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Colours of Infantry Militia in English Civil War

Last modified: 2010-12-29 by rob raeside
Keywords: infantry militia | english civil war |
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Despite of the fact that there was no standing army, local defence was in the hands of a militia on foot, the so-called Trained Bands. These units were raised by each county, and not bound to serve beyond their boundaries. They were mostly of indifferent or even poor quality. They drilled for only a few days each year and their exercises had been described by a contemporary as "matters of disport and things of no moment".

The London Trained Bands however presented a different impression. At the beginning of 1642 they had 6,000 militiamen organized in six regiments, which were known by their colours: red, white, yellow, blue, green and orange. All their colonels were aldermen, i.e. members of the city council. Altogether the London Trained Bands were:
1) well equipped, because the Tower of London was the best stocked armoury of England besides Hull being also under control of the parliament.
2) well trained receiving periodical training from professional officers and small groups meeting frequently at Bishopsgate Artillery Garden and Military Garden in St. Martin's Field. Many of these militiamen took their military art seriously.
3) well led, because the city's militia as a whole had a commander-in-chief, Major-General Phillip SKIPPON. He had risen in Dutch services up the career ladder not depending on his rank in society. He was described by his contemporaries as an experienced soldier, a real professional, a man of virtues and great capacities in the art of war though altogether illiterate.

The earliest surviving reference to the inhabitants of the Tower Hamlets having a duty to provide a guard for the Tower of London dates from 1554, during the reign of Mary I. From their creation it was intended that the trained bands should be recruited from men whom the state felt it could trust to own and train with the latest weapons. This appears to have been the case e.g. with the Tower Hamlets Trained Bands. Later there were several regiments of trained bands raised in the City of London and the surrounding area during the Civil War (1642-49). At the outbreak of 1st Civil War the trained bands were the only organised defence force in the country.

Each regiment was recruited from a set geographical area within the City of London. In the case of the Yellow Regiment, it was from the wards of Aldersgate, Farringdon Within and Castle Baynard. Some regiments recruited from a single ward, others from as many as nine. The original "Hamleteers" were raised from the Middlesex parishes and liberties that surrounded the Tower of London to serve as the Tower's civilian garrison in times of war or unrest. Prior to the Civil War they formed four companies, which came from St Katharine's, Ratcliffe, Limehouse and Whitechapel, and mustered around 600 men. However, in October 1642, as a result of their petition to Parliament, further companies were raised in Shoreditch, Wapping and Hackney, and a full sized regiment came into being. A 'ward' is a geographical area that elected councillors to serve on the City Council. Living in the same quarter the militiamen also could be alarmed easily.
There existed also Trained Bands regiments and auxiliaries. The members of the Trained Bands regiments were mostly merchants and manufacturers; although willing to serve in the defences of London for a short period, they did not want to be away from their businesses for a long time. So the regiments of Auxiliaries were recruited from younger men and apprentices, who did not have the same kind of commitments at home, and it was these regiments that served for longer periods in the London defences, and for periods with the Parliamentary army in the field.

The trained bands, though having been planned as a Home Guard [see Campbell and Evans (1953)], p.14, played an active role also in battle; e.g. by ending the Royalist's siege of Gloucester in September 1643, where an early total defeat of the Parliamentary cause was pretended by impact of the trained bands and in the battle at Cropredy Bridge on 29 June 1644.
Ian Sumner, 8 November 2010

The Colours

The colours were square or almost square, between 6' and 6'6" at the fly. There were no regulations, but the canton generally occupied about 1/9 the total cloth (or one-third the width by one-third the length), and bore a Cross of St. George.

There were two main systems of 'differencing' such colours during the 17th Century, and (with only one exception) the London Trained Bands used the second. In this the colour of the Colonel's Company was plain, that of the Lieutenant Colonel's Company with a St. George canton but without a device, that of the Sergeant Major's Company the same but with one device, followed by the companies of the First to Sixth Captains, having seven devices. Modern sources depict the devices as being aligned along the upper hoist - lower fly diagonal. The devices should be turned through 45 degrees to the hoist, so that one point of the device is pointing directly at the corner of the canton.

Each colour is that of a company commander. The Colonel, in addition to commanding the regiment, also commanded his own company, which was the senior company of the regiment. The First Captain was the senior captain in the regiment. Although regiments should have had ten companies in theory, few managed to reach this level. All the sources state that e.g. the Yellow Regiment had only seven companies (colonel's, lieutenant colonel's, sergeant major's and four captains). The sergeant major was one rank below the lieutenant colonel, what today is called Major. It was normally the Colonel of the regiment who chose the devices. Those of the Trained Bands were fairly abstract, but during the war, some colonels chose devices from their personal coat of arms.
Ian Sumner, 8 November 2010


Ede-Borrett (1987)
Peachey and Prince (1991)
Keith Roberts: 'London and Liberty- ensigns of the London Trained bands'; Leigh-on-Sea, 1987, Partizan Press
Peter Young and Richard Holmes: 'The English Civil War - A Military History of the Three Civil Wars 1642-1651', London 1974, Purnell Book Services; []

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