The Victorians have a lot to answer for. I love this famous 19th century painting by Yeames, with all its colourful, misleading detail. The bad guys are dressed in black with tall hats. The good guys (who are mainly damsels in distress) wear lace, velvet, satin. Unfortunately for the story, it is somewhat spoiled by the fact that King Charles I, the doomed commander of The Other Side also sometimes dressed in black.
Yes, Puritans wore clothes in dark, subdued colours, but so did many people, and the wealthy wore black as a sign of wealth. Black dyed cloth was very expensive. Hats with tall crowns were popular, whatever your political leanings.
But we shouldn’t let the truth get in the way of a good story. The Victorians were romantics and so the image of the ‘romantic’ cavalier, heroes dressed always in silks and satin, was born. Sadly this contrasted with the reality which on closer investigation was often plundering troops, drunken officers who turned a blind eye.
The king’s nephew, the handsome, brilliant cavalry commander Prince Rupert, paid so little attention to the niceties of how to treat civilians that he was nicknamed “Prince Robber”. Disorganised royalist supply chains partly explained the plundering; and a haphazard approach to medical care which often left the sick and wounded royalist soldier at the mercy of the goodness of the local populace. Parliament on the other hand set up some proper hospitals for their own forces.
He pushed past her to see two malignant soldiers… setting down a make shift stretcher on the floor of his parlour. On it lay an unconscious man, presumably an officer, ashen faced. His white shirt and pale blue breeches were soaked in blood. A young officer was bending over the stretcher … Seeing the minister he gave a stiff nod.
“Sir, I require you to allow our Captain to be tended here. He is gravely wounded. … I understand you are the minister for this village and I have judged your house the most proper place …”
(From The Welsh Linnet)
And returning to the vexed question of military attire – this is how cavalry on both sides dressed on the battlefield. And yes, it got very confusing at times.
A mass of Horse ahead, men fighting, dimly seen through smoke-drenched air. The din like a thousand tinkers mending pots that was the clash of swords, the steady beat of drums, screams from man and horse alike… an officer riding right at him, an enemy officer. But no, that could not be, for Will had seen the white paper in the man’s helmet, the token that declared him a king’s man. “Hold!” That had been his own voice. Flinging up his left hand and dropping the reins. “God with us” he had shouted, but the man struck with his sword.
(From The Tawny Sash)
And not a plumed hat in sight!