Monday, August 22, 2011

August 28, 1839 --- The Eglinton Tournament

On a glorious summer day, a crowd estimated to number 100,000 people, arriving by boat, train and foot, reaches remote Ayrshire for the eagerly awaited Eglinton Tournament. Hosted at his Castle by the 27-year old Archibald Montgomerie, the 13th Earl of Eglinton, the extravaganza is hailed as a salute to knighthood and chivalry, with "the very elite of the most elite" invited for jousting and other medieval sport.
For months, the combatants have rehearsed the long-forgotten arts of knightly combat and spent literally thousands of pounds on armor. Wrote one of the participants, "I know of nothing which ever seized on the minds of the young men of fashion with such force."
The proceedings are to begin at noon with a Grand Parade of the Knights. Suddenly, in those days before weather forecasts, a rainstorm blows in off the Firth of Clyde. It rains in torrents; soon, the Castle greensward is a quagmire. The parade is an impossible failure; the image of armored knights carrying umbrellas will forever be the memory of Eglinton. The great tent covering the numerous ladies and dignitaries leaks awfully as does the newly built hall which is to be the scene of the evening's grand ball. Nothing can be done but call everything off, leaving the throng to muck its way through all but impassable roads back to civilization.
For two days it rained nonstop in Ayrshire. The Earl's invited guests are left to stage mock jousts in the great hall with broomsticks, while their servants dealt with the rusting armor. Finally, on the 30th, the sun returned and the jousting began at last, with but a few hundred spectators still about to see it. The most spirited contest pitted the Knight of the Red Lion, the irascible Marquis of Waterford (see 29 March) versus Viscount Alford. Their lances broken, the two young Lords commenced to whacking at one another at close quarters until separated by the Knight Marshal. The sport - at last - complete, the participants rejoined the ladies for the gala closing ball. Fittingly, the rain returned.
The young Queen, who did not attend, noted in her diary that "it had turned out to be the greatest absurdity." The Press was unkind: The Spectator hoped that England had seen the final meeting of "The Eglinton Patent Emasculated Mopstick Middle-Ages Recovery Society."
The Melee at the Eglinton Tournament by James Henry Nixon (1839)

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