Page 7 - History 2020
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with a landed estate in Scotland. He was disappointed by the lack of medieval

            ceremonial at Queen Victoria’s low-key coronation in 1837 (the traditional banquet
            and other rituals considered too extravagant were cancelled; critics of the scrimping
            Whig government called it “the Penny Crowning”). He therefore invited fellow
            aristocrats to a full-blooded re-enactment of a medieval joust. Guests and spectators
            arrived – by railway, ironically – in many tens of thousands. Participants were only
            allowed to use the authentically researched armour and horses (many had dropped
            out when they saw the price-tag). Pavilions, tents and stands were erected. A feast
            was prepared. What could possibly go wrong.


            On the day, their lords and ladyships were not early risers. Getting everyone into
            their knightly armour and courtly costumes and mounted on their horses took an
            age. The vast crowds of spectators became bored, hungry and restless. But finally,
            around 3pm, the sun burst out just as the grand procession was sighted, to gratifying
            cheers. These were drowned out by a clap of thunder. A downpour began. Lord
            Eglington had miscalculated slightly by choosing an area of floodplain for his lists.

            People had already complained of wet feet. That was as nothing to what followed. In
            the relentless thunderstorm people were drenched, costumes and hairstyles were
            ruined, tents were dashed, pavilions leaked and distressed spectators had to wade
            through waist-deep water to escape to local villages. The day was abandoned as a
            disaster, the much-anticipated feast and ball cancelled.

            There was much ridicule in the press of the idle rich indulging in their extravagant
            medieval make-believe and hilarity at reports of knights clutching umbrellas. But the

            British aristocracy is nothing if not resilient. Too much had been invested in the
            event. Next day repairs were carried out. On day three the sun came out. Mock
            tournaments were held. Even the banquet was held, 400 guests, gold and silver
            service, medieval waiters, boars’ heads, pots of swan, peacock pie and turtle. This
            revolted the Victorian diners, but the equally authentic medieval booze, malmsey
            and posset, soon got them merrily dancing to the music of costumed minstrels.

            Officially the event was hailed an overwhelming success, with a host of
            commemorative programmes, prints and posh ceramic souvenirs. An early triumph
            for PR over reality.

            What was emerging in early Victorian England was a virtual “culture war”, between
            the industrial present and the wish of many to escape from it into a fantasy past, not
            of course physically, but, as historian Martin Wiener says, in terms of sentiment. Let’s
            look at two examples of this; first, how “Merrie England” escapism unexpectedly
            infiltrated the iconic Victorian celebration its industrial achievements: the Great

            Exhibition of 1851.
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