Battle of Edgehill - Conflict & Date:
The Battle of Edgehill was fought October 23, 1642, during the First English Civil War (1642-1646).
Armies & Conflicts
Battle of Edgehill - Background:
As the situation between King Charles I and Parliament deteriorated in the summer of 1642, both sides began preparing for hostilities. Moving from his temporary capital at York, Charles unsuccessfully attempted to take Kingston-upon-Hull with the goal of securing its armory. Pressing on to Lincoln and Leicester, he was able to procure arms and on August 22 raised the royal standard at Nottingham. Having effectively declared war on Parliament, he marched west to Chester and Shrewsbury with the hope of gathering additional men from Wales and the Welsh Marches.
Aware of Charles' movements, Parliament dispatched its army to block his advance. Led by the Earl of Essex, the army mustered at Northampton and possessed around 20,000 men. From here, it moved northwest towards Worcester. On September 23, part of Essex's vanguard was attacked at Powick Bridge by Royalist cavalry under Prince Rupert of the Rhine. In the resulting action, the Parliamentarian troops were routed. Having assembled his army at Shrewsbury, Charles decided to advance on London with the goal of fighting Essex on favorable ground en route.
On October 22, the Royalist army camped at Edgecote from which it could menace the Parliamentarian garrison at Banbury. Concerned, the garrison called for aid from Essex who had just reached Warwick Castle. Learning of the situation, he began moving the Parliamentarian forces towards Kineton despite the fact that many of his men and the bulk of his artillery had not arrived. That evening, some of his patrols clashed with Royalist troops near the village. These alerted Charles to the enemy's approach and he ordered that his army be formed atop nearby Edgehill escarpment the next morning.
During the deployment of the army, Charles' commander, the Earl of Lindsey, resigned after a dispute over formations and was replaced by the Earl of Forth. While the Royalist infantry was positioned in the center, the bulk of the cavalry was placed on the right with Rupert in command. As the army formed, the King's Lifeguard was permitted to join Rupert's wing despite the fact that it left the king with no cavalry reserve. The Royalist left consisted of cavalry forces led by Sir Henry Wilmot. Though he had intended to march directly to Banbury on October 23, Essex changed his plans after learning of Charles' army.
Advancing on the Royalist position, Essex formed his army for battle to the southeast of Kineton and opposite the escarpment. The Parliamentarians assumed a position similar to their adversaries with Sir John Merrick's infantry in the center and cavalry on the flanks. The bulk of Essex's horse was placed on the left under the command of Sir James Ramsey and was supported by a force of musketeers. Short on cavalry as the remainder of his army was still arriving, Essex assigned only Lord Fielding's regiment to the right and relied on hedgerows and terrain to bolster the defense.
The Battle of Edgehill:
Two cavalry units were placed in reserve behind the infantry under the leadership of Essex's cavalry commander, Sir William Balfour. With his lines formed, Essex remained on the defensive as he awaited the remainder of his army to arrive on the field. With the Parliamentarians slowly gaining in strength the Royalists descended from the heights and began advancing after a brief artillery exchange. Pushing forward dragoons, Rupert was able to clear the enemy musketeers on his front before launching a large cavalry attack on Ramsey's position.
Sweeping forward, the Royalist horsemen crashed through the Ramsey's lines aided by the sudden defection of a troop of Parliamentarian horse. Driving off Ramsey's troops, Rupert's cavalry rode forward in pursuit. As Rupert's attack commenced, Wilmot charged forward on the Royalist left. Overrunning Fielding's men, Wilmot and additional cavalry, led by Lord Digby, chased the retreating enemy to Kineton where they began plundering the Parliamentarian baggage train. Despite the flight of the cavalry, Merrick's infantry stood firm as they engaged their opposite numbers.
As the close quarters fighting commenced, Balfour found that his reserve cavalry were the only mounted troops left on the field. Ordering his men forward, he directed his regiment and that of Sir Philip Stapleton to attack the flank of the Royalist infantry. Charging in, they shattered two Royalist regiments. This assault, coupled with a renewed effort from Merrick's men, drove the Royalists back. In the fighting Lindsey was killed and the royal standard briefly captured. Retreating to a ditch, the Royalists were able to begin re-forming and halted the Parliamentarian advance.
To Essex's rear, arriving Parliamentarian troops succeeded in driving off the Royalist cavalry which retreated back to Charles' lines. These fresh troops arrived too late in the day to allow Essex to renew his attack and a standoff ensued. The next morning, the Royalists initially withdrew back onto Edgehill while Essex fell back to in front of Kineton. As the day progressed, neither side sought to renew hostilities. While the Royalists ultimately departed Edgehill, Essex remained at Kineton to bury the dead.
Aftermath of Edgehill
Total casualties at Edgehill numbered around 1,000 killed and 2,000-3,000 wounded. The first major battle of the English Civil War, Edgehill proved largely inconclusive. Essex ultimately withdrew to Warwick opening the way to London for Charles. Rather than march directly on the capital, Charles moved at a slower pace capturing Banbury and then moving via Oxford, Aylesbury and Reading. This allowed Essex to recover and reach London first. Reinforced with the London Trained Bands, his army proved to powerful for Charles to attack. As a result, the Royalist army fell back to Oxford which became his wartime capital.