By the close of the day, an estimated 2,000 soldiers had died.(1) Yet neither side won a clear victory. In fact, the leaders of both armies would face a long struggle ahead.
As you might expect, the fighting at Edgehill occurred mainly on the slope of a grassy hill. It happened in the middle of quiet English farmlands in the County of Warwickshire a number of miles northwest of the City of London. The battlefield stood roughly midway between two small villages: Kineton and Radway.(1) Today, very few people driving through this peaceful area would ever imagine a terrible battle occurred here hundreds of years ago.
Participants in the battle supported either King Charles I of England or Parliament. At the time, most people referred to the King’s supporters as “Cavaliers” and to Parliament’s supporters as “Roundheads” (due to their distinctive short haircuts).
Two Opposing Armies
Shortly before the Battle of Edgehill, when it became clear King Charles I and Parliament would engage in a civil war, the King went to Nottingham and began recruiting an army. Then he traveled near the Welsh border to collect more followers. He relied heavily for advice upon the leader of his cavalry, his relative Prince Rupert. Although in his early 20s, the young man had obtained previous military experience fighting in Europe.
Meanwhile, Parliament also began assembling an army in London. In September, Parliament appointed an English nobleman, the Earl of Essex, to lead Parliament’s army in the defense of London. The son of a famous royal courtier during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the Earl of Essex had also gained previous combat experience during wars in Europe.(2)
The Armies Reach Edgehill
During the 1600s, armies had to rely on scouts riding on horseback to locate one another. Cell phones and GPS devices did not exist in those days. After he recruited an army, King Charles I led his soldiers on a march towards London. He wanted to regain control of the capital city with the assistance of his troops.
Meanwhile, the Earl of Essex led his soldiers out of London marching towards Wales. He hoped to prevent the Cavaliers from reaching the city. Remarkably, the two armies actually marched past one another just a few miles apart! Their scouts did not realize they has come very close to one another.(3)
Preparing For Battle
King Charles I and the Earl of Essex only learned about one another’s locations after Parliament’s forces has marched a few miles to the northwest of the royal army. The King and his advisors now faced a difficult decision. They could keep marching towards London: but they risked becoming trapped between Roundhead soldiers in the city and the army led by the Earl of Essex.
The King decided to turn his army around and attack the force led by the Earl of Essex before proceeding to London. He carefully positioned his troops on the slopes of the hill at Edgehill. His foot soldiers (or “infantry”) stood in the center. They carried long 16-foot pikes. Mounted royal soldiers called “cavalry” surrounded them on both the right and the left sides. They fought using swords.
The Battle Begins
The Earl of Essex lined his troops up along the based of the hill facing the royal army. His army also consisted of both infantry and cavalry. However, unlike the Cavaliers, most of the Roundhead riders lacked extensive military experience fighting on horseback.
For the first two hours, the opposing soldiers fired at one another from a distance using guns called “muskets”. They also may have used cannons, large metal guns towed by horses.(3)
A Famous Charge
Then the cavalry under the command of Prince Rupert charged down the hill on both the right and the left, directly into the Roundhead cavalry. This charge caused a number of casualties among Parliament’s troops. Many of the mounted Roundhead soldiers turned and fled. Prince Rupert’s cavalry chased after them for over two miles into Kineton.(3)
Cavaliers led by Prince Rupert followed the fleeing Roundhead cavalry back to their “supply train”, a column of wagons carrying the provisions used by Parliament’s soldiers. Despite resistance from Roundhead soldiers, the royal cavalry looted the supplies.
An Indecisive Battle
Nevertheless, despite the success obtained by his cavalry, King Charles I did not obtain a victory at Edgehill. The royal infantry engaged in hand-to-hand fighting with the Roundhead infantry, but both sides fought with great determination. The Earl of Essex personally participated in the battle, battling on foot with the other Roundhead soldiers.
A few members of the Roundhead cavalry regrouped, and they rejoined the battle in support of their infantry. After extensive losses on both sides during hours of fighting, King Charles I assembled his foot soldiers and withdrew them from the battle. His army moved a few miles away to rest and reorganize. The Roundhead infantry had sustained many losses and could not immediately pursue them from the field.
The Outcome of The Battle of Edgehill
The Battle of Edgehill demonstrated the strong resolve of both sides. It likely became clear to everyone as a result of the battle that the English Civil War would not end quickly or easily.(4) (Later, King Charles I would continue marching towards London, but Roundhead forces would turn his army back before he could enter the capital.)
This ferocious battle also caused a high number of casualties. By the end of the fighting, many soldiers and horses lay wounded or dead on the battlefield.
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Link will appear as Hanson, Marilee. "The Battle of Edgehill" https://englishhistory.net/stuarts/civil-war/the-battle-of-edgehill/, April 21, 2017