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.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Silky Scarves (AKA Sashes)

The sash, or scarf as it was more commonly knows in the wars of the 1640s was a badge of rank, an identifier when uniforms weren’t generally worn and presumably, looking at some contemporary portraits, a fashion accessory, this portrait of William Fairfax, brother of the more famous general shows an ridiculously large example.

As far as it’s possible to tell, the scarves of this period were all made of silk, which in the 1640s was a quality fabric prized for its drape and lustre. More than any other cloth available it dyed to lasting bright colours and as such was perfect for scarves that marked rank and regimental allegiance. Until the late seventeenth century there was no large scale production of silk in England so most of the raw material would generally be imported from France, the Low countries or even in some cases China via the old silk road and the middle east. The majority of scarves were probably silk twill, a basic woven silk that has changed little in its basic appearance since medieval times, though some, like William Faifax's were made of silk satin, a much more expensive and luxurious weave.

This example, in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London gives an idea of the dimensions of scarves worn in the Civil War. By tradition this was worn by King Charles at the battle of Edgehill and is 2.66m long and 68cm wide. It is heavily embroidered with floral motifs and edged down one side and at the ends with metal lace. 

This seems to have been fairly typical in size and fringing, though embroidery doesn’t feature heavily in the scarves seen in portraits. The metal threads make it look rich rather than bright and sparkly. Certainly silver metal wound around embroidery thread would tarnish quickly and become darker in tone. Images courtesy of the V&A Images Collection.

Henry Rich, Earl of Warwick painted in the school of Mytens wears a similar scarf around his waist in this portrait. It seems also to be heavily embroidered, though the ends are concealed in the pose chosen by the artist

Other methods of finishing the ends could be bobbin lace or fringing made of the same material as the body of the scarf. Scarves could be big enough to serve as a winding sheet in a pinch should the wearer have been unlucky enough to need a battlefield burial.

Portraits indicate that the scarf could be worn either over the shoulder or around the waist, though the second option seems to have been the less common method, as the fashionable waistline still dipped in the centre and would be hidden by the scarf. More often than not, a horizontal sash is worn over a back and breastplate or leather buffcoat in which the waist is cut as a straight line and an over the shoulder if the wearer is in doublet only. John, 1st Baron Byron wears his over back & breast in this famous portrait by Dobson, shortly after his facial wound was received from a parliamentarian's halberd at Burford in 1643. Note the long fringes and the extravagant knot his servant has presumably tied for him behind his back.

Captain Abraham Stanyan of the Red Regiment, London Trayned Bands (parliamentarian regiment) in this portrait by an unknown artist in 1644 wears his crimson scarf over the shoulder with a nice knot, fastened at the shoulder, a rather splendid feathered hat and some unconventional weaponry to complete the "ensemble".

The wearing of a scarf is usually taken to mean that the individual in question is an officer, the denomination of which could reach as far down as a sergeant in the Civil War. Sergeants would qualify as regimental officers, though the less well off would presumably have a poorer quality item on show. Here’s Sergeant Nehemiah Warton on campaign, writing home in 1642 with a report:

"I received your letter with my mistress' scarf and Mr. Molloyne's hatband, both which came very seasonably, for I had gathered a little money together, and had this day made me a soldier's suit for winter, edged with gold and silver lace. These gifts I am unworthy of. I have nothing to tender you for them but humble and hearty thanks. I will wear them for your sakes, and I hope I shall never stain them but in the blood of a cavalier."

As for the colour of the scarf worn, popular opinion has it that red was worn by Royalists whilst orange was the choice of Parliament soldiers. However, looking at portraits it is obvious that other colours were also chosen and could have had more relevance to the family colours of your commander. Some royalists wore blue scarves. Oliver Cromwell in this portrait by Robert Walker, is wearing the silver grey scarf he adopted when he became Lord Generall. Some Yorkshire officers wore yellow, and Colonel Eden was shot at Pontefract castle wearing a black scarf, whether that was a family colour or he was in mourning we just don't know. 
 Other scarf colours can be guessed at, there are references in various works on the civil war, but we can be pretty sure of the following:
King Charles- Red
Earl of Essex - orange/"old gold"
Early New Model Army  (ie Fairfax) - Blue
London regiments - possibly white
Eastern Association (Manchester)- possibly Green
Later New Model Army - Preston/Dunbar/Worcester- probably red- (ie Cromwell)
Here is an account of the siege of Basing written by Colonel Gage and quoted in Clarendon’s The Great Rebellion:

"After some hours of refreshment in the morning, and sending his express to Winchester, the troops marched through by-lanes to Aldermarston, a village out of any great road; where they intended to take more rest that night. They had marched, from the time they left Oxford, with orange-tawny scarf's and ribbons; that they might be taken for the parliament soldiers; and hoped, by that artifice, to have passed undiscovered even to the approach upon the besiegers. But the party of horse which was sent before Aldermarston, found there some of the parliament horse, and, forgetting their orange-tawny scarf's, fell upon them; and killed some, and took six or seven prisoners; whereby the secret was discovered, and notice quickly sent to Basing of the approaching danger; which accident made their stay shorter at that village than was intended, and than the weariness of the soldiers required. About eleven of the clock, they began their march again; which they continued all that night; the horseman often alighting, that the foot might ride; and others taking many of them behind them; however they could not but be extremely weary and surbated."

Portrait above, Colonel Richard Neville 1644 by Dobson.

Captain Smart here wears a rather fine orange/yellow sash again tied at the shoulder in this 1639 portrait, courtesy of the V&A Collections Search

Here’s John Vernon writing in The Young Horseman or the Honest Plain Dealing Cavalier, published in 1644. Note that he prescribed scarves not only for visibility in battle, but also to keep unruly soldiers in check as it marks them out for easy identification!

He must be careful to keep his horse well and his arms fixd upon, which many times dependeth the safety of his life, every horseman must wear a scarfe of his Generalls Colours and not leave it off neither in his quarters nor out of his quarters, it being an ornament unto him: besides it will cause him to forbeare many unfitting actions, as being thereby distinguished from the vulgar or common souldiour, it is likewise a good and visible mark in time of battle to know one another

Photo by courtesy of John Beardsworth


  1. Any suggestion about how to actually wrap and how you go about tying with a bow this monster-ribbon? :D

  2. I've never tried with anything this luxurious, but I guess taking large handfulls of fabric would help, or enlist the help of a good servant maybe?