The Sealed Knot is the oldest and largest re-enactment society in the UK, a registered educational charity, and the single biggest re-enactment society in Europe. Back in 1968 Brigadier Peter Young and a group of friends, following a garden party in cavalier costume to publicise the launch of Peter Young’s book on the Battle of Edgehill, came up with the idea of forming a period army – an idea that soon took off and within two years there were more than one thousand members of this Royalist Army. Now, in their 43rd year, with the early addition of the Parliamentarian army and later the Scots Brigade, their membership has grown to make them the biggest society in the UK, and in Europe; only being out-stripped by one other society worldwide.
The aims of the Society are not to glorify war, but to honour those that died in the many battles of the English Civil Wars, and to educate the public, both young and old, about the wars, and also about the lives and times of people in that period.
In these intervening years they have put on over 1,000 events, been involved with the Silver Jubilee celebrations at Windsor Castle in 1977, and been granted their own Achievement of Arms in 1983 by the College of Arms.
The Sealed Knot brings history to life by staging events throughout the country all year round, offering a chance to experience at first hand the horrors of a nation at war with itself, as well as providing a glimpse of everyday life in the mid-17th Century. Their events vary in size: a major muster lasts for two or three days, often (but not always) over Bank Holiday weekends, and can see hundreds of combatants taking to the field. At the other end of the scale, in small groups they visit schools at their request to give pupils a more hands-on approach to history by seeing them in costume, being able to ask them questions, and also handle some of the equipment they take with them – and even take part in drills.
Pupils can learn about cookery, clothes, education and politics alongside the weapons and battle strategies in their own schools from people who have studied the period. They are sometimes invited to ‘populate’ historic buildings, to illustrate what life would have been like there in the 17th century.
The Sealed Knot’s main battles tend to take place over the summer months, however they have events all year round. Some of them are annual events, starting with Holly Holy Day in Nantwich on the last weekend in January, through the march at Great Torrington, the Arthur Starkie Memorial March at Marston Moor, Ripple Memorial March (their Founder’s Day Service to commemorate the Brigadier, his wife Joan Young, and all members of the society who have died in the previous year) and Edgehill Memorial March (both in October), to Beverley Street Skirmish on the second Sunday in December.
Many and varied are the reasons why people join and why some of them have been doing it for more than forty years. Most of them start with an interest in history coupled with a desire to share that interest with like-minded people and with the wider public. As time goes on, they increase their knowledge of the period, initially by soaking it up from other members, and possibly then extending into more detailed research. Some will be happy serving in the ranks, some will seek advancement and some will seek to adopt a persona. All of them enjoy the camaraderie and esprit de corps, the social side of our activities being an essential element. They are a family-friendly society – indeed, you may see three generations of a family at an event. At the end of the day, it is immensely satisfying to know that they have informed, educated and entertained those who have come to watch them, some of whom may well be joining them in the future.