Review – Edgehill 1642

Edgehill 1642—The Campaign and Battle

Arguably the book that started it all. The Cavalier theme costume party held to celebrate the launch of the book was so much fun that they held it again. And again, eventually going on to form the Sealed Knot.

Edgehill 1642 was first published in 1967 and has been re-released along with the companion volume on Marston Moor as part of the Great Battles series by Windrush Press. My copies were remaindered, so obviously it didn’t  catch on. Written by Brigadier Peter Young whilst at the RMA, Sandhurst, he has produced a comprehensive work dealing with the people and events leading up to and after the battle, dividing the book, like Gaul before it, in to three parts. In the forward, Young declares his Royalist leanings and hopes that his awareness allows him to compensate and present a balanced viewpoint. This he mainly achieves, only occasionally do the Parliamentary Commanders “plot” while their Royalist equals “plan”.

Part I: The English Soldier of 1642 discusses organisation of the armies and the background of the people fighting on either side. Part II: The Campaign, fairly obviously goes into detail  on the campaign leading up to the battle at Edgehill, along with some of what came after, devoting a chapter to the later fortunes of some of the veterans of the battle. Part III, comprising about half the book, is a collection of original sources sorted according to for which army the various correspondents fought. It is this last section that makes the book particularly outstanding.

While the London Trained Bands weren’t present at Edgehill[1], a number of the subjects discussed in the book are relevant and on occasion, Trained Band sources are used. For example, a 1643 account on the relief of Gloucester by Sergeant Henry Foster of the red Trained Band[2]:

 ‘At Chesham we were well accommodated for beer, having great plenty; at Aynhoe we were very much scanted of victuals; at Chipping Norton our regiment stood in the open field all night having had neither bread nor water to refresh ourselves, having also marched the day before without any sustenance.’

I find it reassuring that in 1643 the LTB thought the victuals worth talking about were are beer, bread and water, in that order. I think many of us would give the same response today.

The section on Pay gives pay scales for both Parliamentary and Royalist armies. In both cases, preachers rank as and are paid as Lieutenants. I’d like to therefore petition the Committee for the Militia for an increase in pay commensurate with my newly-discovered rank.

In the chapter on dress of the soldier, Brigadier Young addresses the myth of the lack of  regimental uniforms prior to the creation of the New Model Army, and quotes John Mallet[3] on the manner of differentiating regiments without resorting to applying lace on the jackets; “If a Captain miscarry, he that cometh in his room, his colours being contrary, tears off the former and puts in his own, and by this means often times tears coat and all…  The differences that Captains use in the wars is in the arming of his pikes for the pikemen, which is to be of his colours” . Unfortunately, neither Malet nor Young elaborate on the form of the arming, but I suspect it would take the form of coloured ribbons in the Swiss fashion or painted bands as used by some Sealed Knot regiments with better access to sources than I.

The campaign and battle are treated in great depth, and with a good level of understanding. Contrast is drawn between commanders such as Thomas Venn, who cites Vegetius, and those who’s idea of strategy was a frontal charge. Young notes that the Royalist army advanced in complex Swedish brigade order, while the Parliamentary forces used the simpler Dutch order (p74). Marching order and speed is also discussed: “By the standards of the Civil War 10 miles a day was fair marching” (p73) but goes on to say that the Royalists marching from Worcester to Kineton managed to average 8¾ miles a day over four days and still managed to leave much of the artillery and its escort a day’s march behind (p74). Young asserts that during the advance into battle, seventy paces per minute was probably the maximum pace, for order was more important than speed.

The night of the battle was ferociously cold with a heavy frost. As the battle continued until well after dark, many wounded were left where they fell all night, at the mercy of looters.  Young provides a quote from a group of surgeons echoing a recent medical report on the effects of the cold on the wounded British troops during the Falklands War. The wounded “owed their lives to the inhumanity of those who stripped them, and to the coldness of the nights, which stopped their blood better than all their [the surgeons] skill and mendicants could have done; and that, if they had been brought off within any reasonable distance of time after their wounds, they would have undoubtedly perished” (p144). One of the surgeons in question was William Harvey, discoverer in 1628 of the circulation of blood. While the Royalist dispatches declare victory for the King, the Parliamentary sources and indeed Young’s account of the battle are more equivocal, neither side gained any advantage and a draw is probably the best result either side could claim. It is at this point that I believe Young has let his allegiance get the better of him, he claims victory for the Royalists on what he admits is a technicality. The Parliamentary forces had formed up and retired from the field slightly earlier the following day than the Royalist army.

It seems that the one recorded female casualty of the fight was on the Parliamentary side. The Parish Register of Little Brickhill included under 30 November 1642: “Agnes Potter, wounded at the battell of Edgehill was buryed” (p154). Young doesn’t know if she was in a combative role or an unlucky bystander.

The armies leave the field, Parliament heading towards London, Royalist marching on Oxford. Young explores the motivation of the citizens of London in rising against their king. “They may not have wished to rebel against their Sovereign, but they had no intention of seeing their shops and houses sacked by the Royalist soldiery. As the campaign progressed the Cavaliers were acquiring a taste for pillage.” (p134). The middle classes took a stand when the hip-pocket was threatened.

There then follows a chapter on apparitions and various hauntings of the field, from 1642 through to June 1960. The author makes no comment other than remarking that he hadn’t seen one in all his visits, so neither will I.

The rest of the book is then turned over to the participants for them to tell their story. The Royalists had the better writers, but the Parliamentarians were in command of all the printing presses. The accounts of the battle, the contradictions and differences between those of either side are illuminating. Royalist accounts contain more of the personal pronoun and spend much time flattering the king than the Parliamentary ones. The Parliamentary accounts spend so much time thanking the Almighty that they look like speeches for some Hollywood awards night.

All up, a damn fine booke, well written and entertaining to read without diminishing the factual part of the narrative. Young’s military experience allows a level of insight not available to some other authors who have attempted similar works.

[1] Philip Skippon, commander of the LTB was also one of the Officers General of the Field in the Parliamentary Army at the time but seems to have been absent from the battle. Arguably, they were being kept as a reserve.

[2] “True and Exact Relation” printed in John Washbourne’s Bibliotheca Gloucestrensis, 1823.

[3] Correspondence from John Malet to Cpt George Trevelyan on 30 April 1643.


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