It is obvious from printed accounts and inventories that woollen hats were a common item of headgear in the 17th century. What they looked like or how they were made is a subject of hot debate. There are few obvious images of knitted caps and no actual dated examples remaining. One hat worn in this period has become known as the Monmouth cap and was knitted in wool, mainly in the Monmouth area but later also in Bewdley and heavily felted. There are two possible designs, one is like a skull cap, or modern beanie hat and the other, based on an example in the Hermitage museum St Petersburg which belonged to Peter the Great and may just have been made in this country and exported has a higher crown and a rounded brim. This nice example below left is by Gloria of Historical Caps. Her website can be reached here.
John Foxe (above right) is wearing what looks very much like a knitted hat with a brim in this woodcut from 1641. Although he died nearly 100 years earlier, it's a good assumption he's pictured in clothes contemporary to the Civil War. Note the characteristic drooping brim. It is quite possible, although by no means provable that many wide brimmed hats in woodcuts, especially those with drooping brims could actually be a knitted Monmouth
This second type is much the smaller, lighter affair and would have fitted quite nicely under a helmet. The classic design has a small bobble on the top and a loop at the bottom edge, possibly for hanging up, or to secure inside a helmet. The doubled up ribbed edging at the lower end of the cap can be turned up or not as you fancy. The example in Monmouth museum has this double thickness of knitting at the edge and weighs in at 4oz in old money. However this much represented example (picture left, courtesy of Nelson Museum in Monmouth) was unrecorded before 1930. Experts generally agree however that this probably quite accurately represents the cap that was turned out in the thousands by makers in this part of the country from the sixteenth century onwards.
There are very few images of Englishmen wearing knitted caps. This picture is by a Flemish painter from the early 1600s called Adriaen Brouwer shows a pipe smoker wearing what looks very much like the skull cap type monmouth with a felted wool crown and a bobble on top.
An inventory of caps sent to Ireland indicates that the Monmouths for military use were much more substantial, as they would have weighed in at more than a pound each. Stuart Peachey has conjectured that these caps would have to be the brimmed and crowned version to get anywhere near this weight.
There is also a variation in this design that may be a cross between the two, or some sort of middle ground, a knitted cap with a small brim that flows into the crown, shaped like a bluebell.
This guy being berated by his wife in the popular broadside entitled a Statute For Swearers and Drunkards from 1624 seems to be wearing either a light monmouth or a stocking cap with a small tassel.
Another type of cap particularly favoured by sailors, but also possibly worn by soldiers was the thrum cap. Knitted with thrums, or loose ends of yarn, the cap has a shaggy appearance and is very warm to wear. This example was knitted by Sally Pointer. She supplies instructions on how to make this and several other types of cap on her website.
Photo on the right by Rusty Aldwinckle and at the beginning by John Beardsworth of knitted caps being worn by London Trayned Band at the Tower of London and reenactment at Basing House. Below classic monmouth by Historical Caps.
And the difference? A cap touches your head in all places whereas a hat has a raised crown. No need to worry anymore!