"The Eglinton Tournament of 1839 was a re-enactment of a medieval joust and revel held in Scotland on Friday 30 August. It was funded and organized by Archibald Montgomerie, 13th Earl of Eglinton, and took place at Eglinton Castle, near Kilwinning in Scotland. The Queen of Beauty was Georgiana Seymour, Duchess of Somerset. Many distinguished visitors took part, including the future Napoleon III of France.
The Tournament was a deliberate act of Romanticism, and drew 100,000 spectators. It is primarily known now for the ridicule poured on it by the Whigs. Problems were caused by rainstorms. At the time views were mixed: "Whatever opinion may be formed of the success of the Tournament, as an imitation of ancient manners and customs, we heard only one feeling of admiration expressed at the gorgeousness of the whole scene, considered only as a pageant. Even on Wednesday, when the procession was seen to the greatest possible disadvantage, the dullest eye glistened with delight as the lengthy and stately train swept into the marshalled lists". Participants had undergone regular training.
The preparations, and the many works of art commissioned for or inspired by the Eglinton Tournament, had an effect on public feeling and the course of 19th-century Gothic revivalism. Its ambition carried over to events such as the lavish Tournament of Brussels in 1905, and presaged the historical reenactments of the present. Features of the tournament were actually inspired by Walter Scott's novel Ivanhoe: it was attempting "to be a living re-enactment of the literary romances". In Eglinton’s own words “I am aware of the manifold deficiencies in its exhibition — more perhaps than those who were not so deeply interested in it; I am aware that it was a very humble imitation of the scenes which my imagination had portrayed, but I have, at least, done something towards the revival of chivalry”.
While others made a profit, Lord Eglinton had to absorb losses. The Earl's granddaughter, Viva Montgomerie recalled in her memoirs that "he had spent most of the wealth of the estate".
The intended day was 29 August but steady rain caused a postponement.
The opening parade comprised forty knights, each with his own entourage who were to ride to the castle, picked up a lady, officer or knight, and returned to the lists, the pictureseque estate drive being lined with thousands of spectators.
Elaborate rehearsals and training in St John’s Wood had not prepared participants for the crowded and already sodden conditions on the day and the opening parade took three hours longer than planned to marshal.
Although the day had dawned clear and fine, as the knights and their entourages struggled to organise the parade the sky began to darken. Just at the moment when the parade was finally arranged — just as Lady Seymour, the Queen of Beauty, was heralded by trumpets — there was a flash of lightning, a great crash of thunder, and the black clouds of Ayrshire let loose with a sudden and violent rainstorm.
Lord Eglinton immediately ordered the ladies into carriages, but the knights and their entourages, soon soaked in the squall and covered in mud, marched into the lists down a parade route lined by the umbrella bearing audience.
The tiltyard was designed by Samuel Luke Pratt, with stands to hold 2,000. Pratt's grandstand roof, was a work of art in splendid scarlet, but, after days of rain and now in a new rainstorm of freek severity, it started to leak badly.
Unsurprisingly, the unmanageably large crowds did not return on the second day.
"In autumn of 1838 one-hundred and fifty prospective knights met in the showroom of Samuel Pratt, a dealer in medieval armor at No. 47 Bond Street, London. Many backed out when they realised the astronomical costs and difficulties, but "about forty" were determined to try regardless. Pratt was to be in charge of all the arrangements, the pavilions and armour, banners, decor and costumes. He also would supply the stands, marquees and great tents for the feast and ball. Although all the armour supplied by Pratt was supposed to have been genuinely medieval, it is unclear how many of the suits actually were; the only armour that was kept track of, that of the 3rd Marquess of Waterford, on display in 1963 at Windsor Castle, is a pastiche. Some of the armour used was on loan from the Tower of London and, not realising at that time that changes in diet and health since the late Middle Ages had increased average stature, it was noted with interest that mostly the suits were too small and had to be let out before they could be worn. The family sold the Earl of Eglinton's own armour during the 1925 sale of the castle contents."
Art expert buys Knights' shields
Shields created for a 19th Century Scottish jousting tournament which was contested by the future Napoleon III of France have been bought for the nation.
The trophies were commissioned by the 13th Earl of Eglinton for his three-day medieval re-enactment in 1839.
Eight of the original 40 shields, which were found in the attic of Skelmorlie Castle, Ayrshire, were sold at auction to art expert James Knox for £8,000.
He said he hoped to make them the centrepiece of a new exhibition.
About 100,000 people are thought to have attended the Eglinton tournament, which cost £40,000 and was intended as a display of medieval pageantry.
About 150 prospective knights were originally lined up, although only 14 took part.
The re-enactment of the jousting competition became a wash-out after heavy rain flooded the nearby Lugton Water, meaning that spectators were forced to walk miles through the mud as their carriages became stuck in the quagmire.
Mr Knox, who is also campaigning to raise funds to buy 20 rare watercolours that recorded the event, said: "I am delighted to have been able to buy the Eglinton shields for Scotland.
"I hope to use the shields as a centrepiece to a blockbuster exhibition about the tournament in Edinburgh and Ayrshire."
The shields, originally valued at between £3,000 and £5,000, were sold by the owner of Skelmorlie Castle in Ayrshire, where they were found during an attic clear-out.
"The dress rehearsals were held in London at a garden behind the Eyre Arms, St John's Wood, a tavern close to Regent's Park, the last one on Saturday 13 July 1839. Nineteen knights participated. The audience was invitation only; many of "the very elite of the most elite" (said the "Court Journal") were invited to watch, and 2,690 attended. The rehearsal went perfectly. The weather was sunny, the banners and armour and tents impressive, the jousting successful. Even critics conceded that the tournament was likely to be a fine show.
Mass-production of memorabilia copies of artworks commissions for the tournament demonstrated that it was not only upper-class Britain that took notice. Tories eyed antique armour and dreamed of courtly love, and Queen Victoria twice noted in her diary that she had discussed the tournament with Lord Melbourne and although her view was that the event would be a foolish amusement, the choice of Lady Seymour as Queen of Beauty was to her liking. With only two months to live that tragic figure, Lady Flora Hastings, wrote in 1839 to her mother on the subject of the upcoming Eglinton Tournament, expressing her concern that one of the knights might be killed in the violent sport.
On the other hand the Whigs, the social reformers, and the Utilitarians expressed outrage at such a fantasy at a time when the economy was in a shambles, when poverty was rampant and many workers were starving. Emotions ran high, with satirical cartoons, insults and passions aroused on both sides, the Whigs calling the Tories wastrels and the Tories calling the Whigs heartless. Whatever Eglinton's original intent, the tournament was symbolic of romantic defiance in the face of the spirit of revolution that was frightenting so much of old guard Europe during the second quarter of the 19th century."
There were some problems with the planning and location of the tournament. Eglinton Castle, eight miles from the west coast of Scotland in Ayrshire, was imitation Gothic, an 18th-century Georgian mansion with battlements and turrets added. The near-coastal mountainous terrain was prone to frequent, torrential rains.
The Tournament was held on a meadow or holm at a loop in the Lugton Water. The ground chosen for the tournament was low, almost marshy, with grassy slopes rising on all sides. The Knights on horseback and their retinue reached the tilt yard ('C' on the map) via an enclosed ride ('G' on the map), whilst the guests and visitors made their way to the stands via the route marked 'F' on the map illustrated. Both groups crossed over the three arched Gothic Eglinton Tournament Bridge. An 1837 map of Eglinton Castle, Grounds and Tilt yard shows that the tilt yard was already in extistence at this early date, but it is not recorded what its fate was after the tournament was over.
Lord Eglinton announced that the public would be welcome; he requested medieval fancy dress, if possible, and tickets were free but would have to be applied for. Expecting a healthy turnout — the Eglinton race meetings generally got local audiences of up to 1500 — he made arrangements for grandstands for the guests and comfortable seating for the expected crowd of about 4000. He notified the press (The Times, the Morning Post, the Court Gazette, and "the other important or popular journals") of the offer of free tickets to all.
The response returned from across the social spectrum: readers of the Bath Figaro, the Cornish Guardian, the Sheffield Iris, the Wisbech Star in the East and many other newspapers — readers "from every county in the British Isles" — applied to Lord Eglinton for tickets. Through the month of August letters came by the hundreds into Castle Eglinton requesting tickets for parties of twenty, fifty, a hundred people.
A scrapbook of nearly a thousand of these letters still survives, filled with pleas, anecdotes, promises of medieval dress, and assertions of Tory sympathies. Lord Eglinton accepted the challenge, issued the requested tickets and planned for a vastly larger effort.
"Although the day had dawned clear and fine, as the knights and their entourages struggled to organise the parade the sky began to darken. Just at the moment when the parade was finally arranged — just as Lady Seymour, the Queen of Beauty, was heralded by trumpets — there was a flash of lightning, a great crash of thunder, and the black clouds of Ayrshire let loose with a sudden and violent rainstorm."