Erbert’s Edgehill

In our final post for our series on EdgehillAnne has once again written a great piece for our blog. This time though, Anne decided to take a look at things from a different angle and used her creative writing skills to write a piece on what it might have been like to be there that day…

Here’s Erbert’s story…

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‘Erbert sat there brooding for quite a while, his eyes fixed on the fire blazing in the hearth, but his gaze unseeing.

Peter glanced at him affectionately, and waved again for the serving wench to bring them more ale.  After a while ‘Erbert gave a deep breath and almost literally shook himself, then looked over at Peter and grinned.

‘It’s your fault, Peter my lad – you shouldn’t ‘ave encouraged me to tell the tale of that day’.

‘There are some memories that you should never allow to die’ murmured Peter.   ‘Now, sink that ale, and then maybe, just maybe, I’ll get you another!’

‘You save your few coins, lad – I’ll be fine with this one.’

Right, then – I reckon you should come back with me tonight – the boys would love to see you again, I’m sure’, Peter said with a twinkle in his eyes.  He “forgot” to mention that both his boys had begged him to invite Mr Carter to stay.  Young Simon had added that Mr Carter told some of the best adventure and soldier stories in the whole of London.

By the time they eventually arrived at Peter’s little cottage, the boys had long been settled on the straw-filled palliase they shared, and ‘Erbert was able to greet Maria, Peter’s wife, and enjoy half an hour’s conversation.  She did manage to extract a promise from him that he would tell the boys and their sister some of his stories.

The next morning, at an hour when ‘Erbert would have preferred to continue sleeping, both boys  were already  requesting repeats of stories he had told them before.  Their sister, although willing to wait her turn, was adamant that the first thing she wanted to hear was the story of the stripe in his beard.  ‘Erbert patiently explained that the beard had grown out a different colour because the skin on that part of his face had a long scar hiding under his beard, a scar caused by an injury he had received at the Battle of Seacroft Moor.

‘Erbert enjoyed the children’s chatter –but at the same time it made him a little sad, simply because he and his wife Suzanna had never had children.  She had been pregnant on several occasions, but none of the pregnancies had worked for some reason.  They had been married for twenty years, but he  was on his own now, as Suzanna had  died three years ago.  She had collapsed at the market, and her body had been brought back in the old dray cart.  Ironically, the same market where he had first set eyes on her when he was recovering from the wounds he had received at the Battle of Newbury.    She had never allowed  his scars to bother her, or the loss of his left hand –  as she said herself, if it wasn’t for them, they would never have met.  He had at some point in the past intended to take her to his native Yorkshire, but somehow that had never happened.

‘Please Mr Carter sir, would you tell us the story of Marston Moor?’

‘It were probably the biggest battle of the ‘ole war – but wouldn’t you prefer to hear about the fighting in the right order, as we worked our way across country?’

‘No – tell Marston first!’ said Simon.

‘Yes, proper order, please’ said Mary.

‘Maybe tell us about the day Sir Arthur announced his news about his Regiment?’ said John.

‘I tell you that tale every time I see you!’ protested ‘Erbert – but nonetheless he settled himself into a comfortable position and began his tale.

‘A long time ago, long before you were born – in 1642 to be exact, Sir Arthur ordered all his servants to meet together on the lawn near the stable  block immediately after breakfast, and he announced that the day before, the 22nd August,  the King had gathered his Army together in Nottingham and had officially “raised his standard”  and this was a declaration that the  country was at war.  There had been talk in the market place that there had been some fighting in some areas. Somehow it was now official.  We looked at each other , trying to see whether we were supposed to say anything!  Before we had chance to draw breath, Sir Arthur  said “I have decided to form my own Company and join forces with The Marquis of Newcastle.  Each of you men’ he pointed at us, one at a time – all ten of you – will be part of that Company, and you will fight on the side of the King.”

We glanced at each other again, without saying anything – but if their thoughts were like mine,  it was almost as though we didn’t ‘ave a choice in the matter – we would ‘ave to fight for the King even if we didn’t agree with what he said.  Actually, I don’t think many of us knew – or ‘ad ‘eard of – what the King wanted….all I knew myself was that he was forever asking for more taxes for his Navy and such.  One thing I did know, and that was that I didn’t think anybody ‘ad the right to argue with the King.  After all, that’s just what ‘e was, the King, and that meant that ‘e was boss. We were given until the following morning to get ready – to ‘ave with us spare hose, a rolled up blanket and enough bread and cheese or such, to last us a couple of days.  One or two of the women were given reluctant approval to follow us, providing they were willing to pull an ‘andcart – on the proviso that they agreed to cook a meal or two on a camp fire whenever we managed to camp in a safe place.  This  announcement had the dairymaids giggling, until they were told they weren’t free to go, as they would still have work to do in the dairy!

We  spent the rest of the day practising with the pikes – which were long – about 18’ altogether, including the four foot long metal wrapped ends.  We were all strong lads, even though some of them weren’t even as tall as me!’

This elicited a giggle from all three children, because even ‘Erbert was willing to admit he wasn’t very tall.  He continued, ‘The only ones who were any good with the muskets were William, the gamekeeper, and Walter, a tall lanky lad who’d done a certain amount of poaching in his time, even though he’d never actually owned a gun of his own.

Walter was one of those blokes who always seemed to be prepared for problems – even before we set off, he had managed to acquire a thick stick-weave blanket from his latest ladylove.’

Here ‘Erbert broke off again, and asked Mary if she knew how to stick-weave.  She proudly told him that she had been doing stick weaving since she was about five, when her hands were big enough to hold the sticks properly.  She had made lots and lots of strips, and Mother had sewn them together and sold them as waterproof blankets for the shepherds.

‘’Ow did you know they were waterproof??’ asked ‘Erbert.  ‘The wool came straight from a fleece, so it was still full of lanolin – but I only used the knotty bits of wool, because Mother needed the smooth bits for weaving.’

‘Erbert nodded approvingly.

‘Stick-weaving’s for girls’ muttered John.  ‘I’m good at climbing – would I have been allowed to climb trees?’

‘Most of the boys were given jobs’ said ’Erbert. ‘The older ones were expected to climb trees, with an axe wedged in their belt.  Then, when they reached as ‘igh as they could go, they ‘ad to chop down the really big branches and let them fall to the ground.  The slightly younger lads would use another axe to chop off most of the smaller branches and twigs, and then another lad would chop at them, and make bundles of logs just the right size for a camp fire.  It was the job of the smaller ones to get that wood back to camp.  You young ‘uns had the most important jobs – warm blankets for soldiers at night-time, and good fires for cooking, drying and keeping warm!

We set off the following day, and by mid-afternoon we had joined forces with the Marquis of Newcastle and his men.  He had enrolled all the men who worked his land, in all his different estates, and had recruited as he went through the villages.  As a result he had a full strength Regiment of well over a thousand men – his Regiment of Foote – and he also had a Horse Regiment of 600 men.  Where on earth he had managed to find so many men so quickly, continues to amaze me, even now!

We marched long distances daily, occasionally meeting other Regiments led by some titled gentleman or other.  We had to stop in villages, or farms, to replenish our stocks of food (and ale, of course).  More often than not we camped out in fields at the side of the road, but occasionally we got chance to sleep in a barn, when our officers were more comfortably situated in a Manor House, or at some Inn or other.

There were occasions when we would either walk into a skirmish, where we suddenly had to fight because the village we had just entered was occupied by Parliament soldiers, or we would unexpectedly meet some opposing force near a cross-roads, even though the scouts we had out had spotted nothing.  We were making our way southwards, and by October  1642 we knew that there were big plans afoot to hold a battle at Edgehill…..and what a battle!  There were thousands of soldiers there – difficult to imagine such numbers, and certainly more than any of us could have estimated, when we were fighting in what became more and more obvious were just practice runs!

Before there had been the firing of muskets and the odd one or two of cannon – but in that battlefield it was impossible to think, the noise was so great.  The push of pike were so close together, and if you were knocked    to the ground, by the time you had struggled up to your feet again, there was every chance that your regiment had moved  several yards to left or right, and separating you from them would be a musket block, all primed and ready to fire.

Added to the deafening roar of the cannon were the screams of the wounded, both men and horses.  The horses, of necessity had to be left – as also those men whose wounds were obviously fatal.  Those men who were able to get themselves gradually away from the battlefield were then able to make their way back towards their camping area, or merely hole up somewhere so that at some point before the end of the day, when the battle was finally over, those women who often came down to the edge of the battlefield with intention of robbing the dead of sorely needed boots and breeches, would then possibly tend to them, and get them towards the barber-surgeon or one of the women gifted in the use of herbal treatments.  Some of those women were incredibly helpful – once they had made sure that their own man was still alive, they would stay for hours moving from one casualty to another, stemming bleeding, binding up wounds or endeavouring to splint broken bones.  If it had not been for them, our death rates would have been much worse, but even with them helping our losses were horrendous.  The horrors of war, which were always much worse than any ordinary soldier could ever have imagined, resulted in a steady stream of deserters.  Whenever these men were captured, their punishment was hanging, in an effort to persuade further desertions.’


If you think you’d like to have a go at reliving ‘Erbert’s tale, have a look at our Joining Us! page.


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