«Historical Context By the Spring of 1642 it was increasingly clear that the argument between Charles I and his Parliament would only be settled by ...»
English Heritage Battlefield Report: Edgehill 1642
Edgehill (23 October 1642)
Parishes: Tysoe, Oxhill, Kineton, Chadshunt, Burton Dassett, Radway
District: Stratford on Avon
Grid Ref: SP357490
By the Spring of 1642 it was increasingly clear that the argument between Charles I and his Parliament would
only be settled by force or surrender. The King thus began recruiting in earnest and on 22 August he raised his
standard at Nottingham, before marching in the second half of September to Shrewsbury, there to assemble men from the Welsh Marches. Parliament, supported by the finanacial and material resources of the City of London, were able to take the field considerably sooner than the King. This advantage was promptly surrendered by Parliament's Captain-General, the Earl of Essex, who was noted for a lack of urgency in all that he did and who allowed the King to steal the initiative.
Essex followed the Royal army westwards, leaving garrisons in Banbury, Coventry, Hereford, and Worcester, but although his troops clashed briefly with Prince Rupert at Powick Bridge, he failed to deter Charles from turning east and marching on London. If the Royalists could occupy the capital they would probably win the War at a stroke, and it had been Essex's principal duty to prevent this from happening. As both armies meandered eastwards through the Midlands with only a vague grasp of where the other might be, the opportunity of a clear run to London presented itself to the King who had reached Edgecote by 22 October.
In the absence of any reports that Essex was nearby, and after Charles had summoned Banbury to surrender, it was decided that the army would remain in quarters the next day. Those quarters were widely dispersed and the Royalist troops was distributed across tthe countryside between Edgecote and Cropredy. As Prince Rupert made his way to his quarters in Wormleighton, the Parliamentarian quartermasters were also entering the village. They were taken prisoner and Rupert sent out patrols which located the main Parliamentarian force in Kineton, not more than seven miles away from the Royalist main body. Rupert was all for an immediate attack on the enemy, but he was eventually persuaded that it would be appropriate to inform the King first. It appears that Rupert also suggested that the Royalist army should concentrate at Edgehill early on 23 October.
Location and Description of the Battlefield There is no controversy surrounding the location of the Battle of Edgehill though there are disagreements as to the exact deployment of some individual units, particularly in relation to the Parliamentarian army. The ridge of Edgehill, which rises some 300 feet above the plain extending north-west towards Kineton, is some seven miles north-west of Banbury. News of the Royalist deployment on Edgehill reached the Parliamentary army while it
was quartered in around Kineton, and Essex drew his force out to face south-east towards the enemy:
In the morning when we were going to Church, wee had Newes brought us, That the Enemy was two miles from us upon a high Hill, called Edge-Hill: Whereupon we presently marched forth into a great broad field under that Hill, called the Vale of the Red-Horse, and made a stand some half a mile from the foot of the Hill, and there drew into Battalio, where wee saw their Forces
come downe the Hill, and draw likewise into Battell in the bottome....1
The Royalists, forming on Edgehill could plainly see the Parliamentarian force on the plain below:
....he (Charles) order'd his whole Army to meet him the next day at Edgehill. He was no sooner arrived there with his first troop, than he saw the van of the Rebell's Army down in the bottom by Keynton, which soon after began to draw up in battell in the plain before that village, but advanced no further.2 It became clear that Essex would not attempt to attack the King while he was ensconced on such a favourable
position, and that for an engagement to take place Charles would have to lead his army down to the plain:
...it was resolved, that we should go down the Hill and attack them. Whereupon great preparations were made and precautions taken, for descending the Hill, which was very steep and long, and had been impracticable, if the enemy had drawn nearer to the Bottom of it; but we saw by the Ranging their Army, that they intended to stay there for us, having a good Market Town by them, and not far from Warwick.3 When this descent to the plain had been accomplished, not without some difficulty in the case of the artillery, the armies were drawn up facing each other, perhaps almost a mile apart, at a point between Kineton and Radway. There are a number of factors which reinforce the identification of this area as the main position of the opposing armies. The area is redolent with names suggesting conflict: 'Bullet Hill', 'Battle Holt', 'Battle Farm', and Graveyard Coppice. Two principal grave pits have also been located in the area traditionally seen as the location of the main fighting, together with finds of musket and cannon balls.
Details of the geographical limits of the Parliamentarian deployment are sparse, but Sir James Ramsey, commanding a cavalry brigade of the Parliamentary army, remarked that a hedge 'did Flanke the whole Front of the left Wing'. Lord Bernard Stuart stated that the Parliamentarians received the charge of the Royalist Horse 'all the while upon the hill....so that we were fain to charge them uphill and leap over some 5 or 6 hedges and ditches.' The rise upon which the Parliamentarians deployed is still visible running down gradually to the brook which stretches from Kineton to Radway.
The Royalist engineer, Bernard de Gomme, drew a plan of the Royalist deployment at Edgehill, possibly based on a rough sketch executed by Prince Rupert. Unfortunately it provides no information concerning the arrangement of the Parliamentarian army, nor of the relative positions of the contending forces.
The Landscape Evolution
In 1642 the battlefield landscape was one of former open field agriculture recently turned over to pasture for grazing - the ridge and furrow topography indicative of strip ploughing survives extensively. Between Radway and Kineton was common land. The plain in which the battle took place was dominated by the scarp slope of Edgehill itself, which was lightly wooded rather than the continuous woodland of today. The villages of Radway and Kineton clustered around their churches, and a network of lanes connected them with their fields and the surrounding settlements. A hedge ran across the right centre of the Parliamentary line, extending approximately between the present Battle and Thistle Farms. There were other hedges, perhaps numbering five or six, which crossed the battlefield on the Royalist right and which appear to have had associated ditches.
The main change in the appearance of the battlefield was brought about by 18th century enclosure, particularly on the flatter ground north of the settlement of Radway. In the late 18th century, parkland trees were planted in the area between Radway and Edgehill and the area was retained as pasture. This conserved the superb remnants of earlier ridge and furrow. By the 20th century, plantations had been established on the poorer ground around Battle Farm and the wood was well developed on the steeper slopes of Edgehill. It is thought
that the plantations were intended to represent Parliamentarian units.
The Battle: its sources and interpretation The pen favoured the Royalist cause at Edgehill, with a far greater number of contemporary reports of the battle orginating from the King's supporters than from those of Parliament. Both sides produced what could be termed official accounts, with the Parliamentarian4, although full and useful, suffering from the fact that it had six authors: Denzil Hollis, Sir Phillip Stapleton, Thomas Ballard, Sir William Balfour, John Meldrum, and Charles Pym. The Royalist official account5 was possibly written by William Dugdale who had the reputation of being assiduous in the collection of information on the battle. It is the best of the Royalist sources, though a number of eyewitnesses such as Sir Richard Bulstrode6, Lord Bernard Stuart7, and James, Duke of York8, have left helpful accounts. James was only nine years old when he witnessed the events at Edgehill but thereafter he had ample opportunity to reinforce his own memory through conversations with other veterans of the battle.
Essex does not appear to have recorded his thoughts on the events at Edgehill, though the chaplain to Essex's Regiment of Foot, Steven Marshall, did pen a letter to a Member of Parliament which was published9. It is not particularly informative and a more helpful account by a cleric is to be found in Adoniram Bifield's letter to the Lord Mayor of London10.
Until the surprise of his quartermasters at Wormleighton, Essex had been in equal ignorance of the enemy's movements, and the Parliamentarian Army had also been planning to spend Sunday 23 October at rest awaiting
the arrival of those units that were still on the march:
Wee could advance no further than to a little Market-Towne called Kyneton in Warwickshire, six miles from Warwicke, whether we came the Saturday night with 11 Regiments of Foot, 42 Troops of Horse, and about 700 Dragoons, in all about Ten thousand men; there we intended to rest the Sabbath day, and the rather, that our Artillery, and the Forces left with it, might come up to us.11 Charles decision to offer battle at Edgehill and to settle with Essex before resuming the march on London, meant that the army must first be concentrated on Edgehill Ridge. Although Rupert was reportedly there at dawn on 23 October the rest of the Royalist army had to march from their respective quarters, the nearest of which was some four miles away. The Horse did not arrive before 1100 hours and the Foot and artillery were not finally assembled until 1400.
Prince Rupert led the Horse on the right of the Royalist line with approximately 1700 men under command, and Lord Wilmot the cavalry on the left totalling possibly 1,000 men. As is clearly shown on De Gomme's plan of the Royalist deployment, the five brigades of Royalist Foot were arranged with three brigades forward and two in support. Each brigade was drawn up on the Swedish pattern with musketeers on the flanks and the majority of the pikemen deployed in the centre. The adoption of the Swedish method and the rejection of the Dutch, against the advice of the King's Lord General, Robert Lindsay, led to the first Royalist command clash of the day. The brigades varied in strength and they may have fielded equal numbers of musketeers and pikemen instead of the preferred ratio of 2:1. Initially at least each brigade would be accompanied by a pair of light guns. The brigade commanders were Colonels John Belasyse, Sir Nicolas Byron, Richard Fielding, Charles Gerard and Henry Wentworth, and they probably fielded between them some 11,000 men. The three regiments of dragoons, amounting to no more than 1000 horsemen, were deployed on either wing, with two regiments on the left and one on the right. The fourteen light guns of the Royalist artillery were distributed amongst the infantry, while the six heavier pieces were formed as a battery on the lower slopes of Edgehill.
Essex, whose army almost equalled that of the Royalists in strength, had several hours in to which to perfect the deployment of his battalions between the Kineton-Knowle End road and the Little Kineton-Lower Tysoe road.
His front line stood approximately one and a half miles beyond the centre of Kineton. An Exact and True
Relation briefly summarised the composition of the Parliamentarian line:
In our right Wing were three Regiments of Horse, the Lord Generals commanded by Sir Philip Stapleton, Sir William Balfores, and the Lord Fieldings, Sir John Meldrums Brigado had the Van, Colonell Effax was in the middle, and Colonell Ballards with the Lord Generalls Regiment, his owne, the Lord Brooks, and Colonell Hollis in the Rear: In the left Wing were 24 Troops of Horse, commanded by Sir James Ramsey, their Commissary Generall.12 With the Parliamentarian regiments deployed in eight ranks, according to the Dutch method, a regimental frontage would occupy approximately 150 yards, and a brigade front over 600 yards. The left of the Parliamentarian line was occupied by Sir James Ramsey with 24 troops of horse, 600 musketeers and perhaps three guns. Ramsey deployed 300 musketeers between his first-line squadrons and 300 along the hedges to his left. The Parliamentarian centre was arranged in two lines with the infantry brigades of Colonel Charles Essex and Sir John Meldrum in the first line, Colonel Thomas Ballard's Brigade in the second and Sir Philip Stapleton's and Sir William Balfour's Horse in support. The Parliamentarian right was formed by Lord Fielding's Horse who were supported by some 700 dragoons in two regiments. In all, the army totalled approximately 12,000 Foot and 2850 Horse. Essex had sixteen light artillery pieces at Edgehill at the start of the battle, and they appear to have been mainly deployed in a battery on the right of the army with posibly a number distributed in pairs between the infantry.