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Henry Ireton



Born 1611
Attenborough, England
Died 1651
Limerick, Ireland
Spouse(s) Bridget Cromwell
Profession Politician, soldier
Religion Independent

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

Contents

Early life

He was the eldest son of German Ireton of Attenborough, Nottinghamshire, and was baptized in St. Mary's Church on 3 November 1611. He became a gentleman commoner of Trinity College, Oxford in 1626, graduated BA in 1629 and entered the Middle Temple the same year.

English Civil War

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

On the night before the battle of Naseby, 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 Bristol 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,[citation needed][1] during the siege of Oxford 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, Lords and Commons. 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 Wight, 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 Kent and Essex, and was responsible for the executions of Sir Charles Lucas and Sir George Lisle at Colchester. 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 Dublin 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 Scotland, 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 Confederate 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 Mountains 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 Waterford 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 Limerick 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, Galway 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.

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.

Family

By his wife, Bridget Cromwell, Ireton left one son, Henry Ireton (c.1652–1711),[2] 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, as did the Henry.[3] Ireton's widow Bridget afterwards married General Charles Fleetwood.

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, Iowa was named after Henry Ireton.

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

Notes

  1. ^ The Victoria County History gives the date of Ireton's first marriage as January 1647. Lobel, Mary D. (1957). Victoria County History: A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 5: Bullingdon Hundred. pp. 168-177. 
  2. ^ Hayton, pp. 468,469
  3. ^ Thomas Bendish (1643–1707) was the younger son of Sir Thomas Bendish, 2nd Baronet

References

  • Firth, C. H. in Dictionary of National Biography. Citing:
    • 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
  • Hayton, David et al (2002). The House of Commons, 1690-1715, Volume 1, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0521772214, 9780521772211
Attribution
Preceded by
Oliver Cromwell
(Lord Lieutenant)
Lord Deputy of Ireland
1650–1651
Succeeded by
Charles Fleetwood
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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

HENRY IRETON (1611-1651), English parliamentary general, eldest son of German Ireton of Attenborough, Nottinghamshire, was baptized on the 3rd of November 1611, became a gentleman commoner of Trinity College, Oxford, in 1626, graduated B.A. in 1629, and entered the Middle Temple the same year. On the outbreak of the Civil War he joined the parliamentary army, fought at Edgehill and at Gainsborough in July 1643, was made by Cromwell deputy-governor of the Isle of Ely, and next year served under Manchester in the Yorkshire campaign and at the second battle of Newbury, afterwards supporting Cromwell in his accusations of incompetency against the general. On the night before the battle of Naseby, in June 1645, he succeeded in surprising the Royalist army and captured many prisoners, and 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 after the rout of the enemy which ensued on the successful charge of Cromwell he regained his freedom. He was present at the siege of Bristol in the September following, and took an active part in the subsequent victorious campaign which resulted in the overthrow of the royal cause. On the 30th of October 1645 Ireton entered parliament as member for Appleby, and while occupied with the siege of Oxford he was, on the 15th of June 1646, married to Bridget, daughter of Oliver Cromwell. This union brought Ireton into still closer connexion with Cromwell, with whose career he was now more completely identified. But while Cromwell's policy was practically limited to making the best of the present situation, and was generally inclined to compromise, Ireton's attitude was based on well-grounded principles of statesmanship. He was opposed to the destructive schemes of the extreme party, disliked especially the abstract and unpractical theories of the Republicans and the Levellers, and desired, while modifying their mutual powers, to retain the constitution of King, Lords and Commons. He urged these views in the negotiations of the army with the 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." He endeavoured to prevent the breach between the army and the parliament, but when the division became inevitable took the side of the former. He persevered in supporting the negotiations with the king till his action aroused great suspicion and unpopularity. He became at length convinced of the hopelessness of dealing with Charles, and after the king's flight to the Isle of Wight 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 Kent and Essex, and was responsible for the executions of Lucas and Lisle at Colchester. After the rejection by the king of the last offers of the army, he showed special zeal in bringing about his trial, was one of the chief promoters of "Pride's Purge," attended the court regularly, and signed the death-warrant. The regiment of Ireton having been chosen by lot to accompany Cromwell in his Irish campaign, Ireton was appointed major-general; and on the recall of his chief to take the command in Scotland, he remained with the title and powers of lord-deputy to complete Cromwell's work of reduction and replantation. This he proceeded to do with his usual energy, and as much by the severity of his methods of punishment as by his military skill was rapidly bringing his task to a close, when he died on the 26th of November 1651 of fever after the capture of Limerick. His loss "struck a great sadness into Cromwell," and perhaps there was no one of the parliamentary leaders who could have been less spared,, for while he possessed very high abilities as a soldier, and great political penetration and insight, he resembled in stern unflinchingness of purpose the protector himself. By his wife, Bridget Cromwell, who married afterwards General Charles Fleetwood, Ireton left one son and three daughters.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Article by C. H. Firth in Diet. of Nat. Biog. with authorities there quoted; Wood's Ath. Oxon. iii 298, and Fasti, i. 451; Cornelius Brown's Lives of Notts Worthies, 181; Clarke Papers published by Camden Society; Gardiner's History of the Civil War and of the Commonwealth.


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