In England we are lucky with the resources available to us if we want to learn about the civil war which tore our country apart during the 17th century. As well as countless books on the subject you can conduct research online or maybe visit the National Civil War Centre in Newark, but to get a real experience of what life was like when parliament rose up against the king we have a number of wonderful re-enactment societies.
Both the Sealed Knot and the English Civil War Society provide authentic re-creations of both civilian and military life, and the information they provided was very helpful to me whilst I was conducting research for my novel ‘The Cavalier Historian’. You may think that re-enactment societies glorify war but that is far from the truth, and those who take part in these activities would say that their aim is to honour those who died in battle as well as to educate people about life in the 17th century. I can well remember the re-enactment of a battle which I attended at Faringdon in Oxfordshire some years ago with its guns and smoke, its sights and sounds of civil war. The battlefield commentary explained tactics and weaponry, and as I strolled around the campsite I was able to see authentic artefacts and clothing. I certainly felt that this was a great learning experience for the whole family.
If you have never seen a re-enactment featuring Cavaliers and Roundheads I would heartily recommend it. Wherever you are in the country you should be able to get to an event hosted by either the Sealed Knot or the English Civil War Society. Maybe you will be lucky enough to see a full scale battle with hundreds of infantrymen on each side as well as artillery, cavalry, and a huge array of camp followers. Perhaps it will be the re-creation of a specific battle, or maybe just a fictional episode designed to demonstrate the art of 17th century warfare. If you are not able to get to a battle then maybe you can see a skirmish, which is much smaller and has a focus on infantry with only a few cannons or cavalry men.
Whatever event you are able to attend you should also have the opportunity to see what camp life was like during the civil war. Take the time to wander around the tented areas where you will see re-enactors dressed in authentic costumes and carrying out authentic trades. There may be blacksmiths and armourers, barber-surgeons and laundresses, as well as kitchen areas providing food for both the officers and ordinary soldiers.
As well as re-enactments these two societies will also visit schools to give students a taste of 17th century life, or sometimes staff a whole house with a costumed population for a truly immersive experience (this is part of the premise of The Cavalier Historian). So, if you are interested in the English Civil War, or history in general, why not try to see a re-enactment this year? I’m pretty sure you won’t regret it!
Lord Thomas Grey’s Regiment of Foote
Sir William Pennyman’s Regiment
English Civil War Society Events