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8-08-2015, 16:25

The Eglinton Tournament

Medievalism as a cult was demonstrated rather dramatically by young aristocrats in the nineteenth century. The extraordinary lengths to which the medieval revival could go reached the height of glamour and folly in the Eglinton Tournament held August 29 and 30, 1839. Archibald Montgomery, the 13th Earl of Eglinton, inspired by his stepfather Sir Charles Lamb who was the Earl Marshall of England, decided to re-create a fourteenth-century tournament at his estate near the Scottish coast, southwest of Glasgow. He invited dozens of friends to take part, and thirteen of them actually agreed to participate as knights. Lord Eglinton acted as Lord of the Tournament; Sir Charles Lamb, as Knight Marshall; and the Marquis of Londonderry was King of the Tournament. Women also had roles to play, for example, as the Queen of Beauty and her ladies. Lord Eglinton hired a professional designer to build pavilions and stands and to advise participants on their costumes. The men spent all summer learning to joust and practicing their roles. On the great day of the tournament, thousands of spectators mobbed the estate in spite of a drizzling rain. By the time the tournament should have begun with the grand parade to the lists, the rain turned into a downpour, soaking costumed participants and destroying their plumes and banners. One of the leading contenders, the Marquis of Londonderry, fearing for the state of his armor and splendid costume including an elaborate plumed headdress, rode onto the field protecting himself with a large umbrella. This ludicrous sight turned the elaborate pageant into a farce. The unfortunate Marquis became famous as “The Knight of the Umbrella.” Needless to say the tournament came to an abrupt halt. The jousts were held the next day, and the affair concluded with a banquet at which time (to the surprise of no one) the Earl was proclaimed the winner. The ideals of chivalry appealed to the nineteenth-century aristocrats, and some notion of Gothic imagery became a part of popular culture, but no one tried to hold another open-air tournament.