This August Bank Holiday, The Sealed Knot celebrates its 50th anniversary with a huge battle reenactment at Claydon Estate in Buckinghamshire, which will echo to the sound of musket and cannon fire, the steady beat of the drums, the charge of cavalry, and the clash of pike.
As part of the build-up to the event, the organising regiment of the Sealed Knot – Lord John Robartes’ Regiment of Foote – have written a series of guest posts about the Verney family, who owned the estate in the 17th Century and were intimately affected by the Civil War.
In their fourth post, we discover the legendary steadfastness of Sir Edmund Verney at the Battle of Edgehill…
“They that would wrest that standard from his hand, must first wrest his soul from his body.”
Sir Edmund Verney’s own words when he accepted the King’s invitation to be his Standard Bearer were to come true less than two months later on the field at Edgehill, the first major battle of the English Civil Wars in October 1642.
Not only would his soul be ‘wrested’ from his body, but that body was never recovered – only the hand that held the standard was.
His other words not two months earlier, when deciding to fight for the King, foretold that he would “chose rather to lose my life (which I am sure I will do)”. Was it a sense of fatalism that explains why Sir Edmund Verney chose to take the field at Edgehill not wearing any armour or even a thick buff coat? This unlike even the King, with whom he had breakfasted on the morning of the battle.
The exact circumstances of Sir Edmund’s fall will never be known.
He became involved in some vicious hand-to-hand fighting with the blue-coated Parliamentary soldiers of Sir William Constable’s Regiment, who had poured through a gap in the Royalist line created by charge of Parliament’s cavalry reserve. Holding the King’s Standard made him a target. His personal servant fell at his side and he is said to have accounted for at least two of his enemy, using the standard as a pike. Then he went down.
Folklore has it that he sold his life dearly, charging into the enemy ranks and single-handedly killing sixteen of his attackers, before falling sounded rather than give up the Royal Standard.
It seems that he was almost certainly shot by Arthur Young, an ensign in Constable’s Regiment, who carried the captured flag back to the Earl of Essex, the Parliamentary commander. It was not to stay in their possession long – a canny Royalist Captain, John Smith, disguised himself with a Parliamentary orange sash and was handed the colour. He promptly carried it back to the King, earning him a knighthood on the field.
Sir Edmund’s body was never found. Like many that fell on the field it was probably stripped, robbed and buried in a mass grave in the fields. His hand, which according to legend, was hacked off as the only means of prising it from the Royal Standard, so tightly did he hold it even in death. It seems the hand made it back to Claydon House as the ring given to him by Charles I is still at the house.
Today an impressive memorial to Sir Edmund Verney stands in All Saints’ Parish Church in the grounds of the Claydon Estate.”
Don’t miss the huge reenactment event on August Bank Holiday (Sunday 26th and Monday 27th), at Claydon Estate. This spectacle, with a battle, living history camp and displays is set against the back-drop of the estate’s beautiful gardens, courtyard, and All Saints Parish Church, within which is the memorial to Sir Edmund Verney.
The living history camp is open from 11am on Sunday and Monday and the battle starts at around 2pm.
Please note that Claydon House is owned by the National Trust and there is an entry charge for non-members.