Cromwell left for Ireland late in the spring of 1646. In Cromwells absence from Parliament, the MP's were not idle. Several new reforms were established, including the standardization of weights and measures, Church Taxation policies, and most importantly, the creation of a new position within the Church of England; The Superintendent Act. The Superintendents would take the place of the Bishops of the Anglican Church, with only the Parliament allowed to select and place them. Following the act, numerous Superintendent positions were appointed by joint agreement with Parliament and the Godly Group. It was one step closer to a Puritan dominated Anglican Church.
Across the Atlantic Ocean, Parliament sent envoys to reconsolidate their control over the New England colonies. During the Civil War, many colonial charters suffered and fell into insolvency. With the Civil Wars end, Parliament put renewed focus into the massive potential of the East India Company, letting New England suffer further. Eventually, with English support and limited financing, the East India Company purchased colonial land in Virginia and throughout New England.
With future military strategy in mind, English Parliament accepted two new colonial ventures, with English colonists making their way deep into the Caribbean along the Mosquitos Coast, creating the Fort Bluefields, and claiming fishing villages on the Epekwitk Island, virtually within France's sphere of influence. France, occupied with the internal struggles of the Wars of Religion, a long war against the Netherlands, and a new colony called "Louisiana", named in honour of their King Louis, paid little attention to the establishments in the Gulf of St. Laurence, and were in no position to offer anything more than a formal protest.
France was still Englands greatest threat and greatest enemy. With the instability in France, it seemed a gentle push could bring the nation to her knee's. Parliament put together legislation authorizing assistance to the Puritan Reformed population in France. France was still struggling with suppressing the Huguenot rebellion, and the English Puritans were eager to aid their brothers in faith against their great rival. Money and military supplies were shipped to France, with the intention of arming the Huguenots and giving them the upper hand in the decades long war of religion in France.
It was early in summer when Cromwell made landfall in Ireland. News of his arrival sent shudders down the spines of Dubliners, and a shock through the local communities of the Pale. The Confederates had caught word earlier, and were already struggling to re-double their efforts and prepare for the inevitable conflict. They needed to take advantage of the time offered while Cromwell made preparations.
If it was believed in the minds of the Irish Confederates that Cromwell was only dispatched to Ireland to end the Rebellion, that fantasy would quickly be eased from their minds.
Duke Butler met with Cromwell briefly upon his arrival. Butler was a Royalist commander, and officially the Head of State of Ireland, but was willing to surrender the city, and himself, in return for his guaranteed safety and safe return for him and his family to London. While Butler waved a farewell to Dublin from the deck of a hired merchant ship, setting sail for the England, Cromwell began taking control.
His first task would be consolidation and law. Strict rules were passed among his army, preventing them from taking any stern action among the townsfolk. Cromwell demanded that no supplies were to be seized from the civilian inhabitants and that everything should be fairly purchased; "I do hereby warn....all Officers, Soldiers and others under my command not to do any wrong or violence toward Country People or any persons whatsoever, unless they be actually in arms or office with the enemy.....as they shall answer to the contrary at their utmost peril." Before Cromwell had been in Dublin a week, several English soldiers were hanged for disobeying these orders. It can be noted, however, that Dublin had long since had the Catholics expelled, and was one of the few slivers of Protestantism on the Emerald Isle.
In addition to preparing his army, Cromwells final steps in Dublin, and throughout Meath, would be securing stable supply. Cromwell knew the campaigning season would be short, and without the ability to forage for food, supply ports from England needed to be secured. Aside from Dublin, there were few East Coast ports in Parliaments control. Royalist holdouts and Irish Confederates held almost every village and town outside of Dublin, and Ulster was blanketed by their forces.
On his march northward, Cromwell would first approach the coastal city of Drogheda.
With sixteen thousand men, and eleven forty-eight pounders, Cromwell approached the southern gates, his forces concentrated for a quick breach, and a quick assault. Time was of the essence, and Cromwell did not want the capture of this, or any of the other port towns, to take a weeks time each. His army settled in, but were tense and taut. Like a bowstring pulled back to breaking, they were ready for battle. Cromwell sent an order of Surrender to the cities Royalist governor, Arthur Aston. It was refused. Outraged, Cromwell ordered an immediate assault.
Drogheda was two things to Cromwell. One, it was an essential supply port that needed rapid acquisition. Two, it was a message. Not just to the Irish Confederates, but to the King, and to the dissenters and non-puritans in his own Parliament. Those who oppose his righteous mission, will be destroyed. Those who associate with his greatest enemy, the Catholics, will be driven from the earth with vengeance and hellfire. Cromwell made it clear that he was not to be taken lightly.
News of the sacking of Drogheda had the intended result. All opposing towns surrendered immediately. Cromwells victory in the Pale was so complete and so profound, the Confederates began urgently drafting terms to the Parliament to prevent further bloodshed. Cromwell heard these demands, and his counter-proposal was simple, and outrageous. Cromwell demanded total surrender, the revocation of all Catholic held land to Parliament and the imprisonment of every man in the General Assembly and Supreme Council. The Confederates would obviously refuse, and Cromwell would begin his march. The entire force of the Confederates was massed in Ulster, besieging the last of the Protestant held towns in the north. Should Cromwell achieve victory there, all of Ireland would be his for the taking.
In Ulster, the Confederates stood nearly ten thousand strong; weaker in numbers to Cromwells sixteen. News of the Parliamentary armies approach would reach the Confederate force several days earlier, and they would collapse from the siege of Daire (Londonderry to the English), rapidly deploying a perimeter defensive line in the tall grasses and hills, safely on the western banks of the River Foyle. To the south of Londonderry, the mighty river was thin, shallow, and fordable. The Confederates knew Cromwell would come by this route. There they would wait. No Parliamentary scouts came. No emissaries of peace were dispatched.
The Confederates would only have to wait a few days. Cromwell was still keen for rapid and total victory, and his men marched long and hard. When the Parliamentary army neared the river, the Autumn sun was setting. Cromwell had no desire to wait for morning. He had no stomach to play the games the noble royalists played before getting on with the bloody business they were gathered for. There would be no terms, and there would be no respite from the black of the night.
Each of Cromwells men held a blazing lantern to light their approach to the fields of battle, slithering forward like a serpent of flame as the thick blanket of night slowly draped itself over Ireland. Cromwell couldn't see his enemy hiding in the tall, dry grasses, but he knew where they were hiding. It was of little concern where they cowered in their holes, he thought. His goal was fear. He ordered artillery fire, caring little where the shelling broke ground. The Army of God would march to the thunder of guns.
The shelling crashed into the earth across the river Foyle, some shells hitting targets, others merely exploding in a ball of flame well away from the enemy, harmlessly lighting the dray grasses alight. As was his style Cromwell led his men from the front. His cavalry and infantry were tightly packed, shoulder to shoulder and knee to knee. The first volley of Confederate musketfire burst from the hills, ripping into the Parliamentary line. So tightly packed, those men that caught the bullets didn't even appear to fall. A second volley burst from the hills, striking into the approaching army. To the Confederates eyes, darkened by the black of the night, the invincible army of Cromwell seemed to merely shrug the musketfire off like the annoying bites of mosquitos. Unrelenting, the parliamentary army marched to the banks of the river Foyle, unyielding, and unceasing.
As they marched, Cromwells army recited psalms:
"Blessed be the Lord my strength, which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight. My goodness, and my fortress; my high tower, and my deliverer; my shield, and he in whom I trust; who subdueth my people under me. Lord, what is man, that thou takest knowledge of him! or the son of man, that thou makest account of him! Man is like to vanity: his days are as a shadow that passeth away. Bow thy heavens, O LORD, and come down: touch the mountains, and they shall smoke. Cast forth lightning, and scatter them: shoot out thine arrows, and destroy them." - Psalms 144:1-6
With the hooves of Cromwells cavalry splashing into the river, the forward infantry let out a mighty yell, and hurled their lanterns. It was a dry September, and with a long, warm summer, the grass burst with flame and smoke. The commanders of the Irish Confederates panicked, ordering their forward lines to fire at will. The flames were blinding in the dark of night, and the smoke began pouring over the field, a sooty grey cloud that blocked out the moon, and cast shadows through the night, the shapes of men dancing in flame, towering from the earth to the sky. More lanterns were thrown as more infantry approached. The Irishmen fired wildly into the smoke and fire, not knowing if a single shot had hit their mark. Only the fire, the smoke, the thunder of guns and the load shouting of Psalms gave any indication as to where Cromwells men were marching.
Then the gates of hell opened. Through the fire and smoke the Parliamentary cavalry broke forth, shrouded in the grey ash, swords held high. The horses, disciplined and trained, soaked wet from the river crossing, had little fear of the flame. To the flanks, the infantry thundered hurrahs and unleashed an unrelenting stagger of musket fire. The Irishmen, brave against the mightiest of foes, cracked, crumbled, and in the darkness, fled. There was no mercy, and Cromwell had no desire to feed and care for thousands of Catholic prisoners. To a man, the Irish Confederate army was destroyed.
Cromwell would spend a week restocking and consolidating his forces in Londonderry. But the war for Ireland was still being fought elsewhere. Before Cromwell had set off for Ireland, he sent orders to General of the Sea Robert Blake. The Irish fleet was an ever present risk, and even with supply ports captured and held, the Irish raiders would prevent steady supply ships from reaching shore. Robert Blake was to have his first test as a naval commander.
In this test, he would pass with flying colours. He split his fleet in half, his subordinate commander, George Ayscue sailing north, and his fleet sailing south through the Irish sea. They didn't engage in combat, preferring to merely chase and harass the Irish ships, pushing them close to the coast, and driving them together. After months of maneuvers and positioning, the Irish navy was forced to commit, clashing with the full force of Robert Blakes naval armada in the Celtic Sea.
It was one sided, and the Irish fleet didn't stand a chance. Nevertheless, it was a heroic victory for Robert Blake. To prove himself, he sailed into the heart of the battle with his own flagship, the George, hunting for the Roisin, flagship of the Irish commander Conchobhar Kavanagh. It was protected by the Orla and the Ciara, and Blake was forced to tangle with the two smaller ships as well. Firing chain shot from forward chase cannons, he kept the masts of the Roison ripped, leaving the Irish flagship stranded. Meanwhile, He would cut hard towards the Ciara, catching her broadsided, and ripping the smaller ship to pieces with the full roar of his ships broadside guns. The Orla turned into Blakes ship, striking near the rudder, and hoping to cripple the George, but Blake saw the strike coming, and his crew was able to pull hard around. The Ciara had already taken the full load of Blakes Port guns, and the Orla would in turn take the starboard.
With the screening ships crippled, Blake drove the George hard at the Roison. He had no intention of sinking the pride of Irelands naval fleet. He ordered his men to prepare for boarding, and once his ship crashed into the side of the Roison, his men charged over. Blake, well versed in the art of single combat and war with a sword and musket, eagerly went over the board with his men, leading them from the deck of the Roison in a quick and bloody assault. By the end, Admiral Kavanagh was dead, and the Roison was captured.
Back on land, Cromwell marched south, facing little to no further opposition. The Irish Confederation was reeling after news of their total defeat trickled south to Kilkenny. Cromwell split his forces, and blanketed all of Ireland in a series of sieges. The Royalist and Irish forces, calling themselves "tóraidhe" or "Tory" to the Englishmen, a word meaning "Pursued Man", would scatter and devote their energy instead to a guerrilla war. The Guerrilla war would drag on for more than a year, amid sieges and conquests of the Irish territory by Cromwell's Parliamentary army. The Tories were effective at destroying supply to Cromwells forces, to the point it was reported that no English convoy was in safety two miles outside of a military base. In response, Cromwell ordered the pillage or destruction of local villages food stocks, and the eviction of civilians assumed to be harbouring the rebels.
The result was widespread famine and disease, including a resurgence of bubonic plague. Large portions of Ireland were declared "Fire Free Zone", where any Irishman found would be assumed a Royalist or Confederate rebel, and would be killed, his belongings and property taken as the spoils of war. The great siege of Ireland and the Guerrilla war lasted nearly six hundred days before the last free Irish fortress surrendered.
With the Supreme Council of the Irish Confederation in chains, they were forced to accept Cromwells terms for peace.
Disease and famine weren't the worst of Irelands troubles in the wake of Cromwell's conquest. In addition to the terms of surrender, Cromwell drafted legislation called the "Settlement Act". The act was designed with the express purpose of utterly destroying Irelands ability to rise in rebellion in the future, and force a total conversion of the land to the "one true faith".
All Catholic held land was seized and given to Englishmen. Swathes of the countryside were granted to Cromwell's closest friends and supporters in Parliament. Large framers and tenements were given to the soldiers of his army as payment for their service. Any Irishman that refused to be evicted was arrested and shipped to the New World colonies. Those that did not resist were forcibly moved to the "Free Irish" lands of Connaught. Called "Transplanters" these "Free Irish" were forced into servitude. None were eligible for military or political service. The act would strip Irish Catholics with all but a sliver of land to call their own. Without a suitable government, an English led Irish Parliament would be established to govern the nation, tied totally to the English Parliament. What became known as the Cromwellian Plantations, The Irish that remained in their homes outside of Connaught were forced into tenement under English lords and soldiers.
The English Parliament was thrilled with the terms of surrender, and eagerly passed the Settlement Act. Some MP's, particularly Royalists, spoke out against the harshness of not only the conquest, but the Settlement Act itself, but they were in minority to the Puritan's that pushed it through. It should be noted that many of those that pushed the act through were also in the greatest position to gain from its implementation.
The atrocities of war, famine, plagues and Settlement Act cost Ireland an estimated 40% of her pre-war population, and left a scar on the Irish people that has never healed.
Cromwell returned to London under mixed reaction. Much of Parliament was thrilled with the subjugation of Ireland, but moderates and Royalists were abhorred by the methods used to acquire it. When some among the Royalist MP's suggested that Cromwell would one day have to pay for his war-crimes, and commented that his New Model Army was stained in the blood of innocent men, Cromwell declared "The stains of blood were acquired completing the righteous crusade of God against the heretics that would see the Three Kingdoms dragged down to the very depths of Hell. If these stains show Englands convictions to truth, God, and justice, than I wear them with pride, and wear them with honour."
Shortly after, Cromwell would redesign the English military uniforms, changing from the traditional blue and grey coats of the old Royalist soldier, to coats of bright red.
When Cromwell arrived in London, the response to Parliaments demands from King Charles was finally presented. It came as a shock, and riled the fury of Oliver Cromwell. Not only did the wretched King Charles refuse Parliaments demands, but the Scottish Covenanters, allies of the Parliament and locked in revolt against the King, had swapped sides, refuting their alliance with Cromwell, and declaring their support for King Charles.
The word from George Monck, stationed in the north near the border with Scotland, reported that Queen Henrietta and her children set sail for France weeks prior, and nearly twenty thousand Scottish soldiers were massed outside of Lothian. The King sent his response to Parliament with his own proclamation. He would submit to a full Parliamentary investigation, and grant extensive reforms of religion and government, but he was unwilling to revoke his powers of state. In favour of his Irish Catholic allies, he also demanded a total repealment of Cromwells Settlement Act in Ireland. The King was willing to bend, but would not be broken.
As a show of Royalist power, Lord Richard Buckingham, sir Benjamin Clarence, and Lord Robert Benbow, all three major members of Parliament, left London for their homes, where rumours of armed levies mustering were reported to Parliament.
Parliament fell into chaotic debate on how to respond to King Charles. Should there finally be peace, or would the Three Kingdoms collapse into a second Civil War.