On October 23rd, 1642, on fields between the town of Kineton and the village of Radway, Warwickshire, the first battle of the English Civil War was fought. As the fighting took place in the shadow of the Edgehill escarpment, it became known as the Battle of Edgehill.
Although this was the first battle of the war, the Crown had been in a state of war against Parliament since the 22nd of August that year. King Charles was in conflict with his Parliament because he believed in the Divine Right of Kings; that the monarch should be able to rule however he liked. Charles was particularly insistent that he should be able to raise money for foreign wars as often, and in whatever way, he saw fit. Conversely, Parliament believed they were entitled to a say in the rule of England, and that they had the right to approve or deny funds to the crown without consulting the king.
It was when, in October 1642, as the king’s army headed for London, they met with Parliament’s forces coming in the opposite direction (from Worcester) and blocked the Royalists route to the capital, that physical battle became inevitable. The Parliamentarian force, of approximately 12,500 men, was led by Robert Devereux, Third Earl of Essex (known as the Captain General). King Charles was represented by Patrick Ruthven, the Earl of Forth, from Scotland. He had 13,500 men to his company. Beginning with an exchange of cannon fire at two o’clock in the afternoon, the battle entered into its first active combat situation at three o’clock. As the light faded, only three hours later, the fighting broke off, only to resume again in occasional bouts over the next two days. It ended on the Tuesday, when the Earl of Forth’s men attacked the Parliamentarian baggage train in Kineton.
The battle, which had involved both cavalry and infantry engagements, ended in a stalemate, with between 1,000 and 1500 men dead and over 3000 injured; many of whom later died from their wounds. Although neither side had gained the upper hand, King Charles declared Edgehill a victory for his side, as his troops had opened the road to London, which the Parliamentarians had previously been barring.
Only a few weeks later however, the Earl of Essex had taken control of London, and the Civil War began in earnest. The Battle of Edgehill was the beginning of a war which would see mass disruption to the whole of England, and would not end until King Charles I was captured in 1646. Charles was then executed, sending England into the status of republic for the next 11 years as a under the rule of the victorious Oliver Cromwell.
Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.