VISIT | Fighting the Battle of Edgehill | Warwickshire
A Symbol of Liberalism That Endured Long After The Abolition of Slavery
Learn more of the only Civil War in English history
Get to the heart of the first battle - the Battle of Edgehill of 1642
Find the memorial placed here to remember this most unique of Warwickshire battles - and think what might have been
"...the battlefield marker of an English Civil War Battle which should have ended it all..."
“O Lord, Thou knowest how busy I must be this day.
If I forget Thee, do not thou forget me
March on, boys!”
Spoken by Jacob Astley, 1st Baron Astley of Reading, Major General of Foot
23rd October 1642 on the morning of the Battle of Edgehill
The high ground of Edgehill in Warwickshire is resplendent. An excellent vantage point if ever there was one. But for this small place of Edgehill and this significant hill – it was all about the English Civil War of the 17thcentury. The two things cemented in history together. Edgehill and the English Civil War – October 23rd 1642.
For this was the only Civil War England ever had. Well formally. The Crown under King Charles I with his Royalists or Cavaliers against Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentarians commonly known as Roundheads. A battle over power – power and money.
There had been minor skirmishes since the Civil War had begun but the Battle of Edgehill was the first grand-scale battle between the two sides. Charles I had raised his standard with a call to arms for war at Nottingham and had raised around 12,000 men and of them three thousand were cavalry under the command of Prince Rupert.
King Charles had camped at Edgecote in Northamptonshire – in part chosen due to a previous battle which had taken place there from the Wars of the Roses. Charles placed his forces on the grand escarpment at Edgehill to wait out for the Duke of Essex who were encamped locally at the village of Kineton.
Charles moved his forces off the hill to face Essex and his men at Radway. Charles laid out his forces – artillery in the centre with wise commanders on all sides including the Earl of Lindsay and Lord Wilmot. The Royal Standard was guarded by local Warwickshire noble stalwart Sir Edmund Verney.
But there were issues that day on either side. Most officers had little military experience, some had mucked around on the Continent with a sword but there were no seasoned campaigners particularly amongst the men, who had received the very briefest of training. The King declined to command his forces in the field, his Commander in Chief the Earl of Forth had resigned his command on the morning of the Battle at Edgehill and the Earl of Essex who led the Roundheads quit his position after initial fighting and wanted to die at the head of his men believing the day was lost. No exactly a masterclass in leadership. Prince Rupert was seen as the only sound military man on the field that day but even then he had his own weaknesses…
Essex faced up to the Royalist forces with a mere 10,000 men and with much less military experience, fewer cavalry and supplies. But Essex went through in the centre to engage the artillery, whilst his horse under the command of Fielding were chased up and around by Rupert’s cavalry. It was a step too far for Rupert as the Roundheads realised the centre was short on numbers who had followed up with Rupert.
The Parliamentarians attacked Verney and the Standard. Verney was killed by a sabre thrust and allegedly had his hand hacked off in grabbing the Royal Standard. And so the Standard was briefly lost before Sir John Smith rescued it for the Royalist side and Rupert returned just in time to save the King’s men from a complete defeat. But the Earl of Forth was dying. Verney was dead. Their numbers were depleted and scattered.
The King’s Red Guards had been devastated and the casualties numbered at least 2,000 dead. But it was hard to see who had actually come out of the battle worst. At the end of the day, the Parliamentarians had sixteen Royal colours, but had lost seventeen to the Royalists.
Charles withdrew the following day as Essex welcomed fresh recruits and support arriving at pace and marched himself off.
Rupert cantered off to chase his enemy’s cavalry but some see the Battle of Edgehill as a lost victory – a win by either side would have led to an ending of this Civil War. Rather than the Battle of Edgehill being the first significant Civil War Battle, it could have been the last. And the war would not have dragged itself onward for another six years. So most called it a draw. No side really won out.
Exactly 307 years after the Battle of Edgehill took place on the land around them in this part of rural Warwickshire, Lord Willoughby De Broke, Lord Lieutenant of Warwickshire unveiled two memorial stones to the Battle on October 23rd 1949.
The memorial stones were put in place by Warwickshire County Council – the plan was simple - to lay two memorial stones to the Battle of Edgehill near the battle site off the Kineton-Banbury Road. The locals were proud of their Civil War history and particularly as it was seen as the only battle of any significance fought in Warwickshire since Danelaw and the Anglo-Saxon period.
It was also in part completed at the behest of the Birmingham Archaeological Society due to concern about the large military encampment which continues to sit over much of the original battlefield.
One memorial stone was positioned at the corner of a copse on the battlefield of Edgehill where many men were buried in mass graves and the other stone was poised on the edge of a hedgerow on the Kineton-Banbury Road itself, some quarter of a mile from where the action took place. And this one can be accessed by all those who choose to stop their car, their bike, their footsteps on that minor road.
The Battle of Edgehill – a battle which should have ended a Civil War but didn’t – here in the fields of Warwickshire where King met Country. And everybody lost.
Directions and Map |
Find the Battle of Edgehill Obelisk on the side of the B4086 road near Kineton