17th Century Manservant and 20th Century Yeoman

Manservant from the 1640s dressed in black and white.

Cambridge has a lot of parks and green spaces. Parker’s Piece is a 25-acre piece of common land very close to the centre of town, and the Cambridge Town and Country Show was held there last weekend. Tamara and I enjoyed the opportunity to speak to people who were part of the show.

17th Century Life And Times

I talked to these people from 17th Century Life and Times, a small independent society, recreating authentic living and military history from the seventeenth century.

The man to the right in this photograph is manservant to a Captain in the Loyalist Army at the time of the English Civil War.

Manservant from the 1640s dressed in black and white, village couple sitting nearby.
Back view of a captain in the Royalist army 1860s - wearing a red sash to signify loyalty to the Crown

During the English Civil War, the Captain’s affiliation to the Crown could be seen from the colour of the sash he wore around his waist – a red sash to denote loyalty to the King.

As you can see, the manservant’s clothes are black and white. That showed his status and in turn it reflected onto and elevated the status of his captain, because black and white were of special significance.

Only a person who didn’t do any manual work could dare to have white cuffs. Any working person would have soiled cuffs in no time.

Even a scrivener would not wear white because he was bound get ink on his cuffs.

And his black tunic similarly elevated his status. It took many dippings to dye material black, and the process was therefore more costly. And the oak galls used to dye the wool, and the material used to fix the dye, corroded the wool so that it needed to be replaced every 18 months or so. So wearing black signified wealth.

And he is eating from a pewter plate, not wood. Another badge of status.

Note how the manservant is sitting aloof, not talking to the couple seated near him – they are of low rank and not be engaged in conversation.

The English Revolution of 1640

I wrote here about the English Revolution of 1640 and the changes in the distribution of wealth, the rise of merchant capitalists, and the antagonism between the Crown and those who were asked to pay for foreign wars, that led up to it.

The First Aid Nursing Yeomanry

White Highland pony ridder by a woman who is a member of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY)

The woman is a member of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY). The corps was founded in 1907 to provide assistance to civil and military authorities in times of emergency. It saw action in the First World War and today the purpose remains the same.

They are the world’s longest established uniformed ‘military’ voluntary organisation for women – and today, the only all-women unit left in the UK.

The Corps is on the Army list, but not part of the Army.

The horse is a Highland pony, from the Highlands of Scotland. They look strongly built, and the rider explained that they were bred to carry stags off the mountain – carrying a stag hanging off each side of its back and dragging a third behind it.


  1. Tamara says:

    Thanks for illuminating so much of what was going on underneath the costumes and uniforms at the Cambridge ‘Town and Country Show’, David. Your explanation about the manservant purposely not talking to the other two people next to whom he sat especially interested me. I highly doubt anyone cottoned on to that (and you found out through discussion with him, that is). It’s a shame they had nothing on show detailing more about their society as you have here.


    1. They told me that in the past they have been at shows at English Heritage and events of that calibre, but that those charities have no money to finance shows now.


      1. Tamara says:

        Interesting – and that is a sad fact to hear…


  2. Joan E. Miller says:

    Thank you, David, for sharing this bit of history and culture. I enjoyed the details about clothing and social status.


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