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Battle of Edgehill


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The Battle of Edgehill during the English civil war depicting Charles I before the battle of Edgehill by Sir Edwin Landseer and Prince Rupert with his Royalist cavalry by Stanley Berkeley.

EdgeHill   Excerpt fromThe British Battles On Land & Sea  By Evelyn Wood

   The political situation prior to the Outbreak of the Civil War -1642-1651: - Charles I succeeded his father, James I in 1625 and then impressed those about him as being “temperate, chaste and serious.”  In pursuance of arrangements made a year earlier, he was married at Canterbury to Henrietta, sister of Louis XIII a fortnight after the funeral of James I.     The young King was soon in trouble with both Houses of Parliament, for he had the despotic ideas of Queen Elizabeth without her tact.  She generally acted on Lord Burleigh’s advice to his Sovereign, which was “Gain the hearts of your subjects, and you will have their hands and their purses.”    Charles I dissolved Parliament, August 12th, but before the members separated they expressed decided adverse opinions on the conduct of the King’s advisers, animadverting on much which had been done, and which was, in the view of Parliament, against the interests of England.   The new parliament assembled February 27th, 1626, was greatly irritated by the king’s speech, magnifying his prerogative and belittling their attributes.  This discontent was greatly increased by the king’s peremptory letters written to the speaker.  The House persisted in its determination to impeach the Duke of Buckingham, the King’s favourite, and principal adviser, and Charles caused two members of the House to be arrested.    On the other hand the house imprisoned a man on a complaint made by the King.  All three prisoners were soon released; the king then had trouble with the House Of Lords, he having committed the Earl of Arundel to the Tower.  The peers resented this arbitrary act, and eventually the Earl was released.  Charles dissolved Parliament, June 15th, the second within fifteen months. 

     The Duke of Buckingham, who escaped punishment by the dissolution, led an expedition to La Rochelle, which ended disastrously, and on the return of the soldiers the inhabitants of England declined to have them billeted in their houses.   For the next twelve years there was a continuous struggle between the King and his subjects, although from 1629 to 1640 the feelings of the people could not be legitimately expressed.  Two men in whose persons most of the Monarch’s failing were intensified unfortunately advised the King in most things.  William Laud became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633.  He and the King wished to make the Monarch supreme in the sate, and to admit no divergence from the Established Church.  Laud got his way, flogging Presbyterian ministers, and cropping the ears o scurrilous pamphleteers, till 1640.    From 1629 to 1640 the king assisted by Laud and Strafford, governed without a Parliament; they harassed every class, the Star Chamber dealing with offences against government, and Laud’s Court of High Commission coercing the clergy into obeying the “Act of Uniformity.”  Eventually, when the Scots rose against Laud’s Prayer Book, Charles I, finding that the troops he had led to the Border would not fight called another Parliament.  It sat for twenty-two days.  Next year his financial necessities obliged him to summon another Parliament, some members of which retained their seats for thirteen years.          

           The sword was drawn in August 1642, and soon after in every shire of England, two hostile factions appeared against each other in arms, and for a time it was not easy to say which of the adverse parties was the more formidable.  The House of Parliament held London, and commanded the adjacent counties, the large towns and seaports, the fleet, and the River Thames.  They had at their disposal nearly all the military stores of the kingdom, and were able to impose duties on goods imported from abroad and on various productions of home industry; while the king was ill provided with artillery and ammunition.  The taxes, which he was enabled to lay on those rural districts, which were temporarily occupied by his troops produced far less than the Parliament, could draw from the City of London alone.  For pecuniary aid he relied chiefly on the generous munificence of his general highborn adherents.  Many of these deeply mortgaged their old ancestral estates, pawned their jewels, melted their plate, the wassail bowls, and silver chargers, in order to assist their struggling king.    When the factions flew to arms the soldiers of the King were chiefly gentlemen and their immediate dependants, well mounted and skilled in the use of the arms; while the ranks of the Parliament were recruited from yeoman farmers and tradesmen, as yet raw and untrained.  The king in person commanded the Cavaliers, and the Earl of Essex the Roundheads; while Prince Rupert, the nephew of Charles, led the Royalist cavalry. Excluded from Hull, where all the arms procured for the campaign against the Scots were stored, Charles unfurled the Royal standard at Nottingham on August 25th.

  Charles had found that the Parliament denounced his proclamations; he retaliated.  Having sounded the disposition of the loyal and gallant cavaliers of Yorkshire, he summoned all his “loving subjects” north of the Trent, and within twenty miles south of that river, to meet him in arms at Nottingham.     At the first muster of the king’s force at Nottingham was so small that he did not feel himself justified in attempting to attack the Earl of Essex, who, when the scattered bodies of the Parliamentary army joined him at Northampton, found himself at the head of 15,000 men.  Charles therefore deemed it more prudent to retie by slow marches towards Derby, and thence to Shrewsbury, in order to encourage the levies, which his friends were raising in those parts.   With these forces the King marched from Shrewsbury, intending to give battle as soon as possible to those of the parliament, which were continually augmented by recruits from London; and in order to bring that crisis about, he moved in the direction of the capital, which he knew Essex would not abandon him.  Two days after, the Earl began his march from Worcester.  “Shrewsbury and Worcester, the places from which the two Generals set out, are not above twenty miles distant; yet had the two marched ten days in this mutual ignorance.  So much had military skill, during a long peace, decayed in England.”

  Prelude by a skirmish at Powick Bridge, in which Prince Rupert was victorious, the opening and first pitched battle of the Civil War was fought at Edgehill, on October 23rd, 1642.  The army of the king was at Banbury; that of the Parliament at Kineton, in Warwickshire, when Prince Rupert brought intelligence of the advance of the latter.   As the Kings troops marched over the hills they saw those of Essex getting into position in a vale, which lies midway between Kineton and Edgehill.    Having left in his rear 2,000 infantry, 500 horse, and some of his artillery, Essex was in no hurry to engage, and was satisfied that he had arrested the Kings march on London.     Prince Rupert commanded the right wing of cavalry.  The left was under Commissary-General Wilmot, aided by Sir Arthur Aston; Lord Lindsey led the infantry.    Sir Philip Stapleton led the right wing of the Parliamentary army, consisting of three regiments of horse, with the heaviest cannon.  The brigade of Sir john Meldrum, a Scottish Puritan, led the van; Essex led the centre, Lord Brooke and Hollis the rear.  The left wing consisted of 24troops of horse, led by Sir James Ramsay, a Scoto-Swedish officer.    About two in the afternoon, the King, who was accoutred in mail, gave the signal for battle by firing a cannon with his own hand.  Then ensued between the two armies a cannonade, which lasted for about an hour, when the infantry began to engage.  Prior to this, Prince Rupert, marching down the slope with the Royal right wing, to charge the enemy’s left, was suddenly joined from amid their ranks by an entire troop under Sir faithful Fortescue, who had just come over from Ireland.  Wheeling about, his soldiers now charged sword in hand upon those they had deserted.  This incident inspired such doubt in the cavalry of Essex, each man then mistrusting his comrade that they failed to withstand the fury of Rupert’s attack.  They broke, were utterly routed, and pursued for more than two miles from the field of battle.    During this cavalry pursuit the pike men and musketeers on both sides had been engaged without any advantage on either hand.  The king’s infantry, when endeavouring to line some hedges on the right of Essex, were driven in by Dragoons, but the main body, with the Royal Standard, pressed on within musket shot of the enemy.

    “Upon which” says Ludlow, “we observing no horse to encounter withal, charged them, with some loss from their pikes, though very little from their shot; but not being able to break them, we retreated to our former station, and Sir Philip Stapleton, our captain, wishing for a regiment of foot to secure the cannon, we promised to stand by him in defence of them, causing one of our servants to load and level one of them, which he had scarcely done, when a body of horse appeared advancing towards us from that side where the enemy was.  We fired at them with case shot, but did no other mischief save only wounding one man through the hand, our gun being overloaded and planted on high ground; which fell out very happily, this body being of our own army and commanded by Sir William Balfour.”  Essex had sent two regiments of horse in succession to charge the centre with the Royal Standard; and then Sir William Balfour, a well trained Scottish officer, finding that Prince Rupert, in his wild pursuit, was fairly out of the field with nearly all the cavalry of the King, swept round with his squadrons, made a flank movement, and falling on the centre where Charles was, with sword and pistol, made such havoc and disorder that the King and the boy Princes, his sons, were in imminent danger of being taken.  Sir Edmund Verney, who bore the Royal banner, was slain, and the standard taken; but it was recovered by John smith, Lieutenant of the Lord John Stuart’s (of Lennox) troop, who, putting over his shoulder an orange scarf (the Earl of Essex’s colour), gallantly galloped into the midst of the enemy, tore it from the hands of him who bore it, and laid it at the feet of the King.     Then return of Prince Rupert with the horse alone prevented the total defeat of Charles, whose right flank he had left completely exposed; for Balfour, who by the flight of the cavalry, had now only a small body of the reserve secured himself near the infantry of Essex.     If the king and Prince Rupert could have persuaded their cavalry to change the infantry of Essex, who were now unsupported, they might have been sure of a victory; but the Royal cavalry came back in such extreme disorder that they would not attack the steady front shown by the pike men and musketeers of Essex, who did not, however, feel himself sufficiently strong to advance.  The battle closed by a desultory cannonade.           Rupert’s cavalry when returning were assailed by Essex’s guard of horse, which fell upon their rear.    All night and the next day the armies lay under arms, face to face; but neither renewed the attack, though the absent forces of Essex had all-save Cromwell’s troop-come in, under Colonel Hampden, with the remainder of his cannon.  The day passed without a shot being fired.  Essex was advised to attack by some of his officers, but preferred the advice of Colonel dissented.  He marched to Warwick in the evening, while the King retired to Banbury.  The parliament claimed a drawn battle.             

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Charles the First at Edgehill by Sir Edwin Landseer.


Charles the First at Edgehill by Sir Edwin Landseer.

The king and his staff finalise their battle plan before the first major engagement of the English Civil War.
Item Code : DHM0533Charles the First at Edgehill by Sir Edwin Landseer. - Editions Available
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The Battle of Edgehill


The Battle of Edgehill

After months of rising tension, the English Civil War finally exploded into life on the slopes of Edgehill on October 23rd 1642. It was to be a confused and bitter business, marked by the foolishness of Prince Rupert and the Royalist cavalry, who left the field at a crucial stage of the battle. As darkness fell nearly 3000 men lay dead and the die was cast: the English Civil War would be no short and decisive affair. Featuring exciting and authentic battle reconstructions, plus footage of the battlefield as it is today, The Battle of Edgehill is a fascinating and powerful account of the encounter which set the brutal tone of the entire English Civil War. This authoritative programme also features period imagery and expert battle analysis. Narrated by Mike Leighton.
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Prince Rupert at Edgehill by Stanley Berkeley.


Prince Rupert at Edgehill by Stanley Berkeley.

Prince Rupert beginning his career as a leader of the Royalist Cavalry drove the Parliamentarian Cavalry off the field. Prince Rupert was a nephew of King Charles I and commanded the Royalist cavalry during the English Civil War. Prince Rupert was born on 17th December1619 in Prague. His mother was Elizabeth, the sister of Charles I. Rupert became a soldier and fought in the Thirty Years War (1618 - 1648) and in 1642, he joined the army of Charles I in the English Civil War. He was soon appointed to lead the royalist cavalry and fought in the first major battle of the war at Edgehill in October 1642. His cavalry charge completely routed the parliamentarians but he got carried away and pursued them too far from the battlefield, losing the chance to inflict a decisive defeat. His reputation grew after a number of military. In 1644 Prince Rupert led the spectacular relief of the siege of York but his army was defeated by a parliamentary army at Battle of Marston Moor, losing York.........


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