Just as there was no single Parliamentarian army during the English Civil War, there was no single Royalist Army either. But while there are a number of works about the various armies which formed the Parliamentarian forces during the Civil War, Royalist forces tend to be studied as a single entity.
Yet, of all the armies which fought for King Charles I, perhaps none is more controversial than that which the King brought over from Ireland; and whether the King benefited or lost support as a result of this has been debated ever since.
The ‘cessation’ (truce) that King Charles I reached with the Irish Confederates in September 1643 enabled the Royalists to ship over (albeit in a piecemeal fashion) experienced troops (first the English and Welsh who were serving in Ireland, and then Irish natives) to bolster their war effort.
It is this army, ‘The King’s Irish’, that is the subject of the latest in Helion’s Century of the Soldier series. Renowned English Civil War author John Barrett looks at the forces that the Royalists hoped would restore the balance tipped in Parliament’s favour by the intervention of the Scottish Army at the beginning of 1644.
These troops participated in the Nantwich campaign of the winter of 1643-1644, followed, in the spring, by the consolidation of Royalist control of the Welsh Marches. They also took part in the Marston Moor campaign, the Battle of Montgomery (September 1644), and became a significant part of the Royalist Oxford Army, participating in the Naseby campaign of 1645, with remaining elements fighting until the end of the war.
As well as looking at the behaviour and experience of the troops in England, the author examines their equipment, logistics, and performance, including those of the ‘firelocks’ who ultimately changed sides to fight for Parliament.
The author makes extensive use of first-hand accounts: while these generally add to the story, occasionally they do interrupt the flow of his own narrative. But this is a minor aside and, overall, this is a fascinating study of a surprisingly overlooked subject.
The book includes 28 black-and-white illustrations and five maps, but it is the colour plates that stand out. These are a combination of studies of various regimental colours (illustrated by Les Prince) and depictions of the troops themselves, these by Seán Ó’Brógáin. They really are exceptional – some of the best I have seen.
This book is also a useful companion to the first book in the Century of the Soldier series, which looked at the Royalist uprising in Scotland in 1644-1645, during which three Irish regiments played a vital role.
For so long, the individual Royalist armies have been treated as the ‘poor relation’ by authors, so this is an important contribution to the study of the forces that fought for King Charles I during the Civil Wars. It will be joined by a study of the Oxford Army, due from Helion in the future.
Review by David Flintham
This article was published in the August/September 2020 issue of Military History Matters. To find out more about the magazine and how to subscribe, click here.