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The Captaine-Generall

Brigadier Peter Young

I am, as you may have gathered from previous postings, a massive Civil War and Sealed Knot geek. I've been a member of the Sealed Knot since I could walk, since I could talk, and certainly long before I could make any sense of what was going on around me. And all throughout that time, I've heard stories of 'the Brig'. Most of these stories are hand me-downs, some (sadly less and less) were from people who had actually met the great man, all of them were hilarious.

I am talking, of course, about Brigadier Peter Young, the Captain-Generall, the founder of the Sealed Knot. Young had a favoured career in the commandos during the Second World War, taking part in a number of missions and campaigns of great historical note - the Dieppe Raid being just one of them. It was with great delight, when researching primary sources for my undergrad dissertation on the development of airborne forces in WWII, that I discovered a report from Young during his drop into Sicily during Operation Husky. Young noted that he'd dropped through a barn roof, broken his leg, and then had a platoon of 20 Italians surrender to him while he was incapacitated. Needless to say, I managed to find an excuse to include this in the dissertation, even though it didn't quite fit...

I won't go into a full history of the Captain-Generall here, there are plenty of people in other places that would do him a lot more justice than I am capable of (Alison Michelli in her work Commando to Captain-Generall: The Life of Brigadier Peter Young, for starters). So why write the article at all, I hear you ask?

Well, as you may know, Young became a historian after his time in the armed forces. He was head of Military History at Sandhurst between 1959 and 1969 before retiring to focus on writing his histories full time. Most of his work focused on the Napoleonic Wars and, of course, the English Civil War. It was a garden party to publicise the publication of his book on Edgehill (a very informative read if you ever get the chance!) that led to the founding of the Sealed Knot. I don't know, and I'm sure that some people could tell me, what it was that made him realise that this was an idea for more than a one-off fancy dress session.

Young's influence was felt throughout the birth of the new society. He was appointed (or appointed himself) Captain-Generall and oversaw various aspects of the re-enactments. This would later be superseded by the Board of Directors. So what are you wittering on about and what else have you got to add?

Well, once again the Bluecoat Broadsheet sheds some light on the early days of the society.

Young was clearly still keeping an eye on developing practices in the regiments that were starting to splinter off from the central 'Royalist Army'. Some managers find it hard enough to find out what their own staff is doing, let alone look into an idea that one of their off-shoots is developing and wish them well.

It is interesting, as well, that whilst the Sealed Knot started as (and still is) a bit of a laugh, the founder was still pushing that historical aspect, that genuine research into the English Civil War. I am wondering whether that was something that was prevalent in the Sealed Knot at the time, or something that he wished to encourage - certainly from Young's letter it suggests that he was looking for more in the way of published historical material. How much was it a balance between 'dressing up as cavaliers and roundheads in your mate's back garden' and an outlet for a historically curious mind?

And that leads me to reflect on where we are now as a society. There are some real outreaches for historical research, for historical focus that we see regularly. Some regiments are very keen to be delving deeply into the vast vaults of the early modern era. Some are what we refer to as 'beer and bash' - meet up with your friends and do something active, outdoors. Is there a problem with either one? Is there a middle ground?

I don't know, which is a rubbish way to end an article. So I'll end it with a story I heard once about the Brig - I'll preface this with the admission that I'm sure a lot of these stories are made up. It was in the late 80s, when the Brig had retired from a lot of the more active aspects of leading the society. A group of Knotters were gathered in a local pub when, out of the gloom, a figure on horseback appeared. It was the Captaine-Generall, atop his horse Solomon, who had come to join the revels! He found a man to look after his horse, sat at the table, and proceeded to drink all of the young pikemen under the table. True or not, I think that that might give us something of an insight into what Peter Young's character was perceived to be...

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