Bolsover Castle Under Siege

English: Bolsover Castle, 17th century Model o...
English: Bolsover Castle, 17th century Model of Bolsover Castle, as it may have looked in the late 1600’s. License on Flickr (2011-02-18): CC-BY-2.0 ¬†(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I spent the weekend laying siege to Bolsover Castle as part of the 17th century Army of Parliament. It was a lot of fun, and quite a busy couple of days. The best bit though was definitely seeing lots of old friends again.

Bolsover Castle event

Shortly after the battle of Marston Moor in July 1644 Bolsover Castle was attacked by the Army of Parliament under Major General Crawford. We were re-enacting that over the weekend. With a mixed group of the Fairfax Battalia and the Sealed Knot we put on a creditable show. There were three regiments present (about a company’s worth of soldiers in each).

The Earl of Newcastle’s regiment from the Sealed Knot provided some white coated and blue bonneted defenders in the extemporised filed works outside the castle. There were also four exquisitely armoured cuirassier in support.

On the outside there was a blue regiment lead by Sir George Lisle‘s Regiment from the SK with blue coated friends to make up about 50 soldiers all told. There was also a red regiment styled as Devereux’s (one of the constituent units of the Fairfax Battalia and the event organisers). I was with that unit and it was a fifty fifty mix of Fairfaxers and SK. We gelled really well and it took only a short drill session to harmonise our postures and methods. The attackers also had a siege mortar and six horse in support.

Living History

Fairfax living history at Bolsover Castle May 2016
Fairfax living history at Bolsover Castle May 2016

As well as the military side there were two living history encampments at Bolsover Castle. One inside and one outside. The attackers had a real family feel to it, with a fair number of children getting involved, six of whom were pre-school.

On both of the event days we ran three sessions for children to learn about being civil war soldiers. Equipped with wooden muskets or short likes, visiting children did musket and like drill. I helped with one and lead three more of these sessions.

We taught the kids the principles of drill, forming up, coordinating movement and how to move the musket and pike. For those doing pike we taught them how to fire by ranks, salvee and attacking with clubbed musket. For the pike they charged for horse and also advanced at the charge. This lead into concluding with a joint attack on the crowd line after a salvee. We finished by saluting the crowd. The kids seemed to enjoy it and some came back for more than one go, we ran two iterations each time.

Sieging Bolsover Castle

On both days we had the same script for out siege and assault on Bolsover Castle. In the early one we were rebuffed and we brought in a siege mortar for support and were chased away by the cuirassier. In the later battle we also had horse and grenadiers so took the outer work. The garrison then negotiated a surrender and marched out. All in line with the history.

As a reenactor it was a busy weekend, especially on the Sunday. On Saturday I arrived at lunchtime at the campsite, about a mile from the castle. After sorting out my sleeping arrangements I went up to the castle to help unload the van and set up camp. That took almost three hours, followed by dinner and a walk back to the campsite.

On Sunday, we formed for drill and a walkthrough at 8am that lasted for two hours. We then had a brief break before the public arrived. I helped with children’s drill at 11. Powder issue at 12 followed by lunch and more children’s drill at 1pm. Then getting sorted out for the battle at 2pm. I had a breather for about an hour, although collected more powder and match, and a second battle at 4pm. We returned the remaining powder (I fired ten shots between two battles) and finished just after five. Then it was back to the campsite for musket cleaning and washing up.

Monday had a later start because we didn’t have to reps the walkthrough. We did drill at ten, then an actual drill display at 11. We hadn’t been expecting the 11am display, so there was a rushed powder issue. We fired three times for the crowd. After that I did children’s drill at 1pm and 3pm. We also attempted a battle at 2pm but it got washed out in a torrential downpour. The audience visibly ran when it came on. We just stood and watched, I tucked my hand with the match under my cloak.

It was so wet that almost no-one fired first time, many had their match extinguished by the rain. The rain got into my priming pan and turned the contents to porridge when I tried to fire. Luckily the rain slackened and I managed to clear it and re-prime. The second attempt worked. Being one of the few with lit match I helped the others fire their charges. This needed a couple of manual ignitions after pricking the pan.

We went back out and tried again half an hour later, after the rain slackened off. Things were difficult, a lot of match had got damp and wouldn’t stay lit, including mine. I managed to swap with some spare match another musketeer was carrying in her bag. There were several misfires, nearly all damp priming pan related. That said I got six shots in, and finished the priming flask. After the battle I gave my musket a liberal dousing in WD40.

The WD40 helped dry out the gun, but it made my priming pan cover too smooth. Every time I loaded the musket I lost the primer. So I had to reverse my loading order to prime last. This is a bit more dangerous as there is always the chance of a spark hitting the priming pan when you are filling it. You fill it first so that you only get a flash in the pan rather than a full on negligent discharge. It worked for me though. I got through several shots, most of them double charged just to make sure there was enough powder to clear the barrel. I was a bit worried that some would stick to the wet sides as I was loading.

After the second battle I left for home, we had over four hours of travelling and two children to get to bed at a reasonable time. As it was we only got home at ten.

It was a fabulous weekend and lovely to see people again. I’ve remembered why I love this hobby and plan to be out in a warm wool coat later on this summer!

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