Ben Miller

A Medieval-Style Tournament Held at Philadelphia, in 1778

In Colonial (American) Period, Customs and Traditions, Martial Arts, Military on February 6, 2010 at 1:29 am

In May, 1778, Sir William Howe surrendered the command of the British army in America to Sir Henry Clinton, and soon afterwards returned to England. He was a favorite, and the officers under his immediate orders resolved, on the eve of his departure, to give him a splendid entertainment, to which they gave the name of Mischianza.

An account of it was written by the ill-fated [Major] Andre, and transmitted to London at the time. I extract nearly all that relates to the tournament, which exhibition formed an important part of it. Many of the ladies who were honored by the knights were daughters of Loyalists of Pennsylvania. One of them, as will be seen, was the beautiful Margaret Shippen. This young lady, after the evacuation of the city by the royal troops, was won and wed by General Arnold, who was placed in command of the Continental army stationed there, by Washington.

“The company, as they disembarked, arranged themselves into a line of procession, and advanced through an avenue formed by two files of grenadiers, and a line of light-horse supporting each file. This avenue led to a square lawn of one hundred and fifty yards on each side, lined with troops and properly prepared for the exhibition of a tilt and tournament, according to the customs and ordinances of ancient chivalry. We proceeded through the centre of the square. The music, consisting of all the bands of the army, moved in front. The managers, with favors of blue and white ribbons in their breast, followed next in order. The general, admiral, and the rest of the company proceeded promiscuously.

In front appeared the building, bounding the view through a vista formed by two triumphal arches, erected at proper intervals in a line with the landing-place. Two pavilions, with rows of benches, rising one above the other, and serving as the advanced wings of the first triumphal arch, received the ladies, while the gentlemen arranged themselves in convenient order on each side. On the front seat of each pavilion were placed seven of the principal young ladies of the country, dressed in Turkish habits, and wearing in their turbans the favors with which they meant to reward the several knights who were to contend in their honor. These arrangements were scarce made, when the sound of trumpets was heard at a distance; and a band of knights, dressed in ancient habits of white and red silk, and mounted on gray horses, richly caparisoned in trappings of the same colors, entered the lists, attended by their squires on foot, in suitable apparel, in the following order: —

Four trumpeters, properly habited, their trumpets decorated with small pendant Danners. A herald, in his robe of ceremony; on his tunic was the device of his band, two roses intertwined, with the motto, We droop when separated.

Lord Cathcart, superbly mounted on a managed horse, appeared as chief of these knights. Two young black slaves, with sashes and drawers of blue and white silk, wearing large silver clasps round their necks and arms, their breasts and shoulders bare, held his stirrups. On his right hand walked Captain Hazard, and on his left Captain Brownlow, his two esquires, one bearing his lance, the other his shield.

His device was Cupid riding on a lion, the motto, Surmounted by Love. His lordship appeared in honor of Miss Auchmuty.

Then came in order the knights of his band, each attended by his squire, bearing his lance and shield.

1st Knight, Hon. Captain Cathcart, in honor of Miss N. White. Squire, Captain Peters. Device, a heart and sword; motto, Love and Honor.

2d Knight, Lieutenant Bygrove, in honor of Miss Craig. Squire, Lieutenant Nichols. Device, Cupid tracing a circle; motto, Without end.

3d Knight, Captain Andre, in honor of Miss P. Chew. Squire, Lieutenant Andre. Device, two game-cocks fighting; motto, No rival.

4th Knight, Captain Horneck, in honor of Miss N. Bedman. Squire, Lieutenant Talbot. Device, a burning heart; motto, Absence cannot extinguish.

5th Knight, Captain Matthews, in honor of Miss Bond. Squire, Lieutenant Hamilton. Device, a winged heart; motto, Each Fair by turns.

6th Knight, Lieutenant Sloper, in honor of Miss M. Shippen. Squire, Lieutenant Brown. Device, a heart and sword; motto, Honor and the Fair.

After they had made the circuit of the square, and saluted the ladies as they passed before the pavilions, they ranged themselves in a line with that in which were the ladies of their device; and their herald (Mr. Beaumont), advancing into the centre of the square, after the flourish of trumpets, proclaimed the following challenge: ‘ The Knights of the Blended Rose, by me their herald, proclaim and assert that the ladies of the Blended Rose excel in wit, beauty, and every accomplishment, those of the whole world; and should any knight or knights be so hardy as to dispute or deny it, they are ready to enter the lists with them, and maintain their assertions by deeds of arms, according to the laws of ancient chivalry.’

At the third repetition of the challenge, the sound of trumpets was heard from the opposite side of the square; and another herald, with four trumpeters, dressed in black and orange, galloped into the lists. He was met by the herald of the Blended Rose, and, after a short parley, they both advanced in front of the pavilions, when the Black Herald (Lieutenant More) ordered his trumpets to sound, and then proclaimed defiance to the challenge in the following words: ‘ The Knights of the Burning Mountain present themselves here, not to contest by words, but to disprove by deeds, the vainglorious assertions of the Knights of the Blended Rose, and enter these lists to maintain, that the ladies of the Burning Mountain are not excelled in beauty, virtue, or accomplishments by any in the universe.’

He then returned to the part of the barrier through which he had entered; and shortly after, the Black Knights, attended by their squires, rode into the lists in the following order: —

Four trumpeters preceding the herald, on whose tunic was represented a mountain sending forth flames; motto, burn for ever.

Captain Watson, of the Guards, as chief, dressed in a magnificent suit of black and orange silk, and mounted on a black managed horse, with trappings of the same colors with his own dress, appeared in honor of Miss Franks. He was attended in the same manner as Lord Cathcart; Captain Scott bore his lance, and Lieutenant Lyttleton his shield. The device, a heart, with a wreath of flowers; motto, Love and Glory.

1st Knight, Lieutenant Underwood, in honor of Miss S. Shippen. Squire, Ensign Haverkam. Device, a pelican feeding her young; motto, For those I love.

2d Knight, Lieutenant Winyard, in honor of Miss P. Shippen. Squire, Captain Boscawen. Device, a bay-leaf; motto, Unchangeable.

3d Knight, Lieutenant Delaval, in honor of Miss B. Bond. Squire, Captain Thome. Device, a heart aimed at by several arrows, and struck by one ; motto, One only pierces me.

4th Knight, Monsieur Montluissant (Lieutenant of the Hessian Chasseurs), in honor of Miss B. Redman. Squire, Captain Campbell. Device, a sunflower turning towards the sun; motto, Te vise a vow’.

5th Knight, Lieutenant Hobbart, in honor of Miss S. Chew. Squire, Lieutenant Briscoe. Device, Cupid piercing a coat of mail with his arrow; motto, Proof to all but Love.

6th Knight, Brigade-Major Tarlton, in honor of Miss W. Smith. Squire, Ensign Heart. Device, a light dragoon; motto, Swift, vigilant, and bold.

After they had rode round the lists, and made their obeisance to the ladies, they drew up fronting the White Knights; and the chief of these having thrown down his gauntlet, the chief of the Black Knights directed his esquire to take it up. The knights then received their lances from their esquires, fixed their shields on their left arms, and, making a general salute to each other by a very graceful movement of their lances, turned round to take their career, and, encountering in full gallop, shivered their spears. In the second and third encounter they discharged their pistols. In the fourth they fought with their swords. At length the two chiefs, spurring forward into the centre, engaged furiously in single combat, till the marshal of the field (Major Gwyne) rushed in between the chiefs, and declared that the fair damsels of the Blended Rose and Burning Mountain were perfectly satisfied with the proofs of love, and the signal feats of valor, given by their respective knights; and commanded them, as they prized the future favors of their mistresses, that they would instantly desist from further combat. Obedience being paid by the chiefs to this order, they joined their respective bands. The White Knights and their attendants filed off to the left, the Black Knights to the right; and, after passing each other at the lower side of the quadrangle, moved up alternately, till they approached the pavilions of the ladies, when they gave a general salute.

A passage being now opened between the two pavilions, the knights, preceded by their squires and the bands of music, rode through the first triumphal arch, and arranged themselves to the right and left. This arch was erected in honor of Lord Howe. It presented two fronts, in the Tuscan order; the pediment was adorned with various naval trophies, and at top was the figure of Neptune with a trident in his right hand. In a niche on each side stood a sailor with a drawn cutlass. Three plumes of feathers were placed on the summit of each wing, and in the entablature was this inscription: Laus Mi debetur, el alme gratia major. The interval between the two arches was an avenue three hundred feet long and thirty-four broad. It was lined on each side with a file of troops; and the colors of all the army, planted at proper distances, had a beautiful effect in diversifying the scene. Between these colors the knights and squires took their stations. The bands continued to play several pieces of martial music. The company moved forward in procession, with the ladies in the Turkish habits in front. As these passed, they were saluted by their knights, who then dismounted and joined them; and in this order we were all conducted into a garden that fronted the house, through the second triumphal arch, dedicated to the general. This arch was also built in the Tuscan order. On’ the interior part of the pediment was painted a plume of feathers, and various military trophies. At the top stood the figure of Fame, and in the entablature this device: I, bone, quo virtus lua te vocel; I pedefausto. On the right-hand pillar was placed a bomb-shell, and on the left a flaming heart. The front next the house was adorned with preparations for a firework. From the garden we ascended a flight of steps covered with carpets, which led into a spacious hall; the panels

Painted in imitation of Sienna marble, inclosing festoons of white marble; the surbase, and all below, was black. In this hall, and in the adjoining apartments, were prepared tea, lemonade, and other cooling liquors, to which the company seated themselves; during which time the knights came in, and on the knee received their favors from their respective ladies. One of these rooms was afterwards appropriated for the use of the Pharoah table; as you entered it, you saw, on a panel over the chimney, a cornucopia, exuberantly filled with flowers of the richest colors; over the door, as you went out, another represented itself, shrunk, reversed, and emptied.

From these apartments we were conducted up to a ball-room, decorated in a light, elegant style of painting. The ground was a pale blue, paneled with a small gold bead, and in the interior filled with dropping festoons of flowers in their natural colors. Below the surbase the ground was of rose-pink, with drapery festooned in blue. These decorations were heightened by eighty-five mirrors, decked with rose-pink silk ribbons, and artificial flowers; and in the intermediate spaces were thirty-four branches with wax-lights, ornamented in a similar manner.

On the same floor were four drawing-rooms, with sideboards of refreshments, decorated and lighted in the same style of taste as the ball-room. The ball was opened by the knights and their ladies ; and the dances continued till ten o’clock, when the windows were thrown open, and a magnificent bouquet of rockets began the fireworks. These were planned by Captain Montresor, the chief engineer, and consisted of twenty different exhibitions, displayed under his direction with the happiest success, and in the highest style of beauty. Towards the conclusion, the interior part of the triumphal arch was illuminated amidst an uninterrupted flight of rockets and bursting of balloons. The military trophies on each side assumed a variety of transparent colors. The shell and flaming heart on the wings sent forth Chinese fountains, succeeded by fire-pots. Fame appeared at top, spangled with stars, and from her trumpet blowing the following device in letters of light: Tes Lauriers sont immortels. A sauteur of rockets, bursting from the pediment, concluded the feu d’artifice.

At twelve, supper was announced, and large folding-doors, hitherto artfully concealed, being suddenly thrown open, discovered a magnificent saloon of two hundred and ten feet by forty, and twenty-two feet in height, with three alcoves on each side, which served for sideboards. The ceiling was the segment of a circle, and the sides were painted of a light straw-color, with vine-leaves and festoon flowers, some. in a bright, some in a darkish green. Fifty-six large pier-glasses, ornamented with green silk artificial flowers and ribbons; one hundred branches with three lights in each, trimmed in the same manner as the mirrors; eighteen lustres, each with twenty-four lights, suspended from the ceiling, and ornamented as the branches ; three hundred wax-tapers disposed along the supper-tables; four hundred and thirty covers, twelve hundred dishes ; twenty-four black slaves, in Oriental dresses, with silver collars and bracelets, ranged in two lines, and bending to the ground as the general and admiral approached the saloon : all these, forming together the most brilliant assemblage of gay objects, and appearing at once, as we entered by an easy descent, exhibited a coup cCozil beyond description magnificent.

Towards the end of supper, the herald of the Blended Rose, in his habit of ceremony, attended by his trumpets, entered the saloon, and proclaimed the king’s health, the queen, and royal family, the army and navy, with their respective commanders, the knights and their ladies, the ladies in general. Each of these toasts was followed by a flourish of music. After supper we returned to the ball-room, and continued to dance till four o’clock.

Such, my dear friend, is the description, though a very faint one, of the most splendid entertainment, I believe, ever given by an army to their general. But what must be more grateful to Sir W. Howe is the spirit and motives from which it is given. He goes from this place to-morrow; but, as I understand he means to stay a day or two with his brother on board the Eagle at Billingsport, I shall not seal this letter till I see him depart from Philadelphia.”

–  Sabine, Lorenzo, Notes on Duels and Duelling: Alphabetically Arranged, with a Preliminary Historical Essay. Boston: Crosby, Nichols and Company, 1859.

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  1. […] Philadelphia tournament, or Mischianza took place on the 18th of May 1778. It was part of festivities to mark the departure of Sir […]

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