Missing the Meschianza

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Lew, thanks for posting the catalog of “History’s legendary bashes.” Though I admit to surprise that the Meschianza, a party of mythic proportions the British Army threw in Philadelphia during the American Revolution, didn’t make the list.

The conquering Redcoats swaggered into Philly in the fall of 1777. By the following May, when nine officers hosted the Meschianza, they had reduced the city to a shambles. They’d also imposed martial law, with all the commercial restrictions that brings; many Philadelphians, particularly those who supported the rebels, were close to starvation. And yet the Redcoats had no better sense than to sponsor a soiree to end all soirees.

The Meschianza took the Crusades as its theme (just as it supposedly took its name from the Italian word for “mixture,” from its medley of entertainments). The officers and their friends divided themselves into teams of knights, then jousted on horseback in satins, plumes and other medieval accouterments to ladies’ cheers. There were salutes from cannon, dancing and fireworks, a supper at midnight, and probably about a thousand guests. The tab for food and drink alone came to £900 at a time when a carpenter or other craftsman earned perhaps £50 per year. It was, as one enraptured girl sighed, “as splendid and magnificent as possible, and all, even those who have been in Paris and London, agree that they have never seen such a luxurious fete.” But others realized how that “luxurious fete” had damaged the government’s standing with Americans: one observer, loyal to the Crown, lamented, “How insensible do these people appear, while our land is so greatly desolated, and death and sore destruction has overtaken and impends over so many.” Nothing changes, does it? Rulers continue to party while stripping the serfs paying for it of their homes, medical insurance, and jobs.

You can read more about the Meschianza and its heartless extravagance in my novel, Abducting Arnold.

7:58 pm on February 4, 2014