Today was a day for celebrating a two-hundred-year-old tradition in Northern Ireland. The Orange Order, founded in 1795, has been celebrating the Twelfth of July since 1796. They don’t hang about when it comes to a good march. Mostly, in the two hundred and twenty three years since the first parade, they have gone off peacefully enough, with the worst unrest taking place at the notorious clash at Dolly’s Brae, near Castlewellan, in 1849, when a contested procession led to a skirmish which resulted in an unknown number of dead Catholic protestors, possibly as many as thirty, though this figure is disputed by historians.
Orange marches are usually seen by one side as an expression of their culture, and by the other as a blatant sectarian provocation. But the event they commemorate should be known as the ‘Glorious Twelfth’ because of its very own glorious complexities.
The fact is that when members of the Orange Order parade on 12 July in honour of the victory of King William at the Battle of the Boyne, they should keep a couple of things in mind. First, they might ask themselves are they commemorating the scuffle at the Boyne in 1690, or the far more significant Battle of Aughrim in 1691? Because Aughrim, the battle that finally ended Jacobite resistance in Ireland, was actually fought on 12 July, whereas the far less important Battle of the Boyne was fought on 1 July.
This is because of a Pope and a Roman Emperor. At the end of the 17thcentury, Ireland still went by the old Julian calendar, a survivor from the halcyon days of the Roman empire. The British Protestant administration which governed the country had rejected the new Gregorian calendar, adopted in 1582 because it was the brainchild of a servant of the antichrist himself, Pope Gregory XIII.
So, initially at least, celebrations of the ‘Glorious Twelfth’— not to be confused with the open season on harmless Scottish grouse with which it shares its name—were meant to commemorate 1691, not 1690. Then, sometime around the middle of the 18thcentury, Ireland finally adopted the Gregorian calendar and suddenly the anniversary of the Battle of Aughrim fell on 22 July. No problem to the highly adaptable Orange Order, we’ll celebrate the Boyne instead, because its anniversary now falls on the Twelfth!
Then there’s the second more awkward consideration for revelling Orangemen. Technically they should find some room on their banners for Pope Alexander VIII, because, back in 1690, he was an ally of William of Orange! Let me repeat that in case it was drowned out by the beating of a Lambeg drum … the Pope and King Billy were on the same side.
Allow me to explain this mightily inconvenient fact. The Battle of the Boyne was actually part of a much larger global conflict known as the Nine Years War. This began in 1688 and, no prizes for guessing ended in 1697. It was also called The War of the Grand Alliance, the War of the League of Augsburg and, in North America, King William’s war. It was fought between France and … just about everybody else. James II of England, being a good Catholic, was an ally of the French. William, a good Protestant, and an even better Dutchman was King Louis XIV’s sworn and implacable enemy.
So where does the Pope come into all this? Well Pope Alexander VIII, ruler of the Papal States, was an enemy of King Louis XIV. As we all know the most basic mathematical equation in realpolitik and war is, ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’. That made King Billy and Pope Alex very big buddies indeed. The corollary of that equation is ‘the friend of my enemy, is my enemy too’. This meant that King James II, for all that he was a staunch Catholic, was not on the same side of the quarrel as his own Pope. It also meant that the Catholic Irish opponents of William of Orange were not only fighting for an English King, but they were also doing so in opposition to the Pontiff in Rome.
When news of the Williamite victory over the Jacobites reached Rome, the Pope ordered that the bells of the Vatican City should be rung in celebration. It’s just possible this may not have come up in the speeches of various Grand Masters after today’s parades.
So, in answer to the question did King Billy give the Pope a bloody nose on the 12th July 1690 at the Battle of the Boyne? N,o he didn’t. It was 1 July, and they were on the same team. That’s fake history.
BTW – King Billy didn’t go into battle on white charger either. That’s fake history too!