[…] the first real battle, at Edgehill on 23 October [—] A thoroughly confused affair it had been, with both sides claiming the victory which neither had really won. The troops of both armies were so raw, and most of their officers so ignorant of their business, that their reaction to fire and cold steel had been as various as it was unpredictable.
This relatively brief 'patchwork' overview of the battle is drawn from a selection of direct quotes from military records, personal memoirs and private letters written by some of those that fought at Edgehill. Such compilations - along with their own bias - can inadvertently create, disguise or misdirect the narrative of the battle, but these quotes have largely been included to provide the general reader with an insight into the realities of this early modern battle. Direct quotes transport us from the modern distanced perspective of viewing an 'historic event' to the very real experiences of individuals who were there on that day.
[…] the series of letters [written by parliamentarian soldier Nehemiah Wharton] closes on 7 October, well before Edgehill. But they are full of the fascinating minutiae of the opening phase of the war, as troops got used to the hardship of military life, of foraging for food and drink - Wharton acquired a taste for poached venison as well as strong beer, including a barrel of 'ould Hum' - and of 'long and tedious' marches and the strain of sentry to 'foul weather', noting on one occasion that 'before I marched one mile I was wet to the skin', on another that he was 'up to the ankles in thick clay'. Marching to Hereford in early October, he and his men were assailed by 'rain and snow, and extremity of cold', which killed one of them. On several occasions he failed to get a billet at the end of the day and spent the night with his men in the open air, picking and eating any available fruit, huddled around fires made from hedges and uprooted fences and gates, singing psalms through the night. Wharton was 'exceeding sick' on one occasion, but soon recovered. He saw the dead and the dying en route, a royalist drummer with his arm shot off and another dead drummer by 'our knapsack boyes rifled to the shirt, which was very louzy', and he helped bury 28 corpses found when they entered Worcester. He reported several fatal accidents, fellow soldiers or civilian bystanders killed when muskets went off accidentally, as well as the rough treatment of a prostitute who had followed the troops to Coventry - she was paraded, pilloried, caged and ducked in the river. On a happier note, in Coventry Wharton had a winter suit made up, trimmed with gold and silver lace.
the battle of Kineton (commonly called Edge Hill)
But that night [Saturday 22nd], about twelve of the Clock, Prince Rupert sent the King word,That the Body of the Rebel's Army was within seven or eight Miles, and that the head Quarter was at a Village called Kineton on the Edge of Warwickshire; and that it would be in his Majesty's power, if he thought fit, to fight a Battle the next day; which he Majesty liked well, and therefore immediately dispatched Orders[…]And that the whole Army should draw to a Rendezvous on the top of Edgehill; […] which had a clear prospect of all the Valley.
[…] we received Orders to be […] the next morning by Eight, at the Rendezvous upon Wormington [Warmington] Hills. […] the Enemy, who we saw from the Hill, embattling their Army in the Bottom near Kineton. To march from them was thought dishonourable, as if we feared them, and they would be sure to follow, and give us continual Trouble in our March
They [the Royalists] returned back towards Edge Hill, and made all possible speed to gain the hill before us (which they did, by reason that his Excellency [the Earl of Essex] had not timely intelligence of their design, otherwise we were much nearer the hill, and might have been possessed of it before them).
In the Morning, when we were going to Church, we had news brought us that the Enemy was 2 Miles from us, upon a high Hill, called Edgehill; 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 Battalia, where we saw their Forces come down the Hill; and drew likewise into Battle in the Bottom; a great broad Company.
about nine o'clock some of their troops were discovered upon Edge-hill in Warwickshire.
they thought they could not have a better opportunity to fight with our Army, especially if they could get the advantage of the hill before us, it being a very high and steep assent, which if they were put to the worst might serve them for a Retreat, as it did
He [the king] no sooner arrived there with his first troop, than he saw the van of the Rebel's Army down in the bottom by Kineton, which soon after began to draw up in battle in the plain before that village, but advanced no further. When all his Majesty's troops were come up to him, he marched down the hill
the field was very great and large, and the King's Forces came down a great and long hill
In the morning being Sunday the 23rd of October, when the Rebels were beginning their March (for they suspected not the King's Forces to be near) they perceived a fair Body of the Horse on the top of that Hill. […] two of their strongest and best Regiments of Foot, and one Regiment of Horse, was 2 days march behind with their Ammunition. […] However it cannot be denied that the Earl, with great dexterity, performed whatsoever could be expected from a Wise General. He chose that ground which best liked him. There was between the Hill and the Town a fair Campaign, save that near the Town it was narrower, and on the right hand some Hedges, and Inclosures: so that there he placed Musketeers, and not above two Regiments of Horse, where the ground was narrowest; but on his left Wing he placed a Body of a thousand Horse […] The General Himself was with the Foot, which were ordered as much to advantage as might be. And in this posture they stood from eight of the Clock in the morning.
And by that time our Army was drawn out of the Town about a mile and half towards the hill, the Dragooners, and some of the enemy's Foot were coming down the hill; Their horse having gotten down most of them on their right hand, and placed themselves in a fair Meadow, at the bottom of the hill; Their Cannon and Ammunition, with the Rear of their foot, were something long ere they came down. And if we had charged them before their Cannon and all their Foot were come down, we might have had a great advantage: but they got all down into the Meadow at the foot of the hill, and there drew up their Army very handsomely, their horse being on their right Wing for the most part, and their Dragooners, and some few Troops of horse on their left Wing
[…] 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 […] it was resolved, that [... Henry] Washington, with his Regiment of Dragoons, should descend the Hill, and possess some Inclosures and Briars on the right Hand of our Army, and a forlorn Hope of Six Hundred Horse were ordered likewise to descend before the Army, and the Carriage Horses of the Cannon were put behind the Carriages, excepting a Horse or two before […]
On the other side, though Prince Rupert was early in the morning with the greatest part of the Horse on the top of the Hill […] yet the Foot were quartered at so great a distance, that many Regiments marched seven or eight Miles to the Rendezvous, so that it was past one of the Clock, before the King's Forces marched down the Hill; the General himself alighted at the head of this own Regiment of Foot, his Son the Lord Willoughby being next to him, with the King's Regiment of Guards, in which was the King's Standard […] because that left Wing was opposed to the Enemies right, which had the shelter of some Hedges lined with Musketeers: […]
As soon as we came to the Top of Edgehill, which looks upon Kineton, we saw the Rebels Army drawing out and setting themselves in Battalia […]
The enemy drew down the hill
they [the Parliamentarians] made not their wing so equal as his Majesty's, for knowing Prince Rupert was to command the King's right wing, they put the greatest part of their best cavalry into their left having lately felt the effects of his courage and conduct
For our [Parliamentarian] Army, it was drawn up upon a little rising ground, and being amongst the horse, I could not well discern how the foot were drawn up; only I knew they were most of them a good space behind the horse
the Wind was much for their Advantage, and they endeavoured to get it more; which to prevent, we were forced to draw out our Left Wing to a great breadth
Just before we [the Royalist right cavalry] began our March, Prince Rupert passed from one Wing to the other, giving positive Orders to the Horse, to march as close as was possible, keeping their Ranks with Sword in Hand, to receive the Enemy's Shot, without firing either Carbine or Pistol, till we broke in amongst the Enemy, and then to make use of our Firearms as need should require; which Order was punctually observed.
It was near three of the Clock in the afternoon, before the Battle begun; which, at that time of the year, was so late, that some were of opinion, "That the [battle] should be deferred till the next day. But against that there were many objections,The King's Numbers could not increase, the Enemies might […]there were very many Companies of the Common Soldiers, who had scarce eaten Bread in eight and forty hours before. The only way to cure this was a Victory; […] though it was late, the Enemy keeping their ground to receive him [the king's army] without Advancing at all.
The King was that Day in a black Velvet Coat lined with Ermine, and a Steel Cap covered with Velvet. He rode to every Brigade of Horse, and to all the Tertia's of Foot, to encourage them to their Duty, being accompanied by the great Officers of the Army; [his words] caused Huzza's [sic] thro' the whole Army. […] The Enemy had all the Morning to draw up their Army, in a great plain Field, which they did to their best Advantage, by putting several Bodies of Foot with Retrenchments and Cannon before them, and all their Foot were lined with Horse behind them, with Intervals between each Body, for their Horse to enter, if need required and upon their right Wing were some Briars covered with Dragoons, and a little behind, on their left Wing, was the Town of Kineton, […] The left Wing of our Horse […] with a Regiment of Dragoons, to defend the Briars on that Side […] all the Generals went to the King (who intended to march with the Army) and desired he would retire to a rising Ground, some Distance from thence, on the Right, […] To which the King (very unwillingly) was at last persuaded.
the King had given order, that until the enemy should first have shot their cannon at our body of men, ours should not engage.
Our general [Essex] having commanded to fire upon the [Royalist] enemy, it was done twice upon that part of the army wherein, as it was reported, the King was. The great shot was exchanged on both sides for the space of an hour or thereabouts. By this time the foot began to engage, and a party of the enemy being sent to line some hedges on our right wing, thereby to beat us from our ground, were repulsed by our dragoons without any loss on our side.
It was almost three of the clock in the afternoon before his Majesty's Army was wholly drawn up in Battle; at which time they marched on with a slow steady pace, and a very daring resolution. So soon as they were within reach of cannon, the Rebels fired at them, and their volley was made before the King's began to play.
It being perceived that the Rebels had placed some Musketeers under a Hedge that crost [sic] the Field, where the Encounter was to be made, that flanked upon their left Wing, there were some of the King's Dragooners [sic] sent to beat them off, which they very well performed; whereupon our whole Army advanced in very good Order, the Ordnance of both sides playing very fast […] The Charge began between the 2 Wings of Horse; those of the Rebels not standing our Charge […]
As for their [Parliamentarian] right wing of horse […] they drew that part of them which was present behind their foot, seeing they were not strong enough to encounter the King's left wing, and lined the bushes with some dragoons to make a show. In this posture they stood, expecting to be charged, without advancing one step to meet the King's Army.
the Royalists [cavalry] marched up with all the gallantry and resolution imaginable, especially the right wing led by Prince Rupert; the while they advanced, the Enemy's cannon continually played upon them, as did the small divisions of their Foot which were placed in the intervals between their squadrons, neither of which did in the least discompose them, or oblige them so much as to mend their pace. Thus they continued moving, till they came up close to the Enemy's Cavalry, which after having spent their first fire, immediately turned their backs, the Royalist pursuing them with great eagerness.
[…] the right Wing of the King's Horse advanced to Charge the left Wing […]. The left Wing, Commanded by Mr Wilmot, had as good success, though they were to charge in worse ground, among hedges, and through gaps and ditches, which were lined with Musketeers. […] with great Courage and Dexterity, [they had] beat off those Musketeers with his Dragoons. […] The Reserve seeing none of the Enemy's Horse left, thought there was nothing more to be done, but to pursue those that fled; and could not be contained by their Commanders; but with Spurs and loose Reins followed the Chase, which their left Wing had led them.
The Lord Wilmot [commanding the Royalist left-wing Horse] having charged the right Wing of the Enemy, did beat them and put them so in disorder, as that they run confusedly into Kineton
But they [the Royalist cavalry] made directly to the Town, and there falling upon our Carriages, most barbarously massacred a number of poor Waggoners and Carters that had no arms to defend themselves, and so fell to pillaging and pursuing those that ran away
After our men [within the Royalist right-wing cavalry] were put into battalia and the cannon planted we gave fire with our cannon and then charged them with both wings of our horse. They stood still all the while upon the hill expecting the charge so that we were fain to charge them uphill and leap over some 5 or 6 hedges and ditches.
Prince Rupert did not let them long dally with great [cannon] shot, but by the general confession of his enemies did make lanes wherever he went. The left wing of the earl's [Parliamentarian] army discharged at 40 yards distance, and then ran away
but upon the first Charge of the [Royalist cavalry] Enemy, they [the Parliamentarian left-wing cavalry] wheeled about, abandoned their Musketeers, and came running down with the Enemies Horse at their Heels, and amongst them pell-mell, just upon Col. Hollis's Regiment, and brake through it, though Col. Hollis's Regiment, himself, when he saw them come running towards him, went and planted himself just in the way, and did what possibly he could do to make them stand; and at last prevailed with three Troops to wheel a little about, and rally […] Notwithstanding their breaking through Col. Hollis's Regiment, it was not dismayed, but, together with the other Regiments of that Brigade, marched up the Hill, and so made all the haste they could to come to fight
I was quartered five miles from the place [battlefield], and heard not anything of it, until one of the clock in the afternoon […] when I was entering into the [battle] field, I think 200 horse came by me with all the speed they could out from the battle, saying, that the King had the victory, and that every man cried for God and King Charles. I entreated, prayed and persuaded them to stay, and draw up in a body with our Troops, for we saw them fighting, and the Field was not lost
A few of our Wagons were burned and plundered by the [Royalist] Enemy, who wheeled about into our Rear, but our Musketeers played bravely upon them in the mean time, and recovered our Wagons again, and six pieces of Ordnance which we had lost, our Enemy had the wind more with them, but we had more of the Hill
For all the King's Horse having thus left the Field, many of them only following the Execution, others intending the Spoil in the Town of Kineton, where all the Baggage was, and the Earl of Essex's own Coach, which was taken, and brought away; their [Parliamentarian] Reserve, Commanded by Sir William Balfour, moved up and down the Field in good Order, and marching towards the King's Foot pretended to be Friends, till observing no Horse to be in readiness to charge them, they brake in upon the Foot, and did great Execution. […]
The enemy's body of foot, [the Royalists] wherein the King's standard was, came on within musket-shot of us; upon which we observing no horse to encounter with, charged them with some loss from their pikes, tho very little from their shot; but not being able to break them, we retreated to our former station
they [Parliamentarian reserve cavalry and regiments of Foot] forced all the [Royalist Musketeers] of two of their left Regiments, to run in and shroud themselves within their Pikes, not daring to shoot a shot, and so stood when our Rear came up
[…] the Bodies of the Foot met the King's Regiment of Guard, and the Earl of Lindsey's giving the first Charge, which was very well disputed a long time, until the Reserve of the Rebel's Horse (which had never been Charged) Charged out Foot upon the Flank, which our Foot resisted a good while, but at length not being seconded by our Reserve of Horse, which contrary to our Order, thinking the Day was surely won, had followed the Execution of the Rebels so far, that they could not come in time to relieve them, they were put into some Disorder […]
A troop of their [Parliamentarian Horse] reserve did charge among our foot where they did a great deal of hurt, and took my Lord Lindsey prisoner.
Tis true they [the Royalist infantry] were not broken with this charge [by some Parliamentarian reserve cavalry] yet they were put into some disorder, which the Enemies foot observing, advanced upon them, and drove them back as far as to their cannon
The Earl of Essex ordered two regiments of foot to attack that body which we had charged before, where the King's standard was, which they did, but could not break them till Sir William Balfour at the head of a party of horse charging them in the rear, and we marching down to take them in the flank, they brake and ran away toward the hill. Many of them were killed upon the place
the reserve of our [Royalist] Horse unpremeditatedly follow the pursuit of the Enemy, which gave the advantage unto the reserve of the Enemies Horse, as also unto their main Body, that they fell upon that Renowned Most Honourable Earl of Lindsey our General, and so furiously, as that His Majesties own Regiment was disordered, and divers of their standards taken at the same time, where the Noble Lord Gerard Commanding Three Regiments of Foot made a most manly stand, our Horse being for the most part mingled in the Enemies
And if those Horse had bestirred themselves, they might with little difficulty have destroyed, or taken Prisoner the King Himself, and his two Sons, […] being with fewer than one hundred Horse, and those without Officer or Command, within half Musket shot of that Body, before he suspected them to be Enemies.
By this time the Right Wing of our [Royalist] Horse was returned from Chasing the Rebels, and were in some Confusion, because they came from the Execution; but seeing our Foot and Cannon in some danger to be lost, […] made a stand and soon rallied together, having some Dragoons with them, and so advancing, made the Dragooners give them a Volley or two of Shot which made the Rebels instantly retire.
The foot being thus engaged in such warm and close service, it were reasonable to imagine that one side should run and be disordered; but it happened otherwise, for each as if by mutual consent retired some few paces, and they stuck down their colours, continuing to fire at one another even till night; […] the rawness and inexperience of both parties had not furnished them with skill to make the best use of their advantages.
two other [Royalist] Regiments, which retired orderly, and at last made a stand; and having the Assistance of Cannon, and a Ditch before them, held us play very handsomely: And by this time it grew so dark, and our Powder and Bullet so spent, that it was not held fit we should Advance upon them;
When Prince Rupert returned from the Chase, he found this great alteration in the Field, and his Majesty himself with few Noblemen and a small Retinue about him, and the hope of so Glorious a Day quite vanished. For though most of the Officers of Horse were returned, and that part of the Field covered again with the loose Troops, yet they could not be persuaded, or drawn to charge either the Enemies Reserve of Horse, which alone kept the Field, or the Body of their Foot, which only keep their ground. The Officers pretending, "That their Soldiers were so dispersed, […] that their Horses were so tired, that they could not charge". But the truth is, where many Soldiers of one Troop or Regiment were rallied together, there Officers were wanting; and where the Officers were ready, there the Soldiers were not together; and neither Officer, nor Soldiers desired to move without those who properly belonged to them. Things had now so ill an aspect, that many were of an opinion, that the King should leave the Field, though it was not easy to advise whither he should have gone; which if he had done, he had left an absolute Victory to those, who even at this time thought themselves overcome. But the King was positive against this advice, well knowing, that as that Army was raised by his Person and Presence only, so it could by no other means be kept together; and he thought it Un-princely, to forsake Them […] he observed that other side looked not as if they thought themselves Conquerors; for that Reserve [of Horse], which did so much mischief before, since the return of his Horse, betook themselves to a fixed station between their Foot, which at best could but be thought to stand their ground, which tow Brigades of the King's did with equal Courage, and gave equal Volleys […] if either Party had known the Constitution of the other, they had not parted so fairly […] the Night, the Common Friend to wearied and dismayed Armies, parted them; and then the King caused his Cannon, which were nearest the Enemies, to be drawn off; and with his whole Forces himself spent the Night in the Field, by such a fire as could be made of the little wood, and bushes which grew thereabouts […]
[…] if we [the Royalists] had only kept our Ground, after we had beaten the Enemy, and not left our Foot naked to their Horse and Foot: And, to add to our Misfortune, a careless Soldier, in fetching Powder (where a Magazine was) clapped his Hand carelessly into a Barrel of Poser, with his Match lighted between his Fingers, whereby much Powder was blown up and many killed.
At the same time the remnant of their [Parliamentarian] foot were pressing vigorously on the King's, and had not the right hand Brigade commanded by Coll. Charles Gerard kept their order, and played those regiments which advanced upon them, with so great courage that they put the Enemy to a stand, the whole body of the King's foot had run great hazard of an absolute defeat; for had his Majesty's two wings given way, those in the main-battle could have made no long resistance. After this neither party pressed the other, but contented themselves to keep their ground, and continued firing till night put an end to the dispute.
By this time it was grown so dark, that our Chief Commanders durst not Charge for Fear of mistaking Friends for Foes […] both Armies retreated, ours in such Order, that we not only brought off our own Cannon, but 4 of the Rebels, we retiring to the Top of the Hill from whence we came; because of the advantage of the Place, and theirs to the Village […] The King with the whole Body of the Horse, and those of the Foot which were not broken, quartered upon and on one side of the Hill, all that Night […]
we retired up the Hill, from whence we came down, and left the Champ de Battaile [sic] to the Enemy, I think we had no great Reason to brag of a Victory; For the King, with a great Part of the Army marched that Night up to Wormington [Warmington] Hills, it being a hard Frost, and very cold.
but there we stood [the Parliamentarians] upon the place where the Enemy, before the Fight, had drawn into Battalia, till toward Morning, that the Enemy was gone, and retired up the Hill, and then we returned also to a warmer place near Kineton
as the darkness came on both Army's began to draw off, the Royalist to the brow of the hill, and the Enemy to Kineton
His Glorious Majesty having lain that night upon the top of Edge-hill, his Army not then drawn from the Enemies
[…] we contented our selves to make good the Field, and gave them leave to retire up the Hill in the Night.
he [the king] dined the next day upon a drum head and stayed within 4 miles till the dead were buried. The same night of the battle he made great fires in his quarters.
their foot that stood by their Ordnance, most of the enemy's horse being gathered to their foot, most of our horse also gathered to our foot, and so we stood horse and foot one against the other till it was night. Our Army being thus possessed of the ground that the enemy chose to fight upon, stood there all night; the enemy having withdrawn their Army to the top of the hill for more security to themselves, where they made great fires all the night long, whilst we in the meantime drew back some of our own Ordnance, which they had once in their possession, and some of theirs which they had left behind
No man nor horse [of the Parliamentarian army which stayed in the Field] got any meat that night, and I had touched none since the Saturday before, neither could I find my servant who had my cloak, so that having nothing to keep me warm but a suite of iron, I was obliged to walk about all night, which proved very cold by reason of a sharp frost.
This was our [the Royalists] first and great military misadventure; for Essex by this reserves of Horse falling on the King's Foot, pressed on them so hard, that had not some of our Horse returned in some season unto the relief of our foot, we had certainly lost the day, which all circumstances considered, we as certainly won.
[…] the next Morning; many reporting, "That the Enemy [the Royalists] was gone; but when the Day appeared, the contrary was discovered: for then they were seen standing in the same posture and place in which they fought, from whence the Earl of Essex, wisely, never suffered them to stir all that Night, presuming reasonably, that if they were drawn off never so little from that place, their Numbers would lessen, and that many would run away; and therefore he caused all manner of Provisions, with which the Country supplied him […] that Night he received a great addition of strength, not only by Rallying those Horse, and Foot: which had run out of the Field in the Battle, but by the arrival of Colonel Hamden, and Colonel Grantham […].
about daylight we saw the enemy upon the top of the hill: so that we had time to bury our dead, and theirs too if we thought fit. That day was spent in sending trumpeters to enquire whether such as were missing on both sides were killed, or prisoners.
the [Royalist] enemy slain, for they lay on their own ground, twenty, and thirty of heaps together
It was then proposed to march down again, and fall upon them; but the King finding his foot much decreased in number, the greatest part of them being straggled into the neighbouring villages to get victuals, thought it not advisable to undertake that action, and therefore about evening returned to his former quarters at Edgecote; the enemy at the same time retreating towards Warwick
[the next morning, the Royalist army were] weakened with want of Meat, and shrunk up with the cruel Cold of the Night (for it was a terrible Frost, and there was no shelter of either Tree or Hedge) […]
On Monday Morning, being next after the Battle, several Parties were sent down to view the Dead, the greatest Part of the Enemy, having retired in the Night to the Town of Kineton, which was near them […] the Coldness of the Weather stopped the Bleeding of […] Wounds, which saved also several other Mens Lives that were wounded. We rested all Monday upon the Hill, to put our Army in Order
[…] in the Morning, as soon as it was Day, drew half the Body of the Horse into Battalia, at the Foot of the Hill, and the rest of the Horse and the Foot on the Top of the Hill, where the Standard was placed; and having notice that 3 of the Rebels Cannon were left half way between us and their Quarter, sent out a Body of Horse, and drew them off, they not so much as offering to relieve them: So both Armies, facing one another all day, retired at Night to their former Quarters.
[…] the King thought not fit to make the attempt; but contented himself to keep his Men in Order, the Body of Horse facing the Enemy upon the Field where they had fought. […] Towards Noon the King Resolved to try [a] Proclamation of Pardon to such as would lay down Arms […]
The next morning [Monday], a little before it was light, we drew back our Army towards the Town […] and the enemy drew out their horse in the morning upon the side of the hill, where staying till towards night, whilst the foot were retiring behind the hill and marching away, at length a little before night, their horse also marched away
If we had time, we could relate unto you many more observable Passages; but what you have here, shall serve you till we meet; This only will we say, some of both sides did extremely well, and others did as ill, and deserve to be hanged, for deserting and betraying
Man can hardly make a true Relation of the Action of him that is next him; for in such a Hurry and Smoke as in a set Field, a Man takes Notice of nothing but what relates to his own Safety: So that no Man give a clear Account of particular Passages.
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