Key Facts about the
Battle of Edgehill

Key "facts", bullet points and details providing a succinct overview of the Battle of Edgehill.

Charles finally resolved to advance towards the centre of disaffection, London, as the only hope of a sure victory depended on him wresting control of the administrative and financial centre of the country from the Parliamentary party. […] As the king was now on the move for London, Essex was forced to move his army out of Worcester in order to get between the royal army and its objective. Very soon both armies were marching in the same direction and drawing closer together every mile, although neither the king nor Essex was aware of the situation.
Roy Sherwood. (The Civil War in the Midlands 1642-1651). 1974.

On the 22 August 1642 King Charles I made his declaration of war against Parliament and raised his royal standard at Nottingham. By October Charles and his army were heading for London, but Parliament's forces were marching from Worcester to block his path. At Edgehill, they clashed.

  1. In General
  2. Key Players
    1. The Royalists
    2. The Parliamentarians
  3. Armies, Deployments & Tactics
  4. Before Battle
  5. The Battle
  6. Post Battle

In General

  • Significance: The Battle of Edgehill was the first pitched battle of the English Civil War. It confirmed that it would be war in earnest and Civil War was no longer avoidable
  • Who: The battle was between Parliament's army and the Royalist army of King Charles I
  • Why: The Parliamentarian Army was attempting to beat the Royalist Army to London — or block their route — when both armies accidently converged in a corner of Warwickshire. This presented an opportunity for a battle and to potentially end the conflict with a decisive clash
  • When: The main battle took place on Sunday 23rd October, 1642. [November 2nd allowing for the shift between Julian and Gregorian calendar] The battle commenced at around three o'clock in the afternoon, but military events continued for a further two days, culminating with a Royalist attack on part of the Parliamentarian baggage train in Kineton on the Tuesday
  • Where: The combined open common fields of Little Kineton, Kineton and Radway; between the small town of Kineton and the village of Radway (Warwickshire, England). The village is overlooked by the Edgehill escarpment. (Kineton pronounced: 'kine - as in 'line' - ton')
  • Numbers: Royalist numbers achieved approximately 13,500 men. The Parliamentarians didn't have their entire army at the battlefield, but their number still amounted to around 12,500. (Around 3500 additional Parliamentarian soldiers were still making their way towards the battlefield)
  • Casualties: It is usually estimated between 1,000 and 1,500 men died on the battlefield and a further 2 to 3,000 were injured. (However it is also suggested that around 3000 dead would represent an average estimate when considering all estimates from varied contemporary and secondary sources)
  • Result: Typically described as a draw or stalemate, but many commentators consider the Royalists 'not to have lost' as the Parliamentarians had failed to block their route to London
  • Battle: The choice of battlefield was due to chance and the Royalists had only just slipped past the Parliamentarian army - to its south and closer to London - by the narrowest of margins. Both armies mutually consented to the battle and drew up in parallel lines opposite each other. It was a clear bright afternoon full of autumnal sunshine …
    • The armies deployed with infantry in the centre, cavalry on both wings and dragoons on the two flanks. To begin, there was an uneventful cannonade
    • Initially the entire Royalist cavalry enjoyed considerable success in charging and scattering the opposing cavalry on either wing from the battlefield, but in their enthusiasm pursued them, leaving their infantry unsupported
    • Two Parliamentary cavalry units however did remain, unmolested and unopposed, and were able to inflict much damage amidst the exposed Royalist Foot regiments, all of which had marched across the open field to engage their stationary counterparts
    • Parliament's reserve infantry was able to join the front battle line and help force the Royalist Foot back to where they had started, with some of the king's left hand brigades having been routed
    • Some of the king's cavalry returned to the battlefield - from Kineton and beyond - to avert potential disaster late in the day, but as night fell, further military manoeuvres were abandoned
    • The King and much of his army returned back up Edgehill and to the slopes of the Warmington hills beyond when it was dark.
  • Edgehill is the largest battlefield on the official battlefield register, is reputably Europe's most haunted, was the first pitched battle of the English Civil War and was the longest of the entire conflict (lasting three days in its entirety).

Key Players

The Royalists

Sir John Byron at Edgehill
Sir John Byron fought at Edgehill with his own cavalry regiment
  • King Charles I commanded the entire Royalist Army with assistance from his Council of War. This Council comprised generals, ministers, peers and officers with relevant military experience. On the day he wore a black velvet coat lined with ermine, a steel cap covered with velvet and had rode to every brigade of Horse and Foot and spoke to them with great Courage and Chearfulness, which caused Huzza's thro' the whole Army shortly before the battle
  • Robert Bertie (Earl of Lindsey) as Lieutenant General of the Royalist Army was field commander of the Royalist army. He resigned on the day, shortly before the battle following another quarrel with Prince Rupert concerning tactics and took to the field with his own regiment of Foot. He died of the wounds sustained at the battle
  • Patrick Ruthven (Earl of Forth) replaced Lindsey for the battle. An experienced Scottish soldier who had fought in the Swedish Army and in the Swedish style, but at Edgehill followed Rupert's preferred deployment pattern
  • Prince Rupert commanded the Royalist Cavalry as General of the Horse, as well as being the king's nephew. At 22 years of age, he had already gained significant military experience and technical military knowledge, having served in the Dutch Army and having shared captivity with veteran officers. (At Edgehill, Rupert led his regiment of Horse at the centre of the right-wing cavalry)
  • Sir John Byron commanded Rupert's second line of cavalry, having served within the Dutch Army. (At Edgehill, Byron was positioned on the right-wing of the deployed Royalist Army)
  • Henry Wilmot was Commissary General of the Horse and second in command to Rupert and like the prince had also seen service in the Dutch Army. (At Edgehill Wilmot led the left-wing cavalry)
  • George, Lord Digby was in charge of Wilmot's second line of cavalry, and while gallant his fundamental lack of experience on the day demonstrated an inability to accurately follow orders
  • Sir Jacob Astley was a Sergeant-Major General and commanded the infantry (Foot soldiers). With Dutch Army experience he had also once tutored Prince Rupert
  • Sir Arthur Aston was Sergeant-Major General of Dragoons and had served in both the Polish and Swedish armies
  • The Earl of Newport (Mountjoy Blount) was Master of the Ordnance, but at Edgehill the Royalist Artillery was led by Sir John Heydon.

The Parliamentarians

  • Robert Devereux, Third Earl of Essex, commanded Parliament's army with the rank of Captain General. Essex had served within the Dutch Army and as Lieutenant General of Foot in the First Bishops War, which established a continued interest in European military developments. He was later denied a command in King Charles' army for the second Scottish Bishops' War (1640) which may have helped his growing allegiance towards the king's parliamentarian opponents
  • Essex's life guard included Henry Ireton, Thomas Harrison, Nathaniel Rich, Charles Fleetwood, Matthew Tomlinson, Edmund Ludlow and Francis Russell
  • William Russell, Earl of Bedford, was officially General of the Horse, but due to his lack of military experience, his command largely depended upon Sir William Balfour
  • Sir William Balfour was Lieutenant General of the Horse and an experienced professional soldier who had served in the Dutch Army
  • Sir James Ramsey as Commissary General of Horse commanded the left-wing at Edgehill. A professional soldier hired by Parliament
  • Sir John Merrick was Sergeant-Major General of Essex's army who had European military experience. But it remains possible that he was not present at the battle, as he is not mentioned by any of the contemporary accounts. The infantry adopted the Dutch practice with their three brigades commanded by Sir John Meldrum, Charles Essex and Thomas Ballard
  • Henry Mordaunt, Earl of Peterborough, was technically General of the Ordnance, but Frenchman Philibert Emmanuel Du-Bois, as Lieutenant General of the Ordnance, was the effective commander of the artillery
  • Oliver Cromwell was not present at the main battle. At this time he was the captain of a troop of horse and arrived at Kineton late in the day, and along with other regiments, briefly engaged Royalist Horse around or near to Kineton.
Foreign officers formed an integral part of the original Parliamentarian army that was assembled by the earl of Essex in September 1642. Many of Essex's most senior officers were strangers.
Mark Stoyle. (Soldiers And Strangers: An Ethnic History of the English Civil War). 2005.

Armies, Deployments & Tactics

  • King Charles revered the military opinion of his young nephew and took Prince Rupert's advice for the figure of the battle they resolved to fight in with the enemy. Rupert's repeated quarrelling with the Earl of Lindsey would cause the Earl to resign his post of Lieutenant General of the Royalist Army on the day and not long before the battle finally began. Drawing from the accounts of Sir Richard Bulstrode, its clear that Rupert preferred the Swedish version of preferred battle formations, with the horse three deep in each wing and the Foot (centre) lined six deep.
  • In 1642 The Earl of Essex had become the first Captain-General and Chief Commander of the Parliamentarian army. At Edgehill Essex probably had 12 regiments of Foot, 42 troops of Horse and 16 pieces of artillery; while several additional Parliamentarian regiments were still marching to Kineton during the battle. Following the main theory and military practice of the time, Essex employed the principles of Dutch battle formations but didn't replicate either of the two most popular styles at Edgehill. He had seen service in the Dutch Army and the military experience of his officers was also in the Dutch style, but at Kineton Field it's commonly understood that he used six files of eight men in a regiment (as opposed to the usual ten men deep), having adopted the latest English variation of the Dutch model and likely to have used a six deep formation for his cavalry as at the later battle of Roundway Down. His left-wing cavalry were said to be some way forward of the infantry and stretched in width to match the Royalists right-wing. (Essex would eventually be replaced by Thomas Fairfax later in the war).
  • Cavalry: At Edgehill most of the cavalry, on both sides, were of the harquebusiers variety whose full equipment included helmets, breast and back plates, buff (leather) coats, sword, two pistols and a carbine (a shortened version of a rifle or musket). But many would not possess this full set and many Royalists may only have fought with a sword. Cavalry would be deployed on either flank (the right and left wings) of the main army. Recent archaeological evidence for Edgehill suggests that the cavalry of both sides, when engaging the infantry (centre), may have preferred the use of carbines (which is a shorter version of a musket). There were also three troops of Horse within the Parliament ranks equipped as cuirassiers, wearing full armour.
  • Infantry (Foot): Musketeers provided the increasingly important firepower on the battlefield. Few would have worn helmets, but most pikemen did. Pikemen engaged in close combat, and using their long pikes (poles, 16 to 18ft long) provided protection for the musketeers against the cavalry. The musketeers would flank either side of a centre of pikemen and at around this time the ratio preference was moving towards two musketeers per pikeman. But at Edgehill the estimated Royalist ratio of one musketeer to one pikeman was weaker than the rebel's estimated average of three to two.
  • Dragoons: Horse mounted musketeers, known as Dragoons, featured in and on the flanks of both armies, using lighter weight flintlock weapons. (But records show that at this time most of the Royalist Dragoons were equipped with matchlock muskets).
  • Artillery: Both armies utilised cannon in the battlefield and these would typically remain stationary once sited at the initial deployments. Those responsible for the train of artillery were also responsible for supplying ammunition to the cavalry, infantry and artillery as well as spare weapons and tools during the battle. At Edgehill the Parliamentarians probably had 16 cannon while the Royalists managed 20, with 14 of them being field (smaller) pieces. The Royalists positioned two pieces of cannon in front of every 'body of Foot'. It appears the Royalists moved some of the pieces forward as their infantry advanced.
  • Generally, Parliament's men were better armed, as the Royalist infantry were described as having pikes and muskets but no corslet (body armour), with very few musketeers having swords. Notably, three or four hundred of the king's men had marched without any weapon but a cudgel.
  • The men wore various colours with regiments on both sides generally dressed in colours preferred by their colonels, but the Parliamentarians wore an orange scarf (around their waist) with Royalists using red versions to distinguish between the two sides.
  • Brigades of Foot featured 3 or 4 regiments, while brigades of Horse or dragoons, were made up of troops. At Edgehill its thought that the Royalist infantry deployed as brigades while Parliament stood as regiments.
The divisions [of Swedish style deployments during this period] typically advanced from line of march into battle formation deploying from the right, thus the battalion which was to deploy on the right wing would be in the vanguard, followed by each battalion in sequence in length as they were to be deployed in battle array from right to left. In the primary sources the infantry right could also therefore be described as the van or vanguard, the centre as the middle or main battle and the left as the rear or rearguard.
Glenn Foard (Battlefield Archaeology of the English Civil War). 2012.
The armies of 1642, consisting almost entirely of volunteers, differed in character from those of 1643 and after. As the war dragged on its temper grew more bitter. Early enthusiasms waned and both sides were compelled to recruit their foot by impressment.
Peter Young (Edgehill 1642). 1967.
Cavalry formations: By 1642 Swedes and Imperialists used both the Dutch chequerboard deployment and an alternative which placed their second line cavalry squadrons directly behind those in the first line. The rationale behind this change was that whereas infantry formations could retreat by an about turn, cavalry had to wheel and if deployed in a chequerboard pattern they would wheel directly into their second line. The risk of a shattered first line of cavalry breaking up its supporting line was reduced by pacing the second line units directly behind those in the first.
Tincey & Roberts (Edgehill 1642). 2001.

Before Battle

  • On the night of the 22nd, villages to the northwest of Edgehill were being used by Parliamentarian troops while Royalists occupied villages to the east, with neither army aware of the other's proximity. Some of Prince Rupert's men, riding ahead of him towards Wormleighton, from Edgecote, happened upon some of Parliament's army whom they took prisoner. Rupert would learn that Essex and much of his Parliamentary army were stationed close by at Kineton. Word reached the king at Edgecote by 3am the following morning that Essex was marching to the relief of Banbury. By 4am the Royalist army was following orders to rendezvous on Edgehill.
  • Essex's Parliamentarian troops had first arrived at Kineton from the west on the 22nd around 9 or 10pm in the evening, with their artillery train following some distance behind. He would learn of the Royalist's close proximity by eight o'clock the following morning, while on his way to church.
  • On the Edgehill escarpment the king's army congregated gradually from various billets based at villages across the countryside. The King's Horse arrived between 10 and 11am, followed by the Van of Foot within an hour. But the Lord-Lieutenant-General's Regiment (with the heavier Artillery) didn't arrive until around 2 hours after this, by which time the Parliamentary army had already begun preparations and were deploying across the plain below.
  • The royalists debated what to do - whether to continue to London or fight the rebels who were "embattelling their Army in the Bottom near Keinton [sic]." It was agreed that to march onwards towards London would have been thought dishonourable and that they'd probably be harried all the way by the rebels. The opportunity for a pitched battle presented itself and - at that time - this was recognised as probably the best opportunity they'd have for such a clash.
  • The King's army descended the hill around or shortly before 2 o'clock. By no later than 3 o'clock they had deployed opposite the Parliamentarian army.
  • Both armies positioned their infantry across their centres with cavalry at either end on each wing of their broad deployments as they faced each other across the largely uninterrupted meadow, pasture and lowland heath.
  • Essex (still not at full force) flanked his entire army with dragoons and musketeers, with his right-wing notably surrounded by hedged enclosures. Part of the ground in front of his centre was ploughed.

The Battle

  • The battle began with a cannonade, with each army exchanging cannon shot. The exchange lasted around 1 hour, but with little damage. (Its speculated this may have begun around 2 o'clock with the actual engagements of men commencing around 3 o'clock).
  • Dragoons and musketeers on both sides engaged each other on the flanks amongst the flanking hedges and enclosures, but the Parliamentary musketeers, with their inferior numbers, lost ground.
  • The Royalist right-wing cavalry, led by Prince Rupert, charged the Parliamentary left-wing cavalry. Ramsey, who commanded Parliament's left-wing, used 400 musketeers amongst his 24 troops of horse along with 3 cannon, from their stationary positions, but failed to hold his position. His left-wing was quickly dispersed.
  • Similarly Wilmott on the Royalist left-wing dominated their cavalry engagement on the right-wing of Parliament's position. A Parliamentarian infantry regiment led by Sir William Fairfax quickly fled, but Fairfax himself remained along with around 100 of his men.
  • The Royalists Foot advanced towards the stationary Parliamentarian army, with reserve brigades being brought forward between the gaps of the front line to create a single Royalist battle line.
  • Troops of horse forming Sir William Balfour's and Sir Philip Stapleton's Regiments had been positioned as reserves towards the centre of Parliament's army and had survived the initial cavalry defeats on either wing. As the majority of cavalry left the immediate battlefield - with most heading towards the Parliamentarian camp towards Little and Greater Kineton - these two surviving bodies of horsemen were able to operate unchallenged. Balfour led a charge by both regiments against the advancing Royalist infantry, providing support for Lord Robartes' and Sir William Constable's infantry regiments.
  • Exposed to this cavalry pressure the three left-hand Royalist Foot brigades were forced to adopt the tactic of protecting their musketeers from the slashing swords of zealous horsemen by forming a defensive ring of pikemen around them, fending off the Horse with their long pikes as best they could. With Royalist musketeers so tightly protected under their own men's pikes they were essentially unable to operate. However, Byron's and Wentworth's men employed this defensive response effectively even if their musketeers were not daring to shoot a shot. Less successful was Feilding's infantry as he and his Colonels were taken prisoner along with heavy loses of men, leaving the survivors to flee back to Edgehill.
  • The brigades of John Belasyse and Charles Gerard on the Royalist's right of centre were fairing better as many of the men making up Parliament's opposing infantry regiments of Charles Essex, Lord Mandeville, Lord Wharton and Sir Henry Chomley had already fled the scene during the initial cavalry assaults. To compensate Thomas Ballard led his reserve brigade of four Parliamentarian Foot regiments forward - moving as large pike-blocks - to join the frontline and proactively engage the enemy. This applied additional pressure to the entire Royalist infantry but two of Ballard's regiments being the Lord Generals' and Lord Brookes' charged the three struggling Royalist brigades at their army's centre and left of centre positions. They came to solid 'push of pike' in a physical struggle while Parliamentarian musketeers fired into the tightly packed Royalist ranks. But enough of the Royalist battle line still held firm.
  • Aided by the progress of Parliment's infantry, Balfour and his regiment of horsemen were able to pursue and attack retreating soldiers, passing beyond the Royalist ranks and even eventually reaching some of their artillery positions. Quickly trying to cease the opportunity Balfour demanded nails in order to sabotage the Royalist battery of guns and in particular two larger Demy-Cannon. But without any available to block and hammer up the touchholes he quickly settled upon cutting the drag-ropes, making it practically impossible for the heavy guns to be manoeuvred. With this, the Canoneers who had dropped their arms were killed, and he and his Troopers then pursued the Fliers for half a Mile upon Execution.
  • During the battle a party of Balfour's Horse had almost captured the king's two young son's but quickly aborted any attack once they saw the Prince's entourage take evasive cover within or behind a small enclosure which had encompassed a barn. Following this close encounter, the two Prince's continued to be escorted back to Edgehill and away from the immediate danger.
  • In the centre, compounding the Royalist infantry's predicament - locked in combat with frontline and reserve Parliamentary Foot regiments whilst also enduring Stapleton's cavalry on their left flank - Balfour's horsemen had now returned to the main action to assail their ranks from the rear. Under such combined pressures Nicholas Byron's brigade finally broke and ran away towards the hill, while having let the king's Royal Standard be captured.
  • During this growing confusion, Wentworth's brigade on the Royalist's far left failed to press home any attack upon Meldrum's regiment and are thought to have deserted the field. The King's infantry across the centre and left side were now falling back in disarray or running for their lives.
  • Charles Gerard, commanding the extreme right-hand brigade of the Royalist's frontline was able to withstand the advancing left-wing Palimentarians by fighting hard and maintained an esembleance of order and cover for the Royalist army as their infantry was forced back to where they had started. The King's foot had run great hazard of an absolute defeat.
  • The Earl of Essex began the day with some of his army still on route to Kineton, but by 4pm additional forces had arrived at their main billet in and around the town. Hamden's and Grantham's regiments, John Fiennes's 2 troops of Horse, plus 9 or 10 other Horse troops and 6 companies of Dragoons had encountered and actively engaged the Royalist Horse outside of Kineton, which directed some Royalist cavalry back towards the battlefield.
  • 3 to 5 Royalist cavalry troops which had left the core action in pursuit of fleeing Parliamentarians had been rallied by Prince Rupert and were only now returning to the battlefield, but were spotted on route and greeted with a cavalry charge from Stapleton's cuirassiers (around Parliament's left wing), but managed to return to their own retreating ranks bringing much needed support. Some Dragoons within the returning horsemen were able to fire at the enemy and this brought some instant relief with Parliament's counter attack steadily drawing to a halt. Both armies engaged in a short fire fight from either side of the Radway brook, with its ditch providing a natural dividing line.
  • As the light began to fade, despite encouragement to organise one last charge the partially reformed Royalist Horse erred on the side of caution and opted not to, for fear of mistaking Friends for Foes. One report claims firing had continued until 6pm.
  • After nightfall some of the Parlimentary army stayed in the field on their side of the ditch while some of the king's men maintained their poisitions on the Radway side, but most of the Royalist army, along with the king, had promptly retired back to the Top of the Hill […] because of the advantage of the Place. After a few hours, amidst the darkness and under a clear sky, the remaining men would eventually return to the hill or back to their camp at Kineton.
  • Hundreds of bodies lay strewn across the battlefield during the bitterly cold night while those wounded men who lay where they had fallen and had barely clung to life may have benefited from the frost as it helped stem the flow of blood. Some heavy artillery - belonging to both sides - stood where it had been left.
  • Of the infantry its thought that the Royalist's suffered more fatalities. It was also observed that Parliamentary regiments which ran away suffered more loses than those that stood firm (as they were easily cut down by Royalist horsemen), but conversely those loses were equalled by Royalists who had remained on the battlefield.
After the battle on Sunday, the greater part of the Parliament's army was ordered for the night to Kineton; but a brigade of observation was left on the advanced position which they had won at the eastern extremity of the field.
Alfred Beesley. (The History of Banbury). 1841.

Post Battle

  • At dawn the king drew half the Body of the Horse into Battalia close to where they had deployed the day before, with the rest of his Horse and Foot on the Top of the Hill. But his cavalry was depleted and hadn't fully reformed. Parliament soon afterwards also drew out again into Battalia, and similarly no longer had its best cavalry at full strength, but did have the addition of some fresh forces and additional artillery.
  • Opportunistically and brazenly a small Royalist party managed to claim and draw off 3 abandoned Parliamentarian cannon from the battlefield to the cheers of their comrades as they watched from the hilltop.
  • After 3 or 4 hours the Royalists, who may have been short on ammunition and gun powder, withdrew from the hill (or view) and Parliament's army again returned to their quarters at Kineton. Its generally considered and interpreted that both armies were exhausted and weakened with neither being particularly inclined to reengage the hostilities.
  • The Royalists rested the rest of the day on Edgehill. The dead on the field were buried.
  • By 'first thing' Tuesday, most of Essex's Parliamentary army had left Kineton and were heading to Warwick (and Coventry), but the king's General of the Horse, Prince Rupert, had also descended the escarpment at Sun Rising (now the A422) with a detachment of Horse and Dragoons, to storm the town, where he ruthlessly dealt with Houses full of wounded and sick Men and found men with several Wagons loaded with muskets, pikes and ammunition preparing to follow their 'rebel' army back to Warwick.
Had the king won an outright victory against Essex's army he could have marched on an overawed Parliament and an undefended capital. As it was, Essex was able to return to London and organize its defence in the time Charles took to arrive there, which was three weeks. During this time the king had satisfied his original desire to take Banbury, the soldiers and inhabitants of which had, since the Battle of Edgehill, 'surprised many passengers, and soldiers, and others well affected to his Majesty's service, and detained them prisoners with great barbarousness and inhumanity'. On his arrival at the outskirts of the capital it became apparent that to take it by force would be impossible, so Charles retired for the winter to Oxford, 'the only city of England that he could say was entirely at his devotion'.