Knight of the Medieval Umbrella

It was at the tail end of August in 1839, after a year of planning and rehearsing, that thirteen valiant knights took to a muddy field near Eglinton Castle in Ayrshire, Scotland, and pretended to joust. Identified by silly names, such as “Knight of the Burning Tower,” “Knight of the Dolphin,” and “Knight of the Saturday Fever” (only one of which I made up), the men were all that remained of the original one hundred and fifty volunteers.

runwayknights
Thus began a long tradition of the very serious portrayal of Medieval knights throughout British culture.

Decked out in their Medieval-est finery, the knights wore period-appropriate armor while battling a torrential downpour and knocking fruit from one another’s helmets with mops and broomsticks. One participant even carried a not-so-medieval umbrella.

The Eglinton Tournament was the project of Archibald Montgomerie, the 13th Earl of Eglinton, who wished to raise interest in the Romanticism of Britain’s past at a time when the Whigs sought to stamp out any idealization of the monarchy.

Thanks to the uncooperative weather, the event was not the success it could have been. Lord Eglinton himself admitted to “the manifold deficiencies in its exhibition,” but the tournament undoubtedly left a lasting impression on the imaginations of the British people. It attracted more than 100,000 period-clad spectators from all walks of life and sparked a surge of Romantic art, Gothic writings, and reenactments of a more chivalrous age, which presumably went a little more smoothly than the Eglinton Tournament. But probably yielded just as much giggling.

Cass River Colonial Reenactment poncho
We attended our reenactment in period-appropriate plastic ponchos.

In fact, this somewhat failed instance of a historical reenactment may have even been an important catalyst in the rise of a kind of quirky, vaguely ridiculous hobby for the most fascinating of amateur historians here in the United States as well.

I attended my first reenactment a few weeks ago as my family and I road tripped our way through Michigan. My youngest son is a connoisseur of all things military history and so when we realized we would be passing through the town of Frankenmuth during the weekend of the Cass River Colonial Encampment, we couldn’t pass it up.

Reenactment Celebration
Huzzah!

And I’m glad we didn’t. Though I can honestly say I have never had a particular desire to see one, I found the whole thing fascinating. It was as wonderfully absurd as I thought it might be, with otherwise regular people camping out using replica 18th century tents and tools, eating Subway sandwiches around the campfire, and loading the muzzles of their muskets with gunpowder poured from plastic packages.

But despite the anachronisms and general goofiness, I found a lot to love. My son wandered the grounds and met the camp physician who offered to balance his humors, talked with General George Washington who attempted to recruit him, and marched to the rhythm of the drum and fife as a friendly British officer invited him to fall in. The re-enactors were kind and knowledgeable and very much aware that they looked a little silly in their wool uniforms on a drizzly, 85-degree afternoon in 2018.

fallen reenactor
Most of the fallen soldiers managed to stumble into the shelter of the covered bridge before breathing their last, but others were especially devoted to their craft. And wearing authentic orange, plastic ear protection.

We watched several demonstrations of military drills, musket firing, and a couple of full battles from two different conflicts in American history. We cheered as the American rebels surged and wrested control of the covered bridge from their British enemies, and we applauded the re-enactors dedicated enough to their craft to play dead in a puddle in the middle of the road. Sure there were manifold deficiencies in the exhibition, but we left better informed and more curious. And maybe giggling just a little.

It’s just 28 days until the publication of Gentleman of Misfortune, my debut historical novel! You can get a peek at a book trailer here: https://www.facebook.com/sangletonwrites/

13 thoughts on “Knight of the Medieval Umbrella

    1. I think my favorite part was watching the young’uns, some in costume and some not, playing soldiers together. Or maybe it was the snide comments to the crowd of some of the closer soldiers, mocking their fellow re-enactors’ inability to keep their powder dry in the rain. Good, good fun!

  1. My uncle is fascinated with flint-lock rifles and LOVES to go to reenactments (although he’s not terribly mobile and quite large, so I imagine he’s an easy target). Can’t say I could stop myself from sniggering if I attended one of these, but a Monty Python Killer Bunny scene reenactment would be AWESOME!! Best of luck with the release! Exciting!!!!

  2. It looks like a wonderful re-enactment and obviously a lot of hard work by those involved. A couple of years ago I watched a pitched ‘battle’ by a local Medieval re-enactment society, with real weapons and armour. It was a hot summer’s day, and they were absolutely roasting in their heavy gear, but they put on a good show and most of them ended up lying on the ground, drenched in sweat, and panting.

    1. Yes, it takes a lot of dedication. And it really is a fun way to learn a little history. One thing I really loved about it was that those who were not portraying Americans weren’t shy about playing the part when talking about the Americans they were fighting. It offered my son the chance to glimpse history from another perspective, one he’s certainly not going to read in his history books at school.

  3. I have heard of reenactments but haven’t went to one. I’m glad you enjoyed it when you were there. How funny that everyone were camping out using 18th century tools but eat subway instead hehe..

I love comments! Please keep them PG, though. I blush easily.

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