Captain Frances Dalyell alias Mrs Pierson

Every so often a little snippet of information turns into a day of book diving and visiting some of the more esoteric corners of the world wide web. 

Ballads such as The Valiant Commander with his Resolute Lady tell us of women wearing men's clothes and taking up arms; and, there are many myths and legends of women donning men's clothes to fight in the wars - but is this fact or fiction? The lot of camp followers and the women working as spies is relatively well documented (in C17th terms that is!) but did women cross dress and actually get to the sharp pointy end of things? 

Professor Mark Stoyle of Southampton University investigated, and wrote a paper on the subject

(I)n 1643, a draft proclamation was drawn up, setting out required standards of behaviour for Charles I’s army. It included a hand-written memo in the margin from the king himself stating ‘lett no woman presume to counterfeit her sex by wearing mans apparall under payne of the severest punishment’.

These words suggest the king believed female cross-dressing was quite widespread in his army and show a willingness on his part to take a much firmer line on the practice – particularly in relation to prostitutes. Curiously though, when the proclamation was finally published it contained no reference to cross-dressing.

For those of you without an academic log in, there's an abridged version on the BBC History magazine site.

So it really was a 'thing' and not a plot device from the 1980s TV drama 'By the Sword Divided'

A discussion over on Twitter led to the following investigation into a female Captain of Horse fighting for the King, first with Montrose and then with Newcastle.

Captain Frances Dalziel/Dalyell/Dalzell (alias Mrs Pierson)

Clearly not Captain Frances: one of the many women from the Sealed Knot/ECWS who entertain us on summer bank holiday weekends

Frances was very definitely a real person, and very definitely fought in the wars.

Born in Scotland, she was allegedly the illegitimate daughter of the Earl of Carnwath.

Frances first appears as a captain in Earl of Crawford’s Regiment of Horse, and she led her troop on Montrose's brief campaign into Dumfries in April 1644. Her cornet was black with the motto “I DARE” and the motif of a naked man in a gibbet.

After Dumfries Prince Rupert took command of what troops Montrose had, and it would appear around this time that her troop transferred to Lord Eythin’s Regiment of Horse serving as part of the Marquis of Newcastle’s army

A Frances Dalyell (alias Mrs Pierson) appears in Reid's Cavalier Army Lists listed as serving in Lord Eythin’s Regiment of Horse, she appears in the regiment in June 1644. Reid’s lists are primarily based upon “A List of Officers Claiming to the Sixty Thousand Pounds &c. Granted by His Sacred Majesty for the Relief of His True-Loyal and Indigent Party” (known as Indigent Officers or IO).

She also appears in some contemporary depositions:

“in the commissione granted be the Marques of Newcastell to hir, Captane Francis Dalzell” 

J. Erskine. “10 Junij 1644. Major John Arskyne's examination”

I sense an extra troop of horse for Montrose's Army needs to be planned. I see myself utilising the harquebusier with helmet officer with a headswap from the female heads pack. For those of you who are acolytes of the church of not15mm* Bad Squiddo have expressed an interest in producing her in miniature form.

For those of you interested in other (possible) female combatants, we've already come across the story of Trooper Jane of Ripley Castle in Houses of Interest: North Yorkshire.

Next to be researched is the Evesham soldier mentioned in The Scottish Dove (December 1645) a foot soldier from the garrison of Gloucester who got caught out having some clothes made...

*shame on you! You are heathen unbelievers who will strain your eyes trying to paint in all that minute detail, repent now and turn to the true light of 15mm

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  1. A splendid overview. I've recently started building camp bases for Baroque in 15mm. I'd been contemplating a base suggesting a camp brothel so the idea of prostitutes in breeches is a good idea, even if it might demand a bit of conversion.

    1. Thanks Dex. Have a look on here using the label 'civilians' listed under allegiance.

      Blue Moon make a camp pack
      Donnington have useful camp hardware.
      Matchlock have some useful stuff under ECW personalities
      Minifigs have a look at the Hussite Wars section in renaissance, a nice camp followers pack.
      Museum is the place to look for carts.
      Peter Pig have a women's heads pack. Also look in pirates and WotR ranges for useful stuff.
      QRF/Freikorps 15 have a super pack of camp followers in their ECW/30YW range - includes children.

    2. Cheers Radar. I have plenty of wagons etc (including loads of the old Hallmark ones). It is the civilian figures I need in the main. I picked up some of the Magister Militum camp groups and the Matchlock personalities (although they can be very hit or miss in terms of fulfilling an order it seems, and not all the castings still seem to be available). I have been tempted by the Blue Moon camp but have the idea they are closer to 18mm and wondered how they'd mix in. The big uncertainty for me is ECW era tents. I have a copy of Wagner's European Weapons and Warfare of the 30 Years War which has some good illustrations, notably of thatched huts and stabling. It may be back to good old scratch building!

    3. Yes the Blue Moon stuff is 18mm.
      Baueda have a Byzantine ridge tent that is quite appropriate.

  2. Very interesting history - great to see those reenactors too1

    1. Frances seems to be one of the few women soldiers who did actually exist as a soldier; many of the stories concerning women soldiers seem to have been embellished by the Victorians to the point that any basis of truth has been lost.


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