July 1, 1690
Edward walked into the cold and dimly lit dining hall of Malahide Castle and strained to recognize any of the three faces that glanced up to see who had joined them. Realizing none of the faces belonged to his father, and not in the mood to talk to any of his relatives, he spotted an empty table, walked across the room and sat down quietly on the vacant handcrafted oak bench. The only illumination in the chamber was provided by six wax candles held in place on the walls by intricately caste iron sconces: three on one side of the room and three more on the opposite wall. He brushed his blonde hair away from his light grey eyes and stared at his folded hands, trying to keep to himself.
Although he had spent hundreds of mornings in that very room, Edward could not remember any other time when he had felt so much dread and foreboding. The negative energy was as thick as a moonless night and seemed to emanate not only from the men seated in the room but also from the castle walls themselves. He wished his father would arrive soon to eat breakfast. At least his father would try brightening the mood even though the prospects for the outcome of the day were not all that good. He tried to concentrate on lighter things, but his mind continually returned to thoughts of the imminent battle looming before him and how it was interfering with what he really wanted to do and who he wanted to be with.
How had he come to this point in his life? He had asked himself the same question several times over the course of the last month but an acceptable answer continued to evade
him. He was simply unlucky. If things had worked out in his favor, if luck had been on his side instead of against him, he would have been in Kilkenny with Claire instead of at Malahide preparing for battle. At this point there was no option; he needed to be with the men of his family who supported the deposed King James II against the invading Protestant forces of King William of Orange. His courtship of the beautiful daughter of Richard Butler would need to wait until after the battle was won. He was young and had plenty of time. What his family didn’t know yet was that the two had already expressed their love and commitment in a very sacred and binding ceremony; one which neither of their parents would approve of had they known.
Edward looked up as two more men slowly walked into the oppressive room. He lowered his gaze back to folded hands after seeing that neither of them was his father. He knew he needed to control his thoughts and steer them away from Claire Butler. If he became distracted or daydreamed about the girl after the battle started, then it could prove to be not only dangerous to him but to those fighting around him.
The thought that he could die later that day never entered his mind, primarily because of his age. At only sixteen, he had previously been instructed by his father that he was to stay off the front line of the battle and only assist the commander as a courier. He wasn’t happy about not taking part in the actual fighting but had long since given up on trying to talk his father into allowing him to fight by his side; he was simply too young and inexperienced he had been told. He never dared to ask why some of his friends of the same age were preparing to fight with their fathers.
Three more Talbot men laboriously entered the room and sat down across from Edward. Looking up this time, he was relieved to see the bright blue eyes of his father looking back at him. John Talbot recognized his son’s anxiety and smiled warmly. He reached a muscled arm across the table and clapped his son on the shoulder. Immediately Edward felt bolstered and more confident than he had for some time. He didn’t understand the political difference between King James and King William. He really didn’t grasp why it was important that William was a Protestant. What he did know was his father was a good man, endowed with thoughtful judgment, and he would gladly lend his support to anything his father felt strongly about.
“Edward!” his father said loudly. “Have you had your morning meal yet?”
“No Father, I was waiting for you.” He answered half as loudly as the question had been asked.
His father smiled again and brushed a strand of long red hair out of his eyes. He looked at the prepared fruits and breads on the table and grabbed a dark loaf of something the baker had made that morning. He broke off a third and handed the remaining portion to his son. “Eat, Edward. You’ll need nourishment to sustain you though the day. I’m afraid it may be many hours before you have the chance to eat again.”
Edward took the bread and broke off a smaller portion for himself. “Yes Father.” He handed what remained of the bread to his father’s older brother Bartley, one of the other two men sitting across from him.
He felt his father’s piercing eyes focus on him as he swallowed the first piece. He looked up and asked, “What is it Father? Are you not well?”
John Talbot sighed heavily. “Edward, where have the years gone? Just yesterday I was bouncing you on my knee and now, what seems only a day later, you’ll go with me into battle.” He chuckled before adding, “And, you are even old enough to attract the attention of the redheaded daughter of Richard Butler.”
Edward came close to choking on the bread he had just swallowed. “Father, you know?” He was so surprised by the comment it was all he could do to utter the question.
“Aye Edward, your mother and I have known for quite some time.” He smiled again, trying to set his son at ease. “You could do far worse lad. Claire is a beautiful girl from a good family and you’d be very lucky if you won her hand.”
Edward was simply stunned. Up until that moment he believed that the budding relationship between him and Claire had been a well-kept secret between the two of them. Had Claire said something to someone? He didn’t believe so but how else could their love have been discovered? He knew he hadn’t said anything to anyone.
They had shared three short days together during the spring festival in Kilkenny. It was then that everything had happened between them. What started as a mutual attraction rapidly became true love within just a few short hours. It was the only time in their lives they had been together.
“Father, you approve?” Edward asked tentatively.
“Aye my son, as I said, you could do far worse. I happen to know she comes from a good Catholic family too.” He winked and placed some berries into his mouth. “However Edward, you do need to keep thoughts of the girl from your mind today. It will be dangerous if you are distracted from the task at hand, that of repelling King William and his men.”
“Father, I know this and I will not disappoint you. I give you my promise.”
John Talbot nodded his head approvingly. “I know you will son. I have not found you lacking in any way since you were a small lad and dropped my best knife-sharpening stone into the garderobe.” He chuckled as he reflected on their years together. “I’m proud to be your father. You represent the Talbot name well.”
“Thank you Father.” Edward lowered his gaze back to his hands, a little embarrassed by the praise and knowing his father’s voice had been loud enough for all in the room to hear what he said. There was no animosity or jealousy between cousins, uncles, and brothers but praise was something generally reserved for private moments in the Talbot family and not just for anyone’s ears.
The next time Edward looked up there were a dozen male family members in the dining hall. Each one of them ate the remainder of their meal in eerie silence. Even though there was plenty of time for the men to eat, very little bread and fruit passed their lips that morning compared to most.
The sun was starting to make its customary appearance in the eastern sky, lighting the room beyond what the six candles could provide. Edward knew, as did the rest of the family, the time for leaving the safe confines of the castle was soon approaching. Edward noticed his rather robust father was not eating much either, signaling that he was worried.
Bartley Talbot, the oldest of Edward’s uncles, placed his hands heavily on the table and raised himself into a standing position. He looked around the room appraising the family’s mood before speaking in a subdued but patriarchal tone. “It’s time my brothers. We need to make our way to the river.”
Edward and his father stood up simultaneously along with everyone else in the room. As they made their way to the dining hall door, John Talbot placed a strong arm around his son’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze, pulling him closer as he did so. In a hushed tone that Edward didn’t know his father possessed, he said, “Edward, you keep to the rear and do only what is asked of you. Do not think of engaging any of the enemy in battle yourself.”
John Talbot looked at his son closely and seconds later nodded his head, content in the belief that his son was listening and would make it through the day.
The Talbot men emerged from the castle and gathered outside the front entrance. There they were met by several of the Talbot women as well as a local priest who offered a blessing in behalf of the family.
Edward looked across the expanse of the grounds and appreciated the beauty of the trees reaching into the sky. The grass was as green as he could ever remember it, and it was obvious the gardeners had been doing their best to take care of the entire property. Flowers of different varieties seemed to be without end wherever he looked.
The women hugged and kissed their husbands, sons, and brothers after which the men mounted their horses that had been led to the castle from the stable some time earlier. Everyone present noticed how regal and noble they all looked atop their mounts, muskets held in one hand and the reins of each ride held in the other.
Despite their formidable appearance, Edward noticed the mood of the men had not changed. Looking into their faces he could tell most were not optimistic and actually quite grim. He thought what a contradiction everything was. The beauty of Ireland normally uplifted his heart and overwhelmed his spirit; but on this day, the opulent surroundings could not break through the encompassing blackness.
The ladies stepped away from their men and watched as they trotted away in the direction of the river. The journey wouldn’t take long since they were fortunate enough to have horses. For most of the soldiers in the Jacobite army, the luxury of owning a horse was way beyond their financial means. The Talbots, however, had the wealth and importance to warrant owning several of the creatures and they were not embarrassed to indulge themselves. With their affluence came respect, something that had not gone unnoticed by the Talbots, and they hoped their arrival at the battle ground would inspire those fighting on their side.
The sun had not been above the horizon an hour when the river came into view and already John Talbot saw there would be confusion. Both armies were dressed in red which made it almost impossible to distinguish who the enemy was, especially since both sides were positioned along the banks of the river. He turned in the saddle to face his son. “Edward, you station yourself up on the hill to the west and wait for further instructions.”
“Yes Father.” He looked in the direction where his father was pointing and noticed a small knoll that appeared to be well out of danger. He kicked the flanks of his brown mare and rode toward where he was assigned to wait. He covered half the distance in relative quiet when the stillness was shattered by the loud crack of musket fire. He reigned in his horse and turned the mare in time to see his father fall from the saddle and lie still on the ground, his horse stepping nervously around him. More loud cracks and two more men from his family fell to the earth while another listed to one side in the saddle as his horse ran off in the opposite direction.
Edward was unsure what to do. From his elevated position he could see several enemy soldiers lined up in two rows approximately thirty yards from the clearing. The front row was reloading their muskets while the back row was stepping forward to fire again. His family had not been expecting the attack and was just now scrambling to react.
He kicked his heels and guided his horse back toward the clearing at a full run. He could see Bartley dismount and bend over his father who, as far as Edward could tell, had not moved since striking the ground. Other family members jumped off their horses and prepared their own matchlock muskets to return fire.
Disobedience did not come easily to Edward and he hoped his father would understand why he didn’t stay on the hill.
As he sped to where his family was now firing back at the enemy, a single soldier saw his approach out of the corner of his eye and leveled his flintlock musket as he rode from right to left. He led him perfectly and pulled the trigger.
Edward never knew he had been hit. He thought he heard a bird of prey screech in the sky somewhere overhead but was unable to tilt his head to look up. He saw Claire, a look of horror on her face, materialize right in front of him only to disappear again. Then, along with all his hopes and dreams, Edward died before he fell off his horse.
Three significant things happened that day on the banks of the River Boyne. First, every male member of the Talbot family who ate breakfast together in the dining hall that morning was killed during the battle. Second, and perhaps of more importance, the deposed King James II would finally give up his ambition of retaking the throne of England that he had lost two years before. Third, the wheels that had already been put in motion to assure Edward and Claire’s union were abruptly halted. Nobody could possibly know, at the time, what harm or consequence would be the result.