Politics by other means

My historical re-enactment photography reflects my fascination with 17th century history, and I’m less interested in details of weapons or uniforms or military matters. So while most re-enacting is about the fighting, I am always hoping re-enactors will depict the underlying issues of the Civil War.

This first set of pictures shows the Sealed Knot‘s Tower Hamlets Trayned Bandes re-enacting the Putney Debates at St Mary’s Church where in 1647 the victorious New Model Army’s generals met soldiers’ representatives to discuss the peace settlement. Ideas like universal (male) suffrage and freedom of conscience (if only for Protestants) seemed dangerously radical at the time but would later be at the core of the Anglo-American democratic tradition.

Re-enactors try to avoid modern politics, so this group was careful before agreeing to support a 2013 event in Wapping which featured the veteran left-wing Labour politician Tony Benn. He was there to unveil a memorial plaque commemorating the Colonel Thomas Rainsborough who had supported the Levellers at Putney. As a curiosity, speakers also included the then-backbench MP Jeremy Corbyn who no-one (himself included) imagined would soon become Labour Party leader.

In 2019 and resuming after Covid, the Cromwell Museum in Huntingdon organized a series of events including a re-enactment of the trial of Charles I, which led to his execution in 1649, and on local witch trials, the Levellers and the Putney Debates.

If the trial of Charles I interests you, I recommend the very readable The Tyrannicide Brief by the leading war crimes lawyer Geoffrey Robinson who describes the events but also shows its influence on Nuremberg to trials where he was involved such as ex-Yugoslavia and Saddam, and even to Guantanamo.