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The Battle of Edgehill (or Edge Hill) was the first pitched battle of the First English Civil War. It was fought near Edge Hillmarker and Kinetonmarker in southern Warwickshiremarker on Sunday 23 October, 1642. The inconclusive result of the battle prevented either faction gaining a quick victory in the war, which eventually lasted four years.

Background

When it appeared to King Charles that no agreement with Parliament over the government of the Kingdom was possible, he left Londonmarker on 2 March 1642 and headed for the North of England. Both Parliament and King realised that armed conflict was inevitable, and prepared to raise forces. Parliament enacted a Militia Ordinance, by which it claimed authority over the country's trained bands, while from his temporary capital of Yorkmarker, Charles rejected Parliament's Nineteen Propositions and issued Commissions of Array, directing the Lord Lieutenant of each county to raise forces for the King.

Charles then attempted to seize the port of Kingston-upon-Hullmarker where arms and equipment previously collected for the Bishops' Wars had been gathered. In the Siege of Hullmarker, the Parliamentarian garrison defied the King's authority and drove his forces away from the city. In early August the King moved south, to Lincolnmarker and Leicestermarker, where he secured the contents of the local armouries. On 22 August, he took the decisive step by raising the royal standard in Nottinghammarker, effectively declaring war on Parliament. The Midlandsmarker were generally Parliamentarian in sympathy, and few rallied to the king there, so having again secured the arms and equipment of the local trained bands, Charles moved to Chestermarker and subsequently to Shrewsburymarker, where large numbers of recruits from Walesmarker and the Welsh border were expected to join him. (By now, there was conflict in almost every part of England, as local commanders attempted to seize the main cities, ports and castles for both factions).

Having learned of the King's actions in Nottingham, Parliament dispatched its own army northward under the Earl of Essex, to confront the King. Essex marched first to Northamptonmarker, where he mustered almost 20,000 men. Learning of the King's move westwards, Essex then marched north-westwards towards Worcestermarker. On 23 September, in the first clash between the main Royalist and Parliamentarian armies, Royalist cavalry under Prince Rupert of the Rhine routed the cavalry of Essex's vanguard at the Battle of Powick Bridgemarker. Nevertheless, lacking infantry, the Royalists abandoned Worcester.

Prelude

By early October, the King's army was almost complete at Shrewsbury. He held a council of war, at which two courses of action were considered. The first was to attack Essex's army at Worcester, which had the drawback that the close country around the city would put the superior Royalist cavalry at a disadvantage. The second course, which was adopted, was to advance towards London. The intention was not to avoid battle with Essex, but to force one at an advantage. In the Earl of Clarendon's words: "it was considered more counsellable to march towards London, it being morally sure that Essex would put himself in their way". Accordingly, the army left Shrewsbury on 12 October, gaining two days' start on the enemy, and moved south-east. Essex followed, but neither army had much information on the location of their enemy.

By 22 October, the Royalist army was quartered in the villages around Edgecotemarker, and was threatening the Parliamentarian garrison at Banburymarker, who sent messengers pleading for help to the garrison at Warwick Castlemarker. Essex, who had just reached there, ordered an immediate march to Kineton to bring relief to Banbury, even though his army had straggled and not all his troops were present. That evening, there were clashes between outposts and quartermasters' parties in Kineton and the villages nearby, and the Royalists had their first inkling that Essex's army was close by. The King issued orders for his army to muster for battle on top of the escarpment of Edgehill the following day.

Essex originally intended marching straight to the relief of Banbury, but at about eight o'clock on the morning of 23 October, his outposts reported that the Cavaliers were massed on Edgehill, four and a half miles from Kineton. Essex deployed his army about halfway between Kineton and the Royalist army, where there was some protection from hedge.

The opposing forces

There were some significant differences between the opposing armies, which were to be important to the course of the battle and its outcome. Although both were composed of very raw soldiers, they both had several experienced officers who had previously fought in the Dutchmarker or Swedishmarker armies during the Thirty Years' War. (Several of these had been recruited to lead English forces which were intended to be sent to Ireland following the Irish Rebellion of 1641. Both King and Parliament had bid highly for the services of these officers.)

The Royalist cavalry was superior to Parliament's cavalry at this stage of the war. Oliver Cromwell, who arrived too late in the day to take part in the battle, later wrote disparagingly to John Hampden, "Your troopers are most of them old decayed servingmen and tapsters; and their [the Royalists] troopers are gentlemen's sons, younger sons and persons of quality...". Not only were the Parliamentarian cavalry not so naturally accustomed to mounted action, but they were drilled in the Dutch tactic of firing pistols and carbines from the saddle, whereas under Rupert, the Royalist cavalry would charge sword in hand, relying on shock and weight.

By contrast, the Parliamentarian foot soldiers were better equipped. The Royalist pikemen were said to lack armour, and the musketeers lacked swords, making the Royalist infantry more vulnerable in hand-to-hand combat. Several hundred lacked any sort of weapon apart from clubs or improvised polearms.

The Royalist and Parliamentarian artillery trains were roughly equally matched. Although Essex had more guns overall, many of them had lagged behind on the march.

Deployments

Royalists

The Royalist right wing of cavalry and dragoons was led by Prince Rupert, with Sir John Byron in support. The King's own Lifeguard of Horse insisted on joining Rupert's front line.

The Centre consisted of five "tertias" of infantry. There was a last-minute change of command when the Colonel-General, Lord Lindsey, was overruled when he wished to deploy them in "Dutch" formation, simple phalanxes eight ranks deep. Affronted, he resigned his command and took his place at the head of his own regiment of foot. Instead, he was replaced by Lord Forth, who drew up the infantry in "Swedish" formation, which was potentially more effective but also more difficult to control, particularly with inexperienced soldiers. The centre was led in battle by Sergeant Major General Jacob Astley.

The left wing consisted of horse under Sir Henry Wilmot, with Lord Digby, the King's Secretary of State, in support and Colonel Arthur Aston's dragoons on his flank.

Parliamentarians

The Parliamentarian left wing consisted of a loosely organised cavalry brigade of twenty unregimented troops under Sir James Ramsay, supported by musketeers and several cannon. They were deployed behind a hedge.

Their centre consisted of three brigades of infantry. Because some of Essex's infantry were not present, Essex reinforced the weaker right flank of his infantry by moving two cavalry regiments under Sir William Balfour and Sir Philip Stapleton from his right wing to behind the infantry. This was to be important in the coming battle.

This left only a single regiment of cavalry under Lord Feilding, supported by musketeers and dragoons, on the right wing, posted on some rising ground.

The battle

As Essex showed no signs of wishing to attack, the Royalists began to descend the slope of Edgehill some time after midday. Even when they had completed this manoeuvre at about two o'clock, the battle did not begin, until the sight of the King with his large entourage riding from regiment to regiment to encourage his soldiers, apparently goaded the Parliamentarians into opening fire.

The King's party withdrew out of range and an artillery duel took place. The Royalist guns were comparatively ineffective as most of them were deployed some way up the slope, and from this height most of their shot plunged harmlessly into the earth. While the bombardment continued however, the Royalist dragoons advanced on each flank and drove back the Parliamentarian dragoons and musketeers covering their wings of horse.

At last, Rupert gave the order to attack. As his charge gathered momentum, a troop of Parliamentarian horse under Faithfull Fortescue abruptly defected. The rest of Ramsay's brigade apparently gave an ineffectual volley of pistol fire from the saddle before turning to flee. Rupert's and Byron's troopers rapidly overran the enemy guns and musketeers on this flank and galloped jubilantly in pursuit of Ramsay's men.

Wilmot charged about the same time on the other flank. Feilding's outnumbered regiment quickly gave way, and Wilmot and Digby also chased them to Kineton where the Royalist horse fell out to loot the Parliamentarian baggage.

The Royalist infantry also advanced in the centre. Many of the Parliamentarian foot had already run away as their cavalry disappeared, and others fled as the infantry came to close quarters. The brigades of Sir Thomas Ballard and Sir John Meldrum nevertheless stood their ground. Without any Royalist cavalry to oppose them, the Parliamentarian horse under Stapleton and Balfour now charged the Royalist infantry and put many units to flight.

The King had left himself without any proper reserve. As his centre gave way, he ordered one of his officers to conduct his sons Charles and James to safety while he himself tried to rally his infantry. Some of Balfour's men charged so far into the Royalist position that they menaced the princes' escort and briefly overran the Royalist artillery before withdrawing. In the front ranks, Lord Lindsey was killed, and Sir Edmund Verney died defending the Royal Standard, which was captured by Parliamentarian Ensign Arthur Young, and recaptured by captain John Smith (who was knighted by a grateful Charles).

By this time, some of the Royalist horse had rallied and were returning from Kineton. Some of them recaptured the Royal Standard as it was being taken to the rear as a trophy. As they reformed on the flanks, and as evening drew on, Essex ordered his men to break off the battle.

Outcome

Both sides held their positions during the night, which was very cold. This has been suggested as the reason why many of the wounded survived, as the cold allowed many wounds to congeal, saving the wounded from bleeding to death or succumbing to infection.

The following day, both armies formed up again, but neither was willing to resume the battle. Charles sent a Herald to Essex with a message of pardon if he would agree to the King's terms, but the messenger was roughly handled and forced to return without delivering his message. Although Essex had been reinforced by some of his units which had lagged behind on the march, he withdrew on 25 October to Warwick Castle, abandoning seven guns on the battlefield.

This allowed the King to move directly on London. Rupert urged this course, and was prepared to undertake it with his cavalry alone. With Essex's army still intact, Charles chose to move more deliberately, with the whole army. After capturing Banbury on 27 October, Charles advanced via Oxfordmarker, Aylesburymarker and Readingmarker. Essex meanwhile had moved directly to London. Reinforced with the London Trained Bands and many citizen volunteers, he would prove to be too strong for the King to contemplate another battle when the Royalists advanced to Turnham Greenmarker. The King withdrew to Oxford, which he made his capital for the rest of the war. With both sides almost evenly matched, it would drag on ruinously for years.

It is generally acknowledged that the Royalist cavalry's lack of discipline prevented a clear Royalist victory at Edgehill. Not for the last time in the war, they would gallop after fleeing enemy and stop to plunder, rather than rally to attack the enemy infantry. Byron's and Digby's men in particular, were not involved in the first clashes and should have been kept in hand rather than allowed to gallop off the battlefield.

Maps

The site of the battle now lies within a Ministry of Defence installation covering a large area so that it can not be visited on foot.
  • . This is the site of the Parliamentarian army's centre about which much of the fighting was done.
  • . (Zoom out one step). The narrow wood, which has probably grown since the battle, marks the scarp of Edge Hill at the top of which the king's army formed up before the battle. Towards the north-west, it overlooks the lower slope and the plain on which the battle was fought. Parliament's army was formed up on the site of the later military depot with its left wing on the road.


Footnotes

References

  • Seymour, W. Battles in Britain, 1066-1746. (1997) ISBN 1-85326-672-8
  • Scott, C.L., Turton, A & Gruber von Arni, E. Edgehill: The Battle Reinterpreted. (2005) ISBN 1-84415-133-6
  • Tincey, John, Roberts, Keith, Edgehill 1642: The English Civil War. (2001) ISBN 1-85532-991-3
  • The UK Battlefields Resource Center, The Battlefields Trust, Meadow Cottage, 33 High Green, Brooke, Norwich, NR15 1HR
  • Young, Peter, Edgehill 1642, Windrush Press, ISBN 0-900075-34-1


External links




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