The Duke of Beaufort’s Regiment of Foot: The Battle of the Boyne

Wyck, Jan. The Battle of the Boyne, 12 July 1690 (1690). National Army Museum. Oil on canvas. 76.2 x 106.7cm. London, England.

The Battle of the Boyne was an incredibly significant moment in British History as it marked the end of the Stewart rule,  consequently paving the way for the constitutional monarchy that still remains to this day. The battle, fought between  James II and William III in 1690 took place in Drogheda, Ireland, on the River Boyne. It was James II’s last attempt at reclaiming his lost throne, however it ended in failure and soon later William completely replaced James as the British crowned monarch. It is in this battle that the Regiment saw its first major conflict, siding with William against the Jacobites, and after winning their first battle founded a fierce reputation that would echo throughout the regiment’s history.

Who were The Duke of Beaufort’s Regiment of Foot?

Raised initially in 1685 as a means to defend Bristol from the Duke of Monmouth, Charles II’s illegitimate son, The Duke of Beaufort’s Regiment of Foot was ‘a corps of musketeers and pikemen, composed of men of distinguished loyalty who resided in the disturbed districts of Devonshire, Somersetshire and Dorsetshire’. Although called to defend Bristol, the regiment didn’t see battle; Monmouth was defeated at the Battle of Sedgemoor only months after he landed. As a result, the Regiment of Foot was stationed at Hounslow Heath where they underwent further training for the King’s Standing Army. In November 1688 during William of Orange’s invasion, King James ordered a retreat from Salisbury to London, essentially stripping  the southwestern nobility of its defence. After this betrayal of loyalty, many notable figures abandoned James and joined the Williamite cause, including the leader of the Devonshire Regiment, John Hanmer. From then on, the Regiment would serve William, joining him at the Battle of the Boyne against James.

Significance in the Battle of the Boyne

Hanmer’s Brigade – including soldiers from the Regiment, were among the only British troops in the first line of William’s Army, as British soldiers were largely distrusted due to their potential to switch to the Jacobite cause. Following William’s initial flank at Slane drawing away the bulk of James’ army, his troops advanced over the settling river. They were led by the Dutch Blue Guards, William’s most elite soldiers, who after crossing the Boyne withstood two cavalry charges with relative ease; their use of chevaux-de-frize (spikes formed from bayonets on muskets) stopping the enemy horses in their tracks. Here, Hanmer’s Brigade marched into the water, meeting hostile Irish troops and exchanging fire at long-range as they crossed.

Richard Hamilton led the opposing Jacobite Foot against William’s front line, however they routed at the sight of Hanmer’s imposing soldiers. Fleeing, Hamilton came across a squadron of cavalry and led yet another charge, this time against Hanmer, however it was repulsed with musket fire; Hamilton lost ‘some twenty horsemen’. A second cavalry charge against Hanmer’s Brigade proved more successful, pushing the regiment further back into the river, however they remained largely intact.

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The fighting at this point went on for about half an hour, with William’s defence being so strong ‘there was nothing to be seen but smoke and dust nor anything to be heard but one continued fire.’ The Commander of the Jacobite Army, Tyrconnell, led his own regiment in another desperate charge, whilst William ordered the Danish division to cross to the east of Hanmer’s Brigade. Together, the two forces faced the brunt of the charge, however the “sturdy Devonshire Lads of the Eleventh” were “ not to be easily beaten.” They managed to secure their position and now controlled the crossing, allowing for William’s forces to pour across the river uncontested.

A final, desperate cavalry charge was mustered but ultimately proved futile, William’s position was too developed along the river, and the enemy was forced to retreat. An Inniskilling cavalry division of the Devonshire Regiment under the command of Colonel Wolseley joined William in a cavalry charge. With the assistance of Cutts’ Regiment of English Foot, the cavalry charge was successful, winning the battle and putting an end to any further attempts from James II to reclaim the throne.

What did this mean for The Duke of Beaufort’s Regiment of Foot?

The events at the Battle of the Boyne properly established the Regiment, gaining them a loyal and courageous reputation. They proved to be reliable soldiers, as they would continue to serve under William and were deployed in Ireland and Holland, as well as being used to put down another Jacobite Rebellion in 1715. The Regiment was officially named the ‘11th Regiment of Foot’ in 1750 and later in 1782 became known as the ‘11th (North Devonshire) Regiment of Foot.’

Written by Henry Lill and Ruairí Lewis-Smith

Work experience students from the Blandford School

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