The annual re-enactment of the battle of Edgehill.
Relations between King Charles I and his parliament had fractured. In August 1642, the King raised his standard and civil war began. The first major battle took place at Edgehill in Warwickshire on 23rd October, each side comprising 15,000 foot soldiers and cavalry armed with muskets, pikes and cannons.
The battle began at 3 o’clock. The royal army advanced and a cavalry charge smashed the parliamentary cavalry, but the parliament’s foot soldiers held firm, exhorted by their pastors to fight for God’s right, and the battle descended into confusion and slaughter until nightfall, when ammunition and powder ran out and darkness made fighting impossible.
The next day, both armies withdrew. Neither side had won a conclusive victory, and both had suffered terrible losses. Over 1500 dead men were scattered across the battlefield; many more were injured or maimed.
The result was the war dragged on for several years, ravaging the English countryside and causing intolerable hardship for soldiers and civilians alike, until the king was finally defeated and executed.
Little can be seen of the famous battlefield today. Time and nature have consigned the slaughter to a long-obscured memory. But the unprecedented battle lingers in the local landscape, perhaps in more than one way.
The first account of apparitions re-enacting the battle appeared in January 1643. “Strange and portentous apparitions of two jarring and contrary armies… heard by shepherds and countrymen and travellers, first the sound of drums afar off, then the noise of soldiers giving their last groans. Then appeared in the air the incorporeal soldiers that made those clamours, ensigns displayed, drums beating, muskets going off, horses neighing… after three hours’ fight the army carrying the king’s colours appeared to fly, the other remaining masters of the field.”
Subsequent visitors to the battlefield identified among the apparitions key noblemen who had died in the battle including Sir Edmund Verney, the king’s standard bearer.
The apparitions eventually ceased, but still appear on occasion, most commonly the anniversary of the battle. And the battle is still annually re-enacted by the Sealed Knot.