Disposal of the Dead at the Battle of the Boyne

This work examines the evidence for what happened to the bodies of those killed at the Battle of the Boyne, 1690.

In recent years military historians have increasingly turned to studying alternative aspects of battles other than just their tactics or wider political impact, one perspective that has still been largely ignored is what happened to the bodies of those killed in battle. This work considers a range of primary and secondary sources including eyewitness accounts, pamphlets, diaries, letters, images, illustrations, engravings and photographs. It also draws on archaeology to explore whether a better historical understanding of battle disposal practices has any implications for the interpretation of battle burials.  Local folklore is also considered.

Only a small proportion of battle accounts studied mentioned the disposal of the dead, while of those which do mention the disposal of the dead, many do so incidentally. It is probable that bodies were buried in mass graves near the sites of the major actions of the battle.

Casualties of high status were more likely to be taken for a church burial than lower status individuals. A number of such individuals are considered including the Duke of Schomberg, La Caillemotte, George Walker, Walter Dongan and Sir Niall Ua Néill. A site marked by a stone bearing the inscription “1690”, located near the gate lodge of Oldbridge House, has traditionally been associated with the burial of Schomberg and La Caillemotte but this study proves that any such association is unlikely and it may be, as suggested, a mass burial, but this too is questioned.

No graves of any victims have been uncovered in archaeological investigations carried out in vicinity of the battlefield, although there has been no concerted effort to find gravesites. The sites, where the majority of casualties took place, are identified and this may suggest a research agenda for archaeology in the future.

The disposal of the dead at the Boyne was not a subject of interest for those recording the battle at the time or afterwards.  Today the 1690 stone, to the south of the gate lodge of Oldbridge House is variously described as Schomberg’s grave, or Caillemotte’s grave and has tentatively been identified as a possible mass grave or a site where bodies were re-buried from the battlefield. The stone is situated in the centre of a low hummock of stones and earth, near to the site of the 1690 Oldbridge village. The stone is a small rounded headstone with one side inscribed with the date “1690.” The script on the stone is the same as that on the plaque on the northern side of the gate lodge which also reads “1690”. This would suggest that they are contemporaneous and thus more likely to date from the nineteenth century. An archaeological survey suggested that the results of phosphate, geophysical and metal detecting surveys indicates the possibility that this is a mass human burial. However it could simply indicate human activity.[i]

The initial focus and starting point for any research of this topic has to be the documentary record with an emphasis on accounts from people who were at the battle on the day. Sources examined include eyewitness accounts in the form of letters, biographies, narrative account, diaries, pamphlets, biographies and memoirs. An attempt has been made to locate and list all eyewitness accounts of the battle. These roughly broke down to five narrative accounts, nine diaries, seventeen letters, nine pamphlets, four memoirs and one allegory, making a total of forty five primary sources.

Details of the disposal of the bodies of ordinary participants in the Battle of the Boyne were generally not recorded and not even mentioned in almost all the accounts, both contemporary and secondary. Casualties are mentioned by many sources but the disposal of the dead only mentioned by two. The contemporary writers could have been so familiar with the accepted custom that the bodies were buried, not to specifically mention it. 

Casualties, who had high name recognition, tended to have their burial recorded, although this does not happen in all cases. And in some instances false stories develop with regard to these high status individuals.  Efforts were made in the case of casualties with friends on the battle field to ensure a conventional burial in consecrated grounds, near to their family homes.

Colonel Pierre Massue, Comte de la Caillemotte was mortally wounded near Oldbridge village. The 1690 stone is said to mark his burial site but this is unlikely as he was removed from the battlefield. An illustration from 1842 describes Caillemote’s grave or the ‘General’s Grave”  as being in the shade of two finely grown elm trees close to the gate house of Oldbridge House where the 1690 stones stands now. John D’Alton repeats this comment in his history of Drogheda published in 1844. La Caillemotte was a younger son of Henry de Massue, 1st Marquis de Ruvigny and led a brigade of Huguenot foot soldiers. La Caillemotte was leading his regiment across the Boyne river in the earliest action of the battle when he was shot through the thigh. As he was carried off by four soldiers to the English camp, he encouraged his men to advance, by calling out, “A la gloire, mes enfans, a la gloire!” On the morning after the battle Dumont de Bostaquet visited him in his tent, finding him in peaceful slumber and the surgeon spoke hopefully of the case. At his own request La Caillemotte was removed to Dublin where he died. It would not make sense for his body to be removed from a city with a large number of consecrated burial grounds to be interred in a mass grave on the battlefield. The initial reports received by his family and friends in England were that he was wounded. Lady Russell, his cousin, sent his mother a letter of condolence but does not mention anything about a burial site. John Evelyn went to visit Caillemotte’s mother and brother on 20th July to sympathise with them on his death. No reference was made to burial so it is unlikely that an unusual burial such as a return of the remains to the battlefield took place.[ii]

Caillemotte’s Grave 1842

Traditionally the 1690 stone marks the temporary burial site of the Duke of Schomberg where he was buried to prevent his body being looted and before his fellow soldiers could give him a proper burial.[iii] Murtagh wrote that the 1690 stone traditionally marked the site of Schomberg’s death but the actual location may have been some distance to the east.[iv] Lenihan wrote that the 1690 stone was said to be Schomberg’s grave but more likely marked the spot of a mass burial.[v]

The Duke of Schomberg was killed after crossing the Boyne, probably by a shot from a Williamite soldier. When La Caillemotte fell Schomberg leaped into action and urged the Huguenot regiments across the river with the words “Allons Messieurs, voilá vos persécuters (Forward, sirs, there are your persecutors). Schomberg died as a Protestant martyr and had laid down his life for William’s cause. Schomberg was the casualty with the highest profile and news of his death spread rapidly through both sides and to Europe in the days after the battle.[vi] Maes fixes the place where Schomberg was cut down as close to the village of Oldbridge but this   does not tally with the supposed location of the Huguenot crossing.[vii] Schomberg’s body was rescued by an aide-de-camp, thereby preventing it from the indignity of being stripped. [viii]

Death of Schomberg from engraving by Major & Knapp–Battle of the Boyne  based on painting by Benjamin West 1878 Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington

A sketch by Thomas Colville Scott in 1853 labelled the river at the foot of the obelisk as “the spot where Schomberg fell.” The Boyne Obelisk, erected on the north bank of the river in 1736 had an inscription on the south side which read “Reinard, Duke of Schomberg, in passing this river, died, bravely fighting in defence of liberty.”

The body of Schomberg was embalmed and placed in a leaden coffin. His remains were removed to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, immediately after the battle where they lay until 10th July and were then deposited under the altar. Schomberg’s high status resulted in his burial in the most prestigious church in Ireland. One contemporary source suggested that Schomberg’s body would be interred in Westminster Abbey. There was no state funeral. William attended a thanksgiving service in St. Patrick’s on the 6th but there is no mention of Schomberg’s body at this date and no record that William attended the funeral service four days later. [ix] On his visit to the battle site in 1865, historian, Leopold von Ranke, was told by Mr. Coddington that the father of his grand-father’s carpenter had brought the corpse of Schomberg on his cart to Dublin, however the Coddingtons did not take possession of the lands at Oldbridge until 1724.[x]  Dean Jonathan Swift and the cathedral chapter erected a monument to his memory in 1731 and recorded their disappointment that Schomberg’s family had repeatedly refused to contribute to the erection of such a monument.[xi]

Schomberg was of such stature that he was honoured with a special burial – in significant place

The transportation of a leader to a suitably important place of internment echoed the transportation of the body of Brian Boruma from the Battle of Clontarf to Armagh  for burial. Indeed his body may have crossed the ford at Oldbridge on its way from Duleek to Armagh. [xii]

Death of Rev. George Walker based on painting by Benjamin West 1878

Rev. George Walker, the military governor of Londonderry during the Siege in 1689, was killed at the Battle of the Boyne. One version is that he was going to the aid of the wounded Duke of Schomberg but another suggests he was simply fighting with the Enniskillen Foot. Walker received a wound in the stomach and died within a few minutes. His body was immediately stripped by ‘Scots-Irish’ camp followers. His remains were initially buried on the battlefield but at the insistence of his widow, Isabella, in 1703 his body was exhumed and buried inside the church at Saint Michaels Church, Castlecaulfield. The recovered body was identified by a servant who had attended Walker at the Boyne. According to another tradition it was a volunteer at the battle that buried Walker’s body and identified the spot for his widow, for which he was rewarded with £10 or £20. A memorial to Walker in Latin was erected on Castlecaulfield church walls. During extensive renovations of the church in October 1838 his remains and those of his wife were placed in new coffins. Only a few bones were discovered in a small oak box beneath Mrs. Walker’s coffin. Included in the remains were two thigh bones for the same leg thereby throwing into doubt the authenticity of the remains.[xiii]

Lord Walter Dongan, with his dragoon regiment, defended the southern bank of the Boyne at Rathmullan, opposite Yellow Island. Cannon fire broke the rest of his regiment and they retreated. Donegan was killed by one of the first of the cannon balls. His body was removed from the field to Clane in Co. Kildare where a great wake was held. The remains were taken to Celbridge to be interred at the family plot at Tea Lane Graveyard, the day after the battle. The Dongan family held an estate at Castletown, Celbridge. Walter Dongan was son of William, Earl of Limerick, and nephew of Thomas Dongan, Governor of New York. [xiv]

Portrait of Sir Neil O’Neill by John Michael Wright (1680) now in the Tate

Sir Niall Ua Néill was stationed with his regiment of dragoons at the ford of Rossnaree, a little below the bridge of Slane to guard the crossing. In the initial attack by the Williamite forces a musket ball shattered O’Neill’s thigh. He was carried first to Dublin and thence to Waterford where he died of his wounds on the 8th July. His grave is in the cemetery of the French Church in Waterford.”[xv]

Other prominent officers killed in the battle included the Marquis D’Hocquincourt and Nicholas Taaffe, the second earl of Carlingford.  Their deaths were important enough to be recorded but not what happened to their bodies. [xvi]

With the exclusion of these five high status individuals where the disposal of their bodies are documented only two of the forty five of the eyewitness accounts have any reference to disposal of the dead amounting to 4.4% of the overall accounts. For Sedgemoor, England, (1685) there are eleven sources: eight eyewitness and three second hand. In Britain only 12% of battle accounts mention the disposal of the dead in late medieval battles.[xvii]

Danish infantryman, Claudianus wrote “the King arranged for the bodies of the fallen to be buried.”[xviii] The Huguenot soldier, Dumont de Bostaquet noted after the battlethat“the bodies had not yet been buried.”[xix] This would suggest that burial was the normal practise. De Bostaquet noted the presence of dead bodies on the battlefield. “I crossed the river with Rooseboom and some others, towards the left, where dead people and horses were scattered everywhere. All of the people were naked as their clothes had been removed, mostly by the women and riff-raff of the army, who immediately set up a market on the field to sell their spoils.  Wednesday 12. Early in the morning we marched from the camp at Drogheda to Duleek, where the king was, and along the length of the road we found many corpses, and it was said that hidden among the corn lay more bodies that were not visible…..I recognised the place where we had charged and went to look for the body of Vervillion, which we had difficulty finding” Presumably de Bostaquet arranged for the burial of Vervillion. Friends, family and comrades might arrange for the burial of their close colleagues but how many such identifications and burial took place is unclear. This area was still a warzone and people entering it did so at some risk. While these two sources provided information that the bodies were buried, they do not give a location.[xx]

Our overall understanding of the disposal of the dead practises after late medieval battles is relatively limited. There is only two works dedicated to the topic: a short article by Curry and Foard and a doctoral thesis by Sarah Taylor. There is little information relating to the disposal of bodies at other Irish contemporary battles. The only mass grave excavated in Ireland from this period is Carrickmines, which resulted from a siege rather than a battle. In March 1642 a massacre of Catholics occurred at Carrickmines when forces led by the English commander Sir Simon Harcourt besieged the castle. Contemporary sources, written within days of the killings, agree that the victims were for the most part women and children, 240 according to an English account, 340 according to an Irish one. Among the discoveries of the excavations was a crude burial pit containing the mangled remains of some of these victims, including that of a woman with an axe wound to the back of her head. A mass grave relating to the Battle of Lützen, Germany (1632) has been excavated; its site was identified in 2011 using information from previous excavations and metal detecting. Unfortunately in the case of the Boyne it seems that amateur metal detectorists had unfettered access to the site in the years 1984 to 2000 and the exact locations of find-sites for that period are unclear.[xxi]

After the Battle of Sedgemoor, England, in 1685 it is highly likely that the rebels killed were buried in a pit on the battlefield, close to where they had been killed. One of the officers present at Sedgemoor, Percy Kirke, noted in a letter that the rebels were buried in a great grave on the moor. There is a suggestion that seriously wounded but still living casualties were buried with the dead. Kirke noted that some of the dead were taken to the church for burial. Kirke recorded that the dead were not sufficiently covered and ordered the local residents to cover the grave with more earth.  Kirke also commanded at the Boyne. A contemporary writer, Adam Wheeler, in his account of Sedgemoor stated that bodies were buried in a pit. [xxii]

The Williamite army, under Schomberg, established a camp at Dundalk during the winter of 1689-90. During a six month period 3,762 died of sickness. Some of the high status casualties; Colonel Henry Wharton died 28th October and Sir Thomas Gore died 29th October, were interred in Lord Bellew’s family vault at Dundalk church. Story calculated another 870 died while being evacuated by ship to Belfast. The bodies were cast into a mass grave at Tillysburn or Knocknagoney, close to the shore of Belfast Lough.[xxiii] The dead following the siege of Athlone in July 1691 were buried.[xxiv]

Battlefield soldier on horseback and two dead, print maker: Karel Dujardin, 1652

No details of where the battle was.

Bodies were stripped of anything of value and this resulted in the corpses being left naked on the battlefield. There was nothing new in this – the Bayeaux Tapestry shows a group of men removing the armour and stripping the dead on the battlefield of Hastings in 1066. A group of Scots-Irish were following the army of William to take advantage of just such an opportunity. Huygens and de Bostaquet observed the scavengers ranging widely over the battle field and a market had been set up to dispose of their booty. The removal of metal objects reduces the possibility of locating mass graves through metal detecting.[xxv]

Naked bodies were vulnerable to being eaten by vermin or other scavengers. Naked bodies decompose quicker than clothed bodies. It would seem to be contrary to standard practise and beliefs to leave the bodies to be eaten by animals.  Dirk Maes’ illustration of the Battle of the Boyne displays a dog devouring the carcass of a horse, so it is probable that human flesh would also be consumed by hungry animals. Story recorded that the birds of the air and the beasts of the field feasted on the abandoned bodies of the slain Irish at Aughrim in 1691. Between 6,000 and 9,000 men were killed in a little over four hours in the Battle of Aughrim. Irish prisoners at Aughrim were forced to bury the dead. The English buried their own and part of the Irish casualties, the rest they left unburied. Skulls and bones of the dead were stored at Kilconnell Abbey with skeletons being left bare, uncoffined. In 1709 Samuel Molyneux visited Kilconnell Friary, and recorded that the friary was surrounded by the skulls of those who had died at the battle of Aughrim.  “Their church yard surrounded by a wall of dead men’s skulls and bones, piled over orderly with their faces outwards, clear round against the wall to the length of 88 foot, about 4 foot high and 5 foot 4 inches broad, so that there may be possibly here to the number of 50,000 skulls.” The local landlord appears to have finally arranged burial of the bones in the 1860s. The fact that Story and others record that the bodies were left unburied suggest that it was an abnormal treatment of the dead and may have resulted from the large numbers killed. Three times as many were killed at Aughrim than at the Boyne. Story notes this leaving of bodies on the battlefield at Aughrim and not at the Boyne so it can be presumed the bodies at the Boyne were not left exposed to the elements. Taylor argues that non-burial of the dead after battles was temporary and unintentional. There are very few references to the non-burial of the dead during the Stuart period which suggests it was not a common practise.[xxvi]

The battlefield of the Boyne consisted of open countryside, cornfields, fallow fields, ditches, trenches, gardens, and meadows. The farming community that lived in and near Oldbridge would have taken shelter in the walled town of Drogheda or further afield when news that the armies of William and James were on the way. It is unlikely that bodies would be left to rot on such highly cultivated land as that existing at Oldbridge. Bodies would have festered bringing disease and infection so local inhabitants would have buried them. It is reasonable to assume that existing ditches and hollows would be used to reduce the amount of digging involved. The weather at the time was very hot and this would have resulted in putrefaction taking place quickly. The weather continued hot for weeks after the battle. In hot weather there was a desire to bury the dead as quickly as possible as had happened as Wisby. Following the Battle of Sedgemoor (1685) “the country people took care for ye inetermit of those slaine in the corne fields.” The rich farming land of Northern France and Belgium that was the site of extensive military operations in World War I quickly returned to agricultural use.[xxvii]

Doherty suggested that there were a number of casualties due to drowning while crossing the river. Water level was low as it was mid-summer and very hot weather. It is not clear if the bodies were recovered after the battle and interred or if the bodies were washed out to sea. Some of the guides and re-enactors at the Oldbridge Visitor Centre suggest that the bodies were stripped and were washed away in the river. Local tradition of the Battle of Killiekrankie, Scotland (1689) talks of the bodies of the dead soldiers being thrown into the river Garry and floated out to sea.[xxviii]

Local folklore, recorded in the 1930s, noted that burials following the battle took place in a field at the south end of the estate in a field referred to as “Deadman’s Field”. The Pilot Archaeological Survey could not identify this field but this may have been identified by archaeologist, Steve Davis, in 2023. This location would appear to have been the site of cist burial and this may be the origination of this tale. Local folklore recorded in the 1930s said that there were a large number of soldiers buried in the Gruggins field and that they were buried with their valuables. A large number of buried treasure stories were recorded in this collection. Another piece of folklore stated that a number of soldiers were buried in marshy ground belonging to Mr. Berrill, near the village of Donore. A story was recorded that two members of the Doggett family of Tubberfinn were killed at the Kellystown, Duleek, and their bodies conveyed to Donore graveyard by means of a dish-wheeled cart. A story said that a number of Williamite soldiers were killed at Keenoge, Duleek, and buried there:- “When the soldiers of Williams saw their comrades dead, they buried them in a field at Keenoge. When they were burying them they put them into the graves with their swords on. They buried the captain in a stone grave, and put a big stone over it, this way they would know where he was buried. A few years after, they took up the stone and put it in the Churchyard of Duleek.” Keenoge is the site of a pre-historic burial site and this story may relate to that rather than the Battle of the Boyne.[xxix]

In 1708 Samuel Molyneux also visited Oldbridge and recorded seeing a few skulls.[xxx] According to D’Alton writing in 1844, the Williamite officers, other than Caillemotte, were buried about a mile from Oldbridge town, where there was a piece of quarry ground, beside a lime kiln and cabin, near the Irish ramparts, which was an osier garden at the time of the battle. The only area which fits this description is on the north bank of the Boyne opposite Grove Island. With the casualties occurring on the south bank how likely were the Williamites to transport the bodies to the north bank across a deep portion of the river but this may have been close to the Williamite camp the night before the battle and the tents may have been used again after the battle.[xxxi]

John O’Donovan recorded that the “Night of the Big Wind” in 1839 resulted in soil being stripped from the banks of the river Boyne, thus exposing the bones of the bodies from the battle.[xxxii]  Local historians do not mention the disposal of bodies in histories published to mark the tercentenary of the battle in 1990.[xxxiii]

Of the standard works on the Boyne in modern times only Murtagh and Lenihan give any details on the disposal of bodies. According to Murtagh “the dead bodies were stripped and buried in mass pits, unless quickly reclaimed by relatives or comrades.” He does not identify a possible location for the mass pits. Lenihan suggested the hummock with the 1690 stone was the site of a mass burial. [xxxiv]

At the time the most recently published military manual was written by an Irish resident, the Earl of Orrery. According to this manual it was the general’s duty after the battle to bury his dead honourably. It does not mention the enemy dead. It is unclear if this manual was known to William and his generals but it suggests common practise at the time.[xxxv]

Accounts vary as to the total number of casualties and often depend on which side the writer was from or the audience for whom they were writing. Today the numbers agreed by most commentators put the Jacobite losses at 1000 dead and the Williamite losses at 500 dead.[xxxvi]

No graves of any victims have been uncovered in archaeological investigations carried out in vicinity of the battlefield, although there has been no concerted effort to identify gravesites. This may be because the battlefield continues to hold the interest of a large part of the community in Northern Ireland. Current day battlefield preservation leads to war graves becoming sites of memory and continuing commemoration. From a sensitive point of view how useful would it be to the battlefield if a site of mass burials was uncovered and disturbing the dead of the Boyne would have major repercussions in the political field.

Only a handful of mass graves from late medieval battles in Western Europe have been subjected to large scale archaeological excavation to modern standards. No battle mass grave relating to any Irish or English battle fought in the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries has yet been excavated under modern conditions. The principal reason is that mass burials have proven extremely elusive, most being identified by chance.[xxxvii]

Between 1993 and 2017 at least twenty nine archaeological excavations took place in the townlands of Oldbridge and Sheephouse – none uncovered any human remains associated with the battle.[xxxviii]

The practical difficulty of locating a mass burial is that a burial site is a minor feature on substantial sites. The Pilot Archaeological Survey focused on two possible areas of interest for the phosphate survey. A defined area of high phosphate values was identified in the north-eastern corner of the parkland near the entrance gates, confirming it as a site of intense human activity, either prolonged settlement or mass burial. This was also identified as the location of Oldbridge village. A mass grave so close to the village is unlikely. The most consistently elevated phosphate levels were identified in the area around the 1690 stone.  Two test-pits were excavated in this vicinity. Pit 3 was positioned near to the 1690 stone and produced a high density of material including blackware pottery, white-glazed pottery, fragments of red brick, a piece of slate, fragments of animal bone and a flint flake but no human bones. Metal finds include a fragment of iron plate, a metal staple and two pieces of wire. The Pilot Archaeology Survey suggested that the elevated levels of phosphate could indicate a mass human burial but that an archaeological excavation would be required to ascertain for certain.[xxxix]

From: Conor Brady, Emmet Byrnes, Gabriel Cooney & Aidan O’Sullivan, ‘An Archaeological Study of the Battle of the Boyne at Oldbridge, Co. Meath’, in In I. Banks, T. Pollard (eds) Scorched earth: studies in archaeology of conflict. Journal of Conflict Archaeology (Leiden, 2007)

Field walking surveys are carried out by walking across the surface of a piece of ground looking for any man-made artefacts. Such surveys have been carried out across a number of battlefields with varying degrees of success. Peter Newman conducted an excellent survey in the 1970’s on the battlefield at Marston Moor, Yorkshire (1644).[xl]

At Oldbridge seven tilled fields were examined systematically to assess the range of human activity in the plough soil. Finds associated with the battle were discovered in three fields. Field 4 produced a gunflint, Field 5 (Potato field) produced five lead shot, a gunflint and an iron buckle or harness fitting and Field 6 produced a half-ecu silver coin (Leganassey field).[xli]

The field walking did not reveal any trace of human remains. A mass burial could be below plough level. The Pilot Archaeological Survey  noted that its survey was only the starting point for archaeological research. [xlii]

From: Conor Brady, Emmet Byrnes, Gabriel Cooney & Aidan O’Sullivan, ‘An Archaeological Study of the Battle of the Boyne at Oldbridge, Co. Meath’, in In I. Banks, T. Pollard (eds) Scorched earth: studies in archaeology of conflict. Journal of Conflict Archaeology (Leiden, 2007)

It will be only with further archaeological excavations that a burial site might be identified and in order to set that research agenda consideration of the possible location of burials needs to be investigated.

Military historian, Alfred Burne, suggested most deaths would occur where the armies first engage. Expanding on this statement it would suggest that most mass burials also took place where most deaths occurred.[xliii] However, the mass grave at Towton was 1.6 km from the battle field while at Stoke the mass grave is 1 km from the battle site. [xliv]

Documentary sources were examined in order to know where to concentrate the search. The severest infantry fighting of the day took place in and near the village with at least one hundred Dutch Guards killed there.[xlv] An intense engagement occurred in the land to the east of the village after the Williamite forces crossed the river, the Groggins and Potato fields. [xlvi] At Donore Berwick and Irish cavalry charged the Williamites – one third of the Williamite casualties occurred at Donore. It is possible that the churchyard at Donore, consecrated ground, might have been used as a burial site for casualties in this area. However any investigation here would need to be non-invasive to protect the existing burials.[xlvii] Smaller number of casualties occurred at the old farmhouse at Sheephouse, Platin Hall and Rosnaree ford.[xlviii]

In Ireland in recent decades there has been an increase in interest in battlefield and conflict archaeology. Commencing in 2007 the Irish Battlefield Project, using a mixture of on-site archaeological survey, and in-depth historical analysis of primary and secondary source material, produced the most comprehensive analysis of Irish battlefields ever undertaken in the State. The aim of the project was also to assist in identifying the appropriate statutory protection that should be extended to battlefield sites.[xlix]

The practise of taking heads of the defeated leaders seems to have died out by the time of the Battle of the Boyne. In the sixteenth and early seventeenth century decapitation of the dead was a common practice on both sides in Ireland. In 1597 the Lord Deputy, Lord Burgh, complained that the air of Dublin was ‘thick corrupted with the heads daily brought in.’ Sir Cahir O’Doherty led a revolt against the English and was killed in 1608. His head was placed on display at the Newgate in Dublin. The heads of sixteen Royalist officers, captured following the taking of Drogheda in 1649 by Cromwell, were cut off and sent to Dublin, where they were stuck on pikes on the approach roads.[l]

William’s army was a multinational one and much of the Irish and other natives involved were far from home so it is unlikely if there were family or friends nearby to locate and bury any individual casualties. The victorious army played a role in the burial of the dead – the defeated army had left the field of battle. William seemed to have been in no hurry to move on to Dublin so there was time to bury the dead.[li]

The primary objective of this study was to gain an understanding of what happened those killed at the Battle of the Boyne. Overall, the literature appears to suggest that the dead were buried and buried by the Williamite forces and local inhabitants. Some high status individuals or those with friends received a church burial. The 1690 stone has traditionally been associated with Schomberg and La Caillemotte but this work shows clearly that these are only traditions and not based on facts. Archaeology also fails to provide answers. A number of possible burial sites are identified as near where the largest number of casualties occurred. However following the pilot archaeological survey, which described itself as the starting point for further investigation, no further archaeological excavations targeted at the battle has taken place. A lot of questions remain unanswered but at least some of the relevant issues have been identified. Without further information or data it would seem that these questions will remain unanswered. 

[i] Gabriel Cooney, Emmet Byrnes, Conor Brady, Aidan O’Sullivan A Pilot Archaeological Survey of the site of the Battle of the Boyne, Oldbridge Estate, Co. Meath. (Department of Archaeology, University College, Dublin, 2001), a report for Dúchas – The Heritage Service vol I, pp xv, xxii, 74.

[ii] George Story, A true and impartial history of the most material occurrences in the kingdom of Ireland during the last two years: by an eye-witness (London 1691), p. 80; J. G. Gilbert (ed) A Jacobite Narrative of the War in Ireland 1688-1691 (Dublin, 1892) p. 103; David C.A. Agnew, Protestant Exiles From France, Chiefly in the Reign of Louis XIV, or the Huguenot Refugees and Their Descendants in Great Britain and Ireland,  (London, 1866) p 151-2; Letter from M. de Lazun to M. de Seigneley from Limerick 26 July 1690, K. Danaher & J.G. Simms (eds) The Danish Force in Ireland 1690-91 p. 63; David C.A. Agnew, Protestant Exiles from France in the reign of Louis XIV (London, 1874), vol ii, pp 1-2; Harman Murtagh, The Battle of the Boyne – A guide to the battlefield (Drogheda, 2006), p. 48; Mr & Mrs S.C. Hall, Ireland: Its scenery, character etc (London, 1841), vol II, p. 439; John D’Alton, History of Drogheda (Dublin, 1844), vol ii, p. 331;  Clifford Walton, History of the British Standing Army 1660-1700 (London, 1894),  p. 122; Pilot Archaeological Survey p. 72 .

[iii] Pilot Archaeological Survey pp 72-3.

[iv] Murtagh, The Battle of the Boyne, p. 49.

[v] Pádraig Lenihan 1690 Battle of the Boyne (Stroud, 2003), p 183.

[vi] Story, Impartial History, pp 82, 85-6; Anthony Hewitson (ed.) Diary of Thomas Bellingham (Preston, 1908), pp 131-2; Demetrius Charles Boulger, The Battle of the Boyne (London, 1911) pp. 161; Letter from St. Felix to the wife of Graf Meinhardt von Schomberg, From the camp three miles beyond the Drogheda River in Ireland 2nd July 1690; Letter from Wurtemberg to Christian V 5th July 1690, Seven miles from Dublin;  Letter M. de Lazun to M. de Seigneley, from Limerick dated 26 July 1690;  A Jacobite Narrative of the War in Ireland 1688-1691 p. 103; Murtagh, The Battle of the Boyne, pp 49-50; Michael McNally, Battle of the Boyne 1690 – The Irish campaign for the English crown (Oxford, 2005) , pp 75-80; Diary of Thomas Bellingham, pp 131- 2; Peter Beresford Ellis, The Boyne Water (London, 1976) p. 99; Matthew Glozier, ‘Marshal Schomberg 1615-1690’ (Sussex, 2005), pp vii, 146-9, 178.

[vii] Story p. 82; Lenihan 1690 Battle of the Boyne, pp 182-3.

[viii] Murtagh, The Battle of the Boyne, p. 50.

[ix] Agnew, Protestant Exiles From France, p 302; John D’Alton, History of Drogheda (Dublin, 1844), vol ii, pp 329-330; Mr & Mrs S.C. Hall, Ireland: Its scenery, character etc (London, 1841) vol II, p. 440.

[x] Andreas Boldt, ‘Von Ranke in Dublin’ in History Ireland Issue 1 (Jan/Feb 2008) vol 16.

[xi] Harman Murtagh, ‘Schomberg (Schönberg) Frederick Herman von,’ in  Dictionary of Irish Biography (Dublin, 2009)

[xii] Annals of Ulster, 1014; Annals of Loch , 1014; Susan Leigh Fry, Burial in Medieval Ireland 9001500 (Dublin, 1999), pp 88-89, 117,

[xiii] A Jacobite Narrative of the War in Ireland 1688-1691, p. 103; Story, Impartial History p. 82; Diary of Thomas Bellingham, pp 130-1; Murtagh, The Battle of the Boyne, pp 49-50; Lenihan 1690 Battle of the Boyne, p. 184; Beresford Ellis, The Boyne Water, pp 99-100; Abraham Dawson, ‘Biographical Notice of George Walker, Governor of Derry during the Siege in 1689’ in Ulster Journal of Archaeology, First Series, Vol. 2 (1854), pp. 272-7; Newry Telegraph, 30th October, 1838; Diary of Thomas Bellingham, p. 132;

[xiv] J. S. Clarke, The life of James the Second (London, 1816) vol II. p. 391;   Boulger, The Battle of the Boyne, pp 158-9;  John D’Alton, Illustrations, Historical and Genealogical of King James’s Irish Army List, Volume I. (Dublin, 1860) pp 294-5; Beresford Ellis, The Boyne Water (London, 1976) p. 104; Cornelius O’Callaghan History of the Irish Brigades in the service of France (Glasgow, 1886) p. 78; Maurice Lenihan The History of Limerick (Dublin, 1866) p. 297; Peter Drake Memoirs of Captain Peter Drake (Dublin, 1755) p. 3, McNally, Battle of the Boyne 1690, p. 77.

[xv] Story, Impartial History, p. 85; Murtagh, The Battle of the Boyne, p. 58; 85; John Cornelius O’Callaghan, History of the Irish Brigades in the service of France (Glasgow, 1886), pp 130-1; Boulger, The Battle of the Boyne, p. 164; 167, 168; McNally, Battle of the Boyne 1690, 61.

[xvi]Lazun to de Seigneley, 26 July 1690;  Boulger, The Battle of the Boyne, pp. 161-3; Lenihan 1690 Battle of the Boyne, p. 154; John O’Hart, Irish Pedigrees (Dublin, 1892) vol ii, pp 129, 167, 234, 331, 346, 382, 404, 129;

[xvii] Sarah Taylor, War, death and burial? A historical investigation into the disposal of the dead at English battles fought in Britain, 1401-1685. (2019) Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield, p. 229.

[xviii] Andreas Claudianus, The Irish Mars of A history of the war in Ireland for two years, from notes recorded by a fellow soldier. Edited and translated by Kjeld Hlad Galster and Rasmus Wichmann (Ontario, 2016) p. 117.

[xix] Isaac Antoine Dumont De Bostaquet, Mémoires inédits de Dumont de Bostaquet, gentilhomme normand (Paris, 1864) p. 274.

[xx] De Bostaquet, Mémoires inédits, p. 274.

[xxi] Mark Clinton, Linda Fibiger and Damian Sheils, ‘Archaeology of massacre: the Carrickmines mass grave and the siege of March 1642’ in Dvid Edwards, Pádraig  Lenihan and Clodagh Tait eds Age of atrocity: violent death and political conflict in Ireland 1547-1650, (Dublin, 2007), pp 192-203; Nicole Nicklisch, Frank Ramsthaler, Harald Meller, Susanne Friederich, Kurt W. Alt The face of war: Trauma analysis of a mass grave from the Battle of Lützen (1632). PLoS ONE 12(5): e0178252. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0178252 (2007).

[xxii] W. Stradling, A description of the Priory of Chilton-Super-Polden and its contents (Bridgewater, 1839), p. 119-20; Adam Wheeler, Iter Bellicosum (London, 1910), p 164; Taylor, War, death and burial?, pp 190-1; Edward Dummer,  ‘Journal of the Western Rebellion’ in John Davis, The History of the Second Queen’s Royal Regiment  (London, 1895)  vol ii p. 49..

[xxiii] Story, Impartial History, pp 36, 39, 50-51;   Robert M. Young The Town Book of the Corporation of Belfast 1613-1816 (Belfast, 1892) p. 331.

[xxiv] Story, Impartial History, p. 114.

[xxv] Constantijn Hugyens, Journaal Contantijn Van Hugyens (Utrecht, 1876) First Part, p. 297;  De Bostaquet, Mémoires inédits, p. 274; Lenihan 1690 Battle of the Boyne, pp 184-5; Pilot Archaeological Survey pp vol I, p. 3.

[xxvi] Story, Continuation, pp 136-8, 147; A Jacobite Narrative of the War in Ireland 1688-1691, p. 148,  Claudianus, The Irish Mars, p. 281; J.G. Simms, Jacobite Ireland (Dublin, 1969) p. 151; Séamus Dall Mac Cuairt, ‘Elegy for Sorley MacDonnell’ in Seosamh Laoide, ed., Duanaire na Midhe, (Dublin, 1914), p. 88; Peter Barry (ed.), ‘The Journey of Samuel Molyneux in Ireland, 1708-1709’ in Analecta Hibernica no 46 (2015), p. 40; Lenihan, 1690 Battle of the Boyne, p 256; Anne Curry and Glenn Foard, ‘Where are the dead of medieval battles? A preliminary survey’  in Journal of Conflict Archaeology 2016 vol I, no. 2-3, pp 66-7; Michael McNally, The Battle of Aughrim 1691 (Stroud, 2008)  pp 170-175; Taylor, War, death and burial?, pp 201-4.

[xxvii] Murtagh, The Battle of the Boyne, pp. 30, 41-3; The journal of John Stevens, containing a brief account of the war in Ireland, 1689–1691. John Robert H. Murray (ed), (Oxford (1912), p. 119; Mr. Representative J. Hop in his report to the Lofty Members of the States-General 24 July 1690 at Duleek; Taylor, War, death and burial?, pp 114-5; A Jacobite Narrative of the War in Ireland 1688-1691, p. 99; Robert H. Murray, The diary of Bonnivert, 1690, PRIA 30, sect. C, 331–341, January 1913, p. 340; Edward Dummer,  ‘Journal of the Western Rebellion’ in John Davis, The History of the Second Queen’s Royal Regiment  (London, 1895)  vol ii p. 49; Curry and Foard, ‘Where are the dead of medieval battles?’ p. 70; Diary of Thomas Bellingham,  pp 129-35.

[xxviii] Claudianus, The Irish Mars, p. 103; Richard Doherty, The Williamite War in Ireland 1688-1691 (Dublin, 1988) p. 119; Murtagh, The Battle of the Boyne, p. 40;  Personal conversation.

[xxix]  The School’s Collection, Duchas, National Folklore Collection, UCD, Donore N.S. vol 682, pp 2, 8, 93, Duleek N.S. vol 682, p. 270. Gabriel Cooney, Emmet Byrnes, Conor Brady, Aidan O’Sullivan A Pilot Archaeological Survey of the site of the Battle of the Boyne, Oldbridge Estate, Co. Meath. (Department of Archaeology, University College, Dublin, 2001), a report for Dúchas – The Heritage Service. vol i, p xv-xvi, xxi-xxii p. 74.

[xxx] Peter Barry (ed.), ‘The Journey of Samul Molyneux in Ireland, 1708-1709’ in Analecta Hibernica no 46 (2015), p. 18.

[xxxi] D’Alton, History of Drogheda, vol ii, p. 333.

[xxxii] John O’Donovan, ‘Ordnance Survey Letters, Wicklow’ in C. Corlett & J. Medlycott (eds) The Ordnance Survey Letter- Wicklow (Wicklow, 200); Geraldine Stout, Newgrange and the Bend of the Boyne (Cork, 2002), pp 201-2.

[xxxiii] Enda O’Boyle, The battle of the Boyne (Duleek, 1989); Noel French, The battle of the Boyne (Trim, 1989).

[xxxiv] Murtagh, The Battle of the Boyne, pp 27-8; G. A. Hayes-McCoy, Irish Battles. A Military History of Ireland (1990, Belfast); McNally, Battle of the Boyne 1690; Lenihan 1690 Battle of the Boyne, p 183.

[xxxv] Roger Boyle, Earl of Orrory, A treatise of the art of War: Dedicated to the King’s Most Excellent Majesty. And Written by the Right Honourable Roger, Earl of Orrery (London, 1677), p. 205.  

[xxxvi] Story, Impartial History p. 85; William R. Wilde, The beauties of the Boyne and its tributary, the Blackwater (Dublin, 1849, p. 252; Hayes-McCoy, Irish Battles. A Military History of Ireland, p. 235; Murtagh, The Battle of the Boyne, p. 67; Lenihan, 1690 Battle of the Boyne, p 235-6; Simms, Jacobite Ireland, p. 151; John Childs, ‘The Williamite war, 1689-1691’ in A Military History of Ireland eds Thomas Bartlett and Keith Jeffery (Cambridge, 1996)  p. 201.

[xxxvii] Curry and Foard, ‘Where are the dead of medieval battles?, pp 61-2.

[xxxviii] Excavations.ie

[xxxix] Conor Brady, Emmet Byrnes, Gabriel Cooney & Aidan O’Sullivan, ‘An Archaeological Study of the Battle of the Boyne at Oldbridge, Co. Meath’, in In I. Banks, T. Pollard (eds) Scorched earth: studies in archaeology of conflict. Journal of Conflict Archaeology (Leiden, 2007) p. 74.

[xl] G. Foard, Naseby: the Decisive Campaign (Whitstable, 1995); Peter Newman and Paul Roberts Marston Moor 1644: The Battle of the Five Armies (Pickering, 2003)

[xli] Conor Brady, Emmet Byrnes, Gabriel Cooney & Aidan O’Sullivan, ‘An Archaeological Study of the Battle of the Boyne at Oldbridge, Co. Meath’, in  p. 65; Pilot Archaeological Survey vol. i, p xv; xvi,

[xlii] Curry and Foard, ‘Where are the dead of medieval battles?, p. 72; Pilot Archaeological Survey pp 24-5, 86; Excavations.ie

[xliii] Curry and Foard, ‘Where are the dead of medieval battles? 3, pp 61-77

[xliv] Taylor, War, death and burial?, pp 116, 120

[xlv] Murtagh, The Battle of the Boyne, pp 40, 43; Hayes-McCoy, Irish Battles. A Military History of Ireland, p. 231-2; Brady, Byrnes, Cooney and O’Sullivan, ‘An Archaeological Study of the Battle of the Boyne’,  p. 65.

[xlvi] Murtagh, The Battle of the Boyne, p. 45.

[xlvii] Hayes-McCoy, Irish Battles. A Military History of Ireland, p. 234; McNally, Battle of the Boyne 1690, p. 84, Lenihan 1690 Battle of the Boyne, p .236; Murtagh, The Battle of the Boyne, pp 53-5.

[xlviii] Murtagh, The Battle of the Boyne, p. 55; Hayes-McCoy, Irish Battles. A Military History of Ireland, p 229.

[xlix] Damian Shiels, ‘Identifying and Interpreting Ireland’s Post-Medieval Conflict Archaeology’ in The Journal of Irish Archaeology Vol. 17 (2008), pp. 137-152; Damian Shiels, ‘The Potential for Conflict Archaeology in the Republic of Ireland’. In War and sacrifice: studies in the archaeology of conflict. Journal of Conflict Archaeology, (2007, Leiden), 169–187.
[l] John James Noel McGurk, “The Dead, Sick & Wounded of the Nine Years War (1594-1603),” History Ireland 3, no. 4 (1995); John Morrill,  “The Drogheda Massacre in Cromwellian Context”. in Edwards, Lenihan and Tait Age of atrocity,.p. 256.

[li] Taylor, War, death and burial?, pp 111-4.