Fine & Decorative Furniture and Art - Sale 266 - Lot 281

Lot 281
CIRCA 1839
each painted in polychrome on wood with a coat of arms, one bearing paper label to the reverse, inscribed: 'Shield of Sir Charles Lamb, Knight of the Eglinton Tournament 1839. Placed above his tent on the field.' (restored) (8)
Largest 69cm high, 53cm wide
Estimate £3,000-5,000

Note: These eight shields were hung above the entrances to the martial tents of the knights of the Eglinton Tournament in August 1839 (see illustration below, depicting the Marquess of Waterford's shield). They were probably produced by Samuel Pratt of Bond Street, London, who supplied everything from the armour to costumes and tents for the event.

'The last genuinely 'Gothik' folly of the type invented in the 18th century, it was, too ... the first accurately medieval spectacle of the new Victorian Epoch.'

The celebrated Eglinton Tournament was held at the end of August 1839 by Archibald Willam Montgomerie, 13th Earl of Eglinton (1812-1861) in the grounds of his Ayrshire seat, Eglinton Castle. It was said that the grand folly of the tournament sprang directly from the disappointment of the so-called 'penny coronation' of Queen Victoria in 1838. The wealthy Earl was spurred on by the decision of Lord Melbourne to dispense with the usual elaborate pageantry at the coronation. He was also heavily influenced by his step-father Sir Charles Lamb and his half-brother, Charlie Lamb; both of whom also had a great passion for medieval chivalry.

The suggestion of a friend at the 1838 Eglinton Park race meet that it might be amusing to have some jousting at the following year's event quickly spiralled out of control after the rumour of a 'great jousting tournament' was published in the Court Journal. Eglinton felt obliged to confirm the rumour and rapidly became the most popular noble in the country. In the end he spent an estimated £40,000 staging the event, a phenomenal sum at the time.

The original group who came forward to be knights was some 150 strong, but when they realised the considerable cost implications of buying their armour and trappings, coupled with the necessity for skilled horsemanship and hours of practice, their numbers dwindled to 35, then 19. At the actual event, 14 knights took part.

The medieval tournament captured the public's imagination and visitors from across Britain and abroad were eager to attend, including the future Napoleon III of France. Lord Eglinton announced that the public would be welcome. He said tickets would be free and requested people turn up in medieval dress. Anticipating a reasonable attendance, he had created a grandstand for the expected crowd of about 4,000. The turnout was beyond wildest expectations, with up to 100,000 people converging on the site. Contemporary accounts speak of the road from Ayr to Glasgow (some 30 miles) being full end to end, of abandoned carriages and of fighting for tickets on local trains.

On the first day, after a delayed opening procession, several courses of jousting were run:

'In which, of all the combatants, the Earl of Eglinton was the most successful … The second tilt, perhaps the most gallant, and certainly the most interesting joust of the day, was between the Knight of the Dragon (the Marquis of Waterford), and the Lord 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 burst 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.'

The tournament was dogged by torrential rain and the first day had to be abridged, however:

'Notwithstanding all the disadvantages of the day, none who were present at the most remarkable spectacle which modern eyes have witnessed, can regret the hours spent amidst the woods of Eglinton, in gazing at the achievements of the gallant knights ... Indeed, hundreds were heard to say, that notwithstanding the inclemency of the weather, they had been delighted far beyond their anticipation, by the grandeur of the spectacle.'

On the second day the rain continued to pour down and events were postponed, but on the third day the sun appeared and the event ended with a 'grand equestrian melee' followed by a medieval banquet for hundreds of guests.

The knights, before they left, presented their banners and shields to Lord Eglinton in the medieval manner. These were then put up on the walls of Eglinton Castle along with his own, the names and titles painted underneath in Gothic lettering. There the trophies hung until the 1920s, when the castle was partly demolished. Some of the relics of the Tournament were sold at auction at this time, but these eight shields went to Skelmorlie, where, after some restoration work in the 1950/60s, they latterly adorned the walls of the Great Hall.

Ian Anstruther, The Knight and the Umbrella, Geoffrey Bles, London 1963

Sold for £8,125 (premium inclusive)
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