Forward to the Past: The Eglinton tournament and chivalry in the Age of Steam by Nigel Hankin
This article looks at the appeal that a re-imagined medieval past had in early Victorian England, epitomised by the enormous interest attracted by the Eglinton tournament of 1839. Much of that appeal was a reaction against the dramatic social and economic changes that were happening in the period, as urbanisation and industrialisation transformed people’s lives. Yet ironically the enthusiasm for the medieval was fuelled by engravings like Thomas Allom’s depiction of a scene from Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe (figure 1) that could only be produced so cheaply and be so widely disseminated due to those very changes. Furthermore, the memory of the event was sustained by cheaply produced commemorative pieces like the jug made by the firm of William Ridgway, Son & Co. (figure 2), which were also the product of new technology. It was estimated that 100,000 people made their way to a remote corner of Ayrshire to witness the event. This would not have been feasible without the rapid changes in transport that were occurring in the period. This irony seems to have been wholly lost on those who advocated a benevolent and paternalistic feudalism as a model for the future.