Barwn Master Gwylym Ab Owain, OL DWS CLA CSP CEE CID
In the strictness sense of the term, the cavalier is a military man from the late 16th and early to middle 17th Centuries. One of the finest books exploring the life of a cavalier was written by Daniel Defoe and published in 1720; "Memoirs of a Cavalier" is an impressive work detailing the exploits of a cavalier who fought in the Thirty Years War and the English Civil War. Much supporting information was given in the appendices for the book.
Currently in the Society the early 17th Century is considered out of period although many like Master Ioseph of Locksley contend that originally the end date was 1650 and rightly should be so. The discussion at hand though is not what the cutoff date is but what would a pre-17th C cavalier be like in a grand sense and how does this fit in the SCA? It should also be noted that this model may not fit strictly within the period of the Enlish Civil War although some of the philosophies are applicable. So... to a look at one interpretation of an Elizabethan cavalier or perhaps more appropriately called the Elizabethan Chevalier (for simplicity sake I will use the term cavalier throughout this treatise).
In discussing what a cavalier might be like a number of sources may be turned to. The first is Baldesare Castiglione in his book "The Courtier."
"I do not say, replied messer Federico, that very fine and modest cavaliers are not also to be found among the French, and I myself have known many that are truly worthy of every praise. Still, there are some who are careless; . . ."
Castiglione's book was originally published in the early 16th Century. The book discusses the attributes of gentlemen; courtiers, as well as ladies of the court. Within this courtly framework could be found military men, namely cavaliers. The cavalier is in essence a mounted fighter. He was a cavalryman who was a gentleman of higher breeding. Lieutenant-Colonel J.B.R. Nicholson in his article "Military Costume" wrote:
"Before discussing the costume of this period in detail it might be well to dismiss the common misconception that all cavaliers were dressy alcoholics solely preoccupied with wine, women and song, and that all parlimentarians were dismal, Bible thumping, psalm singing religious maniacs wearing horizontally striped sleeves. The majority of the inhabitants of these Islands were not readily distinguishable in their dress for their political sympathies."
Many believe that the cavaliers were an unruly bunch. With the reading that I have done on the English Civil War, the roundheads (parlimentarians) were no better. And this may be applied to earlier cavaliers as well.
The cavalier typically was dressed well and supplied their own horse and weapons. A typical set of gear would be boots, slops and a fine shirt. Over the shirt would be worn a goodly doublet. Lace would be used as it could be afforded. All would wear some sort of ruff or falling band collar. Over the doublet a breast plate of steel (later a buff coat would be worn with or instead of a breast and back). During the 17th C. either a cavalier style hat (with steel skullcap) or a helm would be worn (burgonet or lobstertail) on the head. Heavy gauntlets would be used to protect the hand. Some wore a special steel gauntlet (bridle gauntlet) on their left hand to protect from sword cuts which would hinder the control of their horse. The sword used for combat would normally be a backsword. During the 17th C. The cavalier would also carry pistols and possibly a carbine. They were expected to be of higher intelligence than the ordinary soldier (Edward Surén in his article entitled "The Drill"):
"It should also be borne in mind that the average soldier would neither be much accustomed to mass discipline, nor of excessive intelligence (always accepting of course, the gentilmen who weilded "the more honourable arms", especially on the Royalist side..."
So where does this take us and what should a cavalier be like in the SCA? It is the author's opinion that the cavalier in the Society be a gentile individual who not only takes part in combat but also enjoys and participates in the arts. The cavalier should be loyal to the Crown. In 17th Century England and France the cavaliers fought for and supported the crown. The cavalier should know how to duel, to sing, dance, should fight armored when possible and should uphold the honor of their ladies or lords. It is my hope that the attitudes of the cavaliers be one of honor and integrity. That if they were placed back in time that their King would have no qualms at giving them any task be it guarding the Queen of transporting royal missives.
If you look to the persona of the cavalier, take it upon yourself to learn the military arts of the period and to also learn the lifestyles of this type of rare and noble individual.