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The Battle of the Boyne

Peter and Dan Snow explore in depth the battles that shaped the nation. The story of the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, when the river ran red with blood.


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This programme contains scenes of Repititive Flashing Images.

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Three hundred years ago,

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this river which cuts through the heart of Ireland ran red with blood.

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BATTLE CRIES

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It was the scene of a notorious battle

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that has deeper and more violent echoes

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than any other battle in the history of the British Isles.

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Together with my historian son Dan I've come to Ireland

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to piece together the chain of events that are celebrated by some with enormous fervour every year.

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The soldiers facing each other on either side of this river

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were fighting for their country and their religion.

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I'll show how they were divided by more than just a stretch of water.

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There were so many crossing that river.

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They almost seemed to have a dam built of men standing there.

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The battle played out on this riverbank

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was the last ever between two rival kings of Britain.

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It was July 1690

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and it was the Battle of the Boyne.

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FIRE CRACKLES

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Every year in the early hours of July 12th,

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Protestants in Northern Ireland remember an event that marks a turning point in their history.

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Three centuries ago,

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smouldering religious hatred in Ireland exploded into a full-scale war.

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Its climax was a battle that was fought in Ireland,

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but decided the future of the whole of the British Isles.

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17th-century England, Scotland and Wales

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were overwhelmingly Protestant.

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Less than 2% of the population was Catholic.

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But in 1685 that tiny minority began to have greater and greater influence,

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thanks to the new King, and Catholic convert, James II.

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James was a brave but humourless character.

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The Scots nicknamed him Dismal Jimmy.

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He came to the throne in his early fifties

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and zealously promoted his new-found Catholicism.

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Britain's Protestants became increasingly alarmed at their new King.

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In their minds, Catholicism meant one thing -

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domination by a foreign Pope and all the Catholic powers of Europe.

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To them there was no doubt,

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a Catholic King was a danger to the British Protestant way of life.

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At his residence here at the Palace of Whitehall, James was unperturbed.

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He continued to advance Catholicism with scant regard for the consequences.

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There was one thing that made James bearable to his Protestant subjects,

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he was getting old and he had no male heir.

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On his death, the crown would pass to his eldest daughter Mary, who was still a Protestant.

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People were ready to wait it out and see the throne revert to Mary and Protestantism

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when James finally died.

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But then in 1688 James announced a bombshell.

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His wife was pregnant.

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The baby was a boy. James had a male heir.

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Everything had changed.

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Protestant hopes of seeing Mary on the throne were shattered.

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And when they heard that the baby had been baptised and the Pope himself was his godfather,

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they knew that their future king would be raised a Catholic.

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I baptise you in the name of the Father...

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..and of the son...

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In June 1688, seven Protestant politicians sent a letter

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appealing to James's daughter Mary

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and her powerful husband William Prince of Orange, the champion of Protestant Europe.

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William was a 38-year-old Dutchman.

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He was hunchbacked, pockmarked and asthmatic.

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But he was a respected and popular military commander.

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The English invited William to intervene to stem the growth of Catholic power.

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He jumped at the chance.

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On November 5th 1688, he landed at Torbay in Devon with a force of 10,000 men,

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and he headed for London.

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Hundreds of soldiers from James's army began to defect and declared their allegiance to William.

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The men and I

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got together...

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and we...

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we talked it over.

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I thought about my family and I thought, "I want them to live in a Protestant country."

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That made the decision for me.

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Some people might call me a traitor for that but I don't see it that way.

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Almost overnight, James's rule collapsed.

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With many of his troops defecting, he took to his heels and fled.

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Parliament declared that he'd abdicated

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and that his daughter Mary, William's wife, should be queen.

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But this wasn't enough for William.

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He demanded the throne for himself

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and he was offered it in this very room.

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Two months later, William and Mary were crowned King and Queen.

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The Protestants' coup d'etat had triumphed, or so it seemed.

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But James wasn't finished.

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He fled to France, to the protection of the man who represented everything William hated,

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the most powerful man in Europe, the French and very Catholic King Louis XIV.

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With Louis' backing, James believed he would have all the men and money he needed

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to recover his crown and revive Catholic hopes.

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The tug of war for the throne was about to begin,

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but the battlefield would not be in England. It would be in Ireland.

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Within 18 months, a battle between the armies of two men who had been crowned King, James and William,

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would end in a bloody climax on an Irish hillside.

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Ireland, overwhelmingly Catholic, was the back door by which James hoped to re-establish his power.

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So he landed on the southern coast of Ireland in March 1689

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and headed straight here for Dublin,

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an exiled king in search of a lost throne.

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But if he was to reclaim his crown by seizing Ireland first,

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he faced a major obstacle.

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Protestants living in northern strongholds like Londonderry

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were virulently opposed to James's Catholic ways.

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The city was one of the last places in Ireland not under his control

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and was still held by a Protestant garrison.

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In 1688, a Catholic regiment was sent to Londonderry to bring the city to heel.

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These men were Scottish Catholics, fierce warriors from the Highlands and islands,

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each one of them at least six foot tall.

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They'd even earned the nickname Redshanks because they waded through rivers in the coldest of weather.

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But as soon as they had crossed the River Foyle to enter Derry,

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a group of young apprentice boys took the law into their own hands.

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Appalled by the thought of Catholic troops entering a Protestant city, they slammed shut the city gates.

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The apprentice boys were in no doubt.

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Their faith mattered to them far more than loyalty to any king.

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A tense situation developed into a full-scale crisis.

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In April, James himself came to Derry, riding up here to this very gate.

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He ordered the Protestants inside to open the gates.

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Their response - a volley of shots killing two soldiers of his personal guard.

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He was outraged and demanded their immediate surrender.

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But back came the message, "No surrender."

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With this act of defiance, James's path to the throne of England had been blocked.

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James saw no option but to wreak his revenge, and the siege of Derry began.

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James's Catholic soldiers, known as Jacobites,

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arrived at the outskirts of Derry

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determined to bring the Protestants inside to their knees.

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James's men expected a quick and easy victory.

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We had them trapped.

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They had no escape. They were like rats. We were delighted. There was elation outside among the men.

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It's...it's a good town to siege, you know, it's a walled town.

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We knew it was just a matter of time

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if we could hold them there and put the fear of God in them.

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In those days, Derry was a walled city,

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with fortified gateways and guns on the battlements, but it had a strong natural position too.

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The city was protected

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by a great bend in the River Foyle to its east and north,

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and to the west, by a great marsh, today called the Bogside.

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The river, which flowed up here through the narrows by a small ford at Culmore

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and then out to the sea at the top of Northern Ireland, was also the city's vital supply line.

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James's besieging army took up position here, off to the west,

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and here, on the east bank, from where the city's walls were just within cannon range.

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His troops also fought to secure Windmill Hill, closer to the city walls to the south,

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the perfect place from which to bombard them.

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Fire!

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Well, for a start you didn't know how much of an effect you were having.

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You didn't know what damage you were doing, how much casualties there must be.

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You couldn't see, you just bombed and bombed and hoped for the best.

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For the Protestants inside the walls, the pain of the siege was beginning to bite.

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We didn't know what we could do. We were being pelted by cannons and...

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..we were defenceless.

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When we closed the gates, there was no going back

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and you had to see it through.

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The Protestant supplies of ammunition were exhausted,

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but their defiance was wearing down the Jacobites, who were bombarding them from outside the walls.

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We could hear them cheering and chanting

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and I was sure that must be it, they've finally given in.

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They were chanting, "No surrender."

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After a month, James had gotten nowhere.

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He needed a new strategy to bring the Protestants to their knees.

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He ordered a wooden boom to be placed across the River Foyle where it narrows at Culmore Fort.

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He was going to cut the city's supply line and starve the Protestants into submission.

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We tried to ration, we tried to cut back on things, you know,

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so that, after time, we would have enough to...to keep us going.

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I mean, people were eating candles,

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sucking on dry bones.

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But when you see your own child...

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..from looking healthy...

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..to then seeing their bones, you know...

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sticking out from everywhere because they're not getting enough food,

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in fact, because they're not getting any food.

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By the eighth week of the siege, the population had halved.

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Ravenous citizens paid sixpence for a mouse.

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Some sent out their dogs to feed off corpses, then they'd kill the dogs and ate them.

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On top of this terrible deprivation,

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the rain of fire from the Jacobite army had increased.

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New guns had been brought in from Dublin.

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The people of Derry couldn't hold out for much longer.

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As the siege ran into months,

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William, still in London, decided he simply had to try and do something

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to rescue Derry's Protestant garrison.

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So he finally sent a relief convoy.

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In the summer of 1689, three merchant ships heavily laden with supplies

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sailed up the Foyle here to Culmore and headed straight for the boom.

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The boom across the river had blocked a vital supply line for months.

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William's ships had to break through it

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if they were to save the citizens from starvation.

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The first ship hit the boom but rebounded and ran aground.

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Sailors jumped into a longboat and attacked the boom with hatchets

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while the other ships protected them.

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The boom was finally broken

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and the merchant ships could tie up at the ship quay

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and unload their precious cargo of food for the starving citizens of Derry.

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It started off as a whisper within the city walls,

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"William's made it through."

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It didn't even matter what he had brought,

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someone else was coming to help us.

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After 105 days, the siege was over.

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8,000 people had perished,

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but it only reinforced the Protestants' defiance.

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When we found out that it was...

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it was all the doing of William of Orange,

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I thought, for saving our lives, I'd do anything.

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I'd do absolutely anything.

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The failure of the siege was more than a temporary setback for James.

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His plan had completely misfired.

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William saw how determined the Protestants in the North were

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and decided to cash in on their support.

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He sent an army across to Ireland, but it failed to defeat James,

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and so in June 1690 he himself set sail for Ireland,

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determined to lead his troops into battle in person.

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With him were thousands of fresh troops,

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but oddly for an army coming to defend the throne of Britain,

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surprisingly few were British.

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William wasn't convinced

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that his new subjects had the heart to fight against their former King,

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so his ranks were filled with allied troops -

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Dutch, Danish, Prussians, Finns and even some French Protestants.

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The Williamite army was an amazingly diverse array of foreign troops

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coming to Ireland to fight in a British civil war.

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William's army arrived here in Belfast Loch on June 14th 1690.

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Into this great deepwater anchorage, he brought 300 ships,

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every available vessel he could find.

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When he landed,

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he declared he was not a man to let the grass grow under his feet.

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He assembled his army ashore here and then marched them south,

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determined to meet James and his Jacobite army face to face.

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Protestant volunteers from all over Northern Ireland

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joined William on the road, swelling his army to almost 36,000 men.

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He led all of them towards Dublin, 100 miles to the south,

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where James had made his base.

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James decided the best form of defence was attack,

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so he moved his forces north from Dublin to meet William's army

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which was moving south from Belfast.

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James decided to find a spot where you could make a stand

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to defend Dublin and to keep alive the dream of a royal Catholic dynasty.

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For the last time ever, two men who had been crowned King of England

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were to meet on one battlefield...

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the River Boyne.

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The Boyne was a formidable defensive position, well chosen by James,

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a fast-flowing, wide river with hills rising up on both banks.

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The Boyne flows out to the sea here, 30 miles north of Dublin,

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and it was the last natural barrier on the way south from Belfast.

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James crossed the river here

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and pitched his camp here on the south side, where I am now.

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Here's where James's forces were.

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His battle plan was to concentrate almost his entire force of 25,000 men

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around the village of Oldbridge, five miles in from the sea,

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where the river was shallow enough to ford.

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Here on the slopes behind his infantry,

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James placed his crack Irish and French cavalry, lent by King Louis.

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There was another ford across the river,

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here at Rosnaree, four miles west of Oldbridge.

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Just in case William tried to cross the Boyne here,

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James sent an attachment of 800 men to guard it.

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James was as well placed as he could have hoped.

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Now it was just a matter of waiting for William and HIS men to arrive from the North.

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On June 29th 1690,

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the international forces of William's army arrived here on the north bank of the River Boyne.

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The troops were mostly professionals,

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they were well paid and recently fed.

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He'd thought of everything that you could possibly need.

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We were well armed, we were well fed...

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there was everything.

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Here on the south side of the Boyne was James's Jacobite army.

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They weren't as well-equipped as William's men.

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Some of the Irish infantry only had scythes and farm tools,

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but morale was high and they had some of the best cavalry in Europe.

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They also had one advantage that their enemy did not - the river.

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For the Williamites, crossing the Boyne under fire and keeping their gunpowder dry would be a challenge.

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Like them, I'm going to attempt to cross it,

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but instead of gunpowder, I'm gonna try and keep a bag of sand dry.

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What's the bottom like, Dan?

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It's, er... pretty deep at this point.

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-It's pretty rocky underfoot, very slippery.

-You're doing well.

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Don't fancy doing this with people trying to shoot at me.

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Now, we've picked a place we knew was a reasonably fordable spot,

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but for thousands of troops in lines trying to get through this river,

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some of them finding that they were out of their depth,

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it would be a terrifying prospect.

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In the middle now. Water just below the shoulders.

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Well done, you're doing well.

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-Are you keeping your powder dry?

-Er, just about.

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Ah, it's getting shallower now. I think I'm through the worst of it.

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The river is fordable, but I've got two advantages.

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Nobody's firing at me, and my height - I'm six foot six.

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In 1690, the average soldier would have been around five foot three.

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OK? Now, this was dry sand when I gave it to you

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and...

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Not bad.

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So it can be done in certain places.

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William knew how perilous the river-crossing would be

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and he decided to investigate the crossing points for himself.

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From where he stood,

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William can have been in no doubt James was in a very strong position.

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But then, considering what he'd just seen,

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what William did next was quite extraordinary.

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He sat down just here with his staff to have something to eat.

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We heard he had been picnicking.

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He had a picnic on the side of... on the side of the river

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and that he had been spotted in his full military outfit.

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William had a reckless habit of wearing full regalia wherever he went.

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He was quickly seen by Jacobite officers who took a shot at him.

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Who did he think he was?

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He was such an obvious target. Of course you're gonna take him out.

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News of the attack spread amongst the soldiers of the Jacobite camp.

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The word was that William was dead. They couldn't believe their luck.

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From what I heard, somebody hit him high in the body, probably in the head,

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and then he was definitely dead.

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Just by chance, by complete fluke...

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..we had killed William.

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It was such a great feeling that we...

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..the chance that we wouldn't have to do this, that it was over.

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But William was not dead.

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Luckily for him, the ball had only grazed his right shoulder.

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He shrugged off the attack saying, "It could have come closer,"

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and turned his thoughts to the battle ahead.

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He summoned a council of war here at Mellifont Abbey, just north of the Boyne, to plan his strategy.

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He'd decided not to start the battle that day

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because it was Monday and William believed Mondays were unlucky.

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The battle would begin the next day, Tuesday, July 1st.

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As to what he would do, there were two main options.

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His troops are positioned here on the north bank of the River Boyne.

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Option one was to send them straight across the river here at Oldbridge,

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right into the heart of the Jacobite army.

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Daring but risky.

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The other option was to swing round to the west in a flanking movement,

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cross at the next ford along at Rosnaree

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and then attack James's exposed flank,

0:26:470:26:51

and perhaps even cut off James's retreat route to Dublin.

0:26:510:26:54

William decided the first crossing would be at Rosnaree.

0:26:540:26:58

That night, the soldiers on both sides prepared themselves nervously for the battle ahead.

0:27:080:27:14

On the march down to the Boyne,

0:27:140:27:16

they had stripped the lead off everything they could find.

0:27:160:27:20

Now they made campfires and melted the lead down to make bullets.

0:27:200:27:25

Then they prepared cartridges,

0:27:260:27:29

rolls of paper into which they poured gunpowder and the bullet.

0:27:290:27:33

In the heat of battle,

0:27:330:27:35

the soldiers bit the top off these cartridges to release the gunpowder.

0:27:350:27:39

They literally bit the bullet.

0:27:390:27:41

In the Williamite camp around Mellifont Abbey that evening, the mood was sober.

0:27:410:27:48

William himself rode amongst his men with his arm in a sling,

0:27:480:27:52

after that near miss earlier in the day.

0:27:520:27:55

He believed his presence would encourage his men.

0:27:550:27:59

He even brought a portable wooden house so he could sleep amongst them.

0:27:590:28:04

As for James, on the other side of the river, it was a different story.

0:28:040:28:08

His personality did not give his men confidence in his leadership.

0:28:080:28:13

James?

0:28:130:28:14

Who's James?

0:28:160:28:18

I never saw James.

0:28:190:28:21

He was nowhere to be seen.

0:28:210:28:23

There was no generals to be seen either.

0:28:230:28:26

It was chaotic, nobody...nobody really knew what they were doing.

0:28:260:28:30

A light mist hung over the still river the next morning,

0:28:410:28:45

but the Jacobite sentries there on the southern bank heard a noise,

0:28:450:28:49

the sound of an army marching.

0:28:490:28:52

The Williamites were heading west towards Rosnaree.

0:28:540:28:58

James had placed only 800 men guarding the crossing at Rosnaree.

0:29:130:29:18

On hearing that thousands of William's men were heading this way,

0:29:180:29:22

James called a hurried council of war.

0:29:220:29:26

He had 25,000 men at Oldbridge,

0:29:260:29:28

four miles to the east of Rosnaree, guarding the crossing there.

0:29:280:29:32

James made the critical decision to lead nearly two-thirds of them,

0:29:320:29:37

including his most seasoned troops, the French infantry,

0:29:370:29:40

from Oldbridge to Rosnaree to stop William's troops crossing there.

0:29:400:29:44

The question was, would he and his men get there in time?

0:29:440:29:48

The 800 Jacobites already at Rosnaree

0:29:480:29:51

felt they were in a strong position to hold the crossing till reinforcements arrived.

0:29:510:29:57

They had three small cannon set out on the slopes of the hills

0:29:570:30:01

and they'd taken up a defensive position overlooking the river,

0:30:010:30:05

guarding a small glen that was the easiest way up from the Boyne.

0:30:050:30:10

The men were led by a commander with a heart of a lion, Sir Neil O'Neil.

0:30:100:30:14

If they could hold off the Williamites for long enough,

0:30:140:30:18

the reinforcements James had ordered from Oldbridge might be able to stop William in his tracks.

0:30:180:30:24

Before 8am, William's troops arrived on that far side of the river and prepared to cross.

0:30:350:30:41

Although they massively outnumbered the Jacobites up here,

0:30:410:30:45

they knew that once they were in that river, they'd be sitting ducks.

0:30:450:30:49

O'Neil's men up here waited for the Williamites to make the first move,

0:31:050:31:09

and as soon as they saw the Protestants enter the river,

0:31:090:31:12

they opened up a devastating musket and artillery barrage.

0:31:120:31:16

A hundred elite troops spearheaded the attack across the river

0:31:380:31:42

and they were followed by a mass of reinforcements.

0:31:420:31:46

The weight of numbers pushed O'Neil's men back up into the hills.

0:31:460:31:50

With no sign of any reinforcements,

0:32:150:32:18

the Jacobites here were taking a hammering.

0:32:180:32:21

Even so, they managed to hold up the Williamite troops for nearly an hour

0:32:210:32:25

until their leader, O'Neil, was fatally wounded.

0:32:250:32:29

Williamite troops then dashed across the river and up this narrow ravine.

0:32:290:32:34

The important ford at Rosnaree had been taken.

0:32:340:32:38

By the time the Williamites had fought their way here,

0:32:570:33:00

onto the south bank of the Boyne, it was 9am.

0:33:000:33:04

This is where I am. They swung round and headed east.

0:33:040:33:08

Meanwhile, James and HIS infantry had been marching west.

0:33:080:33:12

The two armies were heading for each other on a collision course,

0:33:120:33:16

both eager to get to grips.

0:33:160:33:19

But when they were less than a mile apart,

0:33:190:33:22

they were stopped in their tracks by an obstacle that proved harder to cross than the Boyne itself.

0:33:220:33:28

The two armies found themselves standing on opposite sides of a boggy ravine.

0:33:280:33:34

Soldiers on both sides looked down into this swampy valley

0:33:370:33:41

and wondered how on earth were they gonna get at each other?

0:33:410:33:45

OK, Dan, you're the scout. You go and see how boggy it is down at the bottom of the ravine.

0:33:450:33:51

Yeah, it's not so much the gradient.

0:33:510:33:53

I don't know if we can get through the wetness at the bottom on a bike.

0:33:530:33:58

-We'll see what you look like afterwards. Mind how you go.

-Right.

0:33:580:34:03

-Good luck.

-I'll see you later, if I survive in one piece.

-OK, good luck.

0:34:030:34:07

The things we do for historical accuracy!

0:34:100:34:14

That's quite a steep slope, that is.

0:34:140:34:16

And you can imagine the two armies, one on either side,

0:34:160:34:20

sending scouts down the bottom there to see what that ravine was like.

0:34:200:34:25

It's not just underfoot that it's very soggy and wet, it's these trees everywhere, big thick vines.

0:34:340:34:41

It would have been impossible for horses to get through here.

0:34:410:34:45

Oh!

0:34:510:34:52

Even if you manage to get across the valley floor,

0:34:540:34:59

which is pretty boggy, you've then got to get up the other side,

0:34:590:35:03

and with that vegetation, I don't think anything could get up there.

0:35:030:35:08

One of the easiest ways of getting round in here

0:35:080:35:12

is actually in the river itself.

0:35:120:35:14

I seem to be spending a lot of time in this programme in the river.

0:35:140:35:18

Here comes the man from the bog.

0:35:210:35:23

Even if it wasn't for the trees and the bushes and the nettles, it is incredibly boggy and wet underfoot.

0:35:230:35:28

It's about a 50-metre-wide bog between the two sides of the valley?

0:35:280:35:33

The sides of the valley come down very steeply,

0:35:330:35:36

then there's 20-50 metres of river and bog in the middle.

0:35:360:35:40

Even if you got a few horses across, after 1,000 horses, it would be churned up even more.

0:35:400:35:45

You could not have got a proper attack across the river.

0:35:450:35:49

If it hadn't been for this obstacle,

0:35:490:35:51

the armies might have decided the outcome of the battle then and there.

0:35:510:35:55

But the frustrating reality for both sides was that it was simply impassable.

0:35:550:36:02

James is pondering his next move,

0:36:020:36:04

when a red-faced messenger galloped up with some devastating news.

0:36:040:36:09

William himself hadn't crossed at Rosnaree

0:36:090:36:12

and, worse, neither had the bulk of his army.

0:36:120:36:16

In fact, William's main force of 26,000 men were now surging across the river back at Oldbridge.

0:36:160:36:23

James had made a terrible blunder.

0:36:240:36:27

At dawn, the Jacobite sentries at Oldbridge had thought they'd heard a whole army moving off.

0:36:270:36:34

What they'd actually heard was only 10,000 men of William's army on the move.

0:36:340:36:40

The rest had stayed put back here at Oldbridge.

0:36:420:36:46

William's aim in sending these men to cross here at Rosnaree

0:36:460:36:50

had been to split James's forces,

0:36:500:36:52

and it had worked better than he could ever have hoped.

0:36:520:36:55

James had diverted nearly two-thirds of his army

0:36:550:36:59

to chase what turned out to be less than a third of William's.

0:36:590:37:03

Back at Oldbridge,

0:37:030:37:05

there were barely 5,000 Jacobite foot soldiers and 2,000 cavalry.

0:37:050:37:09

These men were now outnumbered three to one by William's troops.

0:37:090:37:14

And then William gave the order to attack.

0:37:140:37:19

The main attack began at eight o'clock that morning

0:37:190:37:24

with a massive cannon barrage on the hamlet of Oldbridge.

0:37:240:37:28

William's prize troops, the crack Dutch Blue Guards,

0:37:280:37:33

were ordered to get ready to cross the river when the tides were right.

0:37:330:37:37

Finally, at 10am, the river was low enough for the Dutch to form,

0:37:460:37:51

and William gave out the order to cross.

0:37:510:37:54

This is where they waded in, at the ford on the big Oldbridge bend,

0:37:550:38:00

straight at the Jacobite defenders in the village the other side.

0:38:000:38:04

They went in eight abreast,

0:38:070:38:09

with their muskets held high above their heads.

0:38:090:38:13

Everything depended on keeping their weapons and their powder dry.

0:38:130:38:18

They went into the water, determined to force their way ashore and form a bridgehead the other side.

0:38:180:38:24

It's funny, it seemed as if, because so many of us stepped in,

0:38:440:38:49

it was as if the water stopped.

0:38:490:38:51

You just look ahead and you think about what you've got to do,

0:38:540:38:59

get across, keep yourself dry as much as possible

0:38:590:39:04

and get ready to fight.

0:39:040:39:06

Most of the Dutch made it across,

0:39:160:39:19

but then the Jacobites resisted fiercely, fighting hand to hand.

0:39:190:39:23

So I just tried to aim as straight as I could

0:40:060:40:10

and shoot as clear as I could, reload as quickly as I could

0:40:100:40:13

and shoot again and keep doing that.

0:40:130:40:16

The men themselves were terrified, absolutely terrified.

0:40:160:40:20

You could see it in their eyes.

0:40:200:40:22

I'd never seen anything like this.

0:40:540:40:56

It...it was horrible.

0:40:570:40:59

And the noise was just deafening,

0:41:060:41:08

matchlocks blowing in your ear.

0:41:080:41:11

In the end, the attack proved too much for the Irish infantry

0:41:510:41:55

who quit their positions and fled to the high ground above Oldbridge,

0:41:550:41:59

giving the Williamites a vital foothold here on the southern banks of the Boyne.

0:41:590:42:04

But then the Jacobites hit back with their most effective weapon.

0:42:040:42:09

Irish horsemen were strengthened by elite French cavalry,

0:42:100:42:14

loaned to James by Louis XIV.

0:42:140:42:17

These men were some of the finest fighters of the whole of Europe.

0:42:170:42:21

With swords and pistols drawn,

0:42:240:42:26

they charged down this slope onto the exhausted Williamites.

0:42:260:42:30

If the Jacobite cavalry could drive William's forces back into the river,

0:42:330:42:39

victory would be theirs.

0:42:390:42:42

It must have been terrifying for William's infantry

0:42:420:42:45

with James's cavalry streaming down this hill towards them.

0:42:450:42:49

They had these, muskets they could fire two or three times a minute.

0:42:490:42:53

They took a long time to reload.

0:42:530:42:55

When the cavalry were bearing down upon them, they weren't much use.

0:42:550:42:59

To stop the cavalry simply crushing through the infantry, one man in five carried one of these,

0:43:040:43:10

a 16½-foot-long wooden pole with a sharpened metal tip called a pike.

0:43:100:43:14

These weapons caused mayhem amongst the cavalry and forced the horses to swerve away.

0:43:140:43:20

To see the horses galloping towards you

0:43:260:43:30

and the...

0:43:300:43:31

the smash of them hitting the front ranks of our army

0:43:310:43:36

was a...a noise I... I don't think I'll ever forget.

0:43:360:43:41

Looking across the Boyne from the northern bank through his telescope,

0:43:480:43:52

William could see his Dutch guards being repeatedly charged by the Jacobite cavalry on the other side.

0:43:520:43:58

He was heard to lament about what he called his "poor guards"

0:43:580:44:02

and he realised that the pressure simply had to be taken off them.

0:44:020:44:06

He ordered a second crossing of the Boyne.

0:44:060:44:09

To widen his front, he ordered it not to be here at Oldbridge,

0:44:090:44:13

but several hundred yards downstream just here.

0:44:130:44:17

And this time,

0:44:170:44:19

it was the Protestant French, the Protestant Irish and the English infantry who plunged into the river.

0:44:190:44:25

Again, the Jacobite cavalry charged with renewed ferocity.

0:44:390:44:43

The Williamite troops had been struggling across this ford, but were thrown back into the river.

0:44:430:44:49

The fight hung in the balance. They watched as their general rode in and tried to rally the troops.

0:44:490:44:55

He roared his encouragement, but he was hit by three sabre cuts to the head and a musket ball in the neck.

0:44:550:45:01

He died instantly.

0:45:010:45:03

It was now 11 o'clock and the battle had been raging for three hours.

0:45:080:45:13

Getting yet another line of troops across

0:45:130:45:16

would stretch James's cavalry even further

0:45:160:45:19

and might just break their defence.

0:45:190:45:21

William turned to the commander of his Danish troops

0:45:210:45:25

and told him to make a third crossing with a total of 12,000 men

0:45:250:45:29

a few hundreds yards down from where that second crossing had been.

0:45:290:45:34

This was a far trickier crossing,

0:45:340:45:36

made even more perilous by the rising tide.

0:45:360:45:39

By the time the Royal Danish guards entered the river, the water was up to their armpits or their necks.

0:45:390:45:45

Some of them had to swim across. It was touch and go.

0:45:450:45:49

If they made it to the other side,

0:45:490:45:51

they had a steep hill to climb and face the Jacobite cavalry.

0:45:510:45:55

They waited for the water to go low

0:45:550:45:57

and then slowly but surely, one by one, they...they began to cross.

0:45:570:46:02

We immediately started to fire at them.

0:46:050:46:08

And we picked them off because they had no defence.

0:46:100:46:14

And that held them off for a while.

0:46:140:46:16

We thought, "Jesus, if we could do this all day, they'll never get across."

0:46:160:46:22

But slowly but surely, there were so many crossing over that river,

0:46:310:46:35

they almost seemed to have a dam built of men standing there,

0:46:350:46:39

holding back the force of the water while the others crossed.

0:46:390:46:44

There was too many. The bodies were just washed away immediately and there was another man.

0:46:500:46:56

We couldn't load quick enough and they got closer and closer.

0:46:560:47:00

As the Williamite infantry pushed through Oldbridge and into that field down there,

0:47:190:47:24

the Jacobite cavalry attacked them time and time again.

0:47:240:47:29

The Jacobite cavalry took terrible casualties

0:47:290:47:33

both from the infantry fire

0:47:330:47:35

and from the cannon on the far bank of the Boyne.

0:47:350:47:39

And then to see these big horses,

0:47:440:47:46

hear the ground shake behind you as they're coming behind you...

0:47:460:47:50

They just charged down from that hill through the advancing troops.

0:47:500:47:54

They'd turn around and go straight back up and come straight back

0:47:540:47:58

and do it again and again and again, and nothing stopped them. They were a sight to see, I tell you.

0:47:580:48:04

In one attack, of sixty horsemen who charged, only six survived.

0:48:130:48:17

In spite of this, the fact was that after four hours of fierce fighting,

0:48:430:48:47

William's original plan had stalled.

0:48:470:48:51

The Jacobites still had his men pinned down on this southern riverbank.

0:48:510:48:56

It was a knife-edge moment for William

0:48:560:48:59

as he saw his bridgeheads held up by constant cavalry charges.

0:48:590:49:03

Now he decided to make one last throw.

0:49:030:49:07

He'd take on their horsemen with his own.

0:49:070:49:10

He hoped this final crossing,

0:49:100:49:12

further downstream than the other three crossings,

0:49:120:49:16

would spread the Jacobite line to breaking point.

0:49:160:49:19

This time, he would lead the crossing himself.

0:49:190:49:23

Just after noon William led his Dutch, Danish and English cavalry down to the riverside.

0:49:240:49:31

He'd chosen the most difficult place yet to cross,

0:49:310:49:34

where the banks were deep and muddy.

0:49:340:49:37

It was to be a tough ordeal

0:49:390:49:42

for such a slight asthmatic man carrying a shoulder wound.

0:49:420:49:45

William was an accomplished horseman,

0:49:450:49:48

but getting across the Boyne proved too much for him.

0:49:480:49:52

The King's horse got stuck in the mud.

0:50:020:50:06

In the effort of trying to escape, William got an asthma attack.

0:50:060:50:10

One of his soldiers, a big man from Enniskillen,

0:50:100:50:13

saw the King was in trouble, waded over, put him over his shoulder

0:50:130:50:17

and carried him to safety on the south side of the river.

0:50:170:50:21

2,000 cavalrymen struggled across the river with William.

0:50:230:50:28

He now had almost his entire army on the southern bank,

0:50:300:50:34

fighting the Jacobites along a front a mile and a half long.

0:50:340:50:38

At last, William's superior numbers were beginning to tell,

0:50:380:50:42

and James's horsemen were now severely overstretched.

0:50:420:50:47

For all their bravery, the Jacobites were heavily outnumbered

0:51:070:51:11

and, by early afternoon, they were worn down by the relentless attacks.

0:51:110:51:15

Their only chance now was to make a stand on some high ground, the hill at Donore.

0:51:150:51:21

You'd run for two miles and then you'd get to the bottom of the hill

0:51:230:51:27

and you'd have to run up the hill.

0:51:270:51:29

I thought my heart was going to burst.

0:51:290:51:32

Today nothing remains in the village of Donore,

0:51:320:51:36

apart from the ruined church and burial ground on top of the hill.

0:51:360:51:40

The beleaguered Jacobites ran up this hill,

0:51:410:51:45

desperate to reach the safety of the churchyard,

0:51:450:51:48

with the Williamite soldiers hot on their heels.

0:51:480:51:51

In the middle of the afternoon,

0:52:060:52:08

around the walls of this church, a Jacobite force took shelter,

0:52:080:52:13

determined to make one last attempt to hold back the Williamite tide.

0:52:130:52:17

Some of the bloodiest hand-to-hand fighting of the day took place here.

0:52:200:52:25

William's men knew they needed to take the high ground

0:52:250:52:29

and they moved forward on three sides.

0:52:290:52:32

With so many men in such close proximity firing their muskets,

0:52:320:52:36

there was a total melee.

0:52:360:52:38

In the confusion and dense smoke,

0:52:380:52:40

it was difficult to tell friend from foe.

0:52:400:52:44

One Protestant soldier from Enniskillen was enraged

0:53:300:53:34

when he saw 30 of his comrades cut to pieces by Jacobite fire.

0:53:340:53:38

He took out his pistol and pointed it at the nearest soldier.

0:53:380:53:42

Just in time, he realised that that soldier was none other than King William himself.

0:53:420:53:48

He lowered his weapon.

0:53:480:53:49

It was now late afternoon

0:54:300:54:33

and, exhausted by eight hours of fighting in which they'd been constantly in the front line,

0:54:330:54:39

the Jacobites up on this hill could hold out no longer.

0:54:390:54:42

They were surrounded on three sides,

0:54:420:54:44

there was no sign of any reinforcement

0:54:440:54:47

and, in the end, all their resourcefulness and courage

0:54:470:54:51

simply couldn't hold off the tenacity of William's assault.

0:54:510:54:55

Their only option was to retreat.

0:54:550:54:58

The Battle of the Boyne was over.

0:54:580:55:01

King William had fought up here alongside his men till the battle was won.

0:55:010:55:07

King James was still nowhere to be seen.

0:55:070:55:10

It's one of the mysteries of this battle

0:55:160:55:19

why James, who'd left Oldbridge earlier that morning,

0:55:190:55:23

stayed at that ravine three miles away over there.

0:55:230:55:26

He remained there all day, in spite of the fact that the battle was actually raging over here for hours.

0:55:260:55:33

This extraordinary decision may well have cost James the battle

0:55:330:55:37

because without those extra men,

0:55:370:55:39

the plight of his army here at Donore had been hopeless.

0:55:390:55:43

All he could do now was join what soon became a shambolic rout.

0:55:430:55:47

The flight of the Jacobites was a pitiable end to a sorry day.

0:55:530:55:57

As the terrified Catholic army sped down this road towards Dublin,

0:55:570:56:02

they heard a rumour that their fearless leader James

0:56:020:56:06

was miles ahead of them in an unsightly attempt to get to safety.

0:56:060:56:11

Anything that weighed you down you got rid of.

0:56:140:56:18

I saw men throwing their boots away because they thought they could run quicker.

0:56:190:56:24

There was no sense any more of us being an army in any way.

0:56:270:56:31

At this stage, it was just men...

0:56:310:56:33

just men running for their lives, getting away.

0:56:330:56:36

We weren't an army.

0:56:390:56:41

We were fools.

0:56:420:56:44

The fighting between the Williamites and the Jacobites

0:56:480:56:52

rumbled on for nearly another year in Ireland,

0:56:520:56:55

but after the Battle of the Boyne,

0:56:550:56:57

it wasn't a matter of whether the Protestants would win, but when.

0:56:570:57:01

The Irish Catholics who had fought for James II blamed him for their downfall,

0:57:010:57:06

and they gave him the nickname Seamus a Chaca, James The Shit.

0:57:060:57:11

FLUTE BAND PLAYS

0:57:120:57:14

The memory of the Battle of the Boyne lives on to this day.

0:57:160:57:20

James, Britain's last-ever Catholic King, died all but forgotten in France 11 years later,

0:57:210:57:28

but William's legacy remains.

0:57:280:57:30

Until the South broke away in 1921,

0:57:320:57:34

the whole of Ireland stayed under Protestant British control.

0:57:340:57:39

To this day, Protestant Orangemen celebrate William's victory over the Catholics.

0:57:390:57:46

The echoes of those 12 hours in the summer of 1690

0:57:470:57:51

still resound as loudly as the Lambeg drum.

0:57:510:57:55

You can visit a living history encampment in Armagh this weekend

0:57:580:58:02

to find out more about life in Ireland during the Jacobite war.

0:58:030:58:07

For details about this and other events in your area,

0:58:070:58:11

why not visit bbc.co.uk/history?

0:58:110:58:15

The last major land battle fought in the British Isles

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was set in Scotland 250 years ago.

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In the next programme,

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we find out how an army of mainly Scottish clansmen

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rebelled against the British government.

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The Battle of Culloden was not only the last military rebellion in this country,

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its aftermath signalled the end of an entire way of life.

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Peter and Dan Snow take an in-depth look at the battles that shaped our nation using state-of-the-art graphics. They tell the story of a notoriously violent battle when, three centuries ago, the river Boyne in Ireland ran red with blood. Peter unravels what happened when supporters of the Catholic King James II confronted the troops of Protestant King William III. Dan recounts what the battle was like for the soldiers on the front line.