the Gilded Pearl

Some Thoughts on Developing
a Late Period English Persona

by Master Luke Knowlton

I have been thinking a lot lately about persona development as it applies to Britain, 1550-1650. So often in the SCA people will blithely refer to themselves in the third person saying, "My persona is 16th century English" or "I'm 15th century Welsh" but when you probe them further you find that besides their name and perhaps information about their clothing, they know little of the culture they would seek to portray. Certainly there are those that have devoted considerable study to their own personal history but for very many thus is not the case. In the following I hope to lay out some of the techniques I have used to help round out my 17th century alter-ego Sergeant Luke Knowlton of the army of His Majesty King Charles. Obviously this not the name I am best known by in the SCA but rather the persona I use for 17th century living history presentations. I am in the process of creating another persona for Society use, Sgt. Knowlton's great uncle, Master Luke Knowlton - military engineer and gunner (artillerist). The techniques I have used however will be applicable to anyone seeking to develop a late period persona from Britain.



Obviously this question should be your number one priority.

You need a name. The most common source of first names in the period was the Bible. It is a good starting point for both male and female names, Elizabeth, Mary, Anne, Rebecca and Sarah all appear commonly in records. For men common Biblical names include Thomas, Adam, John, Peter, Daniel, James and Samuel. An extensive list of common and not so common English names may be found in Ye Englishe Breviat by Jeffrey Singman, Ph.D. A possible way to come to a final decision on your first name, should you be having difficulty, is to have yourself 'christened' by someone else. My persona received the name Luke on the spur of the moment from a rather impatient priest of my acquaintance. By this period surnames are being passed down from one generation to the next. Surnames might be patronymic in form (Johnson, Watson, Peterson, etc.), based upon profession (Baker, Taylor, Smith, etc.) or other factors. The surname which I use, Knowlton, which means a town on a small hill or knoll, is a documented 16th century name from my own family tree. This brings up a good point, if you can make use of your own genealogy in the fleshing out of your character, by all means do so. Why reinvent the wheel when you already have material to work with.

You have settled upon a name, now when were you born? In England dates were reckoned as Anno Domini XXXX, but commonly you might reckon the date by the regnal year of a specific monarch. In the period under discussion the monarchs were Edward VI, Mary I, Elizabeth I (1558-1603), James I (1603-1625), Charles I (1625-1649), Commonwealth Period (1649-1660). In England the new year officially (for government/legal purposes) began on 25 March (Lady Day) although many people observed 1 January as the unofficial start of the year. Drawing upon my own example, Luke Knowlton was born on March 12, 1610 (although it is 1611 by the modern reckoning) or the eighth year of the reign of King James.



Where do you come from? Are you from the countryside, a village, a town or a great city like London? Remember that the majority of the population lived in the country and lived and died within about 20 miles from the place of their birth. England in this period had a population of approximately 3 million, of that, in 1500 about 50,000 lived in London. By 1600 the city's size had ballooned to 200,000, a quadrupling of the population which made it the fourth largest in Europe. It's birthrate was still exceeded by the death rate but the increase in population was due to a huge influx of immigrants from the country. There was also a sizable foreign community of about 10,000. Especially for town or city dwellers, you would identify yourself by your parish name.


The majority of the population was engaged in farming, animal husbandry and allied agricultural occupations in this time period. Craftsmen were centered in the growing towns and cities. Certain occupations were itinerant, such as peddlers, soldiers and certain merchants.

Putting It All Together

One of the most rewarding aspects of the whole persona development game is first person interpretation or speaking in the first person from the perspective of your persona. When I am in character, I am a professional soldier, originally from London. I speak in the proper dialect of the time and place and I even make myself up to look more like I think my character should appear (Figure 1.)

Now that you have done the basic research and have an idea as to who you are, you need to start fleshing out your character. To create a fully rounded persona, consider for a moment all of the things that one must know to survive in the late 20th century. There is your food, clothing, shelter and any of a myriad of other details that you must be aware of to live in a culture. Now project those details back 400 years. These are the same sorts of things that you must know to bring a period persona to life. Lets take an example. You will need money on which to live. How did you come by that money? Do you understand the various denominations and their names? Do you know how to make change? Do you know how much a meal and drink at a vittling house (restaurant) would cost? These are just a small sampling of the issues you need to know about.

To do a credible job at your impression it is probably best to limit your interpretation to a middle or lower class character. The attitudes and experiences of the gentry and nobility are so far removed from our modern experience that it would be very difficult to do a convincing portrayal. To help put yourself in the mindset of a person of the period it really helps to read diaries and letters. Although it is out of period for the context we are discussing presently, the diary of Samuel Pepys (1660's) has a wealth of detail about London life from the perspective of a well to do civil servant who came from modest means.

Following is a selected annotated bibliography of materials I have used in creating my 16th and 17th century alter-egos Master Luke Knowlton and Sgt. Luke Knowlton.

Cressy, David. Birth, Marriage and Death: Ritual, Religion, and the Life-Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England. Oxford University Press, 1997.
An excellent examination of the major events of Tudor and Stuart life by a noted scholar of the timeperiod. I have found his chapters on funeral customs to be highly informative.

Duffy, Christopher. Siege Warfare: The Fortress in the Early Modern World 1494-1660. Routledge, 1979.
A useful and well illustrated overview of sieges and siegeworks.

Eldred, William. The Gunner's Glasse: Wherein the Diligent Practicioner May See His Defects, and May from Point to Point Reforme and Amend All Errours that are Commonly Incident to Unskillfull Gunners. London, 1646.
One of the great period texts on gunnery. It is available from Stuart Press.

Fischer, David Hackett. Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America. Oxford University Press, 1989.
A fascinating study of the survival of British folkways in America. It is useful for the reenactor in that it examines the folkways in their original local contexts.

Gorlach, Manfred. Introduction to Early Modern English. Cambridge University Press, 1990.
A good, understandable study of a complex topic. Professor Gorlach examines all the aspects of the language of the period and provides a large selection of contemporary examples for study.

Hexham, Henry. The Principles of the Art Militarie; Practised in the Warres of the United Netherlands. London, 1637.
One of the best known military drill books of the period. This volume deals with the training and movements of infantry troops.

Hexham, Henry. The Second Part of the Principles of the Art Militarie, Practized in the Warres of the United Netherlands. London, 1638.
A continuation of Hexham's great work. This volume deals with the cavalry.

Hexham, Henry. The Third Part of the Principles of the Art Militarie Practised in the Warres of the United Provinces, Under the Lords the States Generall, and His Highnesse the Price of Orange. The Hagh in Holland, 1640.
The final part of the study. This book deals in part with the proper manner in which to conduct sieges.

Huggett, Jane. The Mirror of Health: Food Diet and Medical Theory, 1450-1660. Stuart Press, 1995.
A short work dealing with the theory of the humours and how they relate to diet.

Hutton, Ronald. The Rise and Fall of Merry England: The Ritual Year 1400-1700. Oxford University Press, 1994.
The first of Dr. Hutton's studies of the cycle of English holidays. This survey stretches from the late medieval period and it's Catholic festivals and decorations to the Anglican observances of the late Stuart period.

Hutton, Ronald. The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain. Oxford University Press, 1996.
The second book in Dr. Hutton's examination of the English ritual year looks at each holiday from it's earliest history to the present day.

Knudssen, Peter. Psalms of the English Civil War 1642-1649: For the Use of Preachers to the Armies in Re-Enactments and Living History. Obadiah Sedgwick Publications, 1995.
A short pamphlet geared towards reenactors containing the major psalm tunes and selected metrical psalm texts.

Peachey, Stuart. The Tipler's Guide to Drink and Drinking in the Early Seventeenth Century. Stuart Press, 1992.
A short study of the drinking habits of the period by a noted 17th century culinary scholar.

Peachey, Stuart and Turton, Alan. Common Soldier's Clothing of the Civil Wars, 1639-1646. Stuart Press, 1995.
An excellent overview of military clothing of the English Civil Wars by two noted ECW scholars.

Scollins, Rick. "Oh for a Muse of Foyre", audiocassette, Stuart Press, c.1992.
An audiotape providing an overview of 17th century standard English.

Singman, Jeffrey L. The Tudor Stuart Sourcebook. Trained Bandes of London Publications 4.
The fourth in Dr. Singman's excellent pamphlet series on Tudor and Stuart living history. A goldmine of useful information, highly recommended.

Singman, Jeffrey L. Ye Englishe Breviat: A Concise Guide to Elizabethan and Stuart Living History. Trained Bandes of London Publications 1.
The first in Dr. Singman's excellent pamphlet series on Tudor and Stuart living history. A goldmine of useful information, highly recommended.

Trautman, Patricia. "Dress in Seventeenth-Century Cambridge, Massachusetts: An Inventory-Based Reconstruction", in The Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife Annual Proceedings [Volume 12,1987]: Early American Probate Inventories.
A useful article that provides inventory valuations of various items. Part of the excellent Dublin Folklife Seminar series.

Travers, Leonard. "Reconstructing and Early-Seventeenth-Century Dialect", in The Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife Annual Proceedings [Volume 8,1983]: American Speech: 1600 to the Present.
A short but very useful article by Len Travers, late of Plimoth Plantation.

Weinstein, Rosemary. Tudor London. HMSO, 1994.
One of the excellent HMSO publications from the Museum of London. Chocked full of excellent color illustrations.

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