The fate of Birmingham in 1643 was tied closely, but indirectly,
to the outcome of Edgehill. By taking offensive action against the
King, Birmingham was a marked town. Moreover it had taken such action
twice. This is not the place for a detailed consideration of the
Battle of Edgehill and the events surrounding it, except in so far
as they concern Birmingham. It has been mentioned that the King's
route from Shrewsbury took him through Birming-ham, and then he
had to move carefully between the Roundhead towns of Coventry and
Warwick, where the Castle was a menacing fortress.
It is enough to say that the Battle was a drawn affair, with no
decisive advantage for either side. The King's troops withdrew to
Oxford, after taking Banbury. Essex, by retreating, had conceded
the advantage of tactical and moral victory to the King - but without
military success, it was a hollow victory. From Oxford the Royalist
forces sallied as far as Brentford and Turnham Green before withdrawing
into winter quarters in Oxford. Had the King pressed on immediately
after Edgehill he might have taken London - by dithering he allowed
Essex enough time to return to London by way of Northampton, Olney,
Woburn and St. Albans.
We have no definite evidence that the town sent troops to Edgehill
- it would, however, be surprising if they did not, since they had
declared themselves so firmly against the King. (Some indirect evidence
is provided by Bloxam in an 1872 pamphlet on the Civil War in Warwickshire,
where he claims that following the entry of 300 Birmingham men into
Coventry, a force then left directly afterwards to join the Earl
of Essex's army before the fight.)
And so, when the King's army settled into its winter quarters,
we may be sure that to them Birmingham was rather more than simply
a name on the map. It was an enemy stronghold to be treated with
little consideration, should the King's army be in its immediate
vicinity again. For Birmingham was brought to the attention of the
chief commanders frequently. It lay on the main commun-ication route
from Oxford to the north, and north-west. This gave inhabitants
every opportunity to interrupt communications between Royalist commanders
-opportunities which they were not slow to accept. They are claimed
to have 'with unusual industry and vigilance apprehended all messengers
who were employed or suspected to be so, in the King's service'.
Lichfield, a few miles further north, was a similar thorn in the
flesh of the King's army, though there was Royalist support in Lichfield,
At last in early April 1643, the King ordered Prince Rupert, with
1200 cavalry, and 6-700 infantry, to open a line of communication
between Oxford and York. At the same time, Rupert was to take over
a Commander in Chief of the Royal forces in the Midlands, as a consequence
of the death of the Earl of Northampton near Stafford. Rupert's
troops were to reinforce a Royalist force at Lichfield.
"At the beginning of April 1643, the King ordered Prince Rupert
to march towards Lichfield; in his way thither he was to march through
Bromicham, a town in Warwickshire before mentioned, and of as great
fame for hearty, wilful, affected disloyalty to the King, as any
place in England." Clarendon at this point digresses, to remind
his readers of the action of the town in the previous year when
they attacked the King's baggage trains and sent the spoils to Warwick
Castle. Regrettably, his account of the battle itself is skimpy,
and our major sources are three pamphlets, written within a few
days and weeks of the event.
These pamphlets will be considered at greater length later, because
they are excellent examples of the manner in which the opposing
sides presented their case. Their titles are:
1 'A True Relation of Prince Rupert's Barbarous Cruelty against
the towne of Brumingham.'
2 'A Letter written from Walshall, by a worthy gentleman to his
friend in Oxford, concerning Burmingham.'
3 'Prince Rupert's Burning Love to England, discovered in Birmingham's
OR A more Exact and true Naration of Birmingham's Calamities, under
the barbarous and inhumane cruelties of P.Rupert's forces.'
Of these, the first is a Roundhead account, the second a Cavalier
account, and the third is apparently the official statement of the
losers, for it was:"Published at the request of the Committee
at Coventry, that the kingdom may timely take notice what is generally
to be expected if the Cavaliers insolencies be not speedily crushed."
It is only by a careful reading that, on the basis of these three
narra-tives, we may satisfactorily reconstruct the events of those
days in April, 1643.