1688, Robert Dillington and others assert that Irish soldiers should not be quartered in private houses on the Isle of Wight

Transcription from ‘Petitions in the State Papers: 1680s’, in Petitions in the State Papers, 1600-1699, ed. Brodie Waddell, British History Online, Sir Robert Dillington, Major John Leigh and others, on behalf of the inhabitants of the Isle of Wight. SP 31/4 f. 265 (1688).

To his highness the Prince of Orange etc

The petition of Sir Robert Dillington baronet, Major John Leigh, Edward Dillington esquier Harrington Dingley esquier and Richard Knight gentleman, in the behalfe of the inhabitants of the Isle of Wight, who have made complaints to your petitioners

Humbly sheweth

That your petitioners are informed that those Irish newly come into the island are quartered on private houses, notwithstanding your highnesses most gratious declaration to the contrary, which is a great oppression to the poore inhabitants there, and might easily be prevented by quartering them on the severall garrisons as well as in publick houses, Carisbrook Castle being spacious enough to containe the major part of them

Your petitioners therefore most humbly prayes your highnes to be gratiously pleased to grant an order for the placeing of them accordingly, for the ease of the said inhabitants.

And your petitioners shall ever pray etc.

Report by Howard Greenwood

Sir Robert Dillington, Major John Leigh, Edward Dillington, Harrington Dingley and Richard Knight submitted their petition to the Prince of Orange on behalf of the inhabitants of the Isle of Wight. They asserted that ‘those Irish newly come into the island’ were quartered in private houses, notwithstanding the Prince’s declaration to the contrary. They asked that the resulting ‘oppression to the poor inhabitants’ of the island be relieved by quartering the Irish in garrisons, public houses or Carisbrook castle.

On reading this petition I was initially struck by some odd features. It talks about Irish people newly arrived to the island, and by the description of them they appear to be soldiers. The process described is that of billeting. This was a recognised way to suppress protest and was usually done to keep the local population tranquil.

Historians note that James II used Irish troops to maintain order in Britain while he was trying to reform various institutions of the realm.[1] The ‘size of the standing army available to James was almost doubled, much of it drawn from Irish troops’.[2] It has been further noted that ‘the same mistake was made in 1688 in Ireland […] for some of the best regiments were sent to England where they effected nothing’.[3]

But this petition was addressed to the Prince of Orange, suggesting this was at a stage in 1688 when he, William, had landed at Torbay (with a Dutch army) and James was in retreat. Before James departed to France, he sent a letter to the Earl of Feversham which the latter interpreted as an order to disband James’s army.[4] Thus James’s Irish troops would have found themselves cast adrift in a hostile country. As one historian describes it: ‘The demobilized soldiers added to the chaos, wild rumours being circulated that many were Irish who were on the rampage.’[5] None of these sources go on to explain what happened to these unwanted soldiers. Since the Prince of Orange seems to have been responsible for sending these Irishmen to the Isle of Wight, were these James’s troops, being corralled on the Isle prior to being transported away? In documents at the National Archives there is mention of vessels being available to transport timber ‘once they have finished transporting the Irish to the Isle of Wight’.[6]

John Childs offers a comprehensive description of what happened. These were indeed Irish troops, disbanded from the army as William set about purging it of Catholics to avoid potential problems. Any Protestant soldiers in these regiments were transferred into remaining Irish Protestant formations.[7] The disbanded troops (about 1500 in number) were then transported to the Isle of Wight until William could sell them into the service of a foreign army away from his own sphere of influence. By the time that he managed to find suitable service for them some 300 had escaped to France. What remained of the troops were transported to Hamburg in April 1689 leaving debts for quarters and subsistence behind them, along with a few deserters, still in hiding.[8]

There is evidence, elsewhere, of those Irish on the Isle of Wight who wanted to escape. The following text is from an Order in Council dated 20 April 1689:

Letter signed “Benj. Dewy,” addressed to the Comrs of Customs, stating that there had been a strange discovery, for Mr. Chamberlain, the deputy comptroller, had brought with him three of the chief of the Irishmen who were in the Isle of Wight, whom he engaged to convey to France. He had 14 guineas in hand to pay to the man who was to carry them over; the man and his servant were in gaol and Mr. Chamberlaine in custody, and Mr. Crudge, the deputy King’s searcher, who (with others of high rank) was privy to it. Dated at Pool, 20 April 1689’.[9]

As Childs has explained, this was not how the authorities wished them to leave.

Referring back to clues in the petition, checks on the names Robert Dillington and Harrison Dingley in the National Archives suggest both had connections to the Isle of Wight in the form of leases and wills. There is a will for Robert Dillington in 1689.[10] Elsewhere there is mention of a 1650 lease from Sir John Dingley of Wolverton.[11]

Among Parliamentary papers there are other mentions of Robert Dillington. In April 1689, Sir Robert complained that Sir Robert Holmes had quartered soldiers upon him in breach of the privileges due to him as a Member of the House.[12] Holmes was appointed captain and governor of the Isle of Wight in 1668 and represented Isle of Wight constituencies from 1679. It appears the unwanted billeting was at Knighton (a hamlet where Dillington lived).[13] Childs mentions Holmes as one of those tasked with expediting the embarkation of Irish troops.[14] Sir Robert Dillington briefly served as M.P. for Newport on the Isle of Wight. Following his death in May 1689 Edward Dillington, his great-uncle, was returned in his place (presumably the same Edward named in the petition) but he then died in the following year.[15] Although these events postdate the activities in the original petition, they suggest an added reason for Dillington, based in Knighton and Holmes, probably based at Carisbrooke Castle to be in disagreement as to where the Irish should be put.

Elsewhere the National Archives has a large collection of correspondence being sent to the Admiralty. During this period a Richard Beach, a Commissioner for the dockyards in Portsmouth, was reporting on the situation every few days. It is one of his letters about moving the Irish that is quoted from above. Another of Richard Beach’s letters, dated 15 January 1689 refers to ‘1500 Irish to be transported’.[16] This date fits with the accounts in Child’s book and suggests that the submission of the petition must date from the first half of 1689.


[1] S. Schama, A History of Britain – The British Wars 1603-1776 (2001), p. 314.

[2] M. Waller, Ungrateful Daughters (2002), p. 255.

[3] C. Petrie, The Marshall Duke of Berwick (1953), p. 56.

[4] R. Holmes, Marlborough – Britain’s Greatest General (2009), p. 55.

[5] W.A. Speck, Reluctant Revolutionaries: Englishmen and the Revolution of 1688 (1988), p. 89.

[6] ‘Folio 27: Commissioner Richard Beach, Portsmouth. The Purveyor Can Give No Information …’, 19 January 1689, The National Archives, Reference: ADM 106/387/15, https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C16296347.

[7] J. Childs, The British Army of William III 1689-1702 (1987), p. 10.

[8] Childs, p. 11.

[9] ‘Volume 3: December 27, 1688-May 28, 1689’, in Joseph Redington (ed.), Calendar of Treasury Papers, Volume 1, 1556-1696 (1868), pp. 31-45. British History Onlinehttp://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-treasury-papers/vol1/pp31-45.

[10] ‘Will of Robert Dillington of Newchurch Isle of Wight, Hampshire’, 1689, The National Archives, Reference: PROB 11/37/495, https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/results/r?_q=PROB+11%2F397%2F495.

[11] ‘Assignment of Leasehold Properties for £25’, 1694, , West Sussex Record Office, Reference: Add Mss 12458,

[12] ‘House of Commons Journal Volume 10: 30 April 1689’, in Journal of the House of Commons: Volume 10, 1688-1693 (1802), pp. 112-113. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/commons-jrnl/vol10/pp112-113.

[13] ‘HOLMES, Sir Robert (c.1622-92), of Whitehall and Carisbrooke Castle I.o.W.’ in B.D. Henning (ed.), The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1660-1690 (1983), https://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1660-1690/member/holmes-sir-robert-1622-92.

[14] Childs, p. 11.

[15] ‘DILLINGTON, Sir Robert, 3rd Bt. (c. 1664-89) of Knighton I.o.W.’; ‘DILLINGTON, Edward (c.1655-90) of Westover, I.o.W.’; ‘Newport I.o.W.’ in B.D. Henning (ed.), The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1660-1690 (1983), https://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1660-1690/member/dillington-sir-robert-1664-89; https://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1660-1690/member/dillington-edward-1655-90; https://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1660-1690/constituencies/newport-iow.

[16] ‘Commissioner Richard Beach, Portsmouth. Report on the Progress with the …’, 12 January 1689, The National Archives, Reference: ADM 106/387/9, https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C16296341.

This report is part of a series on ‘Petitioners in the reigns of James II, William III and Mary II, 1685-1699’, created through a U3A Shared Learning Project on ‘Investigating the Lives of Seventeenth-Century Petitioners’.