The battle of Edgehill, the first major encounter in the Civil War, was fought on 23 October 1642. Three months later, in January 1643, a pamphlet entitled A Great Wonder in Heaven described how, on several nights around Christmas, phantom armies had been seen and heard in the sky, re-enacting the battle in every detail:

Between twelve and one of the clock in the morning was heard by some sheepherds, and other countrey-men, and travellers, first the sound of drummes afar off, and the noyse of souldiers, as it were, giving out their last groanes; at which they were much amazed … But then, on the sudden … appeared in the ayre those same incorporeall souldiers that made those clamours, and immediately, with Ensignes display’d, Drummes beating, Musquets going off, Cannons discharged, horses neyghing (which also to these men were visible), the alarum or entrance to this game of death was struck up … Till two or three in the morning, in equal scale continued this dreadful fight … so amazing and terrifying the poore men, that they could not give credit to their ears and eyes; run away they durst not, for feare of being made a prey to these infernall souldiers, and so they, with much feare and affright, stayed to behold the outcome of the business.

The vision having ended with the defeat of the Royalists, those who had seen it reported it to a magistrate and a clergyman, and swore it was true. Next night, and on several subsequent occasions, many people of all classes gathered to watch the skies, and saw the same sights. Reports of the affair having reached King Charles at Oxford, he sent six reliable officers to investigate; not only did they take sworn statements from witnesses, but they themselves saw the phantom armies, and recognized several people they knew who had died at Edgehill. All this they reported to the king on oath. The pamphleteer concludes:

What this doth portend, God only knoweth, and Time will perhaps discover; but doubtlessly it is a sign of His wrath against this Land for these civil wars, which may He in His good time finish, and send a sudden peace between his Majestie and Parliament.

Some recent writers on the supernatural, such as Antony Hippisley Coxe (1975), say that people occasionally hear or see the spectral battle again on 23 October, the anniversary. The local author Meg Atkins was told in the 1970s that some Victorian journalists had visited the site on that date and ‘returned upset and frightened, and made a very hurried departure’. Individual ghosts, notably those of Prince Rupert and Sir Edmund Verney, have been seen on the battlefield; a phantom white horse has been reported from the area where some of the slain are said to be buried.



Haunted England : The Penguin Book of Ghosts – Written by Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson
Copyright © Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson 2005, 2008