The Eglinton Tournament

I found the below story in A.N. Wilson's The Victorians.

Wildly popular too with the public in the early years of the reign was the newly opened museum at the Tower of London . . . It so excited a group of young aristocrats in 1839 that Lord Eglinton decided to stage a tournament at his castle in Ayrshire. The young silly asses who had themselves so expensively kitted out for this piece of farce in authentic medieval armour were caricatured by Doyle and mocked by everyone in the kingdom” (65).

The tournament cost Lord Eglinton somewhere between £30,000-£40,000 and drew over 100,000 spectators. Everyone (or at least all the nobles) were in authentic costume and about 40 knights participated in feats of strength. Eglinton intended it to be a deeply serious affair, to the point where he banned all Whigs and Radicals from attending. They were going to celebrate the glories of the chivalric feudal age, by God, and would be knights-in-shining-armor once more! As as we all know, the more seriously people take themselves, the easier it is to ridicule them.

Part of Lord Eglinton's problem, apart from his embarrassingly profound sincerity, was heavy rain, which had turned the tournament grounds into a giant mud bog. Couple that with people doing athletics in heavy armor, and you have a truly hilarious spectator sport. It was also perhaps a rather tasteless exhibition of wealth, since Great Britain's economy was not doing well and the lower classes suffered from extreme hardships and starvation at this time.

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