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.

Monday, 20 February 2012

King Charles' Buffcoat?

The jerkin is on loan to the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection at Kensington Palace, along with a sleeved buff coat.  The two items belong to Lord Acton, and grateful thanks go to his Lordship for permission to photograph the coat.  The pieces are, by long family tradition associated with King Charles I, although the coat is clearly of a larger size than the jerkin and different in style.  It is a substantial item of thick oiled buff leather, designed for protection on the battlefield and although well made, and lined throughout the body and sleeves with linen; it has fewer adornments and the feel of a basic trooper's coat.

The jerkin however was made to fit a much smaller man than the sleeved coat. The jerkin has a waist measurement of approximately 89cm, whilst the coat reaches to 100cm. The smaller size is consistent with the story that it was made for Charles I. It is a short, sleeveless oiled buff leather coat, lined in places with finer leather and decorated externally with false butt seam stitching in several places. The coat was presumably made for protection as the two front tabs are twice as thick as the rear ones, the thickness being added to by the lining. This would possibly suggest use on the battlefield as the fleshy part of the legs covered by the tabs are more vulnerable when on horse back than anything covered by the rear tabs, which would also need to be flexible for comfort. The overall impression is of a fine, well-made, serviceable garment, though arguably not of “Royal” quality. It is however obviously of a style that places its manufacture and use in the English Civil War.

The garment is made from 8 basic pieces, a back, two front sections, collar and four tabs. The waistline is pointed down towards the centre front more in the manner of a pre Civil War fashionable doublet than the horizontal line common in most military buffcoats. The tabs flare out and overlap front to back. At the centre back just below the waist, a large irregular shape has been cut out at some time, possibly by a souvenir hunter. The edges of the cuts are quite clean which suggests a recent action, though this would be tricky to prove.

 There is no evidence visible to suggest that sleeves were ever an integral part of the coat, or that it had fabric ones attached.  There are two holes punched in the right shoulder, but it is difficult to think that these had anything to do with a sleeve. There are no corresponding holes in the left shoulder, and no sleeve capping wings which were common on doublets of the period

The inner lining extends to line the 
tabs, the waist and a few inches in from the centre front on the left hand side. It is sewn to the inside surface of the jerkin with stitches that are wholly within the thickness of the outer leather. 

Each of the tabs is lined with one matching piece of finer leather apart from the left front tab which has a join close to the outer edge. This is the front right tab viewed  edge on.

Across the waistline, two pieces of the lining leather, about three inches wide are joined at the centre back and fixed to the jerkin. The right hand side section stops two inches from the centre front, presumably to join with the original front lining, which is now missing. On the left hand side it does not quite extend to the centre front lining as an irregular shaped piece is now missing here.

 Also on the left hand side, the lining piece extends from the waist to the collar, though a small section is missing from the top. Some of this lining has worn away from the edge, revealing rust patches where presumably hooks and eyes were attached to the lining to close the coat. This was a standard fixing for leather coats in this period.

On both centre fronts, sixteen holes have been punched down to the waistline and it is probable that cord laces were also used to fasten the front of the jerkin as indentations are obvious in the leather, running diagonally down from the holes to the edge. The edge has been slightly scalloped by the tension of the laces. This is consistent with laces as closing rather than decoration, perhaps as a belt and braces system with the hooks and eyes. This image is a close up inside the jerkin.

The construction of the is relatively simple though at first sight it looks as though it is made from more pieces than it actually is. On closer inspection it becomes evident that some of the apparent seams are false, made by forming stitches within the thickness of the leather giving the appearance of butt stitching.

  The constructional seams are identified by a join which is apparent between the rows of stitches, see right. This is missing in the blind seams. 

One seam, below the collar has been unpicked but the holes are still visible. This line of stitching extends from the centre front, all around the collar of the garment. The reason for removal of the sewing, which must have been tricky, is unclear. This sewing is more uneven than the rest of the work and moves away from a parallel line to the collar in a few places. Maybe it is a later addition?

 Each tab of the four lower skirts of the jerkin has a central blind seam and three seams that follow the outside edges. The central vertical seam of each tab is picked up above the waist leading to the armholes, the two front ones being decoration and the rear ones actual joins between the back and front panels. There is also a central rear blind seam which suggests a two-piece construction for the back section which is an illusion.

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