The battle of Naseby, the turning point of the English Civil War, was fought on 14 June 1645. Prince Rupert, commanding the forces of his uncle, Charles I, chose an advantageous position on Dust Hill, two miles (3 km) to the north, along the Sibbertoft road. This strategic position meant that Cromwell’s men were fighting into the wind and the smoke from the cannon was blowing back on them. Nevertheless, they won and slaughtered 200 Royalist camp followers as a moral principle.
According to legend, for years after 1645 there were times when people witnessed the struggle re-enacted in the sky, accompanied by the sounds of mortal combat. The Northamptonshire historian John Morton, writing in 1712, comments:
As to the Reports we have had of strange Appearances of Military Skirmishes in the Air, or of Armies of Aerial Warriours disputing in Battel-Array for Victory, and particularly that in the Fenn [sic] Countrey nigh Peterborough the Year before the Revolution; I should scarce have taken notice of them, had they not been so seriously mention’d by some of our Old Historians; and had they not of late impos’d upon some of better Rank than the Vulgar. Those in the Fen [sic] Countrey, who say they were Spectators of this strange Prodigy, peradventure saw a great many small Clouds of uncouth Shapes, from which there flash’d out Lightning, and now and then they heard a Thunder-Crack. This ’tis likely was the whole of the Matter, and all the rest the product of their own Superstitious Imaginations.
They may also have been influenced by the Wild Hunt reported in the early twelfth century as having been witnessed in and around PETERBOROUGH, Huntingdonshire and Peterborough. However, similar spectral armies have been reported since classical times: in England, one was seen in Cumberland in the eighteenth century on SOUTHER FELL.
The battle of Naseby evidently remained the talk of the village for many years. The Revd John Mastin, vicar of Naseby, wrote in 1792:
The following ænigmatical anecdote was told me when I first came to Naseby, by Charles Wilford, master of the Bell public house. ‘Some years ago, on a Shrove-Tuesday, two women of the village had a violent dispute in the church-yard; from words, they proceeded to blows, and fought most furiously; when a man, who was shot at the battle of Naseby, came out of a grave and parted them.’
On investigation, it transpired that Humphrey Thompson, a parishioner of Naseby and quartermaster fighting for Charles I in this battle, was wounded, but not killed. After quitting the army, he was made parish clerk and sexton, and was digging a grave when the women’s quarrel took place.