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The Battle of Edgehill Ghosts: England’s Most Haunted Battlefield

The Battle of Edgehill Ghosts: England’s Most Haunted Battlefield

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AX9PC8 English Civil War Battle of Ripple re enactment by members of the Sealed Knot near Tewkesbury

The Battle of Edgehill was the first major conflict of the English Civil War, taking place on the fields of Warwickshire. But after the armies departed, the villagers continued to be haunted by spectres and apparitions. The ghosts were recorded by Charles’ officers, and are the only ones to be officially recognised by the British Public Record Office.

The Battle of Edgehill was fought on 23 October 1642. After the fighting, the Parliamentarians retreated to Warwick, and the Royalists made tracks south, but failed to monopolise on the open road to London. Edgehill was not the decisive, one-off battle everyone had hoped for. It was the start of a long slog of years of war, tearing the fabric of Britain apart.

Alice Loxton uncovers the chance encounters, thundering cavalry charges and ghostly apparitions which marked the first conflict of the English Civil Wars: The Battle of Edgehill.

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The Earl of Essex and Charles I may have moved on, but they left behind a trail of bloodshed and upheaval. Corpses which littered the fields were tossed into mass graves. For those who survived, they were pretty much ruined, becoming dependent on local charity. One Royalist’s account of Kineton stated:

“the Earle of Essex left behind him in the village 200 miserable maimed solders, without relief of money or surgeons, horribly crying out upon the villainy of those men who corrupted them”

“They Could Not Believe They Were Mortal”

But the horrors of Edgehill didn’t end there. A report was commissioned by Charles I, to report on the remarkable rumours which had reached him:

“On Saturday, which was in Christmas time . between twelve and one of the clock in the morning, was heard by some shepherds 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.”

The shepherds recalled hearing “soldiers giving out their last groans”. (Image Credit: Alamy)

But then a great vision filled the sky:

“of strange and portentous apparitions of two jarring and contrary armies – the same incorporeal soldiers that made those clamours, the clattering of arms, noise of cannons, ensigns displayed, drums beating, muskets going off, cannons discharged, horses neighing, cries of soldiers, and the two armies – pell-mell to it they went. So amazing and terrifying the poor men, that they could not believe they were mortal, or give credit to their eyes and ears; 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.”

The Edgehill battlefield, where the spectres appeared.

After three hours of fighting the apparitions vanished into the night sky. “The shepherds made haste to Kineton, where they woke up Mr. Wood, a Justice of Peace, and his neighbour, Mr. Marshall, the Minister.”

“Those hellish and prodigious enemies”

“The following night, all the substantial inhabitants of that and the neighbouring parishes drew thither; where, about half an hour after their arrival, on Sunday, being Christmas night, appeared in the same tumultuous 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.”

Over the coming weeks, there were so many sightings by the villagers of Kineton that news of the spectres reached King Charles, who was based in Oxford. A Royal Commission of 6 officers were informed to “report upon these prodigies, and to tranquillise and disabuse the alarms of a country town”.

But on visiting the battlefield, the Officers, who had fought at the battle, confirmed the apparitions, and even identified some of the soldiers. They saw Sir Edmund Verney, the king’s standard bearer. During the battle, it’s said the Parliamentarians chopped his hand off in order to obtain the Royal Standard, which, when recovered by the Royalists, was said to still have Sir Edmund’s dismembered hand clinging on.

The officers confirmed the visions, and even recognised the figure of Sir Edmund Verney, the king’s standard bearer. (Image Source: Alamy)

The Officers drew up this report, named ‘A Great Wonder in Heaven, showing the late apparitions and prestigious Noises of the War and Battles, seen at Edgehill, near Kineton’. Ever since it was published on 23 January 1643, the Edgehill phantoms are the only ghosts to be officially recognised by the British Public Record Office.

According to those 6 Officers, the phantoms were a divine omen:

“doubtlessly it is a sign of His wrath against this land, for these civil wars.”

With bodies still littering the battlefield, locals from nearby villages apparently set about retrieving them, giving each a Christian burial so that their souls may find peace. The tirade of apparitions then supposedly ceased, however many since have reported hearing cannon fire, battle cries and horses’ hooves echoing over the old battlefield, particularly around the anniversary of the event.

Top Seven Haunted Battlefields – From The Civil War To Stalingrad

If you love creepy spots and war history, you’ll love these 7 top haunted battlefields located around the world. Known for massive bloodshed and usually a battle that could only go poorly thanks to anything from poor terrain to a giant outnumbering, these are sites that paranormal investigators have visited for years.

As most of the world begins to experience the fall season, you’ll find that a lot of these haunted spots really come into their own, especially if you’re visiting around the Halloween holiday. Book a visit soon and see for yourself – you may even spot a few ghosts while you learn about these spots’ fascinating war histories!

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Battle Of Edgehill. Warwickshire

The battle of Edgehill took place on 24th October 1642, and was the first major battle of the English Civil War.

3,000 Roundhead and Royalist soldiers lost their lives on this historic ground and their spirits still appear centuries after. On 23rd December 1642, shepherds tending their sheep at Edgehill witnessed a spectral re-enactment of the entire battle. At first the shepherds heard the sound of drums, then the noise of soldiers could be heard – giving out their last groans. Then appearing in the air “the same incorporeal soldiers that made those clamours” and phantom armies fought in the sky above the original battlefield. The phantom Parliamentarians and Cavalier soldiers re-appeared over several nights and were witnessed on Christmas Day by many people. In the 1940s Bill Priest, a local school master, claimed that ghostly phenomenon was a common occurrence in the area surrounding the field.

Unquiet Graves

In modern day Britain we deny the existence of ghosts, yet at the same time we are afraid of them. Ghosts take many forms, from shackled skeletons clanking through graveyards to spectral balls of light smelling of sulphur, which have been reported on sites of ancient battlefields. There are legless ghosts, kind ghosts, cruel ghosts, headless ghosts, traditional and legendary ones, some well documented and some seen only by a privileged few.

Royal ghosts are very popular – who for example wouldn’t be proud to tell their friends that they had just met Queen Anne Boleyn face to face! On May 19th, the anniversary of her execution in 1536, Anne Boleyn’s ghost draws up to the door of Blickling Hall in Norfolk in a coach, carrying her severed head in her lap. Blickling Hall is believed to be her birthplace although there is no evidence to support this. She also appears at the Tower of London (which is where one would expect her to be) at the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula where she was buried.

Henry VIII’s Queens seem to be the restless type of ghost. Jane Seymour, the mother of his only son Edward, carries a lighted taper through the Silver Stick Gallery in Hampton Court…. Catherine Howard, who was beheaded for adultery in 1542, has been seen and heard, screaming for mercy from Henry, in the Haunted Gallery of Hampton Court.

On Midsummer Eve, King Arthur is supposed to lead a troop of mounted knights down the slopes of Cadbury Hill in Somerset, the legendary site of Camelot.

Some ghosts stubbornly cling to their mortal remains on earth. Bettiscombe House in Dorset and Burton Agnes Hall in Yorkshire have skulls of former occupants amongst their furnishings. If the skulls are removed, or an attempt is made to bury them, their hideous screams ring through the house and dire misfortune falls on the occupants.

A very welcome ghost is that of an unknown man who appears at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London. His appearance at a play is a sure sign that the play will be a huge success.

Ghosts are not always human. Drake’s Drum which was with Sir Francis Drake when he circumnavigated the world, is supposed to beat when England is in danger.

Borley Rectory in Essex was reputedly the ‘Most Haunted House in England’. For the better part of a century mysterious happenings occurred there.

Borley had everything phantom coaches, poltergeists (see picture to the right, taken at Borley Rectory!), a headless man and a spooky nun. Writing appeared on the walls of the rooms, much to the amazement of people watching! Objects never seen before, appeared and disappeared, bells rang and mysterious footsteps were heard. The Rectory burnt down in 1939, again in mysterious circumstances, but still the phenomena continued! In 1943 the site was excavated and at a depth of 3 feet remains of a woman’s skull were found.

Glamis Castle in Angus, Scotland, the birthplace of Princess Margaret and the ancestral home of the Earls of Strathmore, has at least nine ghosts. One is said to be Macbeth, and a Grey Lady haunts the chapel. Earl Beardie plays dice with the Devil and a ghostly madman can be seen walking on the roof along ‘The Mad Earl’s Walk’ on wild winter nights. These are just a few of the ghosts of Glamis.

What can be the explanation of these ghosts? It is impossible to dismiss them as hoaxes as some have been haunting for centuries! It may be that these strange, often terrifying manifestations are evidence of another world that we the living, have never explored.

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Phantom Battle of Edgehill

The Battle of Edgehill took place on 23rd October 1642 and was the first battle of the English Civil War.

In 1642, after considerable constitutional disagreements between the government and King Charles I, the king finally raised his standard and led his troops against the Parliamentarian army.

Under the command of Prince Rupert of the Rhine, the Royalist troops were marching from Shrewsbury towards London in support of the King, when they were intercepted by the Parliamentarian (Roundhead) forces under the command of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, at Edgehill, midway between Banbury and Warwick.

Almost 30,000 soldiers clashed in a battle that was hard fought and bloody, yet inconclusive. Both armies suffered heavy losses during the three hours of fighting: the bodies were looted for clothes and money, and the dead and dying were left where they lay. As dusk was approaching, the Parliamentarians withdrew to Warwick leaving the way clear to London. But Charles’ army only reached Reading before Essex’s troops regrouped, so the battle has always been regarded as a draw with no one side victorious.

However this was not to be the last of the battle of Edgehill.

Just before Christmas 1642, the first sighting of a ghostly re-enactment was reported by some shepherds as they walked across the battlefield. They reported hearing voices and the screams of horses, the clash of armour and the cries of the dying, and said they had seen a ghostly re-enactment of the battle in the night sky. They reported it to a local priest and it is said that he too saw the phantoms of the fighting soldiers. Indeed there were so many sightings of the battle by the villagers of Kineton in the days that followed, that a pamphlet, “A Great Wonder in Heaven”, detailing the ghostly goings-on was published in January 1643.

News of the terrifying apparitions reached the King. Intrigued, Charles sent a Royal Commission to investigate. They too witnessed the ghostly battle and were even able to identify some of the soldiers taking part, including Sir Edmund Verney, the king’s standard bearer. When captured during the battle, Sir Edmund had refused to give up the standard. To take the standard from him, his hand was cut off. The Royalists subsequently recaptured the standard, it is said still with Sir Edmund’s hand attached.

To try and stop the apparitions, the villagers decided to give Christian burial to all the corpses that still lay on the battlefield and some three months after the battle, the sightings appeared to stop.

However to this day, haunting sounds and apparitions have been witnessed at the site of the battle. Sightings of the phantom armies seem to have decreased, but the eerie screams, canon, thunder of hooves and battle cries are still sometimes heard at night, particularly around the anniversary of the battle.

This is not the only phantom battle dating from the English Civil War. The decisive Battle of Naseby, Northamptonshire took place on June 14th 1645. It started at around 9am in the morning, lasted around 3 hours and resulted in the Royalists being routed and fleeing the field. Since then, on the anniversary of the battle, a phantom battle has been seen taking place in the sky above the battlefield, complete with the sounds of screaming men and cannons firing. For the first hundred years or so after the battle, the villagers would come out to watch the eerie spectacle.

Uniquely though, as a result of the Royal Commission’s investigation, the Public Record Office officially recognises the Edgehill ghosts. They are the only British phantoms to have this distinction.

Jill Stefko

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Resources for this article

History. Battle of Little Bighorn. (2009). Accessed on April 04, 2014

Brown, Dee. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. (1972). Bantam.

Cohen, Daniel. The Encyclopedia of Ghosts. (1984). Dorset Press.

Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits. (1992). FactsOnFile.


England’s other haunted castles and battlefields are too numerous to count, yet some stand out. On the eastern edge of Leeds sits Towton, the site of the single bloodiest battle ever fought on British soil. One snowy day in 1461, armies from the houses of York and Lancaster fell upon each other resulting in a 10-hour slaughter. More than 28,000 died in the deadly melee — a staggering 1 percent of England’s total population at the time. Local legend holds that spirits of the fallen still wander the region, while a pub that sits on the southwestern edge of Towton field is supposedly haunted by an ill-behaved poltergeist that past owners dubbed “Nancy”.

Edgehill Ghosts

Perhaps the reason that the Edgehill ghosts haunt the scene of the battle is that it was such a pointless loss of life that achieved nothing.

The Battle
It was 23 October 1662 and it was the first real fighting of the English Civil War. The Royalist Troops were marching to London in support of the King and the Parliamentarian troops intercepted them at Edgehill, half-way between Banbury and Warwick. The heavy fighting went on for three hours and both the Royalist and Parliamentarian armies suffered heavy losses. The Parliamentarian troops withdrew to Warwick Castle but for some reason the Royalists did not push on to London and so both sides could be said to have lost.

Ghostly Armies
The Battle of Edgehill didn't end when the smoke cleared and the dying had taken their final breath. In the weeks that followed, the terrible carnage was often heard and seen re-enacted. In the night sky above Edgehill, the phantoms of the fighting soldiers were observed by several very reliable witnesses. King Charles I, was so intrigued by the reports that he sent a Royal Commission to investigate. They too saw the ghastly spectacle and even recognised some of the protagonists, including Sir Edmund Verney, the King's standard bearer.
The re-enactment continued to be repeated for some time and some people travelled for miles to watch it. Eventually, the appearances became less frequent until they ceased all together.

Edgehill Today
However, to this very day, people report hearing sounds of battle and feeling very uneasy in the area of Edgehill, particularly around the anniversary of the battle.

Incidentally, as a result of the Royal Commission's investigation, the Public Record Office officially recognises the Edgehill ghosts. They are the only British phantoms to have this distinction.

Famous Hauntings

Here you will find details of Britain's most famous hauntings. You can read about them in any ghost anthology. However, as you will discover, the facts are often somewhat different from the stories told!

Borley Rectory
There is a rather romantic legend that near where Borley Rectory was built was once a monastery. One of the monks had a relationship with a nun from a nearby convent. When it was discovered, the monk was executed and the nun was walled up alive in the walls of the convent. It is just a story. The truth about Borley Rectory is much stranger than any fiction.

Edgehill Battle ghosts
I believe that certain events create a sort of 'psychic scar' in a nation's psyche. That definitely seems to have happened when the first battle of the English Civil War pitted brother against brother and father against son.
Although the Edgehill Battle phantoms are not the only ghosts to be seen on a British battlefield, they certainly are, or at least were, the most famous hauntings of this type.

Anne Bolyn
Here is one of Britain's world famous hauntings. This has become the architypal image of the headless specter, even inspiring the music-hall song, 'With her head tucked underneath her arm'.
The tragic ghost of Anne Boleyn can be found haunting several locations around the country.

Ghost of Threadneedle Street
Although the Threadneedle Street ghost is, or was, a woman, she is not the same as the 'Old Lady of Threadneedle Street', despite what you may read. The Threadneedle Street ghost is a spectre that is seen in and around the area of the Bank of England. She has even been spotted at Bank Tube Station. The 'Old Lady', on the other hand originates from a satirical cartoon that was published some years before the ghost made her first appearance.

York's Roman ghosts
There are not many phantoms from more than 400 years ago. We do not have any ghostly cavemen wandering around, or if we have, I have never heard of them.
Although there are tales of 'things' associated with Barrows and burial mounds, the 1,600 year old Roman soldiers of York ghosts are probably Britain's most ancient recognisably human spectres.

Raynham Hall Ghost
The Raynham Hall ghost was seen several times and someone even took a pot-shot at her. But it is the photograph of her that was taken in September 1936 that is the reason why the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall is so famous.

Cleopatra's Needle , Embankment, London
During the day, there is nothing apparently sinister about the column. Tourists stop and take their pictures and marvel that a 3,500 year old monolith should be standing on the Thames Embankment.
However, late at night, it does not appear quite so innocent. For, it has a gained a reputation for being, late at night, a magnet for would-be suicides. One of the Cleopatra's Needle ghosts would even appear to be a man who ended his own life in the River here.

Man in Grey
No-one has any idea of who he was in life, although it appears that he was a nobleman. However, the Man in Grey must be one of London's most famous hauntings. Perhaps, when he was alive, he just liked to watch a good play. Or maybe he had a professional reason for doing so. He certainly seems to be a good critic and only appears at the rehearsals of plays that will be a box-office success.
And there is something fitting in the fact that the best known theatrical ghost should appear in London's oldest and most haunted theatre.

Watch the video: Ghost hunters- spirits of the British civil war (July 2022).


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