The breaking off of negotiations was followed on both sides by preparations for immediate war. Hampden, Pym, and Hollis became the guiding spirits of a Committee of Public Safety which was created by Parliament as its administrative organ; English and Scotch officers were drawn from the Low Countries, and Lord Essex named commander of an army, which soon rose to twenty thousand foot and four thousand horse. The confidence on the Parliamentary side was great; " we all thought one battle would decide," Baxter confessed after the first encounter; for the King was almost destitute of money and arms, and in spite of his strenuous efforts to raise recruits he was embarrassed by the reluctance of his own adherents to begin the struggle. Resolved, however, to force on a contest, he raised the Royal Standard at Nottingham "on the evening of a very stormy and tempestuous day," but the country made no answer to his appeal; while Essex, who had quitted London amidst the shouts of a great multitude, with orders from the Parliament to follow the King, "and by battle or other way rescue him from his perfidious counsellors and restore him to Parliament," mustered his army at Northampton. Charles had but a handful of men, and the dash of a few regiments of horse would have ended the war; but Essex shrank from a decisive stroke, and trusted to reduce the King to submission by a show of force.
As Charles fell back on Shrewsbury, Essex too moved westward and occupied Worcester. But the whole face of affairs suddenly changed. Catholics and royalists rallied fast to the King's standard, and a bold march on London drew Essex from Worcester to protect the capital. The two armies fell in with one another on the field of Edgehill, near Banbury. The encounter was a surprise, and the battle which followed was little more than a confused combat of horse. At its outset the desertion of Sir Faithful Fortescue with a whole regiment threw the Parliamentary forces into disorder, while the royalist horse on either wing drove the cavalry of the enemy from the field; but the foot soldiers of Lord Essex broke the infantry which formed the centre of the King's line, and though his nephew, Prince Rupert, brought back his squadrons in time to save Charles from capture or flight, the night fell on a drawn battle. The moral advantage, however, rested with the King. Essex had learned that his troopers were no match for the Cavaliers, and his withdrawal to Warwick left open the road to the capital. Rupert pressed for an instant march on London, but the proposal found stubborn opponents among the moderate royalists, who dreaded the complete triumph of Charles as much as his defeat.
[Authorities. - To those before given we may add Warburton's biography of Prince Rupert, Mr. Clements Markham's life of Fairfax, the Fairfax Correspondence, and Ludlow's "Memoirs." Sprigg's " Anglia Rediviva" gives an account of the New Model and its doings. For Cromwell, the primary authority is Mr. Carlyle's "Life and Letters," an invaluable store of documents, edited with the care of an antiquary and the genius of a poet. Clarendon, who now becomes of greater value, gives a good account of the Cornish rising].
The King therefore paused for the time at Oxford, where he was received with uproarious welcome; and when the cowardice of its garrison delivered Reading to Rupert's horse, and his daring capture of Brentford drew the royal army in his support almost to the walls of the capital, the panic of the Londoners was already over, and the junction of their trainbands with the army of Essex forced Charles to fall back again on his old quarters. But though the Parliament rallied quickly from the blow of Edgehill, the war, as its area widened through the winter, went steadily for the King. The fortification of Oxford gave him a firm hold on the midland counties; while the balance of the two parties in the north was overthrown by the march of the Earl of Newcastle, with the force he had raised in Northumberland, upon York. Lord Fairfax, the Parliamentary leader in that county, was thrown back on the manufacturing towns of the West Riding, where Puritanism found its stronghold; and the arrival of the Queen with arms from Holland encouraged the royal army to push its scouts across the Trent, and threaten the eastern counties, which held firmly for the Parliament. The stress of the war was shown by the vigorous exertions of the two Houses. Some negotiations which had gone on into the spring were broken off by the old demand that the King should return to his Parliament; London was fortified; and a tax of two millions a year was laid on the districts which adhered to the Parliamentary cause.
Essex, whose army had been freshly equipped, was ordered to advance upon Oxford; but though the King held himself ready to fall back on the west, the Earl shrank from again risking his raw army in an encounter. He confined himself to the recapture of Reading, and to a month of idle encampment round Brill.
But while disease thinned his ranks and the royalists beat up his quarters the war went more and more for the King. The inaction of Essex enabled Charles to send a part of his small force at Oxford to strengthen a royalist rising in the west. Nowhere was the royal cause to take so brave or noble a form as among the Cornishmen. Cornwall stood apart from the general life of England: cut off from it not only by differences of blood and speech, but by the feudal tendencies of its people, who clung with a Celtic loyalty to their local chieftains, and suffered their fidelity to the Crown to determine their own. They had as yet done little more than keep the war out of their own county; but the march of a small Parliamentary force under Lord Stamford upon Launceston forced them into action. A little band of Cornishmen gathered round the chivalrous Sir Bevil Greenvil, "so destitute of provisions that the best officers had but a biscuit a day," and with only a handful of powder for the whole force; but starving and outnumbered as they were, they scaled the steep rise of Stratton Hill, sword in hand, and drove Stamford back on Exeter, with a loss of two thousand men, his ordnance and baggage train.