In the 17th century, many of the camp followers would simply be the women of the soldiers' families following their men either from preference or through necessity, having nowhere else to go. As soldiers were not given any allowance for their dependents, they would have earned their food by laundering, cooking, sewing or practising elementary medical care on the sick and wounded. Also found amongst the camp followers would be women practising the oldest profession of them all, whoring! The New Model Army tried to discourage this and there were strict rules against any fraternising with them, or even worse marrying one of them.
Camp followers today
The camp followers today (both women and men) try to be as authentic as possible, and enjoy the excitement of the battle at close quarter by following the regiment into battle. They provide vital water, assist with any minor adjustments to armour, pull stray pikes out of harms way during pushes, and give support and reassurance when pikemen need a breather. They also assist musketeers by holding their lit match, blowing on it to keep it alight until they are ready to fire and offer water and other help as required.
Soldiers wearing thick woollen doublets and armour get very hot and thirsty during the battle, and can easily become dazed if they don't take on enough water. Consequently this role is one of the most important and is greatly appreciated by all—you really feel that you are helping. You also get the chance to have a bit of fun playing a part in cameos, fighting over what you can steal from dead or injured soldiers and screaming or yelling when the cavalry comes to attack. In addition, you get a great overview of the battle unfolding before you, without being a combatant.
The crowd line
Budding actors can 'work' the crowd by walking along the crowd line chatting with the audience and sometimes entertaining them by playing a cameo role. You could be a beggar who is chased off by a gentleman or an officer, a whore who is playing up to all the men and barracked by all, or an aristocrat who swans around taking the air. Or you could be a preacher pacing up and down the crowd line, chanting and ranting to try to sway the crowd's allegiance one way or another, and mingling around the regiments chanting prayers and hymns to rouse the spirits of the soldiers.
Any number of scenarios can be played out with other members of the Sealed Knot. You can have a lot of fun with this, as you get the chance to really 'ham it up' and enjoy a one-to-one experience with the crowd.
Outfits are easily obtained and you don't have to be smart: you can be in rags if you wish, and put on make-up for warts, etc. The choice is yours!
A camp follower's view
"I enjoy being a civilian because I still get to dress as a lady, I don't have to fight but can still see the battle close up and get a buzz from being so closely involved. You can see the thanks in the faces of the guys fighting when we water them."[Return to main roles page]