1500-1799 | Battlefield butchery | Civilians slaughtered | Looting and plunder

Cromwell’s troops massacre all but ‘a very few’ of the inhabitants of Wexford

Oliver Cromwell c. 1649 –
Oil on canvas -Robert Walker – NPG 536.

11 October 1649

Today in 1649, the inhabitants of Wexford were massacred by British troops. One month earlier [ 11 September 1649 ] Oliver Cromwell, commanding British parliamentary forces in Ireland, had ordered his soldiers to offer no quarter to the royalist garrison at Drogheda, and had slaughtered almost all those who had surrendered, along with many of the town’s inhabitants. His army had then struck south towards the coastal town of Wexford, from where ships had been harassing his supply lines. Cromwell arrived at the head of 9,000 soldiers on 1 October and on 11th, his artillery breached the medieval walls. Three days later he informed William Lenthall, speaker of parliament, that his men had ‘put all to the sword that came in their way,’ and that ‘there was lost of the enemy not many less than two thousand; and I believe not twenty of yours killed from first to last of the siege.’1

The surviving inhabitants later attested in a petition that Cromwell’s forces had murdered all of them, except for a ‘very few.’2 Seven Franciscan priests, one of them blind, were among those killed.3 Cromwell had no qualms about the bloodbath, reasoning that it must have been God who had ‘brought a righteous judgement upon them causing them to become prey to the soldier.’4 He was, however, perturbed to learn that his men had also looted all they could lay their hands on including many basic provisions, so much so that he felt unable to use the port as a winter base.5

FOOTNOTES

  1. Cromwell to Lenthall cited in Micheál Ó Siochrú, God’s Executioner: Oliver Cromwell and the Conquest of Ireland, Faber and Faber, London, 2009. p. 97 and Thomas Carlyle, Oliver Cromwell’s Letters and Speeches, in four volumes, Volume II, Chapman and Hall, London, 1845, p. 77.
  2. Micheál Ó Siochrú  op. cit., p. 97.
  3. Nicholas Furlong, A History of Wexford, Gill and Macmillan, 2003 and Benignus Millett, The Irish Franciscans, 1651-1665, Gregorian University Press, Rome, 1964 p. 539.
  4. Thomas Carlyle, Oliver Cromwell’s Letters and Speeches, in four volumes, Volume II, Chapman and Hall, London, 1845, p. 77.
  5. Micheal O Siochru, op. cit., p. 97 and Antonia Fraser, Cromwell: Our Chief of Men, Phoenix, London, 2004.

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