Ghost soldiers in the sky

Sir Edmund Verney, whose ghost was seen and recognized by multiple witnesses in 1642

Ghost stories have been attached to virtually every bloody conflict in world history, from the Battle of Gettysburg to the Second World War. The same holds true for the First English Civil War, fought between the Parliamentarians and Royalists between 1642 and 1646, when Lord Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell led their forces to a victory over the Royalist forces of Charles I.

In 1915, as German zeppelins raided the coastal towns and villages of Britain, an amazing story nearly three centuries old was recalled, concerning a battle so ferocious and bloody that the the scene was captured by forces unknown and vividly projected in the sky, creating a macabre moving image of warfare in the heavens.
The following story appeared in the Bluefield Daily Telegraph on February 10, 1915:

London, Feb. 9.-- Warfare in the heavens was witnessed by the king's own emissaries 272 years ago in Northamptonshire, when the ghostly battle on high amazed the good people of the land and caused no little uneasiness to the monarch. The recent raids of the German Zeppelins on the coast towns have caused historians to dig through musty tomes to confirm the wonderful occurrences of 1642.

In a brochure printed at the time has been found the strange tale of a ghostly warfare seen by the king's own investigators, in the darkness of the night, when the clash of arms and groans of the dying were heard by the awe-stricken witnesses. It was on a Saturday night in the Christmas season of 1642 that the good citizens of Keniton, in Northamptonshire, first saw the ghostly spectacle and heard the roar of muskets and cannon on high. It was between twelve and one in the morning when "there was heard by some shepherds and travelers the noise of soldiers giving out their last groans, at which they were much amazed. Then appeared in the air these incorporeal soldiers that made these clamors, with ensigns displayed, drums beating, muskets going off, cannons discharged."

Until after three in the morning the dreadful light on high continued, "the clattering of arms, noise of cannons, cries of soldiers so amazing and terrifying the poor men that they could not believe they were mortal or give credit to their ears and eyes."

"Run away they durst not, for fear of being made a prey to those infernal soldiers; and so they, with much fear and affright, stayed to behold the success if the business. When the uproar ceased, the poor men, glad they were gone, made all haste to Keniton and there, knocking up Mr. Wood, a justice of the peace, who called up his neighbor, Mr. Marshall the minister, they gave them an account of the whole passage, and averred it upon their oaths to be true."

"Suspending their judgment till the next night about the same hour, they, with the same men, and all substantial men of that and the neighboring parishes, drew thither; where, about half an hour after their arrival, on Sunday, being Christmas night, appeared in the same tumultuous warlike manner the same two adverse armies, fighting with as much suite and spleen as formerly. The next night they appeared not, nor all that week.

"But on the ensuing Saturday night, in the same place and at the same hour, they were again seen with far greater tumult, fighting in the manner above mentioned for four hours, or very near, and then vanished: appearing again on Sunday night and performing the same actions of hostility and bloodshed. Successively the next Saturday and Sunday the same tumults and prodigious sights and actions were observed.

"The rumor whereof, coming to his majesty at Oxford, he immediately dispatched thither Colonel Lewis Kirke, Captain Dudley, Captain Waithman and three other gentlemen of credit, to take full view and notice of the said business; who, first hearing the relation of Mr. Marshall and others, stayed there till Saturday night following, wherein they saw and heard the forementioned prodigies, and so on Sunday, distinctly knowing divers of the apparitions by their faces, as that of Sir Edmund Verney and others that were slain; of which, upon oath, they made testimony to his majesty."

In their report to the king, the investigators proclaimed the unusual occurrence as a ghostly reproduction of the battle that had taken place two months before on the adjacent fields at Edgehill between the forces of the king and those of parliament.

So what exactly had numerous villagers and officials of the king seen in the Northamptonshire skies during the Christmas season of 1642? Was it mass hysteria, or were they witness to a ghostly re-enactment of the Battle of Edgehill, in which a thousand men died?