Kirke, Percy (1646?–1691), lieutenant-general in William III's (qv) army in Ireland, was one of several children of George Kirke (d. c.1675), gentleman of the robes to Charles I, and probably his second wife, Mary, daughter of Aurelian Townshend, writer of masques for the court. In 1666 he was commissioned ensign in the new Admiral's Regiment and in 1670 transferred to the cavalry regiment of his brother-in-law, the earl of Oxford. For much of the decade that followed he served on the Continent in the duke of Monmouth's Royal English Regiment, which formed part of the French army in campaigns under Turenne, Luxembourg, and de Créqui. In 1680 he became lieutenant-colonel and de facto commander of an infantry regiment raised for Tangier, where he arrived in 1681. He was acting governor of the colony from 1682. Although rough in manner and much given to drunkenness and sexual debauchery, he proved an energetic and capable governor who did much to improve the colony's fortifications. With Samuel Pepys and Lord Dartmouth he oversaw the evacuation of Tangier in 1684.
On his return to England the Old Tangier Regiment, to which he had transferred as colonel, was absorbed into the home establishment as the Queen's Foot. He was one of the most experienced professional soldiers in the English army. In 1685 he was promoted brigadier during Monmouth's rebellion and was present with his regiment at the battle of Sedgemoor. Somewhat exaggerated accounts of his harsh treatment of the rebels and their sympathisers gained him considerable notoriety. Much has been made, then and since, of the brutality of ‘Kirke's Lambs’, as his regiment was ironically known from the Paschal Lamb device on its badge. Kirke refused to abjure protestantism, and in 1688 played a leading role in the conspiracy of senior officers that paralysed the English army during the Glorious Revolution. Arrested for failing to advance against the invaders, and then released, he deserted to William of Orange, who promoted him major-general with effect from 8 November. Although he was bitterly condemned by James II (qv) for his ingratitude, Kirke's subsequent poor performance in Ireland raised doubts about the depth of his loyalty to William.
In May 1689 Kirke was ordered to sail from Liverpool with three regiments of infantry to relieve the besieged city of Derry. He was slow to depart and only arrived at the mouth of the Foyle on 11 June to find his passage to the city blocked by a boom the Jacobites had erected across the river. The pilots were prepared to try to get a ship past it, but there were fears that there might also be sunken boats filled with stones in the channel. Since nothing was heard from the city, Kirke concluded that it was not in immediate danger. At a council of war between the senior army and naval officers, it was decided not to attempt to enter the city by water but instead to await further reinforcements with a view to relieving it by land. Kirke withdrew to Lough Swilly, where for the next six weeks his only move was to land his infantry at Inch Island. His inactivity dismayed the city's hard-pressed defenders, and the reasons he advanced for it met with disapproval from William III and his newly appointed commander for Ireland, Marshal Schomberg (qv), who later described Kirke as un homme capricieux (CSPD, 1689–90, 199). He was ordered to reconsider with the naval officers the possibility of breaking the boom. These orders, coupled with appeals for relief from George Walker (qv), governor of Derry, finally stirred Kirke to act. He returned to the Foyle with part of his fleet and three merchant ships, laden with provisions. On 28 July the boom was breached without much difficulty, and Derry relieved. The Jacobites immediately raised the siege. Although Kirke was feted on his arrival in the city, there was much local criticism of his conduct, especially from the presbyterians, to which was soon added resentment at his reorganisation of the Ulster regiments, including the replacement of some of their original officers by Englishmen.
In September Kirke and the regiments under his command joined Schomberg at Dundalk for the offensive against Dublin, but the campaign ended in failure. In 1690 he was one of the four major-generals of infantry to serve under William at the Boyne. He secured the surrender of Waterford and Duncannon and took part in the siege of Limerick, where he was wounded, apparently not seriously, in the assault on the breach on 27 August. After the siege was raised he was sent to command the infantry in the midlands and in September took part in the relief of Birr. Subsequently he served in the successful autumn campaign by John Churchill (qv), earl of Marlborough, which captured Cork and Kinsale. In December he was promoted to lieutenant-general. Returning to his headquarters at Mullingar, he was involved in organising the midlands sector of the abortive Williamite winter offensive, and although not directly involved himself he was criticised for failing to spur others into greater activity. His lack of energy was again criticised in March 1691, when considerable pressure from the lords justices was needed to persuade him to participate in an unsuccessful attempt to force the Jacobites to abandon Ballymore, a stronghold in Westmeath which posed a threat to Mullingar. His failure to make an impact in Ireland resulted in his transfer to the Continent at the end of April, where he campaigned during the summer in Flanders, only to die of fever at Brussels on 31 October. His career suggests that while he was a competent regimental officer, a general's rank exceeded his capability. A portrait attributed to G. Kneller is in the collection of RHQ the Queen's Regiment, London. Kirke married Lady Mary Howard (d. 1712), daughter of George Howard, later 4th earl of Suffolk. Their eldest surviving son, Percy Kirke (1684–1731), was also a lieutenant-general and colonel of the ‘Lambs’.