The Cessation of Arms

During 1643, the negotiations for an alliance between the English Parliament and the Scottish Covenanters forced King Charles to seek military help from Ireland. Initially, the Earl of Antrim tried to revive his plan for an attack on Scotland first envisaged during the Bishops' Wars. Antrim wanted to negotiate a secret treaty between Irish Royalists and the Confederates to mount a joint attack on the Ulster Scots. From Ulster, the combined Irish army would invade Scotland via the western isles to link up with a second army raised by Antrim and Scottish Royalists, while a third Royalist army invaded from England. Antrim's ambitious plan had little hope of succeeding and in any case it was made public in May 1643 when he was taken prisoner by Covenanter forces in Ulster. His captured correspondence revealed full details of the plot and encouraged the Covenanters and the English Parliament to hurry ahead with negotiations for the Solemn League and Covenant. This in turn prompted the King to step up negotiations for a treaty with the Confederates.

On the King's behalf, the Marquis of Ormond entered into negotiations with Viscount Mountgarret of the Confederates in April 1643. Despite opposition from Irish Catholics at Kilkenny, a one-year cease-fire, the Cessation of Arms, was signed in September 1643. In exchange for contributions of money and supplies to the Royalists in England, the Confederates were allowed to retain control of all the lands they had captured in Ireland. In addition, the King promised to consider granting freedom of worship to Catholics and making constitutional reforms in Ireland. Confederate representatives went to Oxford to negotiate a permanent treaty, but this came to nothing because the King was reluctant to antagonise his Protestant supporters.

The Cessation allowed government troops stationed in Ireland to return to England to fight for the Royalists. However, Parliament used the situation to political advantage by implying that the returning troops were bloodthirsty Irish papists, thus playing upon the worst fears of English Protestants. At the same time as the Cessation, the Scottish Covenanters joined the civil war in England on the side of Parliament. The Scots refused to recognise the Cessation and Monro's army remained active in Ulster, though the Protestant Lagan army was divided over whether to accept the Cessation or the Covenant. In Munster, Lord Inchiquin changed sides and declared for Parliament in July 1644, partly because he repudiated the King's dealings with the Catholic Confederacy, partly because the King refused to appoint him Lord-President of Munster.

Early in 1644, the Earl of Antrim tried to persuade the Supreme Council to back his proposal to send 2,000 Confederate soldiers against the Covenanters in Scotland and a further 10,000 against the Parliamentarians in England. The Council agreed to send a force to Scotland but the plan to send Irish troops to England was rejected when negotiations between Confederate representatives and the King at Oxford broke down. In June 1644, a force of 1,600 Confederate soldiers under the command of Alasdair MacColla left for Scotland. These veterans formed the nucleus of the army commanded by the Marquis of Montrose in his spectacular Scottish campaign against the Covenanters during 1644-5.


S.R. Gardiner, History of the Great Civil War vol. i, (London 1888)

Pádraig Lenihan, Confederate Catholics at War 1641-49, (Cork 2001)

C.P. Meehan, The Confederation of Kilkenny (Dublin 1846)

Jane Ohlmeyer, The Civil Wars in Ireland (in The Civil Wars, a military history of England, Scotland and Ireland 1638-60), Oxford 1998

C.V. Wedgwood, The King's War (London 1955)