The Battle of Edgehill was the first main battle of the English Civil War. The Battle of Edgehill was fought on October 23rd 1642.
The Earl of Essex had been given instructions to stop Charles advancing on London. In September Essex occupied Worcester. However, in October he marched his army towards Warwick to head off any potential Royal advance on the capital.
On the night of October 22nd, 1642, men from both armies stumbled upon one another at the village of Wormleighton near Warwick.
Unknown to Essex, the Royalist army had marched from Shrewsbury en route to London. Because of the major problem of communication during this time, Essex had no idea as to the route Charles was taking and the Royalist troops his men came across at Wormleighton were actually between the Parliamentary force commanded by Essex and London and some distance from any Royalist support. What neither commander knew was just how close each was to the other. When it became obvious that this was the case, Charles drew his army up at Edgehill.
As the name would suggest, Edgehill was at the base of a steep hill. This hill is where Charles gathered his army. His position gave him a commanding view of Parliament’s force – effectively letting the Royalists know what Essex was doing. Essex chose not to attack the king – an indication of just how well positioned the Royalists were. Essex was also careful as he had a major force under his command – 12,000 infantry, 2,000 horse and about thirty cannon – and he did not want to lose any of it unnecessarily. Charles countered this with about 10,000 men in total with twenty cannon.
Essex refused to attack uphill so Charles decided to advance on him. The Royalist foot soldiers got to ½ a mile of Parliament’s men without being fired on. The first actual fighting involved horsemen when Prince Rupert led a charge against Parliamentarian soldiers commanded by Sir Faithful Fortesque who, when confronted by Rupert’s advancing men, immediately changed sides and attacked his former colleagues. Nearly the entire left flank of Parliament’s men – commanded by Sir James Ramsey – melted away and Essex’s force looked very vulnerable to a flanked attack by Rupert. However, just as he was to do at the Battle of Naseby, Prince Rupert decided to ride on past the actual battle to the nearby village of Kineton. Here his men came up against several fresh Parliament regiments and after a brief fight, the Royalist horsemen returned to the actual battle where they made little further impact having lost the decisive element they had first achieved in their initial attack.
In the centre of the battle, foot soldiers dominated and it was here that Parliament was much more successful when they halted and then pushed back the advance of the king’s foot soldiers. Parliamentary dragoons led by Sir William Balfour played a decisive part here. Royalist foot soldiers fell into disarray in the centre with no obvious commander.
The battle ended with no obvious victor or vanquished. The shortened October day ended the battle with both sides losing about 1,500 men – primarily infantrymen. Both sides claimed a victory. Essex prepared to continue the battle on the next day but decided otherwise when it became obvious that his men were exhausted. He withdrew his men to Warwick. The same was true for the Royalist force – exhaustion meant that it was not capable of continuing the battle.