Thursday, 2 March 2017

Battle of Edgehill 1642

Last weekend Carolyn and I packed up work on Thursday and set off for a long weekend in Oxford, well Dorchester on Thames to be precise. Of course as well as enjoying being a couple again I was able to build in some trips to the itinerary that allowed me to cross off some 'must visit at some time' places that inform my hobby and passion and with camera in hand was ready to share my impressions here on JJ's.

The map below illustrates our trip up to Oxfordshire which, skirting around the top of the picturesque Cotswolds, incorporated the battlefields of Edgehill and Cropredy Bridge, before making our way south to Dorchester which would be our base for touring around Oxford and the local area.

Route JJ - Up from Exmouth via the M5, Edgehill, Cropredy Bridge to Dorchester on Thames
The Battle of Edgehill was fought on Sunday 23rd of October 1642 in my home county of Warwickshire and as well as being notable for being the first major battle of the English Civil War (1642 - 1651) is also one of those landmark battles in history, certainly from a British perspective, but I might also argue from a global one given the impact it would lead on to the political settlements seen in the west today.

It is interesting that this period of British warfare is referred to as the English Civil War but was a war that would engulf all of the home nations, but of course the United Kingdom of Great Britain would not be a political entity for another sixty-five years

The battle was the first major action fought between King Charles I and his Parliament's army under the command of the Earl of Essex, this following the declaration of hostilities with the King raising his standard in Nottingham on the 22nd August 1642.

I think it is true to say that the people who inhabit the British Isles have always been a rebellious lot as evidenced by the problems the Romans encountered occupying Britannia. It is no surprise that at least three legions plus supporting auxiliary troops were required to maintain Pax Romana in these troublesome islands.

The propensity for the 'Brits' to challenge authority has continued throughout the centuries with examples such as the Peasants Revolt, the Barons rising against King John and later Henry III, which in time established the idea of a legislative assembly that advised the ruling monarch and became responsible for writing the law and raising the taxes that paid for the King to do what king's liked to do, namely trying to grab territory and wealth from neighbouring kings.

This tendency to rebel against authority, it could be argued, carries on to this day and most Brits dislike the rule they are under even when they have had a chance to vote for said rulers; perhaps the latest, less violent expression of that desire to control the limits of those who govern us, was most demonstrably expressed in last years 'Brexit' result, but in the interests of staying apolitical on this blog, let's not go there.

Even the revolution brought on by our American cousins with their declaration of 'no taxation without representation' and with President Lincoln's profound words, 'government of the people, for the people and by the people' has its roots in the folk that founded the thirteen colonies and the heritage they brought with them of sticking two fingers up at unreasonable authority.

A no finer example of 'unreasonable authority' could be put forward than King Charles the first, a firm believer in the divine right of Kings, to rule without hindrance from lesser mortals such as subjects, and if it meant that a lot of those subjects had to be smited to reinforce that principal, then so be it.

The Castle at Edgehill offers a superb vista of the battlefield
I find it interesting to compare the English Civil War with the later American War of Independence with multiple similarities in the course of the two conflicts and the swing of fortune away from the more dominant power at the start, namely the Royalists in the first instance and the British in the second to Parliament and the Rebel Americans.

The civil war aspects were common to both (Both Loyalist Americans and Rebel Americans considered themselves as Englishmen, the parlance of the day for anyone coming from the British home nations) conflicts and the abilities and size of the armies were very similar given the one hundred and thirty plus year separation and minor improvements in weaponry and tactics.

One might also argue that the resulting state apparatus that was devised following the defeat of the previous regime had very similar issues to overcome with both the Lord Protector Cromwell and General Washington both offered the prospect of becoming de-facto King of the new state that emerged.

Perhaps George Washington and the US Congress at least had the benefit of history to look back on to avoid some of the pitfalls that Cromwell encountered on the road to Charles II being invited back and the religious struggles that followed culminating in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the struggle for a final settlement that came about on the bloody field of Culloden Moor in 1746.

Since then both the UK and US have trodden similar paths to establishing universal emancipation under the rule of law with a free press, that has been a model of government that has influenced political development in the west and beyond.

It took about three hours to drive from home to Edgehill and it was lunchtime when we arrived in Stow on the Wold so we grabbed a bite before crossing the county border into Royal Warwickshire, the centre of England, Shakespeare's county and home to the finest county cricket team; you can take the boy out of Warwickshire.........

Given that we were on the road to our final destination at Dorchester and I had just the afternoon and daylight to squeeze in Edgehill and Cropredy Bridge, time was of the essence and so I did a bit of pre-reading and internet searching before setting out.

One really useful guide for the day was the Battlefield Trust Edgcote to Edgehill Trail Guide (see the link below to get the PDF), which describes the three battlefields (Edgehill, Cropredy Bridge and Edgcote) and the route that links them, all being in close proximity. Unfortunately time didn't permit the inclusion of Edgecote from the Wars of the Roses, so that remains for a more leisurely return visit at some time.

The guide pointed towards the Castle Hotel as a perfect place to view the battlefield, from its position high above on Edgehill itself, and my photo below from the viewing platform together with some added graphics help illustrate what might have been seen back in 1642.

The view from "The Castle" on Edgehill with some graphics to help illustrate the battle lines 
The battlefield has been corrupted over the intervening centuries with defence installations and railways cut into the archaeology and two MOD (Ministry of Defence) facilities occupy much of the ground today limiting access to significant parts, so given the time constraints I focused my attention on key areas of interest before moving on.

One place to visit, particularly if time is limited, is St Peter's Church in Radway that was at the heart of the Royalist lines as they descended into the valley to meet Essex's army.

The church houses an excellent display of artefacts that bring the battlefield to life and reminded me of a similar exhibition at St Mary's Church in Westonzoyland when we visited the Battle of Sedgemoor back in 2014.

If you go, do make sure you help support free to enter venues such as these by making a good contribution to the collection box and you might also be able to pick up some great second hand books along the way, like I did, and add to the church coffers.

Wars and Shadows spotted by Carolyn in the second hand books on sale in
St Peter's Church, Radway

A typical Pikeman wearing a semi-cabasset helmet with ear-flaps and
corselet, backed up with a buff leather coat.
The manikins are a great way to help oil the imagination for those of us who know something about the battle, but particularly for those who don't.

A recreation of Royalist Captain Henry Kingsmill, killed in action and
seemingly dressed as Gerard's Bluecoats.
I really like to see items that relate to the individual soldiers that participated in these great moments of history. The stories about their often sad fates speak across the centuries about the tragedy of war and the misery it inflicts, but also inspires me to try and capture the essence of the period they represent when I play my tabletop games.

Ensign and Pikeman of Charles Gerard's Royalist Bluecoats, ten companies strong
recruited from Lancashire, Cheshire, Flint and Montgomery - Jeffrey Burn

I have visited many Commonwealth war cemeteries in my travels and expeditions, and the most moving parts of these visits are to read the simple loving messages on soldiers grave stones from close family.

Nothing has changed over the centuries of human conflict and the grief suffered by Lady Bridgett Kingsmill, a widow and now losing her son Henry at Edgehill, was all too plain in the headstone she had erected over his tomb.

The tomb of Captain Henry Kingsmill

Tombstone memorial to Captain of Foot Henry Kingsmill who serving under his Majesty Charles the First
was, 'slaine by a cannon bullet' at the Battle of Edgehill in 1642. The memorial was erected by his
widowed mother, Lady Bridgett Kingsmill
It is easy to forget the civilians caught up in war and even more so when that war is a civil affair where no one is allowed to be neutral.

The Civil Wars were incredibly destructive to human life with an estimated loss of 84,830 men killed in fighting in England and 27,895 in Scotland and an unknown number in Ireland between 1642-1660.

Overall, including deaths from hunger and disease, it is estimated that England suffered a population loss of 3.7% and Scotland 6% during this time compared to 0.6% of the population of Britain as a whole in the Second World War.

Sunday best as worn in Radway in 1642
The items that really bring the battle to life are the pieces of battlefield detritus left to indicate what happened in this place three hundred and seventy five years ago when approximately 24,000 men threw shot and ball at each other amid the sword and pike play.

There is nothing standard about English Civil War weaponry and the archaeology reveals a myriad of different calibre shot from the smallest to the largest and with some composed of stone rather than lead.

With all the different types and calibre of roundshot on display you really get a good idea of the nightmare for any quartermaster trying to make sure enough of any particular ammunition was available at any given time.

These musketeers illustrate the priming flask spouts and apostle covers seen in the photo above
As with many old battle sites long gone from living memory and from a period when these kind of affairs were not very well or accurately recorded there has over the following centuries been much debate as to precisely where the battle occurred.

I took with me my trusty 1990 copy of "Travellers Guide to Battlefields of the English Civil War" by Martyn Bunnett, whose map of Edgehill has Radway almost centre of the Royalist line in front of the village rather like Walford's map below from 1904.

This interpretation is quite different from the Battlefield Trust map illustrated on their information board seen at the top of the post with the Royalist left flank anchored on the village after the advance from Edgehill which rather follows the new map by Dr Glenn Foard based on the metal detector finds carried out in 2004 and 2006 by the Battlefields Trust.

Recent battlefield archaeology has revealed the likely position of the two lines based on the distribution of shot and bullets

Before heading off to Cropredy Bridge I wanted to see one of the two memorials to the battle, this one being a copy of the original now beyond public access due to the MOD controlling the land.

The later monument was erected in 1949 and there is a great period photo in the link below. It can be found on Kineton - Banbury Road and is about 400 metres behind the left flank of the Parliamentary line where Ramsey's cavalry were routed by Prince Rupert's cavaliers.

So with Edgehill seen and logged as a must play game it was off to another important English Civil War battlefield, Cropredy Bridge where the defeat suffered by Parliament, and the exasperation it generated, would finally spur them on to create the first English professional army.


  1. Thanks a lot for this interesting report trip ! all the best. carlo

    1. Thanks Carlo, glad you enjoyed the read

  2. I really enjoyed this. Great post!

    1. Thanks Rodger, appreciate your comment

  3. Nice post, I hadn't realised edgehill was so close to Cropredy which I've been to lots and camped on the battle field, there is a music festival there every year the museum looks worth a visit.
    Best Iain

    1. Cheers Iain, yes I found the PDF guide from the Battlefield Trust really helpful and they have the excellent maps to show what happened where. I would imagine this is a lovely part of the world to visit in the summer with some very nice pubs about.

  4. Hi Carojon - great post and glad you enjoyed your visit to the Edgehill battlefield. Could you mention that the exhibition has its own website:
    Thanks again!

    1. Thank you and yes I will happily update my post with the website address for future reference.

  5. Very good battlefield tour, Jonathan! Enjoyed seeing the museum contents and troop dispositions.
    Good job!

    1. Thanks Jonathan, I really enjoyed being there as it's been on my list of places to go ever since seeing Peter Gilder playing it on Battleground.

    2. I would enjoy a visit one day too! Good to see that Cropedy Bridge is not too off either.

  6. Really great stuff. Thanks for sharing. One day when i get over to the UK I'll be sure to visit this place too. Out of curiosity, what is MOD?

    1. Thanks Adam, you must, this is a lovely part of the world with glorious countryside and great pubs as well as the history.
      Apologies, I spend my professional life avoiding jargon and then revert to type writing hobby information. I will update my post and thank you for asking on behalf of the rest of the world. MOD is short hand here for Ministry of Defence, which used to be the War Office. These names we give organisations are a post of there own, what with the Police Force now called the Police Service. I think it is supposed to relay something, but the role hasn't changed much.