Period Reenactment

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u X^lharge your pike..." The order from the grim-

faeed Royalist officer is almost drowned by an echoing volley of Parliamentarian musketry. Drums rattle out their urgent commands, and brightly coloured flags blow in the wind amidst the belching smoke of cannon-fire. A typical scene from the English Civil Wars: yet this is not 1642, but a Sunday afternoon three and a half centuries later. The Sealed Knot is once again in action.

Named after the Royalist underground organisation which plotted the restoration of the monarchy during Cromwell's Protectorate, today's Sealed Knot Society grew from a small private party held in 1967 to launch the book Edgehill 1642: The Campaign and the Battle by Brigadier Peter Young, a highly decorated wartime Commando officer and military historian. A very much larger than life character, Peter Young thought it might be fun if he and a few friends dressed up as Cavaliers; he could hardly have envisaged that the results would be so lasting or dramatic.

A few of Young's friends later wrote to ask when they could dress up again, and whether they could form a group to commemorate this formative period in our history. A man of action, Young saw the potential for something more adventurous than the original conception of a research and debating society. And so the Sealed Knot proper was born, at an inaugural meeting at The Mitre Hotel in Oxford; each of the founders undertook to recruit (sometimes reluctant) friends for a cross between a wargame and a military pageant.

From the beginning the society has owed one of its great strengths to Peter Young's insistence that membership be open to all who share its aims. The Knot has always been non-political, non-sectarian, and without bar on grounds of race, sex, age, or disability -each member contributes as much time and effort as he or she can manage. Some lady members "feign their sex" - which was not unknown in the 1640s - and march as soldiers; others encourage "living history" scenarios in camp and garrison displays. Every age from infants to grandparents can be seen at musters of the Knot.

Peter Young was the Sealed Knot's first, and hitherto only, Captain General I - a position he held until his death in September 1988. The Knot owes much to the legacy of his charismatic personality; even in his last years he still rode his white charger around the

Pikemen Suit Leather Gaiters

battlefield to the applause of the crowd, and members still exchange affectionate anecdotes about this remarkable man.

The first musters were small in scope, and costume owed more to ingenuity than authenticity. Though a few members obtained Civil War-style helmets, the norm was bonded velvet uniforms, recycled "wellies", and plastic buff coats; tennis balls stood in for cannon-shot, pikes were extremely motley, and muskets were invariably shotguns with the addition of musket rests: as Peter Young said, "in those days we had 10% history and 90% imagination". Twenty-five years later the picture could not be more different; today's Sealed Knot members spend many hours researching every detail of Civil War clothing and armoury to achieve the most historically correct costumes possible. Muskets are authentic reproductions of 17th century matchlocks; 16-foot pikes are planed and balanced correctly to ease the proper exercise of this ancient weapon. The society is constantly striving to improve, and a whole sub-culture of small specialist businesses has sprung up to supply members' needs.

Cavalry and artillery play an active role in Sealed Knot re-enactments. Horses are specially trained to

Cromwellian Armour Breastplate Details

participate in the thick of battle, their riders making dashing and colourful charges dressed in authentic buff coats, armour, "lobstertail" helmets and massive boots; practical research is even beginning to produce authentic 17th century saddles. Members of the Trayne of Artillery have pursued demanding research into the design and reconstruction of wooden gun carriages, and the intricacies of foundry-cast iron and brass gun barrels.While fulfilling the strictest legal and safety requirements, the society has acquired a range of pyrotechnical skills to add to the spectacle, from simple blank cannon-fire and ground charges to the burning of mock-up villages.

Wherever possible regiments wear the correct coloured coats, and are recruited in the areas where their namesakes first saw action. One of the oldest, for example, is the King's Lifeguard of Foot, who wear red, and recruit strongly in Oxford and Nottingham; while Lord Saye and Sele's "bluecoats" recruit in the Midlands and Kent. Large towns may support more than one local unit; in London one may find Royalist members of Prince Rupert's Foot living only streets away from Roundheads of Samuel Jones's Regiment.

Although the Knot was originally a Royalist group, it was obvious that not all members shared Peter Young's enthusiasm for King Charles; and a Roundhead army was developed by the historian Dr.John Adair. The relationship between the two elements echoes, nevertheless, the famous words of the 1643 correspondence between Sir Ralph Hopton and his old comrade and new opponent Sir William Waller: " a warre without an enemy". Nature being what it is, it is normal to see members of each side drinking happily together only hours after facing each other in battle; and mixed marriages between latter-day Roundheads and Cavaliers are not unknown.

Many members were surprised at the early musters to see cars stop and crowds gather along hedgerows, occasionally causing major traffic congestion. With i ever-growing numbers wishing either to join the Knot or merely to watch it in action, and with regiments springing up literally from Land's End to John O'Groats, it was clear by the end of the 1960s that it would have to evolve into the more professionally organised society of today. Nevertheless, professionalism in the society's administration and the quality of its displays has not altered the Knot's essential character: all members, from the chairman to the newest pikeman, remain volunteers.

As branches and regiments grew the Knot organised itself in regions, one of the earliest and still most active being the Army of the North. Through its efforts one of the first major battle re-enactments fought was Marston Moor (a battle which will be dramatically repeated during its 350th anniversary year in 1994). The Knot is also very active in Scotland, where the society takes on a new dimension from plaid-wearing Highlanders and dour, bonneted Covenanters. These Scots think nothing of travelling 500 miles during a weekend to take part in a battle in England, and hold their own musters at sites such as Stirling. The Knot is also developing

Battle North Point Reenactment

Ilk international links, with members in Germany and North America forming regiments and organising battles and "living history" camps; there have also been exchange visits between groups and individuals, and Sealed Knot displays in France and Germany.

As the society developed during the 1970s its numbers grew until Sealed Knot battles could involve a thousand participants; today three times that number may attend a major muster such as Newark or Edgehill in 1992, and with a paid-up membership of more than 6,000 the Knot is the largest active re-enactment association in Europe.

From its modest beginnings the society has also become a major charity fund-raiser - a role planned by Peter Young from the first. Apart from battles, Knot members and units also undertake many other sponsored events. The high identification with charity work has led great fortified houses such as Sudeley, Broughton Castle and Warwick Castle to invite the Knot on a regular basis to recreate past times, raising money for various causes. Councils and local charities such as the Lions and Rotary Clubs often join with the Knot in events such as the traditional Holly Holy Day at Nantwich, Cheshire, or major occasions such as those organised at Newark in Nottinghamshire. Wherever the Sealed Knot appears it draws substantial crowds, to the extent that its absence from a given event now causes comment.

In 1977 the Sealed Knot had the great honour of forming a guard of honour for H.M. The Queen at the Windsor firework display mounted as part of the Royal Silver Jubilee celebrations. Although it has always attracted press and television attention, the Knot has recently begun to receive approaches for film work as extras and specialists; having a ready-trained army of period soldiers enabled the society to fulfill military roles for such TV drama series as By The Sword Divided w and The Year of the Trench.

Another important aspect of the activities of the re-enactment societies is historical research. From their roots in Peter Young's scholarship, the Knot and the ECWS have contributed greatly to serious enquiry into aspects of the period not suitable or fashionable for general academic study. Practical experiment and documentary research have combined to increase our understanding of subjects as varied as 17th century dyestuffs, and cooking, as well as clothing design and procurement, weapons and tactics. Valuable specialist publishing has been undertaken by society members; and professional historians such as Dr.David Chandler of the RMA Sandhurst, and the New Model Army authority Barry Denton, contribute their strength in research. The Knot is constantly asked for advice, at every level, on all aspects of the period.

The Sealed Knot is currently heavily involved in the celebrations for the 350th anniversary of the Civil Wars; and in 1993 enjoys its own Silver Jubilee, with justifiable pride in having not only fulfilled Peter Young's original intention of widening a nation's interest in its heritage, but also becoming a pleasurable part of everyday life for thousands of people.

Early Matchlock Caliver

In the early 1970s a second society was born out of the Sealed Knot. The English Civil War Society in fact consists of two virtually autonomous groups: The King's Army and The Roundhead Association. Contact between the Sealed Knot and the ECWS continues on an informal basis; there is considerable dual membership, and joint events are not unknown. The ECWS has a total membership of about 3,000, drawn from all over the country and with a small but stalwart contingent from the American colonies. The King's Army and Roundhead Association are each organised as a 17th century army, with a regiment of cavalry and several infantry regiments apiece, together with supporting artillery and camp-followers.

Though generally smaller than SK musters, ECWS displays have been notable recently for the society's

Sealed Knot Reenactment Cavalry

ability to form and maintain recognisable battle-lines. The Roundhead Association, and less formally the King's Army, have formed brigades which group two or more units into larger formations. These are better suited to practising 17th century tactical evolutions without breaking down into formless, swirling mêlées.

Each ECWS unit is modelled on an original CivilWar regiment. All the recreated King's Army units served in, or alongside, the Royalist Oxford army in the summer of 1643. This allows a fairly tight specification for clothing and equipment, since the Oxford army was the best documented of all Royalist forces. The Roundhead Association covers a wider period, representing units from both the provincial armies of 1642-44 and the New Model Army and its successors, though "redcoats" predominate. Standards of costume authenticity are taken very seriously in both armies.

One Scottish-based RA unit, the Earl of Loudon's Regiment, in fact serves quite often on the Royalist side in post-1647 scenarios, given the complexity of Anglo-Scottish relations during the Civil Wars. Such flexibility is also seen in the occasional emergence of temporary units: e.g. the mainly English Royalist Sir Thomas Tyldesley's Regiment adopts the identity of the Laird of Grant's Regiment at Scottish events. Similarly, and particularly at events where the "living history" aspect is strong, a specific unit will be specially recreated to re-enact particular circumstances. On two occasions so far members of the King's Army and Roundhead

Association have combined at Warkworth Castle, Northumberland to recreate the Civil War garrison -Major William Lyell's company of the Master of Yester's Regiment.

The ECWS annual programme is carefully balanced to provide four evenly-spaced major events involving full musters of the membership, and anything up to 60 smaller "regimental invited events" of all shapes and sizes. These involve only a limited number of units as such, although members from other regiments can normally take part by joining the ranks of the invited units to ensure a convincing display.

The society has also been very active in promoting 'living history" as distinct from purely military displays. In August 1986 the ECWS pioneered the use of English Heritage sites by re-enactment groups with a display at Tynemouth Castle; and since then has enjoyed a healthy relationship with English Heritage, presenting a number of impressions of garrison life each year.

Barry Denton FRHistS

Stuart Re id

English Civil War Buff CoatEnglish Civil War Cavalier Horse Armour

A pikeman of Devereux's Regiment of the English Civil War Society (hereafter, "ECWS") photographed at Basing House, the major Royalist stronghold in Hampshire which was the scene of much bkx)dy fighting between July 1643 and October 1645. Apart from a steel gorget or collar-piece he wears the full recommended equipment of the pikeman. Helmets of various styles based on the older morion and cabasset were normal; this typical "pikeman's pot" has the morion's deep reinforcing comb and tlared brim, and broad cheek-pieces. His waist-length back-and-breast plates are fitted with tassets -heavy thigh-pieces. He wears gloves to protect his hands when handling the pike; and has a simple, mass-produced sword ("a good stiff tuck") as a hand-to-hand weapon -in practice it was probably used for camp chores more often than for fighting. Early in the war many pikemen seem to have discarded first the tassets, and later the whole cuirass (which at up to 5()lbs. weight was tiring to wear for any length of time); and many may never have received one in the first place. Armour was of limited practical use, seldom being proof against musket balls at battle ranges. On the march armour and sometimes pikes seem to have been carried in wagons (when available, and when battle was not imminent).

By the reign of King Charles I, England had enjoyed almost unbroken peace since the beginning of the 17th century; and, as a nation, had no continuity of military experience to draw upon when civil war broke out. Over the previous half-century, however, important advances had been made on the Continent in military equipment, training, formations and tactics. These had first emerged during the wars in Italy, and had developed further during the long struggle for Dutch independence from Spain, and latterly during Sweden's involvement in the Thirty Years' War. The campaigns of Maurice of Nassau and Gustavus Adolphus had been the talk of Europe. Thousands of British mercenaries had served overseas, and in the 1640s many brought their first-hand experience home. Professional soldiers and drill-masters had published technical treatises in English, which were studied by the keener officers of the Trained Bands regional militia.

In the early campaigns of the Civil War the leaders struggled to impose these professional models on the raw mass of indifferently equipped, poorly disciplined, and unreliably paid volunteer and conscript recruits. But bloody experience provided its own instruction: and by the 1650s British regiments seem to have been the professional equals of any in Europe.

The Civil War "regiment of foot" was organised on a theoretical model often companies totalling either 1,000 or 1,200 men plus officers. In practice the regiments' uneven success in recruiting, variable rate of desertions, and good or bad fortune in disease-ridden camps and on the battlefield left them with anything between 150 and 850 men, with some extreme examples even weaker or stronger; and the number of companies raised could also vary.

Despite the growing dominance of musketeers on the mid-17th century battlefield their vulnerability to cavalry during the reloading process still made it necessary to mix them for protection with blocks of pikemen. The proportion of "shot" to "pike" varied, generally increasing steadily from about two-to-one in 1642; many units, particularly Royalist, were all-shot by 1645. Each company had a mixed strength;

the pike was supposedly the more honourable weapon, and for practical reasons was carried by the strongest men.

On the battlefield the company did not fight as a tactical formation; a strong regiment might be divided into two "grand divisions", while weaker regiments might form a single unit, or in extreme cases several regiments might be combined. Within the tactical units (called "battalia") all the pikemen were drawn up in a central block between two wings of musketeers, all formed six or eight men deep. The basic sub-unit was the file - that is, the six or eight men who stood in a line from front to rear of the formation. In theory there were set positions for men of different experience and seniority within each file, the senior man taking the lead.

(Below) A sergeant of John Bl ight's Regiment, ECWS, photographed at Clifford's Tower in York - an artillery position during the siege of 1644. He represents a member of Sir Thomas Fairfax's Parliamentarian army in the north of England, identified by the blue sash; the Hat woollen bonnet and plain grey coat were typical of both Scots Covenanters and northern English tnx)ps. Body armour would not have been general in the northern army, which had much more "shot" than "pike"; but like the sash, and the modest lace decoration on the breeches, it is a typical distinction for a junior officer (among whom sergeants were then classed). Sergeants were officially distinguished by carrying halberds -axe-headed polearms. He wears a typical sleeveless buff coat with shoulder extensions; and ankle-length "start-ups", old-fashioned but hard-wearing labourers' boots.

Thirty Years War Buff CoatCromwellian Reenactment Armour

(Above) A lieutenant of Devereux's Regiment, ECWS, at Basing House. In theory each company had a captain, a lieutenant, and an ensign. Officers wore their own personal clothing, displaying a greater or lesser degree of wealth. T his young gentleman has fine lace shirt cuffs and collar ("falling band"), its points gathered by a ribbon; a hat with expensive imported plumes; gold bullion lace on his breeches; and fashionably red-heeled "bucket top" riding boots, the tops folded down here for service on foot. In battle he might wear back-and-breast armour over his buff coat. Mi irks of officer rank are his gorget; his bullion-fringed sash, in the tawny-orange which identified the Earl of Essex's Parliamentarian army; and the partizan, a short polearm with a more or less elaborately shaped head - the tassel collar was practical as well as decorative, keeping rain from running down onto the grip. His sword is a reproduction of the so-called "mortuary" style: the crude human head worked into the basket guard has been claimed to commemorate the fate of King Charles the Martyr - but examples arc known with female heads, and others which pre-date 1649.

(Right) Another pikeman of Devereux's Regiment, ECWS; and a close-up of his cuirass. Most Civil War armour was blackened or browned to protect it against rust, which on a wet day can bloom over polished steel surfaces almost while you watch.

Most helmets were apparently unlined, and worn over a knitted "Monmouth cap" - a very widespread piece of common soldier's headgear. For most Civil War soldiers the only item of actual "uniform", issued in a common colour to the men of a unit, was normally the coat; even this was far from universal - and a regiment might change its coat colour with each replacement issye. Otherwise soldiers were largely dressed in what they brought from their homes or managed to buy, steal or scavenge on campaign, with occasional issues of replacement shoes and shirts obtained by their quartermasters by the same methods but on a grander scale. A rc-enactor might spend today around £65 for a metal helmet, £95 for breast-and-back armour with tassets, £35 for his coat, £15 for his woollen breeches, £70 for a good pair of hobnailed reproduction 17th century "latchet" shoes, and anything between £65 and £95 for a sword, scabbard and baldric.With linen shirts, stockings, and small personal kit, a complete outfit costs £500 or £600; but most units have regimental stocks, and a recruit is not expected to buy lhe whole kit for his first muster.

Warkworth Castle ReenactmentSwedish Pikeman Pot Helmet

(Above, left to right:) Pikemen photographed at a muster of the Sealed Knot (hereafter, "SK") at Carew Castle; the Marquis of Newcastle's Whitecoats at Edgehill; Earl Rivers' Regiment, Western Association at Weston Super Mare; and an officer of the King's Lifeguard at Edgehill. The latter wears a "Montero", a type of cap which seems to have been popular (particularly in the "Oxford army") throughout the Civil War.

(Left) Pikes, helmets, an officer's partizan and a sergeant's halberd laid ready for an SK muster at Roundway Down by Stamford's Regiment. Civil War ash-wood pikes varied from 15ft. to 18ft. but 16ft. was conventional, sometimes with wound twine

Pikemen ReenactmentBattle Tippecanoe Anniversary

grips. Some soldiers disobediently cut theirs down to handier lengths; if battle brought them to "push of pike" against opponents with longer staves they might pay a grisly price. About two feet of the shaft below the Sin. head was usually protected against sword-cuts by riveted steel strips.

(Right) Second Battle of Newbury, SK: pikemen of Robert Hammond's Regiment on the march, pikes shouldered, with slung blankets and knapsacks. The Sealed Knot usually organise one long endurance march each year, in full kit and complete with wagons, following the historical route of a particular Civil War campaign. Such marches are sponsored for charitable causes.

(Above) Pikemen of the King's Lifeguard of Fmt, SK, take up their positions at Weston Super Mare, holding their pikes at the "advance". The English "lobster-tail pot" helmet with its three-bar face guard was primarily a cavalry item, but would have been worn by some officers of foot. The original Lifeguard were not a picked elite, but an ordinary regiment - often understrength and badly armed, like other early Royalist units - raised in Derbyshire, Lincolnshire and 12 Cheshire. They were, however.

issued with uniforms: complete red suits and Monteros.

The difficulty of handling the 16ft. pike in closely-ordered ranks without tripping or even maiming ones comrades must have made recruit drill parades a sight to behold. Officers would have been satisfied when their men could handle the unwieldy weapon deftly enough to form up and march without disruption or injury; and to present an effective, overlapping hedge of points for attack and defence.

(Right) A plain, soldierly-looking officer at Carew Castle; in the background, pike of the Lifeguard and Rivers' Regiment, SK. His gorget, sash and partizan mark his status; and note the fashionable open, buttoned coat sleeves. The staves of some halberds and parti/ans were covered with leather or fabric, and/or studded with brass (which does not rust or spark, and wears down smoothly without snagging); for cheapness and safety re-enactors often use painted wooden heads for combat. Officers work their way up through the ranks of I heir re-enactment units; they are trained in the use of all arms, and have to pass safety tests on their handling before promotion to posts of responsibility.

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  • Nadine
    What did the cavaliers wear in the english civil war?
    6 years ago

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