The Edgehill Campaign

On 22 August 1642, Charles I raised the royal standard at Nottingham. This was effectively a declaration of war against Parliament and a call-to-arms to all his loyal subjects to rally to his cause. However, few soldiers joined the royal army and to raise more Charles marched west to Shrewsbury in September to locate himself near his recruiting grounds of Wales, the Marches and the North West.

In July Parliament had begun to raise an army with the aim of bringing the king to the negotiating table to resolve the growing political crisis. It appointed Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, to command the army which assembled at Northampton during August. On 19 September, Essex marched west to Worcester, where he established his army in a defensive posture which allowed him to react to any royalist manoeuvre.

By mid-October, the royalist army consisted of nineteen regiments of foot, ten regiments of horse and three regiments of dragoons; around 15,000 men in total. In contrast, Parliament’s army of around 18,500 men was made up of nineteen regiments of foot, ten regiments of horse and two regiments of dragoons.

On 12 October the king left Shrewsbury intent on marching on London and seven days later, having understood the king’s intention, Essex set off from Worcester in pursuit. Advancing slowly, the two forces encountered each other around the Warwickshire market town of Kineton late on 22 October. The king ordered his army to form up on Edgehill, a ridge overlooking Kineton, the following day. Essex ordered his troops, which had been reduced in number by the need to garrison towns and protect the slow moving train of siege artillery, to position themselves in battle formation between Edgehill and Kineton.

The battle there on 23 October proved to be indecisive, with the opposing armies fighting each other to a standstill. The parliamentarians had the best of the infantry fighting, but the rout of much of their horse supported royalist claims of victory. Although neither side won outright, the outcome represented a strategic victory for the royalists, as the parliamentarian army retired from the battlefield leaving open the way to London. Although Prince Rupert, the king’s nephew and commander of the royalist horse, suggested that a flying column of 3,000 foot and horse should immediately march on Westminster and Whitehall, the king was persuaded not to authorise so drastic an act while the chance of a negotiated settlement remained.

On 25 October the royal army resumed its march toward London, capturing Banbury and Oxford before continuing down the Thames valley to Reading. At Reading, talks about peace talks commenced which eventually resulted in the king’s agreement to discuss a political settlement. But by the time he had acceded to this request at Colnbrook on 11 November, he had already ordered an advance on the capital and subsequently made no attempt to countermand his instructions. By midday on 12 November, the royalists were attacking the parliamentary detachment garrisoning Brentford.