Lord Robartes Regiment of Foote

Posted 6th June 2024

This month Laura Malpas visits a local English Civil War re-enactment group who are creating living history

Many of us love to learn about history, but there are those who like to live and breathe it too. In Northamptonshire I visited an enthusiastic group of re-enactors, part of the Sealed Knot – Lord Robartes Regiment of Foote. They are offering opportunities for us to see and experience the past as they recreate past events this summer. It will be entertaining, exciting, and often educational. Who knows, you might feel inspired to join in. I for one am quite tempted!

The largest re-enactment society in Europe, The Sealed Knot commemorates the past by re-enacting actual battles, skirmishes and sieges which happened nearly four hundred years ago during the English Civil Wars. These conflicts often involved militia pulled from local communities, along with artisans and tradespeople to support the troops. It was a bitter and divisive time which tore families and society apart, changed the purpose of the monarchy and how the country was run forever. The past teaches us many lessons about our current lives, and the momentous changes in society during the mid-17th century still impact us today.

But rather than pull communities apart, re-enactors today have the quite the opposite effect. Their events bring local communities together by providing an engaging opportunity to learn about what happened in the past, both in terms of the conflicts themselves but also about 17th century life. Re-enactors set up a camp where they live and sleep during their displays, and they mostly try to be authentic to the time. During these events, the encampments act as ‘Living History’ demonstrations as folk go about their daily routines of living, cooking, and carrying out the trades, arts and crafts needed to support their regiment.

The Sealed Knot is made up of three armies, the Royalist Army, the Army of Parliament, and the Army of Ireland and Scotland. Each Army contains different groupings led by a Lord General. Lord Robartes Regiment belongs to one of the four brigades which make up the Army of Parliament.

I spoke to two members about their experiences both of living in the 17th Century and supporting the Regiment. Zena who acts as Drummer and the civilian and welfare representative, and Helen, who acts as a civilian and the Lieutenant Colonel Company Commander.

My first question was why? What do they get from the experience of stepping back into the past? They offered many reasons. For Zena it offered a new way of embracing life, and for Helen, because the whole family can take part, it offered companionship and community. She also appreciated the sense of being in a third place, not quite the present, not quite the past, but somewhere else.

Both Zena and Helen felt that spending time outside in the fresh air away from the routine of daily life and the small screens that dominate our lives is refreshing. Priorities are simpler, staying warm and dry, eating simple food, and enjoying as much or as little company as you want. It is a relaxing escape from a busy life.
And anybody can be whoever they want to be. There are no restrictions other than your own capacity, gender is immaterial, and you decide how you want to take part. Roles include soldiers and camp followers, artisans, traders, and families, all part of the baggage train.

It’s a great family activity to watch or take part in, children are welcome with their adults. From 10 years old they can join as apprentices and learn practical life skills and crafts such as how to use an axe safely and light a fire. Apprentices are taught to handle replica weapons safely, and I was amused to learn that they are currently fundraising to buy a small cannon. Working as part of a properly safeguarded team with others builds confidence as they learn social skills including how to interact with the public. Once they are 16, they are allowed on the field as a recruit if they wish to enter the fray.

Helen introduced me to the many ways to join in as an adult member.

You might wish to become a Pikeman, carrying a 16-foot ash pole tipped with iron or steel. Great if you’re strong, and happy to charge at the ‘enemy’ and join in with the ‘push of pike’ not unlike a rugby scrum.

If you like firearms you may be interested in the role of Musketeer. There is a real thrill to join a block of musketeers firing together, and the watching crowd appreciates the drama too.

After the firing the musketeers also can engage in hand to hand fighting by ‘clubbing’ with the musket.

If you and your horse wish to take part, you will be a welcome addition to the spectacle once you are both acclimatised to flapping flags, bangs and drums.

If you want to be a real part of the action but not necessarily fight, then you might enjoy the role of Drummer. Historically they were an important part of every regiment as they stirred up the spirits of the troops, and fear into the heart of the enemy. Drums were an important method of communication in the chaos of battle, and it was considered unlucky to kill a drummer – which is an advantage!

Pioneers are a vital part of the team. Formerly they acted as engineers, breaching and building defences, but today this is a non-combatant role in the heart of the action. Pioneers acting as water carriers are valued, as carrying weapons and fighting is physically demanding work requiring proper hydration. An additional role is to keep an eye on everyone on the field keeping up morale and ensuring everyone is safe.

Reassuringly, priority is given to the safety of all. Full training and testing are required for all activities, especially for those using weapons. Advice on building the right costume is offered, as authenticity is important. “Fancy dress it is not!”, as Zena told me.

The Living History element is a fabulous opportunity to share skills and to engage with the public. Anything appropriate to the era goes, and currently there are a huge variety of artisans who might appear as part of Lord Robartes encampment. A potter, a bodger working with wood, a pole lather, a blacksmith, all kinds of textile artists, candlemaker and leather worker are just a few. Cooking over fire is universally fascinating to watch and smell.

It is clear from our conversation that the social side of Lord Robartes Regiment is essential, lively, and fun. Great friendships have developed, and social gatherings are an important feature of membership, with campfires, beer tents, and even banquets on occasion.

So where can you see this family spectacle for yourself?

On June 15th, Lorde Robartes Regiment will be joining in the fun at the Earls Barton Carnival with a Regimental march, demonstrations and a living history display.

August 3rd and 4th sees an encampment at Lyveden with a Regimental display and living history in a more authentic and tranquil setting.

If you would like to see a big Sealed Knot event just outside Northamptonshire, there will be a re-enactment of the 1644 Battle of Cropredy Bridge, to mark its 380th anniversary on August 25th and 26th. Hundreds of re-enactors from all over the country, including Lord Robartes Regiment will take to the battlefield to commemorate and interpret the story. It should be magnificent, and I can’t wait!

For more information, please visit www.lordrobartes.com and www.thesealedknot.org.uk