After rallying troops in strongly Royalist areas along the Welsh Marches, Charles set out from Shrewsbury to reclaim his capital in October 1642. The Roundheads were determined to prevent the Cavaliers from reaching London. Without the advantage of modern communications, pin-pointing enemy armies was not an exact science.
After scurrying around the West Midlands raising money and, the Parliamentary forces at last got wind of the King's march and headed down from Worcester to Warwick to intercept the Cavaliers. The two forces were to meet for the first time, the first encounter of Englishmen fighting Englishmen since the War of the Roses, on the road from Kineton to Banbury at a dramatic escarpment known as Edgehill. It was the moment when diplomacy and politics collapsed and King and Parliament went to war over their competing visions of church and state.
When Essex arrived at Edgehill, he discovered, to his great consternation, that the armies were equally matched with around 13,000 troops each, but the Cavaliers had already taken the high ground. All his intelligence had indicated that the Cavalier army was much smaller. The King's standard was borne aloft by Sir Edmund Verney, while Charles, dressed in black velvet lined with ermine, rode along the lines offering encouragement. 'Your king is your cause, your quarrel and your captain,' he told his troops.
Captain Kingsmill, who died in the battle
About 3pm Essex, desperate to seize the advantage, opened fire on the Royalist forces with his cannon. Charles answered by igniting the Cavalier cannon himself. As the battle began in earnest, the commander of the foot Sir Jacob Astley offered up a prayer: 'O Lord, thou knowest how busy I must be this day. If I forget thee, do not thou forget me.' And then Rupert charged. His cavalry, short of firearms, rode tight together hoping to smash the Roundhead forces with the first impact of their charge. They came in hard on the angle, firing at the stunned infantry who turned and fled. The cavalry charged on, scattering the Roundheads and pursuing them back to Kineton. With that Astley shouted, 'March on Boys', and the Royalist foot-soldiers, armed with their huge pikes, plunged into the Roundheads.
But Rupert's enthusiasm got the better of him. His cavalry pursued fugitives and plundered baggage trains deep behind enemy lines back to Kineton. The Cavalier foot soldiers were left without cover. They came under sustained counter-attack from Essex's remaining horseguards. In the middle of the battlefield, the Royalist infantry, lost without the 'air cover' of the cavalry, was enduring heavy losses. Sir Edmund Verney was cut down and, at one point, the Royalist standard was taken by Roundhead forces. Luckily, the irresponsible Royalist cavalry at last returned to the fray and saved the besieged foot soldiers. As darkness descended, both sides retired for the evening.
As morning broke, neither force was particularly keen to renew the action. The King withdrew his men back to quarters while Essex retreated under heavy fire back to Warwick Castle. The Battle of Edgehill was an unsatisfactory draw with losses on both sides equalling around 1,500. But crucially, Essex had left the way open for Charles to carry on to London. Taking Banbury, Oxford and Reading, Charles and his forces started marching towards Westminster and an increasingly frightened Parliament.