In the autumn of the year 1689 the Duke of Schomberg, an exiled Huguenot who had followed William to England, had been sent with a small force to Ulster, but his landing had only roused Ireland to a fresh enthusiasm. The ranks of the Irish army were filled up at once, and James was able to face the Duke at Drogheda with a force double that of his opponent. Schomberg, whose men were all raw recruits whom it was hardly possible to trust at such odds in the field, entrenched himself at Dundalk, in a camp where pestilence soon swept off half his men, till winter parted the two armies. During the next six months James, whose treasury was utterly exhausted, strove to fill it by a coinage of brass money, while his soldiers subsisted by sheer plunder. William meanwhile was toiling hard on the other side of the Channel to bring the Irish war to an end. Schomberg was strengthened during the winter with men and stores, and when the spring came his force reached thirty thousand men. Lewis too felt the importance of the coming struggle; and seven thousand picked Frenchmen, under the Count of Lauzun, were despatched to reinforce the army of James. They had hardly arrived when William himself landed at Carrickfergus,and pushed rapidly to the south.
His columns soon caught sight of the Irish forces, posted strongly behind the Boyne. "I am glad to see you, gentlemen," William cried with a burst of delight; "and if you escape me now the fault will be mine." Early next morning the whole English army plunged into the river. The Irish foot broke in a sudden panic, but the horse made so gallant a stand that Schomberg fell in repulsing its charge, and for a time the English centre was held in check. With the arrival of William, however, at the head of the left wing all was over. James, who had throughout been striving to secure the withdrawal of his troops rather than frankly to meet William's onset, forsook his troops as they fell back in retreat upon Dublin, and took ship at Kinsale for France But though the beaten army was forced by William's pursuit to abandon the capital, it was still resolute to fight. The incapacity of the Stuart sovereign moved the scorn even of his followers. " Change kings with us," an Irish officer replied to an Englishman who taunted him with the panic of the Boyne, "change kings with us and we will fight you again." They did better in fighting without a king.
The French, indeed, withdrew scornfully from the routed army as it stood at bay beneath the walls of Limerick. "Do you call these ramparts?" sneered Lauzun: "the English will need no cannon; they may batter them down with roasted apples." But twenty thousand men remained with Sarsfield, a brave and skilful officer who had seen service in England and abroad; and his daring surprise of the English ammunition train, his repulse of a desperate attempt to storm the town, and the approach of the winter, forced William to raise the siege. The course of the war abroad recalled him to England, and he left his work to one who was quietly proving himself a master in the art of war. Churchill, now Earl of Marlborough, had been recalled from Flanders to command a division which landed in the south of Ireland. Only a few days remained before the operations were interrupted by the coming of winter, but the few days were turned to good account. Cork, with five thousand men behind its walls, was taken in forty-eight hours. Kinsale a few days later shared the fate of Cork. Winter indeed left Connaught and the greater part of Munster in Irish hands; the French force remained untouched,and the coming of a new French general, St. Ruth, with arms and supplies encouraged the insurgents.
But the summer of 1691 had hardly opened when Ginkell, the new English general, by his seizure of Athlone forced on a battle with the combined French and Irish forces at Aughrim, in which St. Ruth fell on the field and his army was utterly broken. The defeat left Limerick alone in its revolt, and even Sarsfield bowed to the necessity of a surrender. Two treaties were drawn up between the Irish and English generals. By the first it was stipulated that the Catholics of Ireland should enjoy such privileges in the exercise of their religion as were consistent with law, or as they had enjoyed in the reign of Charles the Second. The Crown pledged itself also to summon a Parliament as soon as possible, and to endeavour to procure to the good Roman Catholics security "from any disturbance upon the account of the said religion." By the military treaty those of Sarsfield's soldiers who would were suffered to follow him to France; and ten thousand men, the whole of his force, chose exile rather than life in a land where all hope of national freedom was lost. When the wild cry of the women who stood watching their departure was hushed, the silence of death settled down upon Ireland. For a hundred years the country remained at peace, but the peace was a peace of despair.
The most terrible legal tyranny under which a nation has ever groaned avenged the rising under Tyrconnell. The conquered people, in Swift's bitter words of contempt, became "hewers of wood and drawers of water" to their conquerors. Though local risings of these serfs perpetually spread terror among the English settlers, all dream of a national revolt passed away; and till the eve of the French Revolution Ireland ceased to be a source of political danger to England.
Short as the struggle of Ireland had been, it had served Lewis well, for while William was busy at the Boyne a series of brilliant successes was restoring the fortunes of France. In Flanders the Duke of Luxembourg won the victory of Fleurus. In Italy Marshal Catinat' defeated the Duke of Savoy. A success of even greater moment, the last victory which France was fated to win at sea, placed for an instant the very throne of William in peril. William never showed a cooler courage than in quitting England to fight James in Ireland at a moment when the Jacobites were only looking for the appearance of a French fleet on the coast to rise in revolt. He was hardly on his way in fact when Tourville, the French admiral, put to sea with strict orders to fight. He was met by the English and Dutch fleet at Beachy Head, and the Dutch division at once engaged. Though utterly outnumbered, it fought stubbornly in hope of Herbert's aid; but Herbert, whether from cowardice or treason, looked idly on while his allies were crushed, and withdrew at nightfall to seek shelter in the Thames. The danger was as great as the shame, for Tourville's victory left him master of the Channel, and his presence off the coast of Devon invited the Jacobites to revolt.