The King now began to gather an army. One blustering August day he set up his standard at Nottingham, calling on all true men to rally to the defence of their King and country. The standard made a very grand show. It had many streamers, and at the top was a white flag, bearing the arms of the King, a hand pointing to the crown, and a motto, "Give Cæsar his due." With beat of drum and blare of trumpet it was set up. But so wild was the wind that soon the gay streamers and white flag were trailing in the dust. This seemed an evil omen to the King's friends, and, as the wind still blew fiercely, it was some days before the standard could be set up again.
In London, the Parliament too was gathering an army. Every one was eager to help. Those who could not fight brought money and jewels. Women who had nothing else to give brought their silver thimbles and bodkins, so that the Cavaliers, as the King's friends were called, named it, in scorn, "the thimble and bodkin army."
Oliver Cromwell was among those most eager to help. He gave £500, besides £100 worth of arms, for the men of Cambridge, whom he began to drill. He was made a captain, and one of the first things which we find him doing is stopping the King's soldiers who had been sent to seize, for the King's use, the valuable gold and silver plate belonging to the University of Cambridge. Instead of letting the King have it, Cromwell seized it himself for the Parliament, thereby winning for them about £20,000. This was a great service, for in war money is one of the most needful things.
Although most of the nobles were on the King's side, a few were on the side of the Parliament. Among those was Robert, Earl of Essex. He was made commander of part of the army. The Earl of Manchester was made commander of another part.
The King's commander was the Earl of Lindsay, and Prince Rupert, the King's dashing nephew, was his commander of horse.
At first the Royalist army was small, and, besides being few in number, the soldiers were badly armed. Some of them had nothing but sticks to fight with. Those who had muskets had no swords. The pikemen had no breast-plates, which were still used, although, since gunpowder had been invented, armour was worn less and less.
The Parliamentarians, on the other hand, having command both of London and of Hull, where great war stores were gathered, were well armed. But many of them did not know how to use their weapons and had never fought before. Nor did Essex make good use of his advantage. Instead of fighting at once, as long as the King's army was small, he waited until many faithful men had gathered to him.
From Nottingham Charles moved to Shrewsbury. Then, as Essex still lay idle, he made up his mind to march on London, and once more gain possession of the capital. At last, seeing what the King meant to do, Essex was roused. Hurriedly leaving his camp at Worcester, he marched after the King. The King turned, and, at Edgehill, in Warwickshire, the two armies met. There the first real battle of the war was fought.
The King's army numbered about 14,000 men, the Parliamentarian only about 10,000, for Essex had marched so quickly that many of his soldiers were left behind, under another great general, called Hampden.
Upon the slopes of Edgehill the King took his stand. Below, in the Vale of the Red Horse, were the Parliamentarians. The valley was so called from a horse which was cut in the turf upon the hill-side, showing the red sandstone with which so much of Warwickshire is covered.
There, from early morning till about two in the afternoon, lay the two armies in the still sunshine of an October Sunday, neither side firing a shot or advancing a step. The King would not leave his safe position. Essex would not charge uphill. Neither side was willing, perhaps, to be the first to break the peace, and spill a brother's blood.
Along the lines of the Parliamentarians rode ministers, preaching and praying, and the sound of psalm-singing broke the Sabbath calm.
The King on his side galloped among his men, speaking brave words to them. Over his steel armour, which flashed in the sunlight, he wore a black velvet cloak. On his breast sparkled the star and George of the Order of the Garter.
At length, weary of waiting, Essex gave the order to fire. For an hour the great cannon spoke and answered, awaking the silence of vale and hill. Then the King's lines advanced. Dashing Prince Rupert would have it so. Cautious Lindsay shook his head and gave the word. "O Lord," he prayed, "Thou knowest how busy I must be this day; if I forget Thee, do not Thou forget me. March on, boys."
Like a whirlwind Prince Rupert dashed upon and broke through the Parliamentarian line, scattering and chasing them to the village of Kineton, three miles beyond, leaving the Vale of the Horse red in his tracks. But at Kineton he stayed to plunder, and meanwhile things went ill with the King. Lindsay was wounded to death. The royal standard was lost, but recovered again. At last night fell and put an end to the strife.
Rupert's Charge at Edgehill.
On both sides there had been great deeds of valour. On both sides there had been bad mistakes, friend sometimes firing upon friend. On both sides many had fled. Not a few shopmen and artisans in "the thimble and bodkin army" were new to the use of sword and pike, new to the flash and roar of cannon, yet, if some among them fled, others stood to their posts, among them Captain Oliver Cromwell and his horsemen.
Both sides claimed the victory. But both sides had lost many men, and although at day-break Hampden came up with his fresh troops, Essex was too down-hearted to fight again. So he fell back upon Warwick.
The King marched forward, took Banbury without a blow, and from there went on his way towards London. At Oxford, which he made his headquarters for the rest of the war, he halted.