The Wakefields of Ireland

Part 2

The Williamite War


Lionel Nebeker


Battle of the Boyne

It is not our intent to give a full account of the English history but only to give the briefest overview of those items as they relate to our ancestors.  Sometimes a single event that had little forethought, may have long range implications for generations yet to come.  Such an event occurred in the Battle of Boyne, sometimes referred to as the Battle of the Two Kings, in 1690. 

A little background may be helpful here.  Upon the death of England’s Protestant King Charles II, his younger brother, became King James II.  James was a strong Catholic and saw this as his opportunity to return England to the standard of the Pope.  For this, he became extremely unpopular among the English people and with parliament.  In 1688 James was over-thrown in what has been called the “Glorious Revolution” in which almost no one chose to support him when his protestant son-in-law, William of Orange (from the Netherlands) was invited to come to England, dethrone the king and take his crown.  James fled to France for protection, and for support in mounting a campaign to regain his kingdom.  The French, who always benefited from England’s civil difficulties, gave some assistance to James, who determined to land his forces in Catholic Ireland where he hoped to gain vital military backing.

King James and his French troops sailed to County Cork, in southern Ireland, in 1690 and began their march northward.  King William had some of his army heading south from Londonderry, while the King personally landed northeast of Belfast, and began his march south.  The two armies approached opposite sides of the Boyne River, just east of Drogheda.  (Today this spot lies about an hour’s drive north of Dublin.)  The battle took place on July 1, 1690 (“old style calendar”--or July 11, 1690 “new style calendar”) but is celebrated today each July 12th.  This battle is often referred to as the “Battle of the Two Kings” as it has been relatively rare in history to actually have two kings present on the battlefield giving directions to their generals.

On the day before the main battle commenced there was some skirmishing across the Boyne River as each army reconnoitered the other’s position and sought to place their forces in the most advantageous positions.  Toward evening, King William, with a small group of his leaders, rode down near the river to observe the position of his enemy.  A small artillery group located just across the river and hidden by the trees, recognized the King and hurried to set their cannon into position so as to take a good shot at the monarch before being detected.  The assailants were successful in getting off one volley which struck very near the King, killing one in his party and causing a piece of flying debris to hit William’s shoulder.  The wound, according to historians, was not a serious one and later that same evening William met with his generals to conclude their strategy for the following day.

Historians have failed to mention the name of the doctor who attended King William at that time, but being in the right place, at the right time, made a huge difference in our family history.  Dr. Albert Wakefield, who probably lived somewhere in Ulster (northern Ireland) prior to the arrival of his protestant English King William, joined his forces as they marched toward the Boyne River.  Whether anyone knew that he was a doctor, or not, is unknown to us.  But, with the infliction of the wound prior to this battle, Dr. Albert Wakefield was the one (according to family history) who attended the King and treated his wound.  It is not known just what the king said to Albert on that occasion but two centuries later, a Pennsylvania descendent of Dr. Wakefield still had a torn portion of King William’s uniform in his possession.

On the following day, the two armies met in battle and William’s army crossed the river to win the day.  King James fled to Dublin and then took a ship back to France leaving his army to fight on in his absence.  King William also went south to Dublin for a short time before returning to London to conduct his royal duties.  Still, the war dragged on for another year as William’s forces pursued James’ soldiers across central Ireland with battles in Athlone, Aughrim and Limerick before the final victory went to William.

Note the “X” spot on the map indicating where King William III was wounded.

Lionel Nebeker & Jolyn Atwood at the Battle of the Boyne site.  They are standing where the troops of

King James were located.  King William’s soldiers were on the ridge across the river in the distance. 

Chair used by King William III while in Dublin.

Now located in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.

A - Battle of Boyne in eastern Ireland, north of Dublin

B - Battle of Aughrim in western Ireland, on the eastern side of County Galway.

This is the site of the final major battle of the war in 1691, and site of the Wakefield property.

Battle of Aughrim

The Village of Aughrim in County Galway is located near the main freeway between

the City of Galway and the City of Athlone, Ireland.  (See “A” above).

The following article is from Wikipedia on the Internet for the Battle of Aughrim:

The campaign

The Jacobite position in the summer of 1691 was a defensive one.[3] In the previous year, they had retreated behind the River Shannon, which acted as an enormous moat around the province of Connacht, with strongholds at Sligo, Athlone and Limerick guarding the routes into Connacht. From this position, the Jacobites hoped to receive military aid from Louis XIV of France via the port towns and eventually be in a position to re-take the rest of Ireland.

Godert de Ginkell, the Williamites' Dutch general, had breached this line of defence by crossing the Shannon at Athlone - taking the town after a bloody siege. The Marquis de St Ruth (General Charles Chalmont), the French Jacobite general, moved too slowly to save Athlone, as he had to gather his troops from their quarters and raise new ones from rapparee bands and the levies of Irish landowners. Ginkel marched through Ballinasloe, on the main road towards Limerick and Galway, before he found his way blocked by St Ruth’s army at Aughrim on the 12th of July 1691. Both armies were about 20,000 men strong. The soldiers of St Ruth’s army were mostly Irish Catholic, while Ginkel's were English, Scottish, Danish, Dutch and French Huguenot (members of William III’s League of Augsburg) and Ulster Protestants.

The Jacobite position at Aughrim was quite strong. St Ruth had drawn up his infantry along the crest of a ridge known as Kilcommadan Hill. The hill was lined with small stone walls and hedgerows which marked the boundaries of farmers' fields, but which could also be improved and then used as earthworks for the Jacobite infantry to shelter behind. The left of the position was bounded by a bog, through which there was only one causeway, overlooked by Aughrim village and a ruined castle. On the other, open, flank, St Ruth placed his best infantry under his second-in-command, the chevalier de Tessé, and most of his cavalry under Patrick Sarsfield.

The battle

The battle started with Ginkel trying to assault the open flank of the Jacobite position with cavalry and infantry. This attack ground to a halt after determined Jacobite counter-attacks and the Williamites halted and dug in behind stakes driven into the ground to protect against cavalry. The French Huguenot forces committed here found themselves in low ground exposed to Jacobite fire and took a great number of casualties.

Contemporaneous accounts speak of the grass being slippery with blood. To this day, this area on the south flank of the battle is known locally as the "Bloody Hollow".[4] In the centre, the Williamite infantry under Hugh Mackay tried a frontal assault on the Jacobite infantry on Kilcommadan Hill. The Williamite troops, mainly English and Scots, had to take each line of trenches, only to find that the Irish had fallen back and were firing at them from the next line. The Williamite infantry attempted three assaults, the first of which penetrated furthest. Eventually, the final Williamite assault was driven back with heavy losses by cavalry and pursued into the bog, where more of them were killed or drowned. In the rout, the pursuing Jacobites manage to spike a battery of Williamite guns.

This left Ginkel with only one option, to try to force a way through the causeway on the Jacobite left. This should have been an impregnable position, with the attackers concentrated into a narrow lane and covered by the defenders of the castle there. However, the Irish troops there were short on ammunition. Mackay directed this fourth assault, consisting mainly of cavalry, in two groups - one along the causeway and one parallel to the south. The Jacobites stalled this attack with heavy fire from the castle, but then found that their reserve ammunition, which was British-made, would not fit into the muzzles of their French-supplied muskets. The Williamites then charged again with a reasonably fresh regiment of Anglo-Dutch cavalry under Henri de Massue. Faced with only weak musket fire, they crossed the causeway and reached Aughrim village with few casualties. A force of Jacobite cavalry under Henry Luttrell had been held in reserve to cover this flank. However, rather than counterattacking at this point, their commander ordered them to withdraw, following a route now known locally as "Luttrell's Pass". Henry Luttrell was alleged to have been in the pay of the Williamites and was assassinated in Dublin after the war. The castle quickly fell and its Jacobite garrison surrendered.

"[The] fire from the castle on the right. . . was insignificant for it slew but a few in the passage. The reason of it was given because the men had French pieces, the bore of which was small and had English ball which was too large."[5]:p238

The Jacobite general Marquis de St Ruth, after the third infantry rush on the Williamite position up to their cannons, appeared to believe that the battle could be won and was heard to shout, "they are running, we will chase them back to the gates of Dublin". However, as he tried to rally his cavalry on the left to counter-attack and drive the Williamite horse back, he was decapitated by a cannon ball. At this point, the Jacobite position collapsed very quickly. Their horsemen, demoralized by the death of their commander, fled the battlefield, leaving the left flank open for the Williamites to funnel more troops into and envelope the Jacobite line. The Jacobites on the right, seeing the situation was hopeless, also began to melt away, although Sarsfield did try to organise a rearguard action. This left the Jacobite infantry on Killcommadan Hill completely exposed and surrounded. They were slaughtered by the Williamite cavalry as they tried to get away, many of them having thrown away their weapons in order to run faster. One eyewitness, George Storey, said that bodies covered the hill and looked from a distance like a flock of sheep.


Estimates of the two armies' losses vary. It is generally agreed that about 7,000 men were killed at the battle. Some recent studies put the Williamite dead as high as 3,000,[6] but they are more generally given as between 1-2,000, with 4,000 Jacobites killed.[7][8] However the Williamite death toll released by them at the time was only 600 and they claimed to have killed fully 7,000 Jacobites.[9] Many of the Jacobite dead were officers, who were very difficult to replace. On top of that, another 4,000 Jacobites either deserted or were taken prisoner. What was more, they had lost the better part of their equipment and supplies.

For these reasons, Aughrim was the decisive battle of the Williamite war in Ireland. The city of Galway surrendered without a fight after the battle, on advantageous terms, and the Jacobites' main army surrendered shortly afterward at Limerick after a short siege. The battle, according to one author, "seared into Irish consciousness", and became known in the Irish language tradition as Eachdhroim an áir - "Aughrim of the slaughter". The contemporary Gaelic poet Séamas Dall Mac Cuarta wrote of the Irish dead, "It is at Aughrim of the slaughter where they are to be found, their damp bones lying uncoffined". Another poet wrote, "Our friends in vast numbers and languishing forms, left lifeless in the mountains and corroded by worms".[10]

Since it marked the end of the Irish Catholic Jacobite resistance, Aughrim was the focus of Loyalist (particularly Orange Order) celebrations in Ireland on 12 July up until the early 19th century. Thereafter, it was superseded by the Battle of the Boyne in commemorations on "the Twelfth" due to the switch to the Gregorian calendar (in which 1 July OS became 11 July NS and 12 July OS became 22 July NS). It has also been suggested that the Boyne was preferred because the Irish troops there were more easily presented as cowardly than at Aughrim, where they generally fought bravely.[11]

The Aughrim battlefield site became the subject of controversy in Ireland over plans to build the new M6 motorway through the former battlefield. Historians, environmentalists and members of the Orange Order objected to the destruction of the 1691 battlefield. The motorway opened in 2009.

We’re not sure of the position of Dr. Albert Wakefield, but it seems likely that he had continued to serve in King William’s army and was likely participating, probably in a medical capacity, in this battle.  For his services during the war, including his service to the King in person, Albert was given 30 acres of land on the battlefield of Aughrim, just about half a mile west of the town.  This was located on the north end of where the Williamite soldiers had deployed.  This land became known as Wakefield Village, as it is still today; but no real town grew out of it.  Instead, it was the place where Albert and his subsequent descendants lived and farmed this land. 

In the map above, one can see not only the layout of the battlefield, but the circle marked A is the site of Wakefield Village.  The B circle (immediately on the northwest corner of the town of Aughrim) is where the Wade family estate was located.  The Wades owned a large tract of land and must have been well off for those times.  This estate has remained in that family to the current date, but has now passed through a female descendent and so is no longer known by the Wade name.  Mary Wade married David Wakefield, a great-grandson of Dr. Albert Wakefield, and that couple emigrated to Pennsylvania with four children in about 1770.  (See Part 1 of this compilation “Wakefield Memorial” for more details of this family.)  The circle marked “C” shows the approximate location for the residence of the current owner of Wakefield Village--Leslie & Jennifer Wakefield.

This hill was in the center of the Williamite camp, from which the various military charges were launched by the generals.  It is located between Wakefield Village and Leslie Wakefield’s home.   The actual fighting was not at this site but rather was just a short distance to the west of this location in the area surrounding the Aughrim village.  However, it gives the reader some idea of what the battlefield might have looked like just prior to the carnage of that war.