Politics by other means

After a teenage interest in military history, I have never been into weapons and am generally suspicious of those who try to wrap themselves up in the flag and idolize the military. For me photographing re-enactment grew from my interest in political and social history, and I am always hoping re-enactors will depict these underlying issues.

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 kind of peace settlement they wanted. Ideas like universal (male) suffrage and freedom of conscience (for Protestants) were radical at the time but would later be the core of the Anglo-American democratic tradition.

Re-enactors carefully avoid modern politics and this 2013 event commemorated Colonel Thomas Rainsborough who had supported the Levellers at Putney. The veteran left-wing Labour politician Tony Benn unveiled a memorial plaque and gave a speech, as did the backbench MP Jeremy Corbyn, who no-one imagined would ever become Labour Party leader.

In 2019 the Cromwell Museum in Huntingdon, where Cromwell had been born and was MP, organized a couple of public events including a re-enactment of the trial of Charles I. If that trial interests you, I recommend The Tyrannicide Brief whoss author is a leading war crimes lawyer able to point out how the 1649 trial influenced Nuremberg, ex-Yugoslavia, Saddam and modern cases.