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The Eglinton Tournament

British Isles Genealogy | Chapters From the Family Chest

     Earls in October, 1561, there died very suddenly one of the most popular noblemen in the three kingdoms, Archibald William Montgomerie, thirteenth Earl of Eglinton, in the peerage of Scotland. He was also one of the most influential chieftains in the Lowlands, and his castle, on the Ayrshire coast, is well known to tourists. He was staying at Mr. Whyte-Melville's seat, near St. Andrew's, Fifeshire, where he was engaged daring the afternoon in playing at golf, apparently in robust health. He dined with Mr. Melville in the evening, and exhibited his usual cheerfulness; but before the party separated he was seized with a fit of apoplexy, which at once rendered him unconscious. In that lamentable state be continued until his death, a few hours afterwards. His decease cast a gloom over all Scotland.
     The earl was the head of the noble Scottish house of Montgomerie, which has held broad acres in Ayrshire for six centuries without intermission, and has produced in that time many illustrious scions, including Sir John Montgomerie, who played a distinguished part in the battle of Otterbourne (see the ballad of 'Chevy Chase'), and them took prisoner Henry Percy, the 'Hotspur' of history; and Hugh, third Lord Montgomerie, and first Earl of Eglinton, Justice General of Scotland under James V.
     The late earl (his father having died young, whilst his grandfather lived to a great age) succeeded to the title at the age of eight, and so had a long minority, during which his estates, which were always large and profitable, were immensely increased by judicious accumulation; and though, after he came of age, he became a great patron of the turf, his losses and his winnings about covered each other, and he retired, some years back, having won the 'blue ribbon' of that order and many other prizes, with an unsullied reputation. He thence-forward devoted himself more steadily than ever to agricultural science and to politics, and proved himself at once one of the best landlords in canny Scotland, and one of the most popular, practical, and sensible viceroys that ever set foot in Ireland. He held the Lord Lieuteuancy of that kingdom twice, first during Lord Derby's first brief administration in 1852, and again during his equally short political innings in 1855-59. On both occasions Lord Eglinton won for himself golden opinions among the susceptible Irish people. He was sociable, jovial, frank, open, and strictly honest, and showed no favor either to Catholic or Protestant, Whig or Tory, taking as his motto not only 'Justice to Ireland,' but ' Justice in Ireland.'
Shortly after his first visit to Ireland he had the misfortune to lose his first wife, a portionless widow, whom he had married when quite a young man, and whose daughters by a former husband he provided, out of his own pocket, with handsome marriage dowries, securing for them thereby two, if not three, prospective coronets: one of these coronets, be it here recorded, is none other than that of the Earl of Shrewsbury. During his second Lord-Lieutenancy he took, as his second wife, a sister of the present Earl of Essex, but was again left a widower most suddenly, after only a few months of wedded happiness. Abort the same time Lord Derby, on retiring from place and power, bestowed on him the English earldom of Winton, a revival of an old title which is linked closely with the history of Scotland.
          Lord Eglinton was an active, strong, and energetic; man, and very fond of field sports and all sorts of athletic exorcises. But his name will be remembered by most persons in connection with the Eglinton Tournament, which took place at the end of August, 1839. The tournament may be regarded as an integral part of that revival of old customs which has marked the reign of her Majesty, and was partly suggested by the omission of the Championís challenge at her Coronation in the previous year.  The knights, who were the flower of the British aristocracy, had prepared themselves for the great pageant for some weeks previously, by practicing at the jousts at St. John's Wood, near the Regent's Park. The tilting was intended to have occupied an entire week, but a pouring rain marred the pleasure and the beauty of the entertainment, drenched the ladies' rich silks, canopies, and caparisons, and forced the 'Queen of Beauty' herself to appear upon the ground-not, as had been intended, on horseback, but in a prosaic carriage and four. The ground selected was about a quarter-of-a-mile from Lord Eglinton's castle in Ayrshire, surrounded by fine woods and very beautiful scenery, and the area enclosed for the purpose covered a space of about four square acres, the arena being six hundred and fifty feet long by two hundred and fifty wide. Around the arena was erected a fence, in which were used no less than twelve thousand square feet of boarding. The barrier in the centre, parallel to which the knights charged each other in the tilts, was three hundred feet long and about four and a half feet high, and the ground was thickly strewed with sawdust for twenty-five feet on either side. At the four corners of the arena the lances of the knights were piled, and at either extremity the pavilions of the knights, their squires, and retainers were arranged.
     The grand stand accommodated seven hundred of the ťlite of the visitors; it was erected in the Gothic style, and the throne for the Queen of Beauty, which formed its centre, caught the eye less by its prominence than by its elaborate carved work; it was overlaid with gold, and hung with rich drapery of crimson damask. East and west of this gorgeous receptacle wore two galleries of inferior splendor, calculated to contain between them nearly three thousand spectators. One of these galleries was assigned to the private friends of the earl and the knights, and in the other those strangers who had obtained tickets for witnessing the display. Around this selected spot, near which the knights displayed their dexterity in the use of ancient weapons of war, the ground afforded stands for thousands of spectators, who could not possibly have gained admittance within the lists. Nearer the castle were erected two temporary saloons, each two hundred and fifty feet long, for the banquet and the ball. Each of the knights had his own marquee, or (in more appropriate language) pavilion, for himself and attendants.  The decorations of the lists were costly and magnificent, and some of the splendid creations provided for at her Majesty's coronation were again brought into use.

     At the request of Lord Eglinton, a large proportion of the visitors came attired in ancient costume.  The armor worn by some of the chevaliers was of the most splendid description.  The Earl of Eglinton, who himself presided as Lord of the Tournament, appeared in a very costly and beautiful suit of brass armor, and the crest which surmounted his helmet was decorated with plumes of blue and yellow feathers.  His horse, too, was richly caparisoned with blue satin and cloth of gold.
     The morning was unfortunately very wet, and the feudal appearance of the display was sadly marred by thousands of umbrellas.  In consequence of the rain, a considerable part of the ceremonial was omitted; and the Queen of Beauty and her ladies, instead of mounting their palfreys, were confined within their carriages.  It was two o'clock, and in the midst of a drenching shower, when the procession started from the castle, somewhat in the following order:
   Men-at-arms, in demi-suits of armor and costumes, on horseback.  Mounted musicians, their horses trapped and caparisoned.  Trumpeters, in full costume, the trumpets and banners emblazoned with the arms of the Earl of Eglinton, mounted on horseback, and attended by a party of men-at-arms, on foot.  The Eglinton herald, with his tabard embroidered with the arms of the earl.  Two pursuivants, in emblazoned surcoats.  The Judge of Peace (Lord Saltoun), in his robes, and bearing a wand, on horseback.  Retainers, halverdiers, and men-at-arms.  The Herald of the Tournament, in his tabard.  The Knight Marshal of the Lists (Sir Charles Lamb, the earl's step-father), in a suit of black armor, followed by his esquires, Lord Chelsea and Major McDoual.  Attendants of the Knight Marshal, and halberdiers of the Knight Marshal.  Ladies visitors:  Lady Montgomerie, Lady Jane Montgomerie (the earl's mother and sister), and the Honorable Miss Macdonald, on horses caparisoned with blue and white silk. The King of the Tournament, the Marquis of Londonderry, in a tunic of green velvet, embroidered with gold, and covered by a crimson velvet cloak. Esquires (Colonel Wood and H. Irvine, Esq.) and halberdiers. The Queen of Beauty, Lady Seymour,* in a robe of violet.  Ladies attendants on the Queen.  Esquire (F. Charteris, Esq.).  The Jester (Mr. McIan, A Highland artist and actor), on a mule caparisoned in blue and yellow cloth and trapped with bells, &c.  Retainers on foot. The Irvine archers in costumes of Lincoln green. Servitors of the Lord of the Tournament. Halberdiers of the lord.  The gonfalon, borne by a man-at-arms. The Lord of the Tournament (the Earl of Eglinton), in a suit of richly-damasked gilt armor, with a skirt of chain-mail. The banner, borne by Lord A. Seymour. Esquires and retainers of the lord. Then followed, in like manner, each preceded by his halberdiers and gonfalon, and followed by banners, esquires, and retainers, the several knights, as follows: Knight of the Griffin (Earl of Craven); Knight of the Dragon (Marquis of Waterford); Knight of the Black Lion (Viscount Alford); Knight of Gael (Lord Glenyon) ; Knight of' the Dolphin (Earl of Cassilis) ; Knight of the Crane (Lord Cranstoun), Knight of the Ram (Honorable Captain Gage); the Black Knight (John Campbell, of Sadden) ; Knight of the Swan (Honorable Mr. Jerningham) ; Knight of the Golden Lion (Captain J. O. Fairlie) ; Knight of the White Rose (Charles Lamb, Esq.), Knight of the Stag's Head (Captain Beresford) ; Knight of the Border (Sir F. Johnstone) ; Knight of the Burning Tower (Sir F. Hopkins); Knight of Red Rose (R. J. Lechmere, Esq.); Knight of the Lion's Paw (Cecil Boothby, Esq.); the Knights Visitors, in ancient costumes. Swordsmen ; bowmen ; the seneschal of the castle; two deputy marshals; attendants of the deputy marshals; chamberlains of the household; servitors of the castle, and men-at arms.
     Several courses of jousting were run, in which, of all the combatants, the Earl of Eglinton was the most successful; but the sports on the first day were abridged in consequence of the weather, and concluded with a broad-sword combat between Mr. Mackay an actor, and a soldier of one of the Highland regiments.
     ' The second tilt, perhaps the most gallant, and certainly the most interesting joust of the day,' writes one who was present, 'was between the Knight of the Dragon (the Marquis of Waterford), and the King of the Tournament (the Earl of Eglinton). The knights met as combatants, in spite of the rain, in a truly gallant style. In the first course both lances were shivered, and the shock was heard throughout the whole amphitheatre; the sound being answered and re-echoed by the enthusiastic cheering of the spectators who were looking on in thousands. In the second joust the Marquis of Waterford started a little before his antagonist, and thus, meeting unequally, they raised their lances and passed without actually encountering each other. In the third course the noble earl splintered his lance upon the shield of the marquis-a feat which was answered by _ _
another durst of prolonged applause. He was then led by a herald to the grand stand, and paid his devoirs to the Queen of Beauty as victor.'
     On the second day, the weather continued so unfavorable that nothing could be done, but, as it cleared up towards the afternoon, the renewal of the tournament was fixed for the following day, and in the meantime the assembled multitude made merry as they might. In the ballroom a series of mimic tilts, on foot, took place between Prince Louis Napoleon (the late Emperor of the French) and Mr. Lamb, who were both in armor.
     On Friday, the 30th, the procession and jousting were repeated under more favorable circumstances. The whole concluded with a tourney at barriers, in which eight knights were engaged, the blows being limited to two in passing and ten at the encounter ; the only breakers of this law were the Marquis of Waterford and Lord Alford, who appeared to be plying their weapons in good earnest, when they were separated by the knight marshal. In the evening a banquet was given to three hundred persons in
the temporary saloon (which the rain had previously rendered needless) followed a ball, at which one thousand guests were present. This part of the pageant, being carried on under cover, was almost the only portion of the proceedings which was not spoiled by the malign influence of Jupiter Pluvius. And so ended the 'Eglinton Tournament' .
     It was sad indeed that the revival of so splendid a pageant was marred by the badness of the weather, and when it does rain in Scotland, it can pour in torrents, and blind with the thickest of mists as well. But it is sadder still to reflect that out of the young, noble, and gentle men of England and of 'merry Scotland,' scarcely one is now alive after seven and forty years, and that most of them, Lord Alford, Lord Waterford, Lord Londonderry, and the Lord of the Tournament, for example, if they do not lie in early graves, at all events never lived to approach the Psalmist's allotted limit of three-score years and ten.

*Afterwards Duchess of Somerset.

Chapters From the Family Chests, 1887

Chapters From the Family Chest

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