This is the webpage of a group whose aim is to improve the kit and clothes of a UK seventeenth century Civil War reenactment group, using the most up to date references and research. Feel free to comment on any of the subjects raised here and return often as I want to keep the discussion lively and ongoing.

Please look at the extra tabs on the right hand side. The newbie section is the place for basic kit if you're just beginning to reenact the 1640s. Haberdashery has lots of detail about colours, buttons, tapes etc.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Cloaks, Coats, Cassocks Etc.

On the face of it, a soldier’s coat is exactly that, a coat or overgarment. However in many pictures it is obvious that another layer was used. Although 17th century folk were a hardy bunch and extra layers may have been looked on as a luxury item, this was a rather cold time to be in England and the summers of the early 1640s were particularly wet ones too. Picture on the right portrait of Jan Six by Rembrandt.

The civilian answer to this was the cloak, cut out of a circle or part of circle of wool. The simplest form was just that. An example came to light in an excavation at Dungiven Bog  in Ireland, amongst other early 17th century clothes found is a semi circle of wool cloth designed to be worn over the shoulders. This reproduction was made by Gilly Morley.

A more upmarket cloak had a square collar that could stand up when the cloak was fastened and lay flat down the back when worn open. Engravings of crowds from this period show that this type of cloak was a very common garment in the city during the winter.

Many soldiers, particularly those impressed from the towns and cities, would probably have one of these cloaks. They were practical and could act as a blanket  at night. It is thought that tents were not used on campaign and something to cover yourself up with if you hadn’t found shelter would be a sensible thing to own. Maybe blankets were worn as cloaks too, though after a few months in the field it would be difficult to tell whether it had started out as a cloak or a blanket. These pictures, the one on the left by Hollar, and the other, below of a French army besieging a town in Flanders from the 1650s show this clearly.

Common working men also had a basic long loose fitting coat, bit like an old fashioned mackintosh, commonly described as a gaberdine or just called a coat. This picture of a huntsman by Dutch artist Joachin van Sandrart

Also worn by more affluent civilians and higher ranking soldiers was a larger more complex coat, known as a cassock. There were many variants and several different names and spellings. It seems to have developed from an overdoublet and was in our period generally thigh length with large sleeves and turnback cuffs often displaying a facing material of contrasting colour.  This recent example was made by Barbara Robinson.

A popular item with reenactors, although it doesn’t appear very often in illustrations is a cassock with sides and sleeves that can be open or buttoned up, giving a garment that can be worn in several styles, cloak, coat or coat with hanging sleeves. It doesn’t appear in any documents, although there is a reference to coats being made for the Earl of Essex’s guards that specify 180 buttons per coat, which was probably for this type of coat.  Nice example here in a detail from a painting by Hendrik Pot.

Sleeved cloaks were also worn, a kind of cross between a coat and a cassock that were worn in a casual ‘off the shoulder’ fashion with the sleeves being no more than decoration. This rather rakish individual appears in several Roxborough ballads.

As Tony Barton wrote in 'True Relation': You might attempt reconstruction of any of these garments, depending on your chosen role. A pressed labourer would not possess a buttoned cassock, but he might have a simple overcoat of grey with a few cloth buttons. An old buttoned jerkin might be appropriate for a veteran soldier; a bourjeois would wear a cloak, sleeved or not, the officers have free choice-gold-laced sleeved cloaks, buttoned cassocks, or whatever. 
If you want to look really low life, take an old grey army blanket, tow it behind the car for a few miles, bury it in the garden until the spring, dig it up and wear it. You'll look lovely.

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