Cromwell to Speaker Lenthall, 17 September 1649

Sources and commentary by Dr Joan Redmond
Sources Workshop, Cromwell Association Schools Conference 2018

For the Honorable William Lenthal Esq; Speaker of the Parliament of England.

Your Army being safely arrived at Dublin… I resolved after some refreshment taken for our weather beaten Men and Horses, and accommodations for a march, to take the Field… To endeavor the Regaining of Drogheda, or tempting the Enmey, upon his hazard of the loss of that place, to fight. Your Army came before the Town upon Munday following, where having pitched, as speedy course as cold be taken to frame our Batteries, which took up the more time because divers of the Battering Guns were on Ship board: Upon Munday the Ninth of this instant, the Batteries began to play; whereupon I sent Sir Arthur Ashton the then Governor a Summons, to deliver the [p.6] the Town to the use of the Parliament of England; to which I received no satisfactory Answer, but proceeded that day to beat down the Steeple of the Church on the Southside of the Town, and to beat down a Tower not far from the same place, which you will discern by the Card enclosed: Our Guns not being able to do much that day, It was resolved to endeavor to do our utmost the next day to make Breaches assaultable, and by the help of God to Storm them: The places pitched upon, were that part of the Town wall next a Church called St. Maries which was the rather chosen, because we did hope that if we did enter and possess that Church, we should be the better able to keep it against their Horse and Foot, until we could make way for the entrance of our Horse, which we did not conceive that any part of the Town would afford the like advantage for that purpose with this. The Batteries planted were two, one was for that part of the Wall against the East end of the said Church, the other against the Wall on the Southside; being somewhat long in Battering, the Enemy made six Retrenchments, three of them from the said Church to Duleek Gate, and three from the East end of the Church to the Town wall, and so backward. The Guns after some two or three hundred shot, beat down the Corner Tower, and opened two reasonable good Breaches in the East and South wall. Upon Tuesday the Tenth of this instant, about five of the clock in the evening, we begun the Storm, and after some hot Dispute, we entred about Seven or Eight hundred men, the Enemy disputing it very stifly with us [p. 7] us; and indeed through the advantages of that place, and the courage God was pleased to give the Defenders, our men were forced to retreat quite out of the Breach, not without some considerable loss; Colonel Cassel being there shot in the Head, whereof he presently dyed, and divers Soldiers and Officers doing their duty, killed and wounded: There was a Tenalia to flanker the Southwall of the Town, between Duleek Gate, and the Corner Tower before mentioned, which our men entred, wherein they found some forty or fifty of the Enemy, which they put to the sword, and this the held; but it being without the Wall, and the Sally part through the Wall into that Tenalia being choaked up, with some of the Enemy which were killed in it, it proved of no use for our entrance into the Town that way. Although our men that stormed the Breaches were forced to recoil, as before is expressed, yet being encouraged to recover their loss, they made a second attempt, wherein God was pleased to animate them, that they got ground of the Enemy, and by the goodness of God, forced them to quit his Entrenchments; and after a very hot dispute, the Enemy having both Horse and Foot, and we onely Foot within the Wall, the Enemy gave ground, and our men became masters; but of their Retrenchments and the Church, which indeed although they made our entrance the more difficult, yet they proved of excellent use to us, so that the Enemy could not annoy use with their Horse, but thereby we had advantage to make good the ground, that so we might let in our own Horse, which accordingly [p. 8] was done, though with much difficulty; the Enemy retreated divers of them into the Mill-Mount, a place very strong and of difficult access, being exceeding high, having a good graft and strong Pallisadoed; the Governor Sir Arthur Ashton, and divers considerable Officers being there, our men getting up to them, were ordered by me to put them all to the Sword; and indeed being in the heat of action, I forbade them to spare any that were in Arms in the Town, and I think that night they put to the sword about two thousand men, divers of the Officers and Soldiers being fled over the Bridge into the other part of the Town,where about One hundred of them possessed St. Peters Church Steeple, some the West gate and others, a round strong Tower next to the gate called St. Sundays; These being summoned to yield to mercy refused; whereupon I ordered he Steeple of St. Peters Church to be fired, where one of them was heard to say in the midst of the flames God damn me, God confound me, I burn, I burn; the next day the other two Towers were summoned, in one of which was about six or seven score, but they refused to yield themselves; and we knowing that hunger must compel them, set onely good Guards to secure them from running away, until their stomacks were come down; from one of the said Towers, notwithstanding their condition, they killed and wounded some of our men; when they submitted, their Officers were knockt on the head, and every tenth man of the Soldiers killed, and the rest Shipped for the Barbadoes; the Soldiers in the other Town were all spared, as to their lives [p. 9] lives onely, and Shipped likewise for the Barbadoes. I am perswaded that this is a righteous Judgement of God upon these Barbarous wretches who have imbrued their hands in so much innocent blood, and that it will tend to prevent the effusion of blood for the future, which are the satisfactory grounds to such Actions, which otherwise cannot but work remorse and regret. The Officers and Soldiers of this Garison, were the flower of all their Army; and their great expectation was, That our attempting this place, would put fair to ruine us… And now give me leave to say how it comes to pass that this work is wrought; It was set upon some of our hearts, that a great thing should be done,not by power,or might, but by the Spirit of God; and is it not so clear: That which caused your men to Storm so couragiously, it was the Spirit of God, who gave your men Courage, and took it away again, and gave the Enemy Courage, and took it away again, and gave your men Courage again, and therewith this happy Sucess; and therefore it is good that God alone have all the Glory. It is remarkable, that these people at the first set up the Mass in some places of the town that had been Monasteries; but afterwards grew so insolent, that the last Lords day before the Storm, the Protestants were thrust out of the great Church, called St. Peters, and they had publique Mass there; and in this very place near One thousand of them were put to the Sword, flying thither for safety: I believe all their Fryers were knockt on the head promiscuously, but two, the one of which was Father Peter Taaff (Brother to the Lord Taaff) whom the Soldiers took the next day, and made an end of; the other was taken in the Round Tower, under the repute of a Lieutenant,and when he understood that the Officers in that Tower had no quarter, he confessed he was a Fryer, but that did not save him.
I most humbly pray, the Parliament will be pleased this Army may be maintained, and that a consideration may be had of them, and of the carrying on of the Affairs here, as may give a speedy issue to this work, to which there seems to be a marvellous fair opportunity offered by God.

Your most humble Servant,
Dublin, Sept. 17. 1649.

Author’s comments: Cromwell’s Drogheda letter

  • Well known in context of Cromwell’s controversial campaign in Ireland in 1649
  • Does this suggest/prove that only combatants were killed during the storm of Drogheda?
  • Was the treatment of the surrender soldiers/officers a war crime? What did the contemporary ‘rules of war’ suggest?
  • What does the reference to ‘the Barbadoes’ mean?
  • How does the letter suggest Cromwell saw this incident as out of the ordinary in the context of the Civil Wars?
  • How far does the language reflect that of the first source?
  • Why were Catholic priests and friars so harshly dealt with? Does this suggest religious intolerance or some other motive?
  • Did Cromwell believe that the defenders were suffering God’s judgement for recent crimes, or for those suffered by Elizabeth Price and others at the start of the rebellion?