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Henry Ireton (1611 - 26 November 1651), was an Englishmarker general in the Parliamentary army during the English Civil War. He was the son-in-law of Oliver Cromwell.

Early life

He was the eldest son of German Ireton of Attenboroughmarker, Nottinghamshiremarker, and was baptized in St. Mary's Churchmarker on 3 November 1611. He became a gentleman commoner of Trinity College, Oxfordmarker in 1626, graduated BA in 1629 and entered the Middle Templemarker the same year.

English Civil War

On the outbreak of the Civil War, he joined the parliamentary army, fighting at the Battle of Edgehillmarker in October 1642, and at the Battle of Gainsboroughmarker in July 1643. He was made deputy-governor of the Isle of Elymarker by Cromwell and served under Manchester in the Yorkshire campaign and at the second Battle of Newburymarker, afterwards supporting Cromwell in his accusations of incompetency against the general.

On the night before the battle of Nasebymarker, in June 1645, Ireton succeeded in surprising the Royalist army and captured many prisoners. The next day, on the suggestion of Cromwell, he was made commissary-general and appointed to the command of the left wing, Cromwell himself commanding the right. The wing under Ireton was completely broken by the impetuous charge of Rupert and Ireton was wounded and taken prisoner, but Cromwell charged and successfully routed the Royalists, freeing prisoners including Ireton.

Ireton was at the siege of Bristolmarker in September 1645 and took part in the subsequent campaign that succeeded in overthrowing the royal cause. On 30 October 1645 Ireton entered parliament as member for Appleby. On 15 June 1646, during the siege of Oxfordmarker he and Bridget, daughter of Oliver Cromwell, were married. The marriage brought Ireton's career into parallel with Cromwell's.

Political views and debates over the future of the monarchy

While Cromwell's policy was practically limited to making the best of the present situation, and was inclined to compromise, Ireton's attitude was based on well-grounded principles of statesmanship. At the Putney Debates he opposed extremism, disliked the views of the Republicans and the Levellers, which he considered impractical and dangerous to the foundations upon which society was based, and wished to retain the constitution of King, Lordsmarker and Commonsmarker. He argued for these in the negotiations of the army with Parliament, and in the conferences with the king, being the person chiefly entrusted with the drawing up of the army proposals, including the manifesto called "The Heads of the Proposals" which proposed a constitutional monarchy. He tried to prevent the breach between the army and parliament, but when it happened, he supported the negotiations with the king till his actions made him unpopular.

Ireton finally became convinced of the hopelessness of dealing with Charles, and, after the king's flight to the Isle of Wightmarker, treated his further proposals with coldness and urged the parliament to establish an administration without him. Ireton served under Fairfax in the second civil war in the campaigns, in Kentmarker and Essex, and was responsible for the executions of Sir Charles Lucas and Sir George Lisle at Colchestermarker. After the rejection by the king of the last offers of the army, he showed special zeal in bringing about his trial. He wrote the Army's statement about the regicide - the Remonstrance of the Army - with Hugh Peters. He was active in the choice to purge rather than reelect Parliament and supported the second Leveller Agreement of the People. He sat on the King's trial and was one of the commissioners who signed the death warrant.

Irish campaign and death

Ireton's regiment was chosen by lot to accompany Cromwell in his Irish campaign. Ireton arrived in Dublinmarker two days after Cromwell on 17 August 1649, with 77 ships full of troops and supplies. Ireton was appointed major-general and after the conquest of the south of Ireland, Lord President of Munster. He went over with John Cook with a brief to reform the law of Ireland, to anglicise it and make it a model for a new settlement of English law.

In May 1650 Cromwell was recalled to England to command a Parliamentary force preparing to invade Scotlandmarker, and Ireton assumed command of the New Model Army in Ireland with the title and powers of lord-deputy to complete the conquest of the country. This he proceeded to do with his usual energy, becoming noted as much by the severity of his methods of punishment as for his military skill. By the middle of 1650 Ireton and his commanders faced two problems. One was the capture of the remaining cities held by the Irish Confederatemarker and Royalists forces. The other was an escalating guerrilla war in the countryside as Irish fighters called tories attacked his supply lines. Ireton appealed to the English Parliament to publish lenient surrender terms for Irish Catholics, in order to end their resistance, but when this was refused he began the laborious process of subduing the Catholic forces.

His first action was to mount a counter-guerrilla expedition into the Wicklow Mountainsmarker early in June 1650, in order to secure his lines of supply for the Siege of Waterford in Ireland's southeast. Having done this Ireton blockaded Waterfordmarker into surrender by August 1650. Not risking an assault, Ireton systematically constructed trenches to bring his siege guns within range of the walls and stationed a Parliamentary fleet off the city to prevent its re-supply. Thomas Preston surrendered Waterford after a three month siege. Ireton then advanced to Limerickmarker by October, but had to call off the siege due to cold and bad weather. Early in 1651 Ireton ordered that areas harbouring the "tory" guerrillas should be systematically stripped of food - this policy contributed to a widespread famine in Ireland by the end of the year. Ireton returned to Limerick in June 1651 and besieged the city for five months until it surrendered in October 1651. At the same time, Galwaymarker was under siege by Parliamentarian forces, and Ireton personally rode to inspect the command of Charles Coote, who was blockading that city. The physical strain of his command told on Ireton however and he fell ill.

Shortly afterwards, before he died of fever, just after the capture of Limerick, Ireton had some of the dignitaries of Limerick hanged for their obstinate defence of the city, including an Alderman, Terence Albert O'Brien (a Catholic Bishop) and an English Royalist officer, Colonel Fennell. He also wanted the Irish commander, Hugh Dubh O'Neill hanged, but Edmund Ludlow cancelled the order after Ireton's death.

His loss "struck a great sadness into Cromwell" and he was considered a great loss to the administration. By his wife, Bridget Cromwell, Ireton left one son and three daughters, one of whom, Bridget Bendish (she married Thomas Bendish in 1670) is said to have compromised herself in the Rye House Plot of 1683. Ireton's widow Bridget afterwards married General Charles Fleetwood.

Posthumous execution

After the Restoration of the English monarchy in 1660, Charles II had Ireton's corpse exhumed and mutilated in a posthumous execution, along with those of Cromwell and John Bradshaw, in retribution for signing his father's death warrant.

Cinematic portrayal

In the 1970 film Cromwell starring Richard Harris and Alec Guinness, Michael Jayston plays Ireton as a subtle but well-meaning manipulator who hates Charles I and pushes Cromwell into taking actions which the latter at first considers neither desirable nor possible but then pursues all the way. This version of Ireton is ready to denounce the King and plunge England into civil war before Cromwell becomes convinced that this is a necessary step. In the film, he and Cromwell are also among the five members whom Charles I attempts to arrest on the eve of the war (when in fact they were not) and, after the King is executed, is upbraided by Cromwell as being too ambitious. There is no mention in the film of Ireton marrying Cromwell's daughter.

Memorials

The town of Ireton, Iowamarker was named after Henry Ireton.

Ireton Road in Colchestermarker was named after Henry Ireton. Ireton Road adjoins Honywood Road, named after Sir Thomas Honywood who led the Essex forces at the Siege of Colchestermarker under the command of Thomas Fairfax.

Bibliography

  • Article by CH Firth in Dict. Nat. Biog. with authorities there quoted
  • Wood's Ath. Oxon. iii 298
  • Cornelius Brown's Lives of Noted Worthies, 181
  • Clarke Papers published by the Camden Society
  • Gardiner's History of the Civil War and of the Commonwealth
  • Article by Barbara Taft in Jason Peacey 'Regicide and Republicanism'
  • J L Dean 'Henry Ireton and the Mosaic Law' Cambridge University MLitt Dissertation


References

  1. The Victoria County History gives the date of Ireton's first marriage as January 1647.



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