The battle of Edgehill was the first major battle of the English Civil War, and one of the most famous cases of phantom army reenactments, is still witnessed in contemporary times. The intense battle was fought at Edgehill (also Edge Hill), between Warwick and Banbury, on October 23, 1642. The Royalist forces of King Charles I opposed the Parliamentary forces under the Earl of Essex. Opinions are divided as to whether the results were indecisive or a loss for the king. The battle left a haunting that filled both earth and sky.
The first reported account occurred on Christmas Eve, 1642, when shepherds guarding their fl ocks on the former battlefield, about 2 miles southeast of Kineton (also Keinton), witnessed the phantom armies fighting. The reenactment began with the sounds of distant drumming that grew louder and louder. There were phantom shouts and cries, the groaning of wounded and dying men, the clash of weapons and the screams of horses. There followed a huge APPARITION of the entire battle in the sky. The apparition went on for several hours and then disappeared by dawn.
The shepherds reported the event to the local priest and justice of the peace. The following night, the priest and magistrate and a group of others went to the hill and witnessed the entire spectral event played over again. Then nothing happened for five nights, until the battle repeated on the following Saturday and Sunday nights with greater ferocity. It repeated thereafter every weekend.
Charles I sent a group of investigators from Oxford, including three officers and three “gentlemen of credit,” to the site. They all witnessed the reenactment, and the officers thought they recognized some of their fallen colleagues. Their experiences were recorded in a pamphlet, “The Prodigious Noises of War and Battle at Edge Hill Near Keinton in Northamptonshire, and its truth is certified by William Wood, Esq. and the Justice of the Peace for the same County, and Samuel Marshall, Preacher of God’s Word in Keinton, and other persons of quality.” Their account is as follows:
On Saturday, which was in Christmas time . . . between twelve and one of the clock in the morning, was heard by some shepherds and their countrymen and travellers, first the sound of drums afar off and the noise of soldiers giving out their last groans; at which they were much amazed, and amazed stood still, till it seemed by the nearness of the noise to approach them; at which, too much affrighted, they sought to withdraw as fast as possibly they could.
But then, on the sudden, whilst they were in these cogitations, appeared in the air the same incorporeal soldiers that made those clamors, and immediately, with ensigns displayed, drums beating, muskets going off, cannons discharged, horses neighing, which also to these men were visible. The alarum or entrance to this game of death was struck up; one army, which gave Edgehill, battle of 147 the first charge, having the King’s colors, and the other the Parliament’s in their head or front of the battles, and so pell-mell to it they went.
In the battle that appeared, the King’s forces seemed at first to have the best, but afterwards to be put to apparent rout. But till two or three in the morning in equal scale continued this dreadful fight; the clattering of arms, the noise of cannons, cries of soldiers, so amazing and terrifying the poor men that they could not believe they were mortal or give credit to their ears and eyes. Run away they durst not, for fear of being made a prey to these infernal soldiers, and so they, with much fear and affright, stayed to behold the success of the business, which at last suited to this effect.
After some three hours’ fight, that army which carried the Kings colors withdrew, or rather appeared to fly, the other remaining, as it were, masters of the field, stayed a good space, triumphing and expressing all the signs of joy and conquest, and then with all their drums, trumpets, ordnance and soldiers, vanished. The poor men, glad that they were gone, made with all haste to Keinton; and there, knocking up Mr. Wood, a justice of the peace, who called up his neighbor, Mr. Marshall, the minister, they gave them an account of the whole passage and averred it upon their oaths to be true. At which affirmation of theirs, being much amazed, they should hardly have given credit to it, but would have conjectured the men to have been either mad or drunk had they not known some of them to have been of approved integrity.
And so, suspending their judgments till the next night, about the same hour, they with the same men and all the substantial inhabitants of that and neighboring parishes, drew thither; when about a half hour after their arrival on Sunday, being Christmas night, appeared in the same tumultuous and warlike manner, the same two adverse armies, fighting with as much spite and spleen as formerly; and so departed the gentlemen, and all the spectators, much terrified with these visions of horror, withdrew themselves to their houses, beseeching God to defend them from those hellish and prodigious enemies.
The next night they appeared not, nor all that week, so that the dwellers thereabout were in good hope they had forever departed; but on the ensuing Saturday night, in the same place and at the same hour, they were again seen with far greater tumult, fighting in the manner aforementioned for four hours and very near, and then vanished, appearing again on Sunday night, performing the same acts of hostility and bloodshed, so that both Mr. Wood and others, whose faith, it would seem was not strong enough to carry them out against these delusions, forsook their habitations thereabout, and retired themselves to other more secure dwellings.
But Mr. Marshall stayed, and some others; and so successively the next Saturday and Sunday the same tumults and prodigious sights and actions were put in the state and condition they were formerly. The rumor whereof coming to His Majesty at Oxford, he immediately dispatched thither Colonel Lewis Kirke, Captain Dudley, Captain Wainman, and three other gentlemen of credit to take the full view and notice of the said business; who hearing the true attestation and relation of Mr. Marshall and others, stayed there till Saturday night following, wherein they heard and saw the forementioned prodigies.
And so on Sunday, distinctly knowing divers of the apparitions or incorporeal substances by their faces, as that of Sir Edmund Varney, and others that were there slain; of which upon oath they made testimony to His Majesty. What this does 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 He in His time finish, and send a sudden peace between His Majesty and Parliament. Finis.
The reenactment continued to appear periodically, and especially on the anniversary of the battle. Witnesses believed that it was caused by the restless spirits of the slain soldiers, who were buried in a graveyard near the battlefield. Even modern-day visitors to the cemetery say that the place has a “disturbed” feel to it. In more recent times, witnesses do not always see and hear the full reenactment, but may hear some of the phantom battle sounds or see ghostly horses.
Further Reading :
- Stevens, William Oliver. Unbidden Guests. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1946.
- Underwood, Peter. Peter Underwood’s Guide to Ghosts and Haunted Places. London: Piatkus, 1996.