IRETON, HENRY (1611-1651), English parliamentary general, eldest son of German Ireton of Attenborough, Nottinghamshire, was baptized on the 3rd of November 1611, became a gentleman commoner of Trinity College, Oxford, 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, fought at Edgehill and at Gainsborough in July 1643, was made by Cromwell deputy-governor of the Isle of Ely, and next year 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, he 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 following, and took an active part in the subsequent victorious campaign which resulted in the overthrow of the royal cause. On the 30th of October 1645 Ireton entered parliament as member for Appleby, and while occupied with the siege of Oxford he was, on the 15th of June 1646, married to Bridget, daughter of Oliver Cromwell. This union brought Ireton into still closer connexion with Cromwell, with whose career he was now more completely identified. But while Cromwell's policy was practically limited to making the best of the present situation, and was generally inclined to compromise, Ireton's attitude was based on well-grounded principles of statesmanship. He was opposed to the destructive schemes of the extreme party, disliked especially the abstract and unpractical theories of the Republicans and the Levellers, and desired, while modifying their mutual powers, to retain the constitution of King, Lords and Commons. He urged these views in the negotiations of the army with the 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." He endeavoured to prevent the breach between the army and the parliament, but when the division became inevitable took the side of the former. He persevered in supporting the negotiations with the king till his action aroused great suspicion and unpopularity. He became at length 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 Lucas and 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 having been chosen by lot to accompany Cromwell in his Irish campaign, Ireton was appointed major-general; and on the recall of his chief to take the command in Scotland, he remained with the title and powers of lord-deputy to complete Cromwell's work of reduction and replantation. 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 on the 26th of November 1651 of fever after the capture of Limerick. His loss " struck a great sadness into Cromwell," and perhaps there was no one of the parliamentary leaders who could have been less spared,, for while he possessed very high abilities as a soldier, and great political penetration and insight, he resembled in stern unflinchingness of purpose the protector himself. By his wife, Bridget Cromwell, who married afterwards General Charles Fleetwood, Ireton left one son and three daughters.
BIBLIOGRAPHY. Article by C. H. Firth in Diet, of Nat. Biog. with authorities there quoted; Wood's Ath. Oxon. iii 298, and Fasti, 1. 451; Cornelius Brown's Lives of Notts Worthies, 181; Clarke Papers published by Camden Society; Gardiner's History of the Civil War and of the Commonwealth.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)