The Ghosts of The Battle of Edgehill
23rd October 1642

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The Battle of Edgehill was a indecisive but bloody early engagement in the English Civil War. But the cessation of hostilities was no relief to the soldiers who met their end on the field of battle.

Later on, ghostly re-enactments of the battle would rage in the skies above the battle field - and King Charles I would send a Royal Commission to investigate. A pamphlet distributed in the area in the months following the battle described the phenonemon.

"Between twelve and one of the clock in the morning was heard by some shepherds, and other country-men, and travellers, first the sound of drummers afar off, and the noise of soldiers, as it were, giving out their last groans; at which they were much amazed.

But then on the sudden, in that same air appeared those same incorporeal soldiers that made those clamours, and amazingly, with ensigns displayed, drums beating, muskets going off, cannons discharged, horses neighing, the alarm or entrance to this game of death was struck up"

And so it was that ghostly combatants fought again in the thundering skies until 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning, when the shades of the Royalists were finally defeated.

Over the next few days and weeks, crowds of people assembled on the hillside to witness the phenomenon. Word eventually reached King Charles, who dispatched 6 eminent observers to record what they saw. They too witnessed the phantasmic armies - even recognising some of the notable combatants.

Over time, the battle was refought with less frequency. But even today, it is reported that the site is haunted by a white horse and the ghost of Prince Rupert.

This is the tale as it is commonly told but against this must also be weighed the popularity of the 'broadside ballads' at the time. These fantastical documents were, in some ways, the precursors of modern tabloids. While sometimes sounding authoritative - mentioning real places and people - they were often actually thinly-disguised morality tales. In the case of Edgehill, it should be remembered that this was the opening skirmish of the Civil War that would ultimately cost Charles his head. Such a war - which threatened the existence of no less than the monarch of the land - would have been seen by many as affront against natural order akin almost to blasphemy.

Read in this light, the account of the battle's ghostly re-enactment actually fits into a tradition of tales told specifically to impart a moral message. In this case, the suffering and horror of war was replayed in the skies which could be read as a warning from the heavens about the ramifications of waging war upon the king - and that even a victory for his opponents could only result in pain, bloodshed and misery.

A proclamation by the King made this danger wholly explicit:

"...the common Peace is like to be wholly destroyed, and this flourishing Kingdom in danger to perish under the miseries of a Civill War, if the Malice and Bage of these Persons be not instantly resisted : And as we do, and must relie on Almighty God (the Protector and Defender of his Anointed) to defend Us, and Our good People, against the Malice and Pernicious designes of these men"

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Author: Ian Freud   |  Last updated: 9th November 2017 | © Weird Island 2010-2021
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