Few battles in British history have left as indelible an impression on the popular imagination as the first major engagement of the English Civil War, fought at Edgehill, between Radway and Kineton, on the 23rd October 1642.
Early in the October of 1642, Charles I, temporarily based at Shrewsbury, made the decision to advance on London and force a decisive confrontation with Parliament. On the 19th October, the Earl of Essex, commander-in-chief of the parliamentary forces, set out from Worcester to intercept him. The evening of the 22nd found Charles holding a council of war in the village of Edgcote, preparing to attack the parliamentary stronghold of Banbury, when news reached him that the Earl of Essex’s army was close by at Kineton. Hearing this, the King ordered his forces, numbering about 12,000 (roughly equal to Essex’s), to turn away from Banbury and muster for battle on the commanding escarpment of Edgehill.
Hostilities commenced the following afternoon with the exchange of artillery fire, before the battle began in earnest when the dashing Prince Rupert, the King’s nephew, and Lord Wilmot led cavalry charges against the parliamentary army. The battle raged on for the rest of the day, the advantage switching continuously between the opposing forces. Though there was no decisive victory, Essex’s troops were ultimately forced to turn back towards Warwick, leaving the King’s way to London open. However, Essex’s infantry had survived the battle virtually unscathed and the following month, at Turnham Green, Essex was able to prevent Charles from reaching London. The King withdrew to Oxford, which was to be his capital for the remainder of the war.
Warmington: a village in an age of crisis
Estimates of the number of those killed at Edgehill have varied considerably, though it is certain that each side lost at least 500 men. Many of the dead were buried in pits at Edgehill itself. However, some bodies were taken to nearby villages, which also became the final resting places of those seeking refuge after the battle who subsequently died of wounds. Among these was Warmington. The village endured the full effects of the Civil War, as did the county at large. This was inevitable for Warwickshire lay at the heart of the war’s frontier area, with the north and west of the country largely remaining loyal to the King, and support for Parliament most firmly entrenched in London and East Anglia. Warmington was repeatedly occupied during the war, for example finding itself in the hands of one of Oliver Cromwell’s units during the abortive siege of Banbury in the autumn of 1644.
Warmington’s vicar, Richard Wootton, supplied swords, pikes and muskets to Parliament from the war’s outset and eventually abandoned his parish to captain a parliamentary troop at Warwick. Roaming the countryside with his men, Wootton was eventually relieved of his commission after raping a lady’s maid. He was finally expelled as vicar in 1656.
A physical reminder
Even today there is a physical reminder of the war in Warmington, for in its churchyard can be seen the headstone of Captain Alexander Gourdon, one of the Edgehill casualties whose burial is recorded in the parish register1. The entry reads as follows:
The Battell was fought by our Sovraigne Lord King Charles and Thearle of Essex the three and Twentieth Daie of October beeing Sabbath Day Ano Dom 1642, ptley beetweene Radwaie and Kington. Richard Sannes Captaine of a Foote companie, a gentleman of Worcestershire, was buried in Warmington Churchyard the Four and Twentieth daie of October Ano Dom 1642. Alexander Gourdon, a Scotsman, was buried the Five and Twentieth Daie of October Ano Dom 1642. Also Seven others were buried in Warmington Churchyard shortly after, whose names I know not; and it is reported that one or two more were buried within the fields and precincts of Warmington aforesaid.
1 Warwickshire County Record Office reference DR281/1
This article was Document of the Month for the Warwickshire County Record Office in May 2011. Further articles can be found on their website.