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.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Prince Charles dressed as a countryman

Just found this picture. It's not exactly contemporary but probably painted not long after the event. It's one of a series painted by the artist Isaac Fuller and depicts Charles II during his flight from the Battle of Worcester in 1650. He's just putting on a disguise and all the clothes show exactly how a common workman would have dressed. There is also a written description of his clothes, so we know he's wearing a hat borrowed from a miller: "greasy old hat with the brim turned up, no lining or band". Breeches are coarse and threadbare "even to the threads being worn white", the doublet is an old sweaty doeskin one with a high waist and tabs. His shirt was old, "patched at kneck and cuffs made of the coarsest hemp". The stockings are old green ones worn and darned at the knees and cut off at the foot and heel. His footwear is a pair of long boots.

In the second picture he is attended by two obsequious looking individuals in patched coats. Are they creepy enough I wonder to not mention that their future king has forgotten to button his fly?

Monday, 21 February 2011

Knitted Caps (or Hats!)

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

There are several illustrations that show a skull-cap type knitted hat being worn by soldiers. This poor sailor being done in by an "East India Devil" is wearing what looks like a knitted cap turned up at the brim.

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!

Friday, 18 February 2011

Cover Your Head Sir!

Seemingly the most popular hat in 1640s England was made from felt with a wide brim and a high crown. Most of the images and woodcuts show this kind of hat being worn everywhere and by all walks of life. There were several variants however. The raw material could vary from processed beaver fur, which produced the best quality hats to the waste product from wool broadcloth production. The wool or fur was broken down into its constituent fibres and then felted to produce a kind of fabric version of fibreboard. This was then shaped with steam over wooden blocks and set with glue to produce a stiff hat. The blocks were generally circular rather than oval, so that once they'd been worn for a while the brim would take on the typical curve seen in pictures as the crown became shaped to the head of the wearer.

There are many woodcuts that show a hat with a wide brim and high crown being worn by soldiers and several extant examples in museums so we can be pretty sure that this is a good hat to wear for 17th century use. 

Sometimes it seems the brim can be turned or pinned up, possibly to avoid contact with a shouldered weapon.
They came in a variety of colours, white, grey and black being mentioned in references and would probably have had a band on the outside. Several images seem to indicate this.

This workman's hat with the brim pinned back is slightly earlier than our period but is a common style. It was found at a dig in Morgans Land Southwark. 'Copyright Museum of London 2011'

There is no reference to felt hats being an issue item to soldiers, but as they were such a common item we can probably assume that they were worn in the armies.

Photo by John Beardsworth, original hat courtesy of the Museum of London

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Breeches (well trousered sir)?

The breeches worn in the civil war were generally of a different colour of to that of the coat. Unless you were in the Oxford army, breeches were not issued as part of the uniform. One possible exception would have been Trayned Bands who would provide their own clothes so may or may not have coat and breeches to match. Most troops would wear what was termed "sadd" coloured breeches, dull natural hues such as grey or mud brown.

The cut of 1640s breeches was full, though this was always down to how much you could afford to spend on fabric. Issue breeches would have probably been less full to cut down on material. They were of wool broadcloth, high waisted and reached to just below the knee. The waist band was narrow and the fly fastened with appropriate buttons. The pair on the right are fastened with a lace at the waist, though a button can be used too. The cloth of the breeches would be gathered, hemmed and stitched to the edge of a finished waistband, rather than turning the band over the gathered fabric and stitching down what becomes something like a wool sausage. An opening can be left in the rear of the waistband to accommodate a lace that can be used to adjust the fit of the garment.

The legs are either left open (unconfined), which was the latest fashion, or gathered and stitched to another band in the same fashion as the waistband, which could be secured with buttons or ties threaded through eyelet holes at either side of the opening. There is also some picture evidence of breeches legs gathered below the knee with no fastening at all. A ribbon or lace passing through and gathering the band is not period and is a modern reenactor-ism as far as we can tell. Breeches are generally lined throughout with natural linen to make them more comfy.

Pockets were inserted into the side seams and could be quite large with several compartments. They can be made of linen or leather.

In this period neither belts nor braces were used to keep your trousers up. Authentic methods of keeping your dignity include: buying a pair that fit, using hooks & eyes or string loops attached to the breeches that fasten to your coat. The grey pair by Gilly Morley above have strings, whilst Mr Marriott on the right has hooks that engage with the eyes in his doublet to hold them up.

Photos from Tom Aldwinckle and Chris Thomas. Detail on the right from A Letter To Mr Marriott, pamphlet from 1652

Friday, 4 February 2011

Startups (and/or Cockers?)

Some 1640s reenactors, mainly pikemen choose a different style of footwear than the standard lace up shoe that I talked about in an earlier post. Possibly because the fashion for cutting down modern desert boots produces a shoe that can look the part but has a compromised fit and integrity, the startup boot, or high shoe as it was probably know in our period is now recommended as an alternative.

However there are pitfalls involved with this type of shoe. Firstly these boots are only ever illustrated on agricultural labourers and country bumpkins. There is no record of issue of this type of shoe to the army of either side and the feeling is that it would have been regarded more as a mark of a lower class yokel than the badge of a soldier. There is no doubt that the majority of civil war footsoldiers would have worn shoes, although the bulk of the rural population would have been wearing high shoes so they may have been seen on 17th century battlefields but would definitely be an unusual item of footwear.

Pictures show shepherds, farmers and labourers wearing calf high boots that are round toed with no evidence of a raised heel. There also indications that laces or buttons could be used to secure the boots, though in both of these images I see no evidence of fastening, these shepherds seem to be wearing pull ons! First picture frontispiece of Mercurius Rusticus, the bound edition from 1647, shepherds from Heraclitus Dream by William Marshall 1642.
There are several schools of thought about the fastening of high shoes.

Tod Booth (Foxblade Trading) has a strong viewpoint:

“ From contemporary paintings and sketches it is clear that a mid calf boot was also worn by people in the employment of the wealthy. A painting hanging in Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire shows a number of grooms leading horses. The painting shows the footwear in detail and as well as latchet shoes shows many of the grooms wearing mid calf length boots. In addition there are many prints that clearly show a boot being worn by a number of tradesmen. So it is reasonable to conclude that the men of the 17th century wore a mid length calf boot.
The materials for any type of foot wear were extremely limited and bovine hide being the most easily available is the obvious choice. From the primary evidence I have looked at I can support the idea that mid calf length boots were worn by men in our period. It is speculation that they wore them in the army but I find it reasonable to think that some soldiers had them.
What is wrong is the design. The start ups we have are a laced up boot. None of the pictorial evidence I have looked at shows any form of lacing, all the boots look like leather wellies. It is logical that a person either working in the fields or having to travel along the rutted muddy roads of the 17th century would want a boot that keeps your feet dry."

All repros available are laced with several holes. The modern method of tying the shoes is one area to look at, in our period it was unusual to tie multiple holes together with a single lace like we do now. If there was more than one set of holes they would generally use multiple laces.

 There is no argument against the fact that these boots provide protection against knocks, scrapes, and the worst the weather can throw at you, but you must choose your boots with care as there is a fine line to be drawn and some repros can look like modern boots. Modern boots are made of several layers of overlapping thin leather whilst period shoes and boots used fewer, thicker pieces. A good startup reproduction would have 2 or 3 pieces only comprising the upper.

Here are imagesof a couple of nice repros of startups with laces. The worn pair are from Sarah Juniper, and also show what a pair of starups may have looked like after a season's campaign. These have been used for reenacting for 20 years! The second shoe is by Chris Thomas and is pierced for double lacing.

Another possible route, or alternative to what we may be seeing in the pictures is what came to be known as the cocker or stirrup hose, that was definitely worn in later periods (and is still used now) over a pair of shoes and covering the lower leg to mimic the action of a knee length boot. There is a pair in Huntingdon Museum that belonged to Oliver Cromwell. These are rather splendid with some fine carving on the leather, though I'm still looking for an image. This picture from a woodcut entitled The Armes of the Tobachonists 1630 seems to show a guy wearing buttoned up cockers over his shoes. The photo on the right shows a repro pair of cockers by Tom Aldwinckle