[…] that of those picturesque, faintly condescending folk legends illustrating the ignorance of quaint villagers of momentous events unfolding on their very doorstep. The story of the Marston Moor ploughboy astonished at being interrupted at his work by the arrival of two mighty armies may appear inherently implausible, but has often been repeated; while nearer home, Dugdale's tale of Richard Shuckburgh blithely intent on a morning's hunting near Edgehill, oblivious to his king's preparations for a supposedly decisive battle, or the anecdote of the Tysoe youth surprised by the arrival of soldiers and quite unable to identify them — these surely have the ring of authenticity?
Following is a small collection of the more credible, or plausible, tales relating to the Battle of Edgehill which will have been passed down through local tradition. While most antiquarian accounts of the battle are now known to feature details, narratives and locations disputed by modern studies (and the subsequent discovery of additional contemporary accounts) they do faithfully capture stories and anecdotes which were only recorded by oral tradition while also providing an insight into the historic understanding of such events.
One of the least known, but one of the most gallant of the Warwickshire Cavaliers who joined the army of the King was Captain John Smith, of Skilts. His old home yet stands on the south-western edge of the county, where it commands a fine view over the Arden and over Worcestershire. Early in the disturbances he was in command of a troop of horse at Rugby, and took an active part in disarming the Roundheads there, and at the puritanic village of Kilsby, where he met with a stout resistance, and shed, it is believed, the first blood of the Civil Wars. His great deed was the recapture of the King's standard at the fight of Edgehill.
Between the skirmish at Southam and the battle of Kineton the rival commanders had not been idle. Lord Northampton had made a dash at Warwick Castle, but had been repulsed. The commander of the garrison, Sir Edward Peto, of Chesterton, had hung wool-packs outside the gatehouse on great hooks (which yet remain) to protect the walls from Lord Northampton's cannon. On Guy's Tower he hung out, instead of the red standard, a winding sheet and a bible to show he was ready to die for his faith Parliament trembled for the safety of this stronghold, but ultimately Lord Northampton withdrew his troops, and both parties prepared for the first trial at arms in force.
Troops had been raised on all sides. Lord Brooke's purple-coated Warwickshire regiment was early in the field; Hampden's green coats were not behind; Holles's red coats followed, so that in the course of a month the Earl of Essex, as Commander-in-Chief for the Parliament, found himself in command of a formidable army. He crossed Warwickshire in the month of September, on his march to Worcester, where he rested to watch the King's movements, who was raising troops at Shrewsbury and Chester.
The King evidently felt the importance of marching on London, and striking a blow at the head quarters of Parliament before the Earl of Essex could intercept him. According to the "Iter Carolinum," he left Shrewsbury on the 12th of October, 1642, and proceeded to Bridgenorth; from whence, on the 15th of that month, he went to Woverhampton; thence, on the 17th, to Bremichem (Birmingham), to the mansion of Sir Thomas Holt, Aston Hall; on the 18th he went to Packington, the house of Sir Robert Fisher; on the 19th to Killingworth (Kenilworth). Whether the castle was then garrisoned by the forces of the Parliament or abandoned by them, whether for the night he took up his abode in the castle or elsewhere, the writer of this iter does not inform us. Lord Clarendon, however states that it was "a house of the King's, and a very noble seat". He was now with his army between the tow hostile garrisons of Coventry and Warwick Castle. On the 21st of October he proceeded with his army to Southam, probably marching by way of Chesford Bridge, Cubbington, and Offchurch. At Southam, the house in which he slept yet remains. From hence he issued a proclamation to his troops. On the 22nd of October he proceeded to Edgcote, Prince Rupert taking up his quarters the same night a Wormleighton, at a fine Tudor mansion belonging to the Spencer family. There is an anecdote related by Dr. Thomas of Mr. Richard Shuckburgh, of an ancient family in Warwickshire, the possessor of the Shuckburgh estates in this county in the time of the Civil Wars, as in no way inferior to his ancesters, and then goes on to say, "As Charls I. marched to Edgcote, near Banbury, on the 22nd of October, 1642, he saw him hunting in the field, not far from Shuckburgh, with a very good pack of hounds, upon which, it is reported, that he fetched a deep sigh, and asked who that gentleman was that hunted so merrily that morning, when he was going to fight for his crown and liberty; and being told that it was this Richard Shuckburgh, he was ordered to be called to him, and was by him very graciously received, upon which he went immediately home, armed all his tenants, and the next day attended him on the field, where he was knighted, and was present at the battle of Edgehill. After the taking of Banbury Castle and his Majesty's retreat from those parts, he went to his own seat and fortified himself on the top of Shuckburgh Hill, where, being attacked by some of the Parliament forces, he defended himself till he fell with most of his tenants about him, but being taken up and life perceived in him, he was carried away prisoner to Kenilworth Castle where he lay a considerable time, and was forced to purchase his liberty at a dear rate". There is in the church of Upper Shuckburgh a monumental bust of this Warwickshire worthy and staunch Royalist, representing him, not unlike the portraits of Charles I., with a moustache and pike beard, according to the fashion which then prevailed.
The rear of the King's troops was commanded by Prince Rupert, who took up his quarters at Wormleighton House, and occupied with his pickets the highlands of Burton, Warmington, and Arlescote. The King was at Edgcote, and the outlying pickets overlooking the vale of Red House [Horse] saw the camp fires of the troops of the Earl of Essex, who had left Worcester on the 14th of October, and had marched along bad roads and miry lanes in a line nearly parallel with the King, but in profound ignorance of his whereabouts. Hampden and Lord Brooke were about a day's march in the rear of Essex, for they had crossed the Avon at Stratford on the 18th.
The King had decided to halt for the Sunday, but hearing of the vicinity of the parliamentary army, he ordered his troops to extend to the westward and occupy the oolitic bluffs which here form the fringe of Warwickshire, to stop the advance of Essex and his troops. This order was not given till three o'clock in the morning. The distance was only five miles from the head-quarters of the King at Edgecote, and the appearance of Prince Rupert's Cavaliers on the Edge hills about eight o'clock was the first intimation that the forces of Essex had that the King was so near them.
Standing at the Round Tower, which has been erected near the artificial ruins which now crown the summit of the Edge hills between Rately and Radway, we can see the whole of the position occupied by these rival English armies. The whole of the green lane between the Round House and the Sunrising was lined with troops. The right of the King's forces rested on Bullet Hill, beneath the old British camp at Nadbury, above Arlescote, and the left at Sunrising, where the road comes up from Strafford. No better position could have been chosen. The King's forces were numerically superior to those of the Parliament, for he had some 15,000 or 16,000 men and the Parliament about 2,000 less. The King's strength consisted of cavalry. The Parliament, though not weak in cavalry, were stronger in trained infantry.
Those who have visited the battle-field will be told how the King breakfasted at a cottage at Radway immediately below the Round House, and a small mound some four hundred yards west of Radway Church is said to be the spot from whence the King surveyed the parliamentary forces. Lord Lindsay, the King's general, counselled delay, but the impetuous Prince Rupert overruled the experienced soldier. The King rode at the head of his troops and addressed the men spiritedly. Lord Lindsay dismounted, and taking a pike in his hand led the troops into the plain. His prayer is said to have been, "O Lord, Thou knowest how busy I must be this day. If I forget Thee, do not Thou forget me. March on, boys!" It was late in the afternoon of Sunday the 23rd of October, 1642, whilst the bells of the churches had hardly ceased to sound for divine worship, ere the artillery roared, the foremost lines advanced, and the battle had begun.
The conflict did not last long. Prince Rupert charged with headlong fury and carried all before him, and had he not paused to plunder the wagons of the enemy in Kineton streets, there would have been another tale to tell; but he had been used to the wards of Germany, and forgot in pillage how his presence might be needed elsewhere. The King's infantry was hard pressed by Lord Essex, Sir Edward Verney, the standard-bearer was killed, and Ensign Young seized the trophy and delivered it to Lord Essex. He gave it to his secretary, Chambers, who, exulting in the prize, waved it round his head, and accompanied by six troopers was carrying it from the field, when Captain Smith, who had been stationed with his troop on the left wing, after charging several times, found himself along with on Chickley, a groom, the rest of his troop following the pillage of the routed rebels. "As these two," so says the historian, "were passing on towards our army, this mirror of chivalry espied six men (three cuirassiers and three arquebusiers) on horseback, guarding a seventh on foot, who was carrying off the field a colour rolled up, which he conceived to be one of the ordinary colours of his Majesty's Life Guards, and therefore, seeing them so strong, intended to avoid them. Whilst he was thus considering, a boy on horseback calls to him, saying, 'Captain Smith, Captain Smith, they are carrying away the standard!' He would not suddenly believe the boy, till by great asseverations he had assured him it was the standard; who forthwith said, 'They shall have me with it if they carry it away,' and snatching an orange scarf from a parliamentary soldier, he desired Chickley, if he saw him much engaged, in with his rapier at the footman (Chambers) that carried the banner (who was then secretary to Essex, the rebels' general), saying, 'Traitor! deliver up the standard' and wounded him in the breast. Whilst he was bent forward to follow his thrust, one of those cuirassiers with a pole-axe wounded him in the neck through the collar of his doublet, and the rest gave fire at him with their pistols, but without any further hurt than blowing off some powder into his face. No sooner was he recovered upright but he made a thrust at the cuirassier that wounded him, and run him through the belly, whereupon he presently fell, at which sight all the rest ran away. Then he caused a foot soldier that was near at hand to reach him up the banner, which he brought away, with the horse of that cuirassier. Immediately comes up a great body of his Majesty's horse, which were rallied together, with whom he staid, delivering the standard to Master Robert Hutton, a gentleman of Sir Robert Willyes's troop, to carry forthwith to his Majesty. The next morning King Charles sent for him to the top of Edgehill, where his Majesty knighted him for his singular valour." He subsequently, with a small party of horse, brought off three brass pieces of cannon that stood about the left wing of the rebels' army in the battle. This worthy knight banneret, on the 29th of March, 1644, was mortally wounded in an engagement at Bramdean, near Aylesford, in Hampshire, and died the following day at Andover, and on the 1st of April his body was interred with military honours in the south-east corner of the chapel on the south side of the choir in Oxford Cathedral.
Evening came on, and some thousand dead Englishmen lay on Kineton field. The Cavaliers had retired to the Edge hills at the critical moment of the battle. Both sides claimed the victory, but Essex, instead of renewing the attack, retired to Warwick, and in the morning the King's troops moved to Banbury. Both sides made mistakes, but when a parliamentary soldier climbed that night to the beacon tower on Burton Dasset Hill and fired the beacon, it flared the news to the country side, and from thence to London, that the men of the Parliament had met those of the King and had not been worsted.* The moral effect of the fight was that of a parliamentary victory.
* The light was seen at Ivinghoe, in Buckinghamshire, and on the beacon there being fired it was seen at Harrow-on-the-Hill, and the news thus reached London.
Whether, as Lord Holles stated, Cromwell saw the fight from the tower of Burton Dasset Church and fled in terror we shall never know; but the parish clerk of Tysoe, who ran from church with the congregation to see the fight, and the village tailor, who received a mortal wound as the reward of his curiosity, are a part of history. It is related that a Roundhead gunner saw a Cavalier officer on a white horse: as the Royal army ascended the hill he fired at him with field piece, struck him on the thigh, and mortally wounded him. He died, and was buried in the churchyard of Radway. Here, twenty-eight years afterwards, this mother, Lady Bridget Kingsmill, erected a monument to his memory. In Jago's poem of Edgehill there is a view of this monument preserved, but only the mutilated remains of the figure now exist. These are preserved in the tower of Radway new church. By the side is this inscription:-Here lyeth, expecting ye second comeing of our blessed Lord and Saviour, Henry Kingsmill, Esq., second son to Sr Henry Kingsmill, of Sidmonton, in the county of Southampton, Knt, who serving as a captain of foot under his Matie Carles the First, of blessed memory, was at the battell of Edge Hill, in ye year of our Lord 1642, as he was manfully fighting in behalfe of his King and country, unhappily slain by a cannon bullet, in memory of whom his mother, the Lady Bridget Kingsmill, did, in the forty-sixth yeare of her widowhood, in the year of our Lord 1670, erect this monument. 'I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, henceforth is laid up for me a crown of righteousness.' [sic]
The burial place of the troopers is now marked by a plantation on Battle Farm. The field is now enclosed, and the positions of the army of Essex are difficult to make out.
Anecdotes of the battle are still preserved in the neighbourhood. The fight commenced just as the various villagers had assembled for afternoon service, and the evil influences of the hour seem to have goaded the tongue of the parish clerk of Tysoe into profanity, as when he heard the sound of the first cannon he turned to the minister and exclaimed "Ad dam 'em they're at it," and rushed out of church followed by the congregation and their pastor. At Lower Pillerton the village shoemaker ran off as he said to see fair play, and receiving a sabre cut in front, the wretched man returned home holding his entrails - or as the tradition transmits it, his puddings - in his hands.
It is said that in a fit of loyalty the butchers of Coventry, armed with their cleavers were proceeding to the King's Army, but hearing on the road that the battle was decided, they returned home again.
The night was bitterly cold and frosty, and no doubt many of the wounded died from exposure. One man in search of water, it is said, with the butt end of his musket broke the ice in a horse clinker and found it tinged with blood.
On the morn of the battle a squadron of cavalry passed through Tysoe. As they rode by a farmhouse, occupied by a farmer named Wells - the farm is still in the hands of a descendant of that family - the soldiers finding that the farmer's wife was that morning baking, went into the bakehouse, and took all the bread out of the oven. The farmer seeing this, went into the house, collected all the silver, with every other article of value and putting them into a covered pot, sunk them beneath the waters of the well. The soldiers having got a supply of bread, rode on till they came to a little lane, where there was a farmhouse with a yard in front of it. Here they unsaddled their horses, and proceeded to make a meal, washing down the new bread with beer and cider which they obtained from the farmhouse. Having rested and refreshed themselves, they resaddled their horses - the lane has ever since been called Saddling Street - and proceeded to join the King.
As they rode through Temple Tysoe, a farmer, fearing lest the troopers would seize a handsome cob that he had bred, cut a hole in the barley-mow in his barn, hiding the cob therein. When the troop drew near, the farmer was in mortal dread lest his cob should hear the horses' footsteps when passing by, and, neighing, should disclose his hiding-place. The cob, to the owner's joy, remained quite silent. The troop, however, had not proceeded far, when another incident occurred. Passing a gate just beyond the village, a stalwart youth stood with his arms over the gate, gazing at the cavaliers in their bright array. The captain stopped and asked the youth which side he wished well. The youth, taken back at the suddenness of the question, and having no real opinion on the matter, replied, without knowing what the said: 'The Parliament.' Whereupon, for a lark, the soldiers fired several shots over his head. The youth, in fear for his life, fell down as if shot dead; nor did he rise from the ground till the troop was well out of sight, when he ran for his life to the hills, and did not return for two or three days. These anecdotes were told to the author by a man over seventy, who heard it from his grandmother, who lived to be over ninety. She heard them from her grandfather, who was a boy when the battle was fought.
Miller provides some additional/alternative details in the version(s) he provides for his article in an 1890 edition of Illustrated Naval and Military Magazine.
After the Sunday's fight at Edgehill, when the darkness had set in, a small party of the Parliament's troops, who had gained the summit of the Beacon hill at Burton Dasset, gave the signal. Tradition says that some shepherds, on a part of the high ridge over Ivinghoe, on the borders of Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire, (forty miles in a direct line from Edgehill), saw a twinkling light to the northwestward, and, upon communication with their minister, "a godly and well-affected person," fired the Beacon there also, which was seen at Harrow on the Hill; and thence the intelligence was at once carried on to London.
[…] with the "boot and saddle" times of the Civil Wars we find the Woodwards at Butler's Marston, equipped and eager to fight. What a gathering in of men there was then over the Butler's Marston countryside! What a polishing of helmets, rubbing of harness, and grooming of horses from dawn to dusk in the early autumn days of the year of grace sixteen hundred and forty-two! How the tankards banged on oaken tables, and the women servants hurried back and forth to the pantry, bearing pewter dishes and cheeses and well-stuffed chine, while in the wainscotted parlour, pricking their fingers over scarves and collars, old women and maidens kept back their tears.
So the last toast was drunk and the men clattered away. Richard Woodward raised at his own cost a troop of horse, and died, with brother, on Sunday, October 23rd, 1642, on Edge Hill field. I wonder how the news came on that chill autumn night that both the Woodwards were dead. It is strange (are people careless or forgetful?) that the memorial in the church, raised to this Cavalier Captain, has disappeared and gone.
At parish level many other traditions grew up, but are known only locally and are now fast disappearing. At Brailes, for example, one story, already largely forgotten, relates to sounds of fleeing soldiers heard clashing at the lonely Traitors Ford. As Edgehill is directly linked with this spot by the ancient, long-disused trackway known as Ditchedge Lane such a legend, like many others of its kind, may indeed relate to a real incident now irretrievably buried in the folk memory.