THE RAISING OF THE REGIMENT AND IT'S FIRST BATTLES

The Battles of The Boyne, Athlone and Aghrim Hill

In 1688 William had landed at Brixham and with his English and Dutch supporters marched inland unopposed to Exeter.

He there issued 3 new commissions for raising new Regiments.

One of these new commissions went to Sir Robert Peyton, dated November 10th 1688, making him the first Colonel of our Regiment.

Sir Robert Peyton (who was born just 10 miles from where I live in Cambridgeshire) was at that time a soldier of fortune, selling his military skills to whatever flag paid the most.

Peyton had been notorious for changing sides and for getting into scrapes ever since 1670, when he was knighted by Charles 11, yet in 1679, just 9 years later he was spending a year in the Tower accused of Treason!

He was a member of the House of Commons for a time, until his exploits with an infamous lady of the night led to his expulsion.

Peyton was expelled from the House by the Speaker, so Peyton promptly challenged the Speaker to a duel.

For this bravado he was sent back to the Tower.

By 1684 it became too hot for Peyton in England and he fled to Holland and became an outlaw, his lands and property were confiscated.

Even in Holland he was far from safe, as a group of English officers in the service of the Dutch tried to kidnap him to England.

All this led Peyton to have a strong sense of being wronged and he saw his only chance of getting vengeance was to overthrow the Stuarts and to join William, William accepted his offer of service and made Peyton a Colonel in September 1688.

Peyton was limited by William to raise 6 Companies and was instructed to enlist," None but the best"

It was therefore an honor to be chosen, and our new Regiment was formed and given the title "The East Devonshire Regiment of Foot", reflecting the area of it's birthplace.

(Note:- No mention of XX yet, this would come later)

In January 1678 a clerk in Chancery laid a complaint that Peyton had first challenged him to a duel, and then dealt him blows about the head with a heavy cane for praising the Cavaliers, adding 'the deponent goes in fear of his life or some bodily harm to be done him by the said Sir Robert, he being, as the deponent is informed by several persons, a very desperate and unruly man, who often gets drunk and beats those he meets with, though not provoked'.

Peyton was returned unopposed for Middlesex in February 1679, and presented with instructions to work for measures to ease Protestant dissenters by a group of freeholders, to which he replied 'he would do what service he could therein and in anything else, and called for a cup of sack and drank the King's health to them'. Classed as 'honest' by Shaftesbury, he was a very active Member of the first Exclusion Parliament. He was appointed to 41 committees, including the committee of elections and privileges, made four recorded speeches, and twice acted as teller. In March he took the chair of the committee on the bill for Danby's attainder, which he carried to the Lords. He was appointed to the committees to examine the disbandment accounts, to extend habeas corpus, to regulate parliamentary elections, to prevent drunkenness and swearing, and to secure the kingdom against the danger of Popery. He described Danby as defending himself 'like a cunning gamester and dodger', and accused Lauderdale of hindering the printing of Coleman's letters in Scotland. He took the chair of the committee to draw up an address asking for the calling out of the militia in Middlesex, London, Westminster and Southwark during the trials of the Popish lords to prevent Papists from fomenting disorders. He was appointed to the committee to bring in the exclusion bill, moved the second reading on 21 May, and acted as teller. On 23 May he said that (Sir) Stephen Fox had receipts from the persons to whom secret service pensions had been paid, and he was one of the three Members sent by the House to collect Fox's papers.

On their way to the Middlesex election in the autumn Lord Grey of Warke and Peyton appear to have deliberately courted a clash with a regular unit of musketeers at Smithfield. At the poll he finished second to Sir William Roberts, but after the 'Meal-Tub Plot' in November it was revealed that he had sought a reconciliation with the Duke of York through Mrs Cellier, the Popish midwife, and the astrologer Gadbury, who told the Privy Council that Peyton had wanted the governorship of Portsmouth or the lieutenancy of the Tower as the price of coming over to the Court.

Peyton explained his relationship with Mrs Cellier by saying 'she was a good bawd and, maybe, could procure', and he had apparently consulted Gadbury to have his fortune told. Lord Peterborough, a more reliable witness, confirmed the secret negotiations with the Duke. Peyton was in financial difficulties at this time; his estate was heavily mortgaged, and by September the balance of his account with Sir Robert Clayton had fallen from £1,126 in the previous year to £1 12s.6d. The Opposition now heaped abuse on Peyton, suspecting that his violent remarks against the Duke had been those of an agent provocateur, and that he had all along spied on his associates. The Green Ribbon Club, to which he had introduced the informer Dangerfield, now expelled him, and paid £100 to have him burnt in effigy, along with the Pope, on Queen Elizabeth's birthday. In later depositions, Gadbury and Mrs Cellier testified that Peyton had told them 'he would have been at the head of 20,000 to oppose the Duke's title' had the King died during his illness at Windsor in September, but this was thought to have been a mere boast 'to set a value on his interest and service' in coming to terms with the Duke. On 9 Jan. 1680 Peyton was sent to the Tower on a charge of high treason. He was granted bail on 10 Feb., and discharged on 24 May. When Parliament met in October, Dangerfield accused Peyton at the bar of the House of complicity in the 'Meal-Tub Plot', and Roberts took the chair of a committee to investigate his conduct. In his own defence, Peyton denied any knowledge of the Plot, and declared he had told the Duke of York 'that I was for the bill of exclusion not for any pique against him, but for the good of the nation. ... In waiting on the Duke I aimed at no more than a personal reconciliation'. He added that the Duke had offered to have him restored to the Middlesex commission of the peace, but he had refused unless those turned out with him were restored too. The House, however, agreed with (Sir) Thomas Lee I that Peyton had made a 'thorough bargain with the Duke', and voted without a division to expel him. He had taken no other part in the proceedings of the second Exclusion Parliament. He is said to have remarked: 'Hang the King, if he cannot protect me from the Parliament'. The Duke of York later wrote that Peyton could not be saved from the anger of the House as 'the ever having been his [the Duke's] friend was in their acceptation like the irremissible sin against the Holy Ghost'. In February 1681, a speech was published purporting to be that of the Speaker, William Williams, on expelling Peyton:

I cannot call you fallen angel, for you have been a devil from the beginning, and to bring your diabolical purpose to pass, you have consulted the Devil, Gadbury, and hugged the witch Cellier, and have been a true hypocrite, and played a prize with religion for advantage. But why should I say religion, when you never had any, but were ever a profuse rolling hero, having nothing now left you but the shape of a man, whereby you are become nauseous to this House, and therefore they now spew you out.
Peyton thereupon went to Williams's chamber, demanding a public disavowal of this printed speech, and upon Williams's refusal, challenged him to a duel. For this, Peyton was sent to the Tower, but he was discharged on bail in May following as no charges had been brought against him. An opposition pamphlet, published before the 1681 election, warned the freeholders of Middlesex never again to trust the defence of the Protestant religion to 'an atheist and a notorious debauchee', and Peyton naturally did not stand.6

Peyton was brought before the Council after the Rye House Plot. Evidence was offered that he had called the fanatics 'a parcel of cowardly rogues'. It was said he had no interest, but that they should know he could raise 500 horse. He was discharged on 11 July 1683, and no further action was taken against him. In 1685 Lord Grey of Warke and Richard Goodenough gave evidence that Peyton had undertaken to foment a rising in the City as soon as Monmouth landed.

He fled to Holland, and was outlawed for high treason. When proceedings began for the disposal of his estate, including East Barnet and his house in Lincoln's Inn Fields, he applied for a pardon, but was required to make a full discovery of what he knew of the Monmouth rebellion. He used the respite to settle all his property on his son Craven, in the belief that this would preserve it from forfeiture. The pardon was refused, and Bevil Skelton, James's representative with the States General, attempted to kidnap Peyton in Rotterdam, with the assistance of several British officers in the Dutch army, and carry him back to England on the royal yacht. Peyton, however, who had safeguarded himself from extradition by becoming a burgher of Amsterdam, was freed by the Dutch mob, enraged by this assault on one of their citizens. Peyton's estates were granted by the King to others (though some were so encumbered as to be valueless), leaving only the Yorkshire manor of Hauxwell to his son as 'a small competency'.7

Peyton took part in William of Orange's invasion of England and was commissioned colonel of foot. At the general election of 1689 he stood unsuccessfully for Middlesex. Three months later he obtained the reversal of his sentence of outlawry in King's bench, and recovered possession of his London house. He died on 3 May of a fever two days after drinking bad claret.

In his will, dated the day before his death, he left two sums of £1,200 each to two women and £500 to a third to be paid to them personally, not to their husbands. He was 'interred with great splendor, but his son assisting at the funeral had the ill fortune to be arrested', though he must have come to terms with his creditors, as he sat for Boroughbridge under Queen Anne.

So, a man who courted danger, liked a drink and female company, and was not averse to a bit of physical violence when he felt it necessary.

Sounds like an LF to me!

Tomorrow I will write about our next Colonel, a very different character, one Gustavos Hamilton, who was to lead us for the next 7 years and into our baptism of fire at the Boyne.

The first thing that Hamilton, the new Colonel, had to do was to "Join the Army", that is, to settle down to the life and customs of the standing Army at a time when they were hardly as yet formed.

Parliament passed "The Mutiny Act" in 1689, passing the funding of the Army from the shoulders of the Monarch to the Parliament.

Regiments belonged to their Colonel to a degree which could not be comprehended today.

The Colonel issued commissions to his subordinate officers, there were often sold and the cash raised became a "Perk" of the job for the Colonel.

Officers not only had to pay for their commission, they also had to pay a fee to the Secretary for War, another fee to the Secretary of state and a further 5% plus one days pay to the upkeep of the Hospital at Chelsea.

Williams's regiments were single battalion units in which the Colonel was a God like figure.

Because the Regiment was practically his property, the whole of it's economy, as well as it's discipline, was in his hands.

The appearance of a Regiment provided a quick, usually accurate, guide to it's Colonels character, for clothing was his responsibility.

Some would withhold pay from the meager eight pence a day pay a soldier got, and then clothe the men in cast off's from other Regiments.

However, many would spend their own money ensuring that their men looked splendid on parade.

Hamilton had a full establishment at this time of 12 Companies, and an extra Company of Grenadiers.

The Grenadiers in the Regiment quickly became known as the elite, deriving their name from the round hand grenades,2 inches in diameter and set off by a burning fuse ( hence our cap badge).

Hamilton's Regiment soon acquired a category which was to set it apart from the bulk of the Army and which survives in our present title.

Matchlock rifles were being replaced by Flintlock rifles, and the French word for a flint was a "Fusil"

In close proximity fighting, it had been found that the slow match or piece of burning rope used to ignite a Matchlock would bring great danger if brought too close to the open casks of powder used by the Artillery.

The first purpose of introducing special formations armed with Fusils was to act in close support of the Artillery, to protect the Gunners without endangering them.

Only a small number of Regiments were chosen for this special duty, they were later to find immortal fame as the Fighting 5th,The 7th,The XX, The 21st, The 23rd and the 27th of Foot.

The Regiment then was taking shape and learning it's job, the men were dressed in Scarlet, the facings were of yellow ( possibly as a compliment to William of Orange)
Except for the Grenadier Company, they all wore three cornered hats.
(The Fusiliers bearskin was still some years off).

The spiritual symbol of the Regiment was ( and still is) the Colours.

Six feet wide and a little longer in length, they were borne at the Regiments head until it reached the field of battle, when they were positioned in the centre, waving above the smoke to provide a rallying point, or to make a charge.

On these Colours were to be embroidered the honours which our new Regiment was about to win.

Tomorrow, encamped in the garrison at Carrickfergus, making ready for the march on Dublin.

Just 10 months after formation, Hamilton's Regiment crossed the sea for the first time and with six other Regiments joined Williams's main force, already in place there.

The Regiments were numbered off in the order in which they disembarked and Hamilton's Regiment were deemed to be the 20th of Foot to do so.

The winter was very harsh in 1669/70 and the 20th ( XX ) had already lost 200 men to sickness and cold by the time the King came to Carrickfergus to oversee the next phase of the war.

The Orange forces and the Jacobite forces were of roughly the same strength, but the quality of the Orange was much higher, having been training for 10 months.

This slight advantage in quality of training and equipment was offset by the excellent position which the Jacobites had chosen to fight from.

They had grouped on the South side of the River Boyne, barring the way to Dublin.

When Williams's columns descended into the Boyne valley, he must have wondered how his new Regiments would behave under fire, a situation which can never be simulated in training.

Both sides began a cannonade as the Orangemen came into range.

William ordered the XX and other unblooded Regiments to move forward and to stand in full view of the enemy for some hours!

At length he was satisfied and announced" All is right, they stand fire well"

(Poor bloody Infantry----Editor)

The Battle of the Boyne was about to become a Protestant legend.

Dawn rose on the 1st July on a golden summer's day.
Both Armies were stood to at 0400 hrs.

The seasoned Dutch Regiments were drawn up facing the ford at Oldbridge.
The first line of battle was composed of well seasoned experienced troops, with the younger formations behind them in the second line.
Thus the XX found itself Brigaded with 2 others at about the centre of this second line.

Because of the similarity between the uniforms of the 2 sides, the Jacobites wore white flashes (the colour of the Stuart cockade)in their hats.
The Orangemen wore green twigs in theirs.

After an hour of pounding by the cannons, William gave orders for the advance, to the sound of fife and drum, with William himself leading the cavalry on the left flank.
(He had been slightly wounded in the Recce)

The Dutch entered the river at the ford at Oldbridge and were soon up to their waist in water.

From this difficult position, they gave and received fire, being only temporarily halted by the cavalry charges of the Jacobites.

The whole Orange line then pushed forward and began to gain a foothold on the far bank.

The Jacobites made one last determined charge against the centre, which was beaten off, at which the Jacobites wavered and then began to fall back.

The Jacobite cavalry and in particular the French Infantry fighting with them, made valiant efforts, and probably saved the Jacobites from a rout and massacre.

Once James realized that the Orange forces had established themselves on his side of the river, he probably knew that the game was up, and he quit the field.

It was good for the XX to begin it's career in a triumph.

The significance of the Boyne was so profound that when, in later life, Hamilton was raised to the Peerage, he took the title Viscount Boyne.

1691 saw the XX drawn up before Athlone, on the Leinster side of the Shannon.

The town straddled both banks of the Shannon, connected by a stone bridge.

The struggle for this bridge would be stern and prolonged, and the XX were chosen to be the Regiment to capture it by fording the river and outflanking the bridge defenders.

Having tasted their first battle, 1691 would prove to be a much sterner test for the XX.

Williams army arrived outside Athlone on the 19th June 1691.

Then town straddled the river Shannon, and each side of the river was known by a different name, the "English" side of the town being in Leinster and the "Irish" side of the town across the river.

A substantial stone bridge connected the two.

It is not know why, but for some reason the English side of the town had not been fortified, therefore the fortifications of this side were soon breached by William's army and the Irish defenders driven out by a swift assault.

A much more formidable task now lay ahead, how to cross the river?

The bridge became the focus of the struggle and was stern and prolonged.

An old Millhouse on the bridge was set alight and sixty Irish soldiers burned alive inside.
All attempts to get over the bridge failed, arch by arch the English troops fought their way onto the bridge, but the defenders were constantly being reinforced by fresh Jacobite soldiers and the defenders fought very fiercely to prevent William crossing.

Something different had to be tried.

The XX were chosen to lead a force of some 2,000 Grenadiers and other picked men to try and ford the river and to assault the bridge from the far side.

This was in the full face of the enemy artillery and musketry.

They donned the green twigs in their hats as before and waited for the signal, which was the tolling of a church bell.

Colonel Hamilton was the first to enter the water and the XX led the force across the ford where the XX led a fierce single charge with a withering volley of fire.

The Irish were taken by surprise and although they made repeated counter attacks they were unable to prevent the English Grenadiers from laying planks across the broken arches of the bridge, across which the main army poured across and into the town.

This was an amazing feat of arms, with the loss of just 12 English lives; the town of Athlone was now in English hands.

July 12th would see the XX outside Aghrim Hill, but now, with their growing reputation, they would be in the front line, and indeed in the place of honour on the right of the line.
(Much later, in our time you will recall that the company chosen to be the Honour Guard to the Colours always paraded on the right of the Battalion when drawn up)

So far, Hamilton's XX had enjoyed a sequence of successes at a fairly low cost, having lost far more men to disease and hardship than to the enemy actions.

It was now to learn what a ding dong battle was like and to face an uncertain outcome.

The village of Aghrim was garrisoned by a French Commander who ,realizing that the English would soon be arriving, managed to whip up a great deal of enthusiasm for fighting amongst his Irish soldiers by appeals to their religious fervor.

He awaited the arrival of the Orange forces by positioning the Irish on top of Aghrim hill, fortifying the old castle on top and almost completely surrounded by bogs.

The Orange army arrived before this hill early in the morning of 12 July, but the mist rising from the bog was so thick that it prevented the opposing forces from seeing each other.

It was indicative of the growing reputation of the XX that they were given the place of honour in the line of battle, in the front and right of the line.

At 1630 hrs, the English left flank began the advance and fought bitterly for over 2 hours without too much to show for it.

The centre of the Orange line was then sent forward, consisting of six infantry regiments, wading through the deep bog.

Despite the bog, they were so successful that when they emerged onto solid ground, they pushed on, without being given an order to do so, and without support.

This proved very costly, and they were exposed to a merciless fire and to masses of Irish cavalry.

Fighting desperately, they were forced back into the bog, leaving their dead piled behind them.

This area is still known today as "Bloody Hollow"

On the left, the attack had ground to a halt,exhausted,the infantry on the right had been checked and were at a standstill, the centre was in dire danger of being over run.

It seemed that victory this time must go to the Irish, with every chance of a disaster for the Orange army.

In this crisis, the Dutch General commanding the Orange army showed himself to be a cool commander.

He hurried forward cavalry to support the hard pressed right and ordered Hamilton's XX and the Queens Regiment of Foot to return to the attack and to regain the lost ground.

The English horse with great daring swung out towards the Irish rear, crossing a stream only 2 abreast.

The defending French General watching this unlikely formation ,asked in amazement what they could be doing.

He soon got his answer.
The cavalry charged the defending Irish in the flank whilst at the same time the XX obtained a lodgment in the castle and poured a deadly fire into it.

This eased the pressure on the English centre, and they seized the opportunity to counter attack also.

At about this time, ammunition began to run low in the Irish Army.

First their centre began to fall back,then the castle defenders surrendered, and defeat became a rout.

The Jacobites fled from the field under cover of night and rain.

The victory had been hard earned.
The Irish had lost 7,000 men.

The English lost 1,000 killed and 1,200 wounded.

Hamilton's XX had lost one Officer and 9 men killed and 45 wounded.

It was not in the tally of dead and wounded where the special ordeal and triumph of the XX may be found however, it was in the quality discerned by the Reverend Mr. Story, a chaplain with the Orange army.

He wrote the best account of the battle and in his account said the following:-

The XX and the 19th of Foot marched boldly up to their old ground again, from which they had been lately beat.
It is observable that it is natural for the English to be commonly fiercer and bolder after being repulsed than before, and that what blunts the courage of other nations, only seems to sharpen theirs, especially the killing of their fellow soldiers before their faces.

The Regiment had faced a stern test in Ireland and had come through it proudly.

They remained on duty in Ireland until 1702, when they were detailed off for what was known as "Sea Duty"

What an adventure; the duty comprised a combination of the functions of Royal Marines aboard ship and colonial garrisons ashore, plus dealing with any awkward enterprise which might crop up en route.

As usual, the XX made news again.

On the eve of the 609 men of the XX sailing, the numbers had to be reduced to 608, as one of the men was discovered to be a woman in disguise.

A good try by one (or more) of our lads!

Summerised by
Joe Eastwood
22 August 2012