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The Battle of Edgehill - 23 Oct 1642

By SPP Reporter

The Opposing Armies Were:

The Royalist Army of HM King Charles I personally commanded by the King. The Army of the Parliament commanded by Robert Devereaux, 3rd Lord of Essex.

Strength Of Opposing Armies

Royalist Parl.

Horse (Cavalry) 2,500 2,500

Dragoons (Mounted Infantry) 1,000 800

Foot(Infantry) 10,000 11,000

Cannon 20 12

Note: Each army was approximately 14,000 strong but Essex had a further regiment of horse and 4 regiments of foot one day’s march behind his main army escorting a further 30 cannon.

Topography of Kineton –Radway – Edgehill Area

Edgehill is a conspicuous ridge in South Warwickshire rising some 700 feet above its surroundings, 3 miles long facing north-west. The slope is very steep, with a gradient of 1 in 4 in parts. Now treed, it was open ground in 1642 except for one small clump of trees. The plain between the hill and Kineton was fairly open in the centre apart from some scrub and furze and a single hedge (still in existence) between Thistle Farm and the site of Battle Farm, the buildings of which were demolished in 1960. The heaviest fighting in the battle took place between these two farms. Some small copses that existed at the time of the battle have since gone and others have been planted in different places. The DM buildings and network of railway lines which now cover the area make it difcult to visualise it as a piece of open country as it was in 1642.

Preliminary Moves To The Battle

By 21/22 October 1642 the Royalist Army was in the area of Edgecote en route from Shrewsbury to London. An assembly of the whole of the King’s Army took place at Fenny Compton and the regiments were then dispersed to nd accommodation as best they could in the surrounding villages; we know for certain that Edgecote, Culworth, Cropredy (where another battle took place in 1644), Mollington (Prince Rupert’s Regiment of Horse were here), Wardington, Wormleighton, Ratley and others were used. The King held a council of war on 21 October, without knowing that the Army of Essex was only some 12 miles away to the west, in and around Kineton.

The council planned an attack on Broughton Castle near Banbury for the next day. Prince Rupert’s HQ at Mollington had an outpost on Burton Hill and from here the enemy watch res were first seen. This news was brought to the King during the night, and prompted by Rupert he changed his plans and ordered his Army to move to Edgehill the next morning to cut off Essex from London.

Essex’s object had been to interpose his Army between the King’s and London and to this end he had marched east from Worcester, roughly parallel with the Royalists. Most of his force had arrived at Kineton on the 22nd but some with the bulk of his artillery were still on the way. When Essex was preparing for church in Kineton the next morning (Sunday 23rd) his sentries spotted Royalist horse on top of Edgehill. The Parliamentary Army came out of Kineton into the elds in front of the town and formed on a frontage of about 2miles, with its centre on what was then the road leading direct from Kineton to Radway ( now lost in the middle of West Sub-Depot), the left extending across what is now the B4086 road to a point short of what is now Owlington Farm in East Sub-Depot, (the old road in those days skirted the farm), and the right extending to what is now the Oaks Plantation.

Some of the units were moved so quickly that prayer meetings were interrupted and it is said that the men in Tysoe village had no time to eat their breakfast but grabbed the loaves from the baker’s oven as they left.

The Royalist position on top of Edgehill was almost impregnable and this made the King decide to descend as he was anxious to confront Essex’s force. He felt that if he showed himself to the rebel army, some at least would not ght against their King. Also it was becoming increasingly difcult to nd food for his army as he was in hostile country. The Royalist Army therefore came down the steep hillside, the guns having to be manhandled, and formed up facing the Parliamentarians, adjusting its frontage to conform to that of its opponents, a custom of the time.

Both armies formed up with horse on each wing and the foot in the centre, another custom of the day.

The Parliamentary Army was commanded by the Earl of Essex but the Royalist command was divided under the King. The Earl of Lindsay was the titular commander but Prince Rupert exercised independent command of the horse. Lindsay disagreed with some of the arrangements and shortly before the battle resigned his command and led his own regiment into battle; he was mortally wounded, captured by the enemy, together with his son (who commanded the King’s Lifeguard of Foot), and died three days later.

The Battle

The battle began in the early afternoon of Sunday 23rd October with an exchange of cannon re, during which Royalist dragoons began to clear hedges on both anks of the enemy positions. Prince Rupert’s horse, extending their line, then advanced at the trot, crossing a brook in doing so.

On a slight rise on the far side stood 42 troops of Parliamentary horse commanded by Sir James Ramsey; Rupert’s force charged them and as they did so one troop (60 horse) of Ramsey’s, commanded by Sir Faithful Fortesque, changed sides. The effect of this treachery and the shock of Rupert’s charge was too much for the rest of the half trained Parliamentary horse who fired their pistols and fled pursued by the Cavaliers down the road into and beyond Kineton towards Wellesborne.

This charge also swept away part of the left wing of Parliamentary foot, a whole brigade (4 regiments of foot) commanded by Colonel Charles Essex (no relation to the Earl). Whilst this action was in progress the Royalist foot (5 brigades or tertia as they were then called), under the Sgt Major General in command of all the foot, Sir Jacob Astley, advanced in line ring their muskets and coming to “Push of Pike’’. The Parliamentary foot fell back in the centre to the hedge which they held with musketeers. The heavy re from these created many casualties among the Royalists and they became pinned down in the area of Radway brook.

On the left flank a smaller body of Royalist horse under Lord Wilmot had charged the enemy right ank at the same time as Rupert had charged the left, and in doing so they had swept away one rebel regiment of foot and a regiment of horse. However, the enclosed nature of this part of the field broke up the Royalists and caused them to overlook 2 Parliamentary horse regiments under Sir William Balfour, one commanded by himself and the other Essex’s own regiment of horse commanded by Sir Phillip Stapledon. (Captain Oliver Cromwell commanded a troop in this regiment but was not present at the battle.) These 2 regiments now turned the tide by charging the centre of the Royalist foot which was badly mauled but held. A second and better organised Parliamentary attack by these 2 regiments of horse, but this time supported by foot regiments, then took place. A terrible struggle ensued and casualties among the Royalists were very heavy. The King’s Regiment of Lifeguard were cut to pieces and the Royal standard carried by Sir Edmund Verney was taken. Verney defended his charge so well that legend has it that even in death his hand had to be severed to take the banner from him. Eventually the Royalists were able to retreat across the brook and well supported by their cannon were able to hold off the enemy.

Night was now falling and both sides fell apart more from exhaustion than anything else. Prince Rupert’s horse returned from their chase but both horses and riders were too spent to mount another charge which might have carried the day for the King.

In the closing stages of the battle the Royal standard was dramatically recaptured by a Captain Smith who was knighted on the spot by the King. Darkness had now set in and both sides settled down to watch throughout the night.

In the morning both sides took up battle positions but neither was inclined to do battle, and eventually Essex left the eld with his whole army despite having received reinforcements of 4,000 horse and foot and the rest of his cannon. 7 guns and many colours were left in Royalist hands.

Neither side could claim victory although there were many on both sides who did. Had Rupert controlled his men after their dramatic charge had broken Ramsey’s wing, and had he then wheeled to take the Parliamentary foot in their rear, victory would certainly have gone to the King, and the outcome of the Civil War would have been settled there and then.

On the other hand, had Essex pressed home his advantage when his combined horse and foot had all but broken the whole of the Royalist foot, another story would have been told of total Parliamentary success. Most of the dead, apart from the nobles and gentry whose servants bore them away, were buried on the field. In West Sub-Depot there are two graves, one in the centre of Essex’s position (Grave Ground Coppice), and the other a field away from the old turn pike gate on the Kineton Road. The actual number of dead is unknown, but reports vary from 1,200 to 5,000. The true gure is somewhere between the two; certainly the Rev Fisher (vicar of Kineton at the time), who was appointed by Essex to bury the dead, compiled a list of 1,200. Anyway, most rest now in one or other of the two grave areas, but others rest elsewhere; for example, at Warmington Church the register refers to the burial of one ofcer and seven troopers. The ofcer’s grave can be seen to this day. In Radway Church is a memorial to Captain Kingsmill who fought and died for the King.

As previously described, the families quarters in Temple Herdewyke are named after leading personalities in the battle.

Edgehill itself offers some beautiful views for miles around, and far below can be seen the grounds of the depot and the site of the battle. Visit the “Castle Inn” built by Sanderson Mille or Miller on the spot the King is believed to have raised his standard before descending to do battle. For the ladies a bit of romance: many months after the battle, when the King had established his Court at Oxford, he chose Edgehill at which to meet his Queen on return from Holland.

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