The approach to Edgehill

By the 12th October the royalists had assembled a substantial force, and began to march south eastward towards London. By the night of the 22nd October the army was in quarters several miles to the north of Banbury, the King at Edgcote House and Prince Rupert at Wormleighton.

The parliamentarian army had eventually followed in pursuit, but the incompetence displayed by the Earl of Essex is bewildering. Not only did he allow the royalist army to outmarch him and place themselves between his army and the capital. He weakened his army by leaving regiments to hold Hereford, Worcester and Coventry and then, as they marched, he split his army into two separate columns, one taking the route via Stratford on Avon, the other via Evesham, the two major crossings of the Avon. Finally, on the night of the 22nd October, he allowed his forces to straggle out across a vast area in quarters many miles apart.

Given that the scouts on each side were inexperienced it is not perhaps surprising that the commanders did not realise how close the two armies were to each other. Yet, in such a situation, drawing close to Banbury, a garrison which the royalist army was known to be threatening, Essex's army should have been ready for action. Though a rendezvous was called for the next day, at Kineton, the great battle was already over by the time some of his forces actually arrived. In this, as at other critical moments during the war, Essex showed himself to be an inept amateur, lacking both strategic understanding and tactical flair. With such a commander in chief there was little chance of parliament winning the war, however great its advantages in resources and territory.

The parliamentarian cause was saved because its own problems were matched by fundamental inadequacies in the management of the royalist war effort, shortcomings also clearly seen in this first campaign. From the very beginning the king repeated in military sphere the same mistakes that, in his political dealings, had dragged the kingdom into open warfare. In the hours before the artillery duel that opened the first great battle of the war, Charles presided over the sort of destructive dispute within his high command that would characterise his whole style of leadership throughout the war.

The king, who had no military experience, had not delegated full responsibility for military matters to his Lord General, the Earl of Lindsay. Instead Charles retained overall command and allowed Prince Rupert, his young nephew who he had appointed as his commander of Horse, to have separate command answerable only to Charles himself. The King had created the inevitability of conflict within his high command, for these two senior officers had very different views as to how the battle should be fought. To fail to identify and resolve a fundamental difference in tactics between his senior commanders in the days before a major battle was inexcusable. Worse still, when finally forced to deal with the problem of whether to deploy the army in the simpler Dutch fashion, intended by Lindsay, or the more flexible but complex Swedish formation advocated by Rupert, the king overruled his senior commander. This left Lindsay no alternative but to resign, immediately before the battle. Charles’s whole management of the war would be characterised by such incompetence.


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