This Day (Twelfth Knight Edition)

Published:January 6, 2012 by Brendan Wolfe

If Christmas is the first night, then tonight is the Twelfth Night, or the Feast of the Epiphany. To mark the holiday, the English of old loved nothing better than to throw a good masque, which was a strange combination of speech, dance, and song. Sort of Broadway meets the royal palace, I guess. Anyway, on this day in 1585, on the occasion of the Twelfth Night, Queen Elizabeth knighted her court favorite, Sir Walter Raleigh, in Greenwich, probably at the Palace of Placentia.

Thirty-two years later, King James hosted his own Twelfth Night masque, this one attended by visitors from America: Pocahontas and the priest Uttamatomakkin. The two were “well placed” by the king to view The Vision of Delight by Ben Jonson.

Was George Washington a fan of the Twelfth Night? I don’t know, but he did choose this day, in 1759, to marry the young widow Martha Dandridge Custis at a Custis house on the Pamunkey River. Theirs was the sort of wedding Virginia could get behind: the rippling, rough-hewn endowment of a real war hero meets a nice girl from a nice family.

Not so much Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter, who on this day exactly 200 years later, in the courtroom of Judge Leon Bazile, pled guilty to the crime of marrying one another. It was nothing against Richard’s rough-hewn endowment; it’s just that he was white and Mildred … well, Mildred wasn’t. They got one-year suspended sentences on the condition that they leave Virginia and promise not to come back—at least not as a couple—for twenty-five years.

What was there to do then but sue? And on Valentine’s Day, HBO will broadcast The Loving Story, a remarkable film—funded in part by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities’ Grant Program—that tells the story of their ultimate victory before the Supreme Court.

IMAGES: Top: George Washington’s Marriage to Martha Custis (Sons of the South); middle: Mr. On the Wrong Side of History; Walter Raleigh is knighted by the queen; bottom: the Lovings (Grey Villet)