The true ghost stories and first-hand accounts of paranormal encounters at the sites of various battles throughout the ages. Read about the terrifying re-enactments carried out by the spirits of those killed in the most brutal of wars.
The greatest crimes against nature, according to Church and government teaching in bygone centuries, were killing a king and waging civil war. Both happened in Britain more than 300 years ago, when Oliver Cromwell's Roundheads defeated the Royalist Cavalier armies and beheaded King Charles I. Ghostly echoes of that catastrophic conflict have lingered around the country ever since. Edge Hill, on the border between the counties of Warwickshire and Northamptonshire, was the scene of one of the bloodiest battles. More than 40,000 fighting men clashed there on Sunday, October 23, 1642, as Prince Rupert led the King's troops into action against Cromwell's Parliamentarians. By the end of the day, the fields were littered with the dead and dying, and both sides withdrew to continue the war elsewhere.
The following Christmas Eve, a group of shepherds were hurrying home at around midnight when they passed the battlefield. The sound of approaching drums, the clatter of arms, and the awful groans and screams of dying men stopped them in their tracks. Before they could take to their heels, the rival armies materialised all around them, eerily-lit colours blowing in the wind as they blazed away at each other with muskets and cannons. The bizarre action continued for more than three hours, finally fading at just after 3 am on Chrismas morning.
When it was all over, the bemused shepherds ran to the nearby village of Keinton and woke the local justice of the peace, a man called Wood, and the local minister, a Mr Marshall. Both swore an oath that the men were not drunk, and agreed to accompany them to Edge Hill the following night. News spread quickly during the day, and when darkness fell, the crowd included "all the substantial inhabitants of that and neighbouring parishes."
They were not disappointed. The two armies "appeared in the same tumultuous warlike manner, fighting with as much spite and spleen as formerly." Terrified spectators arrived home in the early hours to pray for deliverance from what they believed to be a hellish visitation. For a week, it seemed their prayers had been answered, but the following Saturday night, the horrifying scenes of bloodshed and cruelty were re-enacted, "with far greater tumult," and lasting for four hours.
Eventually, rumours of the phantom battles reached King Charles in Oxford. He sent three officers and three other "gentlemen of credit" to investigate the stories. Mr Wood and Mr Marhsall led them to Edge Hill, and they saw for themselves the gory action replay. The officers had seen the fighting on the actual day of the battle and recognised many of the spectral clashes - even the faces of some of the combatants. The King was convinced. He declared that the nightmare tableau was a sign of God's wrath against those who waged civil war.
Over the years, the sounds and sights of war have been reported many times by people passing Edge Hill, although the fighting has never been as vivid as it was that first Christmas.
Three years after Edge Hill, Cromwell's forces routed a Royalist army at Naseby, Northamptonshire, and for nearly 100 years, generations of villagers from miles around gathered at the site on the anniversary of the battle to watch it re-enacted in the skies, and listen to the sound of the guns, and the groans of the victims, with time, the phenomenon faded, but the echos of a third civil war battle continue to this day.
A Royalist army of 4,000 was slain at Marston Moor, Yorkshire, during another Roundhead victory on July 2, 1644, and drivers travelling through the area have seen groups of dazed, bewildered men in Cavalier clothing staggering along by the roadside as if trying to escape pursuers. Two motorists who saw them in 1932 described vividly the long cloaks, high boots, long hair, and wide-brimmed hats and cockades, typical of Royalist dress of that period.
The ghosts of the two leaders of the rival armies have also been seen since their deaths. King Charles was beheaded in 1649 at Westminster, and his body was taken to Windsor for burial. It has been seen in the castle library there. He is also said to be the headless phantom of Marple Hall, in Cheshire.
Cromwell's spectre has been reported both at the Golden Lion at St Ives, Huntingdon, his regional headquarters, and walking in Red Lion Square, London, with two ghostly aides, John Bradshaw and General Ireton. The bodies of the three men were said to have been exhumed and carted there, on their way to Tyburn jail, after the Restoration of King Charles II in 1660.
Cromwell's most dramatic reappearance came in the winter of 1832. England was again seething with revolt because of a controversial Reform Bill, and an angry mob was besieging Apsley House, the London home of the Duke of Wellington. As the Duke paced his room, deeply troubled over what line he should take when the Bill was debated, he met an armour-clad figure he recognised from portraits as that of Cromwell.
The phantom did not speak but pointed meaningfully at the crowds outside the house. Long after the Bill was passed, Wellington revealed that he had seen the ghost - and that it had changed his attitude to the reforms.
A ghost also changed the mind of an army leader during the civil war. The Duke of Newcastle had occupied Bolling Hall at Bradford, Yorkshire, on behalf of the King, and ordered that everyone in the Parliamentary stronghold be executed at dawn the next day. His soldiers were puzzled when he withdrew the order shortly before they were due to carry it out. They learned that a female figure in white had appeared by their leader's bed three times in the night, wringing her hands and pleading, "Pity poor Bradford".
Forty years after the war, England was again in the grip of internecine fighting. The Duke of Monmouth led a rebellion against James II, but his West Country army was crushed in the last battle fought on English soil, at Sedgemoor, Somerset, on July 6, 1685. The ghosts of some of the 1,000 men slaughtered have since been seen at the site of their deaths, and a phantom Cavalier horseman is said to be the Duke himself. He escaped capture at the battle but was beheaded nine days later.
A cruel sequel to the bloodshed was witnessed by a group of schoolchildren walking up Marlpit's Hill, near Honiton, Devon, in 1904. They saw a wild-looking man in a black wide-brimmed hat and a long, brown coat. His dazed look troubled the children, though their teacher saw nothing. Research showed that the bedraggled ghost may have been that of a man who had escaped the carnage of Sedgemoor and made his way back to his wife and children, who lived in a cottage on the Hill. As he neared his front door, a troop of soldiers rode up, and cut him down with their swords.
Monmouth supporters who survived the fighting were tried by Judge George Jeffreys in a series of cases that became known as the Bloody Assizes. Slavery, transportation, flogging, and execution were the sentences he meted out in a legal reign of terror. Since then, his ghost, complete with his black cap used to deliver death sentences, has been seen in rooms where he stayed during his West Country tour of duty - at Clough's Hotel, Chard, Taunton Castle, the Great House, Lyme Regis, and Lydford Castle.
The American Civil War, which lasted from 1861 to 1865, has also left phantom reminders for future generations. One of the most horrific battles was at Shiloh, where 20,000 men died. The next day, locals reported that a nearby river ran red with blood, and the sights and sounds of the battle have been re-enacted in the skies over the battlefield.
Wars between nations have also left their mark on the supernatural world. The eerie footsteps of marching knights in armour have been heard at the historic English West Country site of Glastonbury, and headless warhorses have been seen galloping through a Wiltshire valley near Woodmanton, the scene of an ancient battle between the Britons and the invading Romans.
In 1745, more than 30 Cumbrians watched a phantom army march through the sky above Souther Fell at the time of the Jacobite rebellion, and ghostly soldiers have been spotted at the site of the 1746 Battle of Culloden in Scotland.
During World War One, soldiers from both the German and Allied armies told tales of supernatural intervention in the fighting of August 26, 1914.
The British Expeditionary Force had taken a battering and looked like being over-run by the Kaiser's troops. Then the so-called Angels of Mons appeared, causing consternation in the German trenches. The British had time to retreat and regroup.
Author Arthur Machen, who wrote a story for the London Evening News, described the angels as phantom bowmen from the 1415 Battle of Agincourt. But he later claimed that he had made the whole thing up. The paper was deluged with letters from officers and men saying they had seen the spectres.
An officer from Bristol told his story in a local church parish magazine. He said his company had been cut off by German cavalry, and he expected certain death. Then the angels appeared between the two forces, and the German horses were terrified into flight. A brigadier general and two of his officers told the same story to their chaplain. And a lieutenant colonel claimed that, during the retreat, phantom horsemen guarded his cavalry battalion for 20 minutes, escorting their flanks in fields by the road.
After the war, it was learned that both German and French troops involved in the Mons bloodshed had seen unearthly allies helping the British. Cynics argued that the three armies were exhausted by heavy fighting, and could have been hallucinating. By then the Angels of Mons had served their purpose. Morale in the British trenches after the battle was sky-high.
On August 4, 1951, two English women on holiday in the French town of Dieppe awoke to the sound of gunfire. For three hours they made a note of every sound, and experts who examined their record found it a carbon copy of what had happened on August 19, 1942. when more than half a 6,000 strong Anglo-Canadian force was wiped out trying to storm the German-held Normandy port in a dawn raid.
The women asked fellow guests at their hotel about the sounds but no one else had heard a thing.
Now you have read about the ghosts of the civil war, make sure you check out the true stories of the ghosts that have plagued the British Royal Family.