Hold your horses partner, as the denizens of the former colonies might say. Sashes? If you mean the fancy silk thing worn by officers in C17th portraiture then you are in the right place, but they weren't called sashes. Thems were called scarves. Now we've got correct nomenclature out of the way we can move on.

Colonel Nathaniel Fiennes 1641, by Michiel Janszoon van Mierevelt

You will often see portraits of Charles, his sons, and his nephews wearing blue sashes scarves. Only these aren't sashes, or even scarves. These are ribands, signifying that they are members of The Order of the Garter. The Order underwent a bit of a renaissance during Charles' reign, and also his eldest son's, no doubt as a means for raising revenue.

Charles wearing the Order of the Garter riband, Sir Edward Walker wearing a rose scarf and a riband signifying that he is Garter King of Arms 

But first let's start with who wore scarves and how they wore them. 

One only has to look at portraits of the great and good, they are invariably wearing a scarf: portraiture provides us with some of the best contemporary evidence for scarf colours. A noticeably dipped waistline was very fashionable so scarves were usually worn over the shoulder, so as not to obscure the waist; although this wasn't always the case.

As well as officers, there is some evidence for sergeants, drummers and cavalry troopers wearing scarves: there are lots of references in account books for the purchase of 'scarf silk' (usually without any reference to colour - curse you C17th accountants!). 

Sergeant Nehemiah Warton (Denzil Holles' Regiment of Foot) writes of receiving his mistresses' scarf (Letters of Nehemiah Warton 13th September 1642).

Lord Saye and Sele's drum major was issued a scarf (State Papers 28/145/250). There is also a slightly earlier reference to drummers of Colonel Taylor's Trained Band Regiment, Bristol 1628 having black and white scarves/ribbons. (City chamberlains' accounts in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Vol XXIV)

There are also a number of references for cavalry troopers wearing scarves around their middle (common troopers obviously weren't bothered about obscuring their dipped waists); receipts from Brereton's troop align with instruction (for trooper's scarves) given to the Norfolk Trained Bands prior to the Bishops Wars.

Surviving examples: the V&A has two beautifully embroidered red scarves in their collection. Last time I visited one was on display. Clearly the cost of such items would put them out of reach of everyone but the very very rich.

Detail of the military scarf on display

Detail of the 'other' V&A scarf, oft reported as belonging to the King
(but no provenance for this claim)

both sash closeups from V&A online collection

The question that probably brought you here was, no doubt, 'what colour sashes scarves did they wear?' Which one would think might be quite easy to answer. Sorry to disappoint you, it is even more complicated and less documented than colours of clothing issues.

Lets start with the late Brigadier Peter Young's statement in his seminal work Edgehill 1642 The Campaign and the Battle:

In 1642 the orange-tawny colours of the Earl of Essex  were universally adopted  by the Roundheads, and crimson scarves were the mark of a Royalist.

Taken with John Vernon writing

"...every horseman must wear a scarfe of his Generalls Colours..."

 (The Young Horseman or the Honest Plain Dealing Cavalier, published 1644)

Young's confidence looks rock solid, but let's dissect his statement...


Essex commanded Parliament's main field army, so applying Occam's Razor to Young's statement, it makes perfect sense. But is there any contemporary evidence for the Lord General's Army wearing orange-tawny scarves?

Colonel Henry Gage wrote about leading soldiers from Oxford to the relief of Basing House 

"They had marched, from the time they had left Oxford, with orange-tawny scarfs and ribbons; that they might be taken for the  parliament soldiers..."

(quoted in Clarendon's Great Rebellion) 

This 'disguise' worked well until Gage's men forgot that they were in disguise and attacked a party of parliamentary horse giving the game away.

So does Young's broad brush approach apply to all of Parliament's armies? So far, Young's statement looks pretty good, but then...

...if we look at portraits and contemporary records, the issue of Parliament's scarf colours becomes very confusing.

Sir William Fairfax, and Colonel John Booth were both painted wearing black scarves. Did the Cheshire Army wear black scarves at Nantwich? Maybe, but Sir William Brereton purchased crimson scarf silk for his own troop of horse in July 1643 (National Archive State Papers 28/8 folio 15r), which just confuses matters.

There are a number of other records of black scarves, mostly associated with officers of the Northern Association: Captain Henry Westby (Copley's Regiment of Horse) bought two black scarves (Sheffield Archives OD/1420); Drake's Journal mentions that  Colonel Eden (Bright's Regiment of Foot) was killed in a skirmish at Pontefract on 14th April 1645, and was described as wearing a buff coat and black scarf (quoted in Three Sieges of Pontefract Castle, George Fox). All suggestive of the Northern Association wearing black scarves. Or so you might think. This hits a bit problem as another Parliamentarian at Pontefract is recorded as wearing a red scarf.

The regicide Colonel Sir Michael Livesey also sports a black scarf, but he had no connection to the  Northern Association being a devout southerner (portrait at the National  Maritime Museum).

Haythornthwaite, suggests that black scarves were a sign of mourning, but gives no evidence supporting his argument. An argument oft retold as 'gospel'. Whilst black as a colour of mourning can be traced back to Roman times, it really only became synonymous with mourning in Victorian times.

Charles reputedly asked to be given his 'mourning scarf' on hearing of the death of  Colonel Richard Bolle at Alton, though what colour the 'mourning scarf was is not mentioned ("A Topographical Account of the Parish of Scampton Together with Anecdotes of the Family of Bolle", Rev Cayley Illingworth, Cadell & Davies 1810). Has Haythornthwaite taken this anecdote and assumed it was black?

Considering the animosity between Essex and Waller, it is highly possible that Waller's Southern Association would not be seen wearing orange-tawny. It is oft argued that the Southern Association wore yellow scarves - based up Waller's coat of arms, and the possibility that his Regiment of Foot wore yellow coats. Pure conjecture, there is no hard evidence for this.

Wargamer-facts™ would have us believe that Hesilrigge's lobsters wore green sashes, and Fairfax's men wore light blue scarves: but I have yet to find any contemporary evidence, or even vaguely supporting evidence, for either of these suggestions.

The Eastern Association, using Vernon's statement, would likely wear the Earl of Manchester's green. But, again, no hard evidence here either.

Sir Thomas Fairfax by Edward Bower
picture from Christie's catalogue, December 2017 where it sold for £162500

Once again conjecture puts the newly formed New Model Army (under Fairfax's command) as wearing blue - which contradicts Vernon's statement as a number of post-Marston Moor portraits show Sir Thomas wearing green scarves (portrait by Henry Stone at Manchester Art Gallery, and Bower's portrait above)

Under Cromwell's command, based upon a double portrait of Cromwell and Lambert by Robert Walker circa 1655-6, the NMA would be wearing red scarves. Yet another portrait of Cromwell shows him wearing silvery grey scarf about the time of his expedition to Ireland. 


Now let's look at the King's men. Many of William Dobson's portraits show Royalist officers wearing red or pink scarves. Dobson was painter to Charles' Court. 

Dobson's most famous portrait of the Civil Wars, Richard Neville

Does Young's Royalist red scarves look good? It does look pretty solid, but then...

...a number of Royalist officers were painted wearing not-red scarves. Lord Conyers Darcy, George Digby Earl of Bristol, and Sir Thomas Byron all wear watchett coloured scarves in their portraits. Interestingly, Byron's brother, Sir Nicholas, wears an orange scarf in an almost identical portrait.

Young's assertion looks a bit frayed around the edges now don't you think? But it hasn't been blown out of the water. We just don't have enough evidence one way or another. 

I've painted my Royalist and Parliamentarian scarves according to Young's rule, in case you were wondering.

Now let us look at other forces

It is argued that the Trained Bands all wore white scarves: Taylor's Bristol drummers with black and white scarves/ribbons brings that one into question; as does a portrait of Captain Abraham Stanyan of the Red Regiment of the LTB wearing a red scarf.

The Scots Covenanters wore blue scarves, apparently. This comes from one reference in 1639 :

"a blew ribbin hung about his crag doun under his left arme, quhilik thay callit the covenanteris ribbin"

(History of Scots Affairs 1637-1641, Vol 1 p154) 

There appears to be absolutely no other evidence of the "covenanteris ribbin" being adopted more widely. So yet another 'maybe'.

The same source states that the Marquis of Huntly, and his Scots Royalist followers wore a ribbon of

"reid flesche cullour, which they weir in thair hatis, and callit the royall ribbin, as a signe of thair love and loyaltie to the King"

(History of Scots Affairs 1637-1641, Vol 1 p154)

As for the Irish, the only mention I have found is of some 'Dublin Papists' wearing blue and white scarves, but as I have 'lost' the reference for this you'll just have to take it with a pinch of salt until I find it again. Sorry.

This post is sort of a continuation of my coat colours series, you can find the other posts here:

Part 1 Parliamentarian coat colours
Part 2 Royalist coat colours
Part 3 Scots coat colours
Part 3B Montrose and the Irish Brigade
Part 4 Dragoons, Horse and the New Model Army coat colours
The Trained Bands

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  1. If any readers (hello both of you) know of any other scarf colour references, I'd appreciate more information.

    But please, they need to be referenced, not just "the Earl of Chigley's Trumpton Association wore purple scarves".

    Thanks in anticipation

  2. Nice post,about what I thought, I paint my units with whatever colour I fancy,which sounds as historically accurate as any other method!
    Best Iain

    1. Thanks. Sounds like an eminently sensible plan Iain


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