- Historic Sites
You Are Invited To A Mischianza
Saluting a departing general, the British dazzled Philadelphians with the grandest party the city had ever seen; the tiny army that had toppled the general bided its time nearby
August 1974 | Volume 25, Issue 5
A hundred yards farther on stood a second triumphal arch, dedicated to General Howe. It was decorated with military trophies, including a bombshell and a bleeding heart. On top stood a figure of Fame, with the inscription I, bone, quo virtus vocat; tua, I pede fausto (“Go, good man, whither your noble character calls you; go, and good luck attend you”). The hundred yards between the two arches constituted the lists for the great tournament. Pavilions, or temporary grandstands, were erected on either side of the field.
The bands of the army led the way, followed by the managers, wearing white and blue ribbons, and by the honored guests, without regard for precedence. The front seats of each pavilion were reserved for fourteen young ladies of Philadelphia, seven on a side. They were chosen from the foremost in youth, beauty, and fashion, though we are not told the criteria of selection nor the rivalries that ensued. André describes the costumes, for which he was probably responsible:
They wore gauze Turbans spangled and edged with gold or silver; on the right side a veil of the same kind hung as low as the waist, and the left side of the Turban was enriched with pearl and tassels of gold or silver & crested with a feather. The dress was of the polonaise kind [i.e., sheer and flowing] and of white silk with long sleeves; the sashes which were worn round the waist and were tied with a large bow on the left side hung very low and were trimmed, spangled, and fringed according to the colors of the Knight.
Then came the pièce de résistance , the tilt or tournament, “according to the customs and ordinances of ancient chivalry.” The bands played a very loud and animated march, and seven white knights galloped into the arena, displayed their horsemanship, and saluted the ladies. The device borne by their herald and trumpeters was a white rose and a red with stalks intertwined, with the motto “We droop when separated.” The gallants, styling themselves the Knights of the Blended Rose, bore each his separate motto, such as “Surmounted by Love”; “Absence Cannot Extinguish It”; “Each Fair by Turns.” Each chevalier proclaimed his lady. André declared his to be Miss Peggy Chew. (He was in a difficult spot between the two Peggys. He had arranged that Peggy Shippen and her two sisters should be numbered among the chosen belles; he provided their polonaises. But their Quaker father interrupted the try-on, found the heathenish costumes indecently gauzy, and put his foot down, forbidding their attendance at the mischianza. He may also have wished, prudently, to dissociate himself from the British. At any rate the Shippen girls stayed home, in tears, and Peggy had an attack of hysteria.)
The costumes of the white knights provoked many a gasp of delight. André identifies the style as that of the court of Henry iv of France. Of course it should properly have been medieval, but there was certainly not a full suit of armor in North America at the time. André continues:
The vest was of white satin, the upper part of the sleeves made very full, but of pink confined within a row of straps of white satin laced with silver upon a black edging. The trunk hose were exceeding wide and of the same kind with the shoulder-part of the sleeves. A large pink scarf fastened on the right shoulder with a white bow crossed the breast and back and hung in an ample loose knot with silver fringes very low under the left hip, a pink and white swordbelt laced with black and silver girded the waist, pink bows with fringe were fastened to the knees, and a wide buff-leather boot hung carelessly round the ankles. … The horses were caparisoned with the same colors, with trimmings and bows hanging very low from either ham and tied round their chest. The Esquires, of which the chief Knights had two and the other Knights one, were in a pink Spanish dress with white mantles and sashes … they wore high-crowned pink hats with a white and a black feather, and carried the lance and shield of their Knight. The lance was fluted pink and white with a little banner of the same colors, and the shield was silvered and painted with the Knight’s device.
The devices were such as Cupid on a lion, or a burning heart, or a pelican feeding her young, or a sunflower turning to the sun, or a heart aimed at by several arrows and struck by one.
After their evolutions the white knights ranged themselves before their ladies. They were joined by their esquires, on foot. Their herald stood forth and announced: “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.”