Breastplate well experienced in push of pike

Tom Aldwinkle's exhibit of how Cromwell's command center may have appeared for the 1645 Battle of Naseby.

Captain's headquarters, Earl of Stamford's Reg't of Foote.  Seated in the door is the captain, Dave.  Over 95% of Knotters attending a muster do not set up a living history campsite.  Instead, they settle into what they term the "plastic camp," consisting of autos, trailers (Br: caravans), current-day nylon tents, and rows of outhouses (Br: port-a-loos).
Pike and artillery from Bavaria marching to the field from the plastic camp.

Guns for sale on traders' row.  Inset shows detail of the lock of the matchlock at the top of the rack.

Assembling the regiment.  That very large tent in the far background is the event's beer tent.

Cannon named for Celtic woman who led initial Celtic resistance against Roman invaders.  Carrying on a tradition from that period, today's reproduction cannons are given individual names.

Additional artillery pictures

In addition, I made a short video of an after-hours pike-push competition, which I placed on YouTube.  This is the link to see it.  Plus, there should be links on YouTube to other videos of pike push.


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2008, Barry L. Siler


In conjunction with its 40th anniversary celebration, the Sealed Knot re-enacted the 1645 Battle of Naseby, holding its first major of the year at Kelmarsh Hall (which is north of Northampton in the eastern English Midlands). Unlike its Battle of Nantwich last August, this re-enacted battle was tightly choreographed, with regiment placements and maneuvers set down in the last issue of the Sealed Knot periodical "Orders of the Daye." The question that kept popping up like camera flashes at a rock concert was: "Does anyone know what this means?" No one knew. I took comfort in the knowledge that, as a mere pikeman, all I had to do was follow orders &/or my file leader.

The choreography broke down the battle into four segments, with the first and last as small engagements. The first: Prince Rupert's cavalry encounters Oakley's Dragoons along a hedge (fine, except at this particular hedgerow there was a ditch on one side making it difficult for the dragoons to have sufficient altitude to shoot over). The last: post-battle atrocities during which members of the Royalist baggage train were cut down (fine, except some victims giggled, spoiling the horror).

The second and third segments were the biggies. The second was held close to noon and the third (with break between second & third) was in the afternoon. This break provided cavalry the opportunity to change clothes, from flash-&-dash Royalist horsemen for the second and then stern, disciplined Ironside cavalry the third. Since this was a three-day event, for most going onto the field, we had a total of six battles, which everyone thought was quite a lot. With S.K. push of pike being physically exhausting, for me that was an exercising three days.

Once on the field, I had no concerns about what to do; I merely did what I was told or I followed the rest of my regiment (at least once being shoved into the correct place). Stamford's regiment, being small in number, was rolled into Carr's regiment, and we fought alongside and occasionally intermingled with other regiments of the Western Division, such as Robard's and Ballard's. Like, when the Royalists packed together a huge block, a regiment like Ballard's would call urgently for Carr's to join in. For a pikeman, each battle episode was a smashing time.

From my perspective, highlights and lowlights included:

Of course, for safety, I do not wear my glasses on the field. When marching off the field after the very first engagement, I found myself in the wrong regiment because I couldn't see quite well enough. At least I remained on the correct side - the coats were all red.

On the second day, as we stood ready to engage, drummers switched to quite a catchy beat. I did a little dance and then four musketeers did some Morris dancing with their scouring sticks.

At the conclusion of the third session, many Royalists played dead for effect. Standing alongside a prone Royalist pikeman who was facing skyward, I held the butt of my pike about a foot above his head and wondered aloud: "Does he have any gold fillings?" Brits thought this was amusing, even the one on the ground.

Sometimes, in place of the rugby-scrum pike push, two opposing pike blocks fenced with pike tips. Our side pressed into the Royalists and I found myself next to a Royalist pikeman. I made a dramatic punch with my fist at his face, of course pulling my punch well before contact. His mate, standing next to him, reached out with a gloved hand and lightly slapped me on both cheeks - smick, smick - as if challenging me to a duel. I laughed but should have retorted: "Sir! It's rapiers at dawn!"

Recall the warning on my Web page in 'Firing by Two Ranks, Musketeers Even with the Half File Leaders of Pike," -- that re-enactors should not discharge muskets behind and to one side of pike? During the courses of six engagements, I had several loud demonstrations of why that should not be done. We pike marched ahead of ranks of musketeers who then fired salvees (with wadding tamped down onto the powder). Very sharp to the ears!

On the third day, to stop solidly any pike push by Parliamentarians, pike in a Royalist regiment hatched a cunning plan. Said cunning plan was to anchor pike butts securely in the ground immediately before contact; with the average pike being about an inch and a quarter in diameter and of hardwood, the concept was that the planted pikes would hold any opposing push. Carr's, with me among the pike, was the regiment that went into their pike. Our block and theirs pressed toward each other, "Closest Order!" was sounded, two groups of re-enactors became two singularities of bone and muscle, then we surged into each other - as they planted their pikes ---- in less than a tenth of a second that Royalist pike block lost about a third of their pikes when we snapped off the bottom two feet of them. The Royalists quit the push in disorder. So much for that cunning plan.

I emerged from each session with my clothes wringing in sweat under the cool, cloudy skies of England. By the end of the third day, I also emerged with a mildly blackened eye, a scraped nose that bled, a skinned shin and thoroughly stomped feet. This event I wore hard leather inserts in my shoes which attenuated the crushing my toes endured - I'll likely keep all my toenails this time. My leather jerkin/armor has more scars. And I heard the complaint from others: "Damn! Another dent in my helmet!"

From what I saw and heard, there were few other injuries of note. The first occurred in the block opposing ours in a push and I was next to the person who went down. She (yes, some women participate in pike) began to feel anxious when the "Closest Order" was given and during the push shouted "Man down" when no one was down. Someone clipped her on the upper lip and down she went, yelling "Man down" which was initially ignored (refer to the "Chicken Little" story). Several Royalist pike stumbled and fell on her. Whereas beforehand she was anxious when pressed, she panicked when crushed under a pile of fellow pikemen. So panicked was she that, when the others clambered off her, she remained lying on the ground in shock - literally; I saw her hands shaking. The assumption was made and medics handled her as such that she had suffered a neck injury. As we later left the field, marching by the medics' tent, we noticed she was sitting up on a bed - with her back so soaked her shirt clung to all of her back. An S.K. pike push is no place for claustrophobia.

Reported also was a pikeman from Germany who had his armor cut into the side of his abdomen, requiring several sutures.

Neville Tandy of our regiment, who serves on the field but does not fight due to several infirmities (mostly from motorcycle accidents) was whacked on the shoulder by a falling pike; he could not raise his arm above the level of his shoulder. He mentioned that, even though he does not engage in any combat, he wears a 'secret' under his hat to guard against dropped pikes. Fourteen feet of hardwood like oak can deal a hefty blow when dropped. For those who don't know, a 'secret' was period and was/is essentially a skull cap of steel and padding worn under the hat where it cannot be seen - hence the name. By the way, Neville was so blasé about the shoulder he did not bother with the medics.

Outside battles, there was more to do than I had time. I shopped but not much. I shmoozed with old friends and made new friends. I drank beer, flavorful, dense, hearty English ales. Sunday evening, after the battle and a modest supper, I was putting some things away in my tent when a musketeer in Pickering's Regiment asked if I'd like a beer. I considered the pros and cons for a New York minute and agreed enthusiastically. He offered two pint bottles of a quality ale, and then an invitation to join him with others in Pickerings in the plastic camp. There, I stayed up past my bedtime - somewhat past my bedtime - and whenever my bottle was near empty, a kind soul pressed another into my hand. Not only are the British hard fighters but their way with the language is as rich and satisfying as their ales, one could settle into their conversation like a warm bath.

I was the sole American in attendance, and as a unique specimen I received special attention. After the final battle on the third day, in an assembly of the Western Association, I was given three huzzahs. There were also the requisite albeit friendly referrals to me as the "colonial." Fortunately, I was not asked often about the mechanisms of choosing the next American President. Discussed much more were comparisons between Sealed Knot events and those in California. Overall, many were impressed by our emphasis on Living History and our School of the Renaissance Soldier.

After Kelmarsh Hall I became a tourist at Cambridge where I lounged in a punt on the River Cam. Then I was to London where I stayed with inlaws and one day went bicycling along one of London's many canals. Okay, let's see a show of hands: How many of you knew that London still has a canal system with working manual locks left over from the 19thC? And lotsa boats?