It is difficult, in the context of the two converging armies now separated by only a village or two since the last confident rally of the Royalists at Meriden, not to interpret this address [made by Charles at Southam], with its moving conclusion, as marking the final, reluctant acceptance on the king's part that war was no longer avoidable. Two days later it was Charles, often seen as indecisive and vacillating, who deliberately ordered his army to about-turn to engage the Earl of Essex's forces.
There are some remarkable accounts of individual actions and experiences from the Battle of Edgehill all drawn from contemporary sources, as well as incidents of interest.
The Earl of Lindsey Resigns
As the Royalist Army began to deploy its battle formations a difference of opinion intensified between the king's Lieutenant General and the king's nephew who was the lower ranked General of the Horse. This was an established faction exacerbated by the young royal, Prince Rupert, being exempt from orders other than those given directly from the king. Charles asked his Lieutenant General if General Ruthven, an experienced Scotch Officer, could draw up his Majesty's Army on that day to which Robert Bertie, the Earl of Lindsey, obediently complied. But he also chose to stand down from his rank and opted to serve his king that day as colonel of the King's Royal Regiment of Foot Guards instead. With his authority regularly challenged, or ignored, he could be viewed as a man of integrity. (He would die in the battle later that day).
The King's Speech
Before the battle, the king received cheers, as he and his officers rode to each brigade to encourage them in their duty and to personally deliver his speech:
Friends and souldiers, I look upon you with joy, to behold so great an armie as ever king of England had in these later times, standing with high and full resolutions to defend your king, the parliament, and all my loyall subjects. I thanke your loves offered to your king, with a a desire to hazard your lives and fortunes with me, and in my cause, freely offered, and that in my urgent necessitie. I see, by you, that no father can relinquish and leave his son, no subject his lawfull king; but I attribute all this unto God, and the justnesse of my cause: Hee that made us a king will protect us. We have marched so long in hope to meet no enemy, we knowing none at those hands we deserve and opposition; nor can our sunne-shining through the clouds of malignant envie suffer such an obscuritie, but that some influence of my regall authoritie, derived from God, whose substitute and supreame governour, under Christ, I am, hath begotten in you a confidence in my intentions. But matters are now not to be declared by words, but by swords. You all think our thoughts; endeavour to defend our person, while I raign over your affections as well as your persons. Now, therefore, known, my resolution is to trie the doubtfull chance of warre, which, with much grief, I must stand to, and endure the hazard. I desire not the effusion of blood, but since Heaven hath so decreed, that so much preparation hath been made, we must needs accept of this present occasion and opportunitie of gaining an honourable victory, and some addition of glory to our crown; since reputation is that which doth guild over the richest gold, and shall be ever the endeavour of our whole raigne. The present action of this battell makes me speak briefly, and yet lovingly and royally unto you, our loyall armie. I put not my confidence in your strength or number, but confide, that though your king speaks unto you, and that with as much love and affection as ever king of England did to his armie, yet God, and the justnesse of our cause, together with the love I bear to the whole kingdome, must give you the best encouragement. In a word, your king bids you all be couragious, and Heaven make you victorious. [sic]
Sir Faithful Fortescue, acting as major, captained a troop of horse within Wharton's Parliamentarian regiment, but just prior to the battle, as both armies faced each other across the open terrain, one of his Lieutenants rode across to the Royalist lines bringing confirmation that his captain's troop would desert and join the king's men. When the Royalist cavalry made their charge, Fortescue gave his signal and they discharged their weapons into the ground, allowing his men to turn on their former comrades and causing much confusion throughout the Parliamentary ranks.
However, as Fortescue drew off his troop from Wharton's regiment many of his men forgot to remove their identifying orange scarfs and 18 of their 60 men were killed or wounded by Sir William Killigrews men, who were part of the cavalry they had joined.
Sir Jacob Astley (1579-1652): Sergeant-Major-General of (Royalist) Foot.
Astley was appointed commander of the Royalist infantry when the Earl of Lindsey resigned on the day and only shortly before the battle. He is largely remembered for his celebrated prayer, delivered before the Royalist Foot advanced.
O Lord! thou knowest, how busy I must be this day: if I forget thee, do not thou forget me.
Its often claimed he then rose to his feet and cried
March on Boys!
The Banner Royal — Sir Edmund Verney
Carrying the King's Banner Royal within the King's Lifeguard of Foot, was Sir Edmund Verney who had fought bravely - killing two officers of the Parliamentarian Lord General's Regiment at close quarters, one of whom had killed his servant, and even broke the tip of the pole's shaft while forced to use the banner as a pike when his brigade came under increasing pressure at the centre of the battlefield. Verney would eventually loose his life and the entire brigade, led by Sir Nicholas Byron, would collapse in disarray running for Edgehill.
At the start of the war Verney's torn loyalties fell with the king as after 30 years service he couldn't
do so base a Thing as to forsake his king but wrote that he was sure to loose his life in doing so. At Edgehill he hadn't worn any armour or the thick protection of a leather buffcoat and must have been sure of the hostile attention his potential trophy would attract, but even as his regiment were engaged in battle he pressed forward amongst the enemy flying
His Majesty's colours to encourage his men to follow him.
After a desperate fight either Lionel Copley or Ensign Arthur Young of Constable's Regiment cut him down, but perhaps - as legend has it - not before his hand, which held the banner's pole, was hacked off when he refused to release the prize. His body was never found, but his hand was identified by his ring which had a miniature portrait of his king. This was returned to his family.
The Banner Royal — Captain John Smith
Essex, the Lord General of Parliament's army, was presented with the banner during the battle by a reformado officer, who then entrusted it to his servant who was to take it to the rear, but in turn it was opportunistically recaptured by a Captain John Smith (of Lord Grandison's Regiment of Horse).
Smith, along with only one other horseman, had been returning to his own lines after having been involved in several Royalist cavalry manoeuvres led by Sir Charles Lucas - seemingly to the rear of the Parliamentary lines - when he saw six Parliamentarian soldiers and six horsemen guarding a seventh man on foot as he carried off a rolled up banner. On being alerted by a boy that this was the Banner Royal, Smith overcame his initial caution on account of the banner's significance and gamely charged the group, wounding Essex's servant in the chest.
But while doing so a mounted Curiasier struck a wounding blow to Smith's neck with a pollax while the rest of the entourage fired at him with their pistols! Smith's high doublet collar had seemingly saved his neck from a mortal injury while somehow he also avoided any
further hurt from their guns. Still on his horse he managed to sit back upright and instantly returned the Curiaser's assault by running him through the belly with his sword, causing him to fall to the ground. With their pistols empty, the rest of the group must have wondered who on earth they were in a fight with and promptly
Smith asked a foot soldier to pass him up the banner which lay abandoned on the ground and proceeded to ride off while also taking with him the horse vacated by the fallen Curiasier.
If this weren't enough, Smith would later recue Richard Feilding, who had been captured earlier in the day when his brigade was routed.
Smith was knighted by the king the next morning.
Some additional and alternative details are related in Ludlow's account, while several subsequent embellishments, or narratives, have been made to this story and published during the 19th century which have even included versions of Smith sneaking into the Parliamentarian camp after nightfall to retrieve the banner.
An eminent lawyer at the outbreak of the Civil War, he fought for the king and at Edgehill received sixteen wounds and had lost the use of his left hand by a shot. He continued with his horse's bridle between his teeth and fought with his sword in his right hand. It was said that his left arm was hanging uselessly and his scarf, face, sword and horse were covered in blood. The king was particularly pleased with Lake as a professional man who had fought so doggedly. He would kiss the king's hand a year later and was promised, as a reward, a baronetcy and an augmentation to his arms.
Royalist Sir Richard Bulstrode left us one of the best written accounts of the battle with perhaps his recollection of being pole-axed being his most vivid personal memory, of which we may never have known had Sir Thomas Byron not acted so promptly. As part of the Royalist cavalry he had pursued the enemy towards and beyond Kineton, until they were met by additional Parliamentarian troops arriving from further afield.
And we of the Prince of Wale's Regiment, (who were all scattered) pursued also, till we met with two Foot Regiments of Hambden and Hollis, and with a Regiment of Horse coming from Warwick to their Army, which made us hasten as fast back as we had pursued. In this Pursuit I was wounded in the Head by a Person who turned upon me, and struck me with his Pole-axe, and was seconding his Blow, when Sir Thomas Byron being near, he shot him dead with his Pistol, by which Means I came back. [sic]
Sir John Hinton
Sir John Hinton belonged to the party of horsemen which were escorting the king's two young princes from the battlefield as the battle raged. He tells us in his own words how they drew towards King's Leys Barn when a member of a Parliamentarian group of cavalry rode further and closer towards the royal entourage. The young Prince Charles was apparently prepared to deal with this foe - drawing his pistol - but Hinton's shot felled the advancing horseman. Hinton then attempted to finish off the horseman on foot, but his sword was no match for the Parliamentarian's armour, at which time another Royalist brought proceedings to an abrupt close with the use of his pole-axe.
[While heading back] … from whence his Majestie first marched downe to engage; upon which retreat your Majestie was unhappily left behind in a large feild, att which time I had the honour to attend your person, and seeing the sudden and quick march of the Enemie towards you, I did with all earnestnesse, most humbly, but at last somewhat rudely, importune your Highnesse to avoid this present and apparent danger of being killed or taken prisoner, for their horse was by this time com up within half musket shott in full body, att which your Highnesse was pleased to tell mee, You feared them not, and drawing a pistoll out of one of your holsters, and spanning itt, resoved to charge them, but I did prevaile with your Highnesse to quitt the place, and ride from the, in some hast, but one of their troopers being excellently mounted, broke his rank, and coming full careere towards your Highnesse, I received his charge, and hauing spent a pistoll or two on each other, I dismounted him in the closeing, but being armed cap-a-pe, I could doe noe execution upon him with my sword, att which instant, one Mr Mathewes, a Gentleman Pensioner, rides in, and with a pole-axe immediately decides the businesse, and then overtaking your Highnesse, you gott safe to the Royall Army, … [sic]
The weather that day produced a clear bright autumn afternoon with a light breeze that carried the sound of cannon fire far and wide. Nearly 20 miles away the parishioners at Alcester could hear the noise as it carried across the countryside. Their visiting minister, Richard Baxter, later wrote:
As I was preaching, the People heard the Cannon play, and when sermon was done the report was more audible. The next morning he rode out to the battlefield to see for himself.
There are stories of, perhaps unwise but innocent observers unwillingly becoming embroiled in the action, including a tailor who ran from his Church
to see the fun and was mortally wounded. Famously one Tysoe churchwarden is said to have rushed outdoors during a service and declared
They're at it!. At Pillerton the curiosity of the village's shoemaker had enticed him towards the battlefield only for him to return later clutching his entrails (or
puddings) having received a sabre cut. One contempory Parliamentarian report claimed:
[…] well nigh three parts of those who are slaine on our side were Waggoners, Carters, and poore unarmed people that stood in the Reere to see the sight, some of them old men, women and Children, a poor piece of valour for such a boasting enemy […]
Lord Lindsay — who had resigned his post earlier in the day — took to the battlefield within the same army as his son, Lord Willoughby. Charlotte Mary Younge wrote eloquently of their story in 1864, in her book 'A Book of Golden Deeds':
Lord Lindsay was shot through the thigh bone, and fell. He was instantly surrounded by the rebels on horseback; but his son, Lord Willoughby, seeing his danger, flung himself alone among the enemy, and forcing his way forward, raised his father in his arms thinking of nothing else, and unheeding his own peril. The throng of enemy around called to him to surrender, and, hastily giving up his sword, he carried the Earl into the nearest shed, and laid him on a heap of straw, vainly striving to staunch the blood. It was a bitterly cold night, and the frosty wind came howling through the darkness. Far above, on the ridge of the hill, the fires of the King's army shone with red light, and some way off on the other side twinkled those of the Parliamentary forces. Glimmering lanterns or torches moved about the battlefield, those of the savage plunderers who crept about to despoil the dead. Whether the battle were won or lost, the father and son knew not, and the guard who watched them knew as little. Lord Lindsay himself murmured, "If it please God I should survive, I never will fight in the same field with boys again!" – no doubt deeming that young Rupert had wrought all the mischief. His thoughts were all on the cause, his son's all on him; and piteous was that night, as the blood continued to flow, and nothing availed to check it, nor was any aid near to restore the old man's ebbing strength.
Toward midnight the Earl's old comrade Essex had time to understand his condition, and sent some officers to enquire for him, and promise speedy surgical attendance. Lindsay was still full of spirit, and spoke to them so strongly of their broken faith, and of the sin of disloyalty and rebellion, that they slunk away one by one out of the hut, and dissuaded Essex from coming himself to see his old friend, as he had intended. The surgeon, however, arrived, but too late, Lindsay was already so much exhausted by cold and loss of blood, that he died early in the morning of the 24th, all his son's gallant devotion having failed to save him.
The sorrowing son received an affectionate note the next day from the King, full of regret for his father and esteem for himself. Charles made every effort to obtain his exchange, but could not succeed for a whole year.
Another moving account involving a father and son teaches us of how the dead or dying, laying where they fell on the battlefield, were stripped and robbed of their possessions during the night while a bitter frost crept across the vale.
It was reported that Captain Sir Gervase Scrope might have bled to death from his wounds during the night, where he lay on the battlefield, had the frost not congealed the flow of blood from no less than 16 wounds. Early the next morning his son, Adrian, descended the hill back to the battlefield in order to search for his father's body. He'd borrowed one of the king's coaches and managed to find his father who was still alive, and carried him back to the Royalist camp. Miraculously Gervase would recover but thereafter always wore one arm in a sling.
Parliamentarian Edmund Ludlow wrote that after the battle when he had managed to obtain some meat from the villagers that
I could scarcely eat it, my jaws for want of use having almost lost their natural faculty. While it was a bitterly cold night many modern commentators now attribute Ludlow's condition to a known symptom of battle fatigue caused by the intense clenching of jaws during the most distressing phases of battle.
Richard Pierce was 22 when he fought at Edgehill…
In the Churchyard of Cowfold in Sussex is a tombstone with the following inscription, ‘Richard Pierce, Gent. who died June 22nd 1714 aged 94. He received a wound through his body in Edgehill Fight, in the year 1642 as he was loyally defending King and Country’.
Francis Bowles would later make an historic claim in his petition to King Charles II in 1663:
At Edgehill, I was the first man struck and was stripped and left for dead, but being found alive the next day was taken to Oxford where the late King ordered great care to be taken of me
An inscription on Caesar's Tower, at Warwick Castle, reads
Master John Smyth, Gunner to His Majestyes Highness: was a prisoner in this place in the year of our Lord, 1642, 2, 3, 4, 5,.