As threatened, or possibly promised, this is a bit more of a review type thing of
O'Neill, J., The Nine Years War 1593-1603: O'Neill, Mountjoy and the Military Revolution (Dublin: Four Courts, 2017).
I have already ruminated on the first chapter, the introduction, and why military history is regarded, at best, as an irrelevance and, at worst, with some hostility by the historical academy. This is just something that, as wargamers, amateur military historians or whatever we just have to live with. It must be a little harder if you are actually an academic military historian.
The bulk of the book is concerned with developing a narrative and explanation of the Nine Years War, or Tyrone rebellion. Quite a lot of this is a narrative of the wars, with some analysis thrown in along the way. For example, Tyrone’s strategy is both narrated and explained. Instead of seeking the glory of combat in battle (as, say, Essex did), he sought to win the war. This included misdirecting the English armies as to where he was going to strike. A minor attack was put in, the English sent a relief or punitive expedition, and Tyrone struck elsewhere with his main force. It took the English a significant amount of time to get their heads around this.
O’Neill suggests that this intellectual tardiness by the English high command was due to the fact that Tyrone was fighting a very different kind of war. Instead of a rebellion, to try to cast off the foreign yoke, obtain better conditions or settle grievances, Tyrone was trying to unite Ireland and change sovereignty from Elizabeth of England to Phillip of Spain. Therefore he needed the support of a wider section of Irish society than previous rebellions had even imagined.
As with earlier conflicts on the European scene, a lot of the subsequent action revolved around ‘good lordship’, that is, the ability of the over-lord to protect his minions. If it was shown that the English could not protect their allied Irish lords, then those lords were likely, by ‘choice’ or coercion, to defect to Tyrone. By 1599, due to a fair bit of English ineptitude, Tyrone’s strategy and cunning, and a bit of support from Spain and Scottish merchants selling gunpowder, Tyrone had control of more or less all of Ireland. English rule, or even presence, seemed to be hanging by a thread.
From Tyrone’s point of view, of course, it all went horribly wrong. By 1603 he had lost, and he was forced to submit to Elizabeth (or, fortunately for him, he in fact submitted to James, who he had never technically rebelled against. How did this happen?
The answer seems to lie in two or three factors. Firstly, English logistical might was deployed against Tyrone. England is simply a bigger country with a bigger population. Ireland was already showing the strain of a lengthy war and consequent taxation. When the English government decided to deploy more resources, the Irish had little left to answer with.
Secondly, Mountjoy was a very good viceroy of Ireland and used Irish deception strategy against them. Further, he also used English naval superiority to firstly, interdict the supply of arms and powder from Scotland and Spain, and secondly to mount seaborne operations against Tyrone’s heartlands in Ulster. Up to that point, Ulster had been a fairly secure base from which Tyrone could operate. While in previous years the English had considered and planned operations by sea, it was only in 1600 that they got around to it. Tyrone had to divert resources to defend his own lands, something which in previous years he had forced to English to do.
The third factor was Spanish support. This was often promised and even organised but had not arrived in significant quantities. While contact with Spain, initially through shipwrecked officers from Armada ships in 1588 had assisted in Tyrone’s rebellion and given modern training to Irish troops, subsequent support had been rather in dribs and drabs – gunpowder, arms, bishops and diplomacy, plus a few military officers. In 1601 the Spanish landed at Kinsale in some force and were besieged by the English. As we know, Tyrone’s relieving army was defeated, the Spanish surrendered and Tyrone’s victorious mystique was shattered.
O’Neill considers the war in a broader context. Firstly, he notes that it was not much more ferocious than comparable European wars. The main point of reference is the Dutch revolt; after all, the Dutch were attempting to changing monarch as well, although they did not have a strong a candidate for the new monarch as Tyrone. That war was one of small-scale actions, ambushes and raiding, as well. The damage caused and civilian casualties were comparable. O’Neill detects little in the way of religious or ethnic hatred in the Tyrone wars.
Secondly, O’Neill considers that Tyrone had militarily revolutionised to Irish troops by 1593. One or two initial actions, admittedly, involved traditional gallowglass and kern troops, but O’Neill considers that this was deception by Tyrone, to conceal how modernised his main army in fact was. Tyrone’s army was a shot heavy pike and shot army of the period, although, with reference to the enemy and terrain, there were some differences.
The main difference between the English and Irish was in terms of pike. The English used pike conventionally, and an armoured strike force. The Irish used pike defensively, in a rather looser order, to counter the English cavalry. Most of the fighting by the Irish was done by shot, skirmishing in small groups; keeping up what I suppose could be called a heavy harassing fire on English troop concentrations.
Irish horse do not seem to have been ‘modernised’, for rather unclear reasons, possibly related to their more noble status and Tyrone’s proportionately lower influence over them. They adopted pistols but were still not a match for their English counterparts. The only troops Tyrone really feared was the English demi-lancer. Hence the deployment of Irish pike.
How would I summarise this? It is a good book, and I recommend anyone interested to read it. However, be warned: for me, it took more or less everything I thought I knew about the Tyrone rebellion and turned it on its head. And now I have to find some loose order pike to create by Irish army….