–August 1649
      (pp. 53-68)

      From the autumn of 1646 a shift can be noticed in the nature of the war in the seas around Ireland. An escalation of naval activity took place on both the confederate and parliamentarian sides, Irish privateers and prizes can be more readily identified than in previous years, and numerous contemporary English reports lamented that the Irish coast was ‘infested with pirates’. At the same time the parliamentary naval effort increased with larger squadrons and newly-constructed frigates dispatched to Ireland. Rather than simply supporting coastal enclaves these ships actively patrolled the seas in pursuit of Irish frigates and merchantmen. The...

    • 4 The Support of the Navy, September 1649–April 1653
      (pp. 69-86)

      The arrival of Oliver Cromwell in Dublin in August 1649 marked the start of a new phase in the war in Ireland. Between 1649 and 1653 the Commonwealth regime faced many demands on its military and naval resources. Regardless of these challenges the conflict in the seas around Ireland remained a priority. The navy was a vital cog in the Cromwellian military campaign which enabled parliamentary armies to go on the offensive against the royalist coalition there. Nicholas Rodgers summed up the importance of the navy in the conquest of Ireland, noting that ‘only the support of the navy allowed...


    • 5 A Job Done Well Enough? The Parliamentary Naval Effort in Ireland, 1641–1653
      (pp. 89-105)

      The role and success of the parliamentary navy in the 1640s and 1650s continues to be debated. J. R. Powell, in his account of the navy in the English civil war, concluded that ‘The adherence of the Navy to Parliament in the English Civil War did much to decide the issue.’ Others are less sure of its importance with Kenneth Andrews suggesting that ‘it did its job well enough’.¹ At first glance quantifying and analysing the naval forces deployed to Ireland and the role that it played in the final parliamentary victory seems relatively straightforward. In reality it is much...

    • 6 For the Defence of the Coasts of this Realm: the Confederate Naval Effort, 1641–1653
      (pp. 106-124)

      Prior to the outbreak of war with the Dutch in 1652 the principal maritime threat to parliament came from ports in Ireland. Confederate, and later royalist, privateers put to sea ‘for the defence of the coasts of this realm’ to seize enemy shipping.¹ Any assessment of the activities of Irish privateering must be reconstructed largely through hostile sources since most extant documents relating to confederate sailors, ships and prizes come from parliamentary records. The few remaining confederate admiralty papers survived through their seizure by parliamentary men-of-war. Some Irish accounts, such as the correspondence of clerics on the continent, provide additional...

    • 7 Fighting the War at Sea in Ireland, 1641–1653
      (pp. 125-142)

      The war fought on the Irish seaboard in the 1640s and 1650s has received relatively little attention from historians. In many respects this is easy to understand: no battles took place between opposing fleets in the seas around Ireland, compared to the numerous large-scale battles and sieges as well as a range of more minor engagements on land.¹ At sea the fighting was small-scale, and descriptions of it often bland and uninformative, offering little insight into the tactics or methods of fighting employed by the ships involved. Joseph Content, captain of the highly successful confederate privateer the St Peter of...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 143-148)

    The importance of sea power to the Protectoral regime and the restored Stuart monarchy is well known. At a number of levels the navy underwent a period of major change and expansion from 1652 onwards. From deploying a force of just eighteen royal warships in March 1642, the strength of the fleet increased substantially to seventy-two ships in 1650 and 115 by 1680. Unlike the 1640s, the wars fought by the English government in the later seventeenth century, especially against the Dutch, had a strong naval dimension. Major battles took place and new tactics for fighting at sea were adopted....

  12. Appendices

    • Appendix 1. Parliamentary Summer and Winter Guards for Ireland, 1642–53
      (pp. 151-171)
    • APPENDIX 2. Identified Confederate/Irish Privateers, 1642–52
      (pp. 172-178)
    • APPENDIX 3. Parliamentary Prizes in Ireland, 1641–53
      (pp. 179-200)
    • APPENDIX 4. Confederate and Irish Prizes, 1642–52
      (pp. 201-218)
    • APPENDIX 5. Parliamentary Warships Lost on the Irish Coast, 1641–53
      (pp. 219-219)
    • APPENDIX 6. Prominent Parliamentary Shipowners on the Irish Coast
      (pp. 220-222)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 223-232)
  14. General Index
    (pp. 233-246)
  15. Index of Ships
    (pp. 247-254)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 255-255)