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Henry Ireton

Henry Ireton (1611 - November 26, 1651), English was a general in the army of Parliament during the English Civil War.

He was the eldest son of German Ireton of Attenborough, Nottinghamshire, and was baptized on November 3 1611. He became a gentleman commoner of Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1626, graduated B.A. in 1629, and entered the Middle Temple the same year.

On the outbreak of the Civil War he joined the parliamentary army, fighting at the Battle of Edgehill in October, 1642, and at the Battle of Gainsborough[?] in July 1643. He was made deputy-governor of the Isle of Ely by Cromwell, and served under Manchester in the Yorkshire campaign and at the second Battle of Newbury[?], afterwards supporting Cromwell in his accusations of incompetency against the general.

On the night before the battle of Naseby, in June 1645, Ireton succeeded in surprising the Royalist army and captured many prisoners, and next day, on the suggestion of Cromwell, he was made commissary-general and appointed to the command of the left wing, Cromwell himself commanding the right. The wing under Ireton was completely broken by the impetuous charge of Rupert, and Ireton was wounded and taken prisoner, but after the rout of the enemy which ensued on the successful charge of Cromwell he regained his freedom.

He was present at the siege of Bristol in the September of 1645, and took an active part in the subsequent victorious campaign which resulted in the overthrow of the royal cause. On October 30, 1645 Ireton entered parliament as member for Appleby[?]. On June 15 1646, during the siege of Oxford[?] he married Bridget, daughter of Oliver Cromwell. The marriage brought Ireton's career into parallel with Cromwell's.

However, while Cromwell's policy was practically limited to making the best of the present situation, and was inclined to compromise, Ireton's attitude was based on well-grounded principles of statesmanship. He opposed extremism, disliked the views of the Republicans and the Levellers, which he considered impractical, and wished to retain the constitution of King, Lords and Commons. He argued for these in the negotiations of the army with parliament, and in the conferences with the king, being the person chiefly entrusted with the drawing up of the army proposals, including the manifesto called "The Heads of the Proposals" (proposing a constitutional monarchy. He tried to prevent the breach between the army and parliament, but when it happened, he supported the negotiations with the king till his action made him unpopular.

He finally became convinced of the hopelessness of dealing with Charles, and after the king's flight to the Isle of Wight treated his further proposals with coldness and urged the parliament to establish an administration without him. Ireton served under Fairfax in the second civil war in the campaigns in Kent and Essex, and was responsible for the executions of Sir Charles Lucas and Sir George Lisle[?] at Colchester. After the rejection by the king of the last offers of the army, he showed special zeal in bringing about his trial, was one of the chief promoters of "Pride's Purge", attended the court regularly, and signed the death-warrant.

The regiment of Ireton was chosen by lot to accompany Cromwell in his Irish campaign, and Ireton was appointed major-general. When his leader was recalled to take the command in Scotland, he remained with the title and powers of lord-deputy to complete Cromwell's work. This he proceeded to do with his usual energy, and as much by the severity of his methods of punishment as by his military skill was rapidly bringing his task to a close, when he died of fever after the capture of Limerick.

His loss "struck a great sadness into Cromwell," and he was considered a great loss to the administration. By his wife, Bridget Cromwell, Ireton left one son and three daughters. Bridget afterwards married General Charles Fleetwood.


Article by CH Firth in Dict. Nat. Biog. with authorities there quoted; Wood's Ath. Oxon. iii 298; Cornelius Brown's Lives of Noted Worthies, 181; Clarke Papers published by Camden Society; Gardiner's History of the Civil War and of the Commonwealth.

This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.

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