The ships riding in the Downs in late December 1661 carried as mixed a bunch of men as an army ever drew together.
The Unicorn and Alexander held 381 men of Farrell's Regiment and 395 of Fitzgerald's - nearly 800 Royalist soldiers - eagerly anticipating a new life away from the continual lack of pay and scarcity of provisions that marked their service in Flanders.
They had joined Charles, the King-in-Exile, to hasten his return to the English throne and to ensure a steady job with regular pay. The reality had been hard to take. Ever since volunteering to fight for the King in his support for Spain four years earlier they had been without regular pay; always scrounging a living, begging their colonels for at least enough to buy food for a few days, patching their own uniforms, mending their own shoes. When they were in the field it was bad enough, but at least there was a chance of plunder or stealing something from farms or shops; winter quarters were dire, confined to one place with minimal provisions and nothing to do. After the Restoration things were worse if that were possible. They had expected repatriation, celebrations, bonuses, an honourable place in society, but they had been ignored, left languishing in no-man's-land, unwanted.
Now there was a chance - they had been invited to travel to the Mediterranean, to live in a warm climate, a land of milk and honey, a chance to fight Muslims - to fight for new territories in the King's new possession of Tangier.
These two regiments were largely composed of Irish with a few Scots who had been in Flanders since their exile from Cromwell's Protectorate. These men had fought for the Royalist cause in England and Ireland, supporting Charles Stuart, and maybe his father before, and upon defeat had travelled to the continent, many with their families, to enlist as mercenaries and earn a living fighting in the seemingly endless continental wars.
Charles Stuart lived in exile with his mother in the French Court at the pleasure of his cousin Louis XIV. When Louis had seen the growing strength of Protectorate England, and Cromwell had decided fighting against Spain would be more lucrative than supporting the declining super-power, Charles had finally been ejected from France and was left with no choice but to appeal to Spain.
The Spanish had agreed to support him in regaining his throne in return for his raising regiments to join their army defending Spanish Flanders against French aggression. When Charles called his supporters to rally to his banner men came from all the armies of Europe.
His brother, James, Duke of York, with several regiments of Royalists had gained a good reputation in the French Army. Called by his Charles he reluctantly left the service of Louis XIV and joined Charles with the Spanish.
In all, two thousand men had joined Charles - three Irish Regiments, including one under Colonel John Fitzgerald, which had been serving in the Spanish army since 1653; one English and one Scottish. They were organised into three battalions under the overall command of the Duke of York.
The manoeuvrings and battles are described in some detail in the memoirs of James II. These were written some years later and he unerringly depicts himself as a brave omniscient leader whose advice, if followed, would have avoided every failure and averted every disaster that befell the Spanish Army, and whose presence on the field of battle was always well placed and, if it did not lead to victory, at least mitigated the worst effects of defeat. It would be wise to take a sceptical approach when reading his accounts – as with all personal accounts.
After some months during which the opposing armies seemed determine to avoid confronting each other the two armies met in force when the French made a concerted attempt on Dunkirk.
At the Battle of the Dunes the French - with a significant contribution from the contingent of the New Model Army Cromwell had sent and with close support from the English navy under Edward Montague - comprehensively defeated the Spanish army. The Royalist regiments had tried to resist the wave of attacks, but gunfire from the ships off the coast, unfettered cavalry attacks and swarms of screaming parliamentarian fanatics had broken the Spanish tercios and carried the day.
Many of the Royalists were captured; some were killed; but most withdrew in orderly fashion or at least avoided capture. Those that surrendered did so under condition they were not handed over to the Parliamentarian English, who they knew would not treat them kindly. Dunkirk itself was the prize Cromwell had negotiated in return for his support of France, and Louis XIV duly handed it to the Parliamentarian Army.
According to some sources battle losses, along with desertions and disease caused by lack of pay and supplies, reduced the Royalist regiments substantially, but the Duke of York reported that most captured men managed to escape or bribe their way out of captivity and within a few weeks his Royalist Regiments were almost back up to their strength before the battle.
Apparently on his advice the Spanish avoided further major conflicts and split their forces to defend various assets in Flanders. For the rest of that year his cavalry and the remaining 2,000 foot soldiers were employed defending Nieupoort.
Upon Oliver Cromwell's death in September 1658, Charles' hopes were raised and he once again plotted a Royalist uprising. During the winter of 1658 and spring 1659 the Royalist forces were reorganised into two troops of Horse and six regiments of Foot: the King's Own, Duke of York, Duke of Gloucester, Lord Newburgh's, Col Richard Grace, Col Lewis Farrell and dispersed into winter quarters in various parts of Flanders, Nieupoort, Nivelles and Beauvais.
Some Royalists felt the Commonwealth would collapse without the need for a rebellion, but Charles was impatient and, on 1st March 1659 he created the ‘Great Trust and Commission' to organise an insurrection and a number of separate simultaneous uprisings were planned for 1st August.
The Duke of York tried to get permission to march his men through French territory to sail for England to support the uprising. Despite France's Schomberg appearing to offer assistance which included the use of his own regiment in any invasion of England, the Spanish Marquis of Caracena would not permit the Royalist regiments to leave their quarters because he was certain the French would not allow them safe passage. Eventually the Duke of York's regiments did set out for the port of Etaples but before they arrived they heard the August uprising had failed. The English government intelligence agencies had intercepted several of the conspirators' letters and quashed almost all the various attempts to gather Royalist support.
Despite news of these failures Charles himself heard the uprising in Cheshire under Booth had met with more success and travelled to St Malo, but learning of Booth's defeat shortly before sailing, he aborted his mission and the Royalist regiments retired to winter quarters once more. In November 1659 the Treaty of the Pyrenees was signed, bringing an end to hostilities between the French (and Parliamentarians) and Spanish (and Royalists).
It seems John Fitzgerald's stayed in Spanish service, quartered in Beauvais, and the Royalist Army dispersed around Flanders.
Most of the Parliamentarian Army remained in garrison in Dunkirk after Charles' restoration in May 1660, and it was not until spring of 1661 that the Royalist regiments were assembled in Mardyck.
In November 1661 the remnants of Grace's and Newburgh's Regiments were added to Farrell's and Fitzgerald's and taken aboard transports ready for Tangier.
Riley, Jonathon, The Colonial Ironsides (Helion & Company, 2022)