The tides of history have often swept through the Essex market town of Saffron Walden, but never so significantly as during a few weeks in May 1647. In the great parish church of St Mary's a series of debates took place in which the soldiers of Cromwell's New Model Army argued with their officers and with Parliament about their rights as free men. It is not overstating the case to say that these debates marked the birth of English democracy.
To celebrate the 360th anniversary of the debates, between the 14th and 20th May 2007 the Saffron Walden Initiative staged a re-enactment in St Mary’s Church in the form of a specially-written play, Freeborn Englishmen - and also organised other events to increase appreciation of this historical event.
- A week-long Exhibition at Saffron Walden Museum of English Civil War publications from the collections of Saffron Walden Town Library and the Museum
- Favourite poems and tunes from the English Civil war at an informal evening in The King’s Arms (the tavern being the focus of social life and political intrique in the 17th century – not unlike today!)
- Day School for the general public in the Town Hall with speakers on the Agitators, the Battle of Linton, King Charles I and Parson Drake, the Vicar of Radwinter.
- A costumed presentation in the Town Hall on the seizure of King Charles I by the soldiers of the New Model Army.
- First performance of Freeborn Englishmen, a specially-commissioned play featuring a re-enactment of the 1647 debates in St Mary’s Parish Church.
In addition there were many free events, including:
- Sealed Knot soldiers parading into town.
- 17th-century street theatre
- A ‘Living History’ encampment in the Museum/Castle grounds with displays of social history aspects of the time – including the Barber Surgeon!
- Demonstration of Arms and Drill on the Common by the Sealed Knot.
- 17th-century puppet show in the Museum grounds
- Drill on the Common – cannon, musket, pike, drums
- 17th-century demonstrations by Danse Royale in both the Town Hall and King Street
This event was made possible by grants of £10,000 from Awards for All, and £2,100 from Essex County Council’s Arts in Essex.