Preston, Ireland and the Glorious Revolution

Portraits of King William III, Col Thomas Bellingham and King James II
William III, Col. Thomas Bellingham and James II

When James II fled England following William of Orange’s invasion in 1688 his forces regrouped in Ireland to contest the Glorious Revolution settlement. Under the command of Richard Talbot, Earl of Tyrconnell, they took control of most of the country and provoked an exodus of Protestant gentry, who abandoned their estates in fear for their lives. Their accounts of atrocities inflicted on the Protestant community by Irish Catholics and Tyrconnell’s forces stoked already inflamed anti-Catholic feelings in England. Many of these Protestants passed through Preston after arriving in England, and some settled there to wait out the conflict.

Their descriptions of the situation in Ireland and strong support for William would have exacerbated suspicions of the loyalties of Catholics in the town, and especially in the surrounding rural districts where there were established Catholic communities. Rumours quickly began to circulate of proto-Jacobite conspiracies to bring back James to his rightful throne. The militia was mobilised and tasked with searching out arms hidden by local Catholics.

In Preston, where thousands of William’s troops were briefly stationed in preparation for his campaign in Ireland, soldiers assisted in the searching of Catholic homes. On one occasion, they sacked a Catholic chapel, probably one that been established in the brief period of James II’s encouragement of Catholicism.

The Protestants who arrived in Preston from Ireland included some of the island’s leading politicians and clergy. Among them were Robert Rochfort, the former speaker of the Irish House of Commons, Sir James Coghill, a judge in the High Court of Chancery in Ireland, several senior Irish clerics such as Tobias Pullein, the bishop of Dromore, Sir Henry Ponsonby, whose brother was one of the principal defenders of Londonderry, and George Walker, one of the two governors of Londonderry during the siege.

Their visits to Preston were documented in a diary kept by Thomas Bellingham, with some additional information supplied by a diary kept by Lawrence Rawstorne (the Bellingham/Rawstorne diaries). Both men were living in Preston at the time. As noted, these reports would have helped widen the division between Anglicans and Catholics in the town and added to the rumours of Catholic conspiracies that were circulating.


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Catholics, including Sir Thomas Clifton, were shortly after arrested and the Catholic chapel, probably the one opened by the Benedictines at Fishwick,  was attacked by soldiers. Bellingham reported prominent local Catholics, including members of the Clifton and Westby families, expressing support for James.

Bellingham was in Preston shortly before William’s invasion (his diary opens at the beginning of August 1688). He was possibly an early victim of Tyrconnell’s reforms of James’s army in Ireland by replacing Protestant officers with Catholics. At this time, he was generally referred to as Captain Bellingham and he is possibly one of the officers who lost his place to a Catholic.

Also in Preston was Bellingham’s sister Anne Bickerton. When Anne married Robert Bickerton in 1661 they brought together two of Ireland’s Anglo-Protestant colonial families: the Bellinghams seem to have obtained their estate for serving Cromwell in Ireland and the Bickerton estate was established in the Plantation days of James I. Neither family would be popular with their Irish Catholic neighbours, especially when those neighbours were incited to violence by Tyrconnell.


Related articles: Early colonisers settling in Ireland included the Prestons of Preston at the end of the 13th century. They were enobled there as the Viscounts Gormanston. Anti-Catholic feelings following the 18th-century Jacobite rebellions forced local Catholics to conceal their faith. In the 19th century the direction of settlement changed, with thousands of Irish migrants arriving in Preston. Their reception in the town is explored in Anglo-Irish relations in mid-nineteenth-century Preston, Irish ‘ghettoes’ in 19th-century Preston, and Irish not welcome in Preston


Bellingham’s estate was in Ireland at Gernonstown, near Dundalk. The estate seems to have been acquired by Bellingham’s father, Henry, a goldsmith in Dublin, at about the same time as he was appointed High Sheriff of County Kildare in 1656. The estate, extending to some 1744 acres, appears to have been a reward for his support for the Cromwellian campaigns in Ireland in which he may have served as an officer. At the Restoration Henry managed to accommodate comfortably to the new regime, representing County Louth in the Irish Parliament in 1661.

Thomas Bellingham served as William’s aide-de-camp in Ireland, and his account of the Battle of the Boyne in his diary formed one of the principal sources for Macaulay’s account of that battle. [1]

Thomas Bellingham was back in Ireland after the Revolution, repairing his ravaged estate and resuming his involvement in Irish affairs, representing, like his father, the Louth constituency in the Irish House of Commons from 1692 until 1713. The estate was renamed Castlebellingham and the house rebuilt as Castle Bellingham between 1690 and 1700 after the original building had been destroyed by King James’s troops. It was said to have resembled a Dutch chateau with grounds laid out in Dutch style, but has since been remodelled.

One of the Protestants fleeing Ireland was a young Jonathan Swift. He would later pillory the absentee English landlords and the English government in the ‘Drapier’s Letters’ and his ‘Modest Proposal’ for their colonial exploitation of Ireland. Temple Scott, the editor of Swift’s collected works, cannot maintain his editorial distance when he writes in his introduction to the ‘Drapier’s Letters’:

A dispassionate student of the condition of Ireland between the years of Swift’s birth and death—between, say, 1667 and 1745—could rise from that study in no unprejudiced mood. It would be difficult for him to avoid the conclusion that the government of Ireland by England had not only degraded the people of the vassal nation, but had proved a disgrace and a stigma on the ruling nation. It was a government of the masses by the classes, for no other than selfish ends. It ended, as all such governments must inevitably end, in impoverishing the people, in wholesale emigration, in starvation and even death, in revolt, and in fostering among those who remained, and among those whom circumstances exiled, the dangerous spirit of resentment and rebellion which is the outcome of the sense of injustice. It has also served, even to this day, to give vitality to those associations that have from time to time arisen in Ireland for the object of realizing that country’s self-government. [2]

In the fourth of his Drapier’s Letters, in which he makes his strongest attack on the oppression of Ireland by the Walpole ministry, Swift selects Preston, referring to the 1715 Jacobite rebellion, to highlight the doubtful loyalties and suspect Jacobitism of many in England:

… I declare, next under God, I depend only on the King my sovereign, and on the laws of my own country and I am so far from depending upon the people of England, that if they should ever rebel against my sovereign (which God forbid) I would be ready at the first command from His Majesty to take arms against them, as some of my countrymen did against theirs at Preston. And if such a rebellion should prove so successful as to fix the Pretender on the throne of England, I would venture to transgress that statute so far as to lose every drop of my blood to hinder him from being King of Ireland. [3]

[1] Thomas Macaulay, History of England, vol. 3 (Philadelphia: J. P Lippincott, 1879), 503.
[2] Jonathan Swift, The Prose Works of Jonathan Swift, ed. Temple Scott, on-line edition, vol. 6 (London: George Bell and Sons, 1903), https://www.gutenberg.org/files/12784/12784-h/12784-h.htm.
[3] ibid, 114

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