On 22 August 1642 King Charles I raised his royal standard at Nottingham, officially declaring war against Parliament. Both sides quickly began mobilising troops believing the war would soon be resolved through one great, pitched battle. Here are ten facts about the Battle of Edgehill.
1. It was the first major pitched battle of the English Civil War
Although sieges and small skirmishes had occurred prior to Edgehill, this was the first time the Parliamentarians and Royalists confronted each other with substantial numbers on the open field.
2. King Charles I and his Royalists had been marching on London
Charles had been forced to flee London back in early January 1642. As his army marched towards the capital, a Parliamentarian army intercepted them near Banbury in Oxfordshire.
3. The Parliamentarian army was commanded by the Earl of Essex
His name was Robert Devereux, a strong Protestant who had fought in the Thirty Years War and also participated in various other military ventures prior to the outbreak of the English Civil War.
4. Charles’ Royalist army was outnumbered at Edgehill
Charles had around 13,000 troops compared to Essex’s 15,000. Nevertheless he positioned his army in a strong position on Edge Hill and was confident of victory.
5. The Royalist cavalry was Charles’ secret weapon…
Commanded by Prince Rupert of the Rhine, these horsemen were well-trained and considered the best in England.
6. …and Charles was sure to use them
Not long after the battle began on 23 October 1642, the Royalist cavalry charged their opposite numbers on both flanks. The Parliamentarian horse proved no match and were soon routed.
7. Almost all of the Royalist cavalry pursued the retreating horsemen
This included Prince Rupert, who led an attack on the Parliamentarian baggage train, believing victory was all-but-assured. Yet by leaving the battlefield, Rupert and his men left Charles’ infantry very exposed.
8. Devoid of cavalry support, the Royalist infantry suffered
A small portion of Parliamentarian cavalry, commanded by Sir William Balfour, had remained on the field and proved devastatingly effective: emerging through the ranks of the Parliamentarian infantry they made several lightning strikes on Charles’ approaching infantry, inflicting severe casualties.
During the battle, the Royalist standard was captured by the Parliamentarians – a huge blow. It was, however, later recaptured by returning Cavalier cavalry.
9. The Parliamentarians forced the Royalists back
After a hard day’s fighting, the Royalists returned to their original position on Edge Hill where they regrouped with the cavalry that had finished looting their foe’s baggage train.
It proved the end of the fighting as neither side decided to resume hostilities the next day and the battle resulted in an indecisive draw.
10. If Prince Rupert and his cavalry had remained on the battlefield, Edgehill’s result could have been very different
It is likely that with cavalry support, Charles’ Royalists would have been able to rout the Parliamentarians that had remained on the battlefield, giving the king a decisive victory that could well have ended the Civil War – one of those fascinating ‘what if’ moments of history.