The History of Marquees

Published July 31st 2017 by

Marquees. They’re elegant, sophisticated, stylish. They lend protection and a feeling of opulence to any outdoor event. But what do we know about the history of the famous marquee?

The origin of the term, like with much in the field of etymology, is peppered with both certainties and uncertainties. It seems that the term “marquise” in reference to a large tent – specifically, a tent which had linen canopy placed over it, which distinguished it from other tents (it was often used by military officers in order to distinguish it from the tents of other soldiers – has French roots dating back to the 1680s.

Many claim that the first recorded use of the term in American English dates back only as far as 1912; others say that the term was used in English for hundreds of years before this, also in the seventeenth century. The English seemed to think that “marquise” – pronounced “mar-KEEZ” – was a plural term, and that the pronunciation “mar-KEE” referred to one such tent. Hence the word as we know it today – marquee!

The use of a canopy to complement a tent or outside area dates back much farther than the 1680s, of course; we know that they were used by many peoples throughout history, including nomads and Roman soldiers – but they didn’t seem to have a specific name until the seventeenth century. Marquees began to see more use away from battlefields, and they became known to many members of the public as light, temporary structures used to protect people from the elements during special events such as balls or banquets. This, of course, gave them a very “upper class”, affluent feels – something that is still felt today, especially with the luxury marquees you can get!

A sure sign that a given design is brilliant is in its staying power. The basic design of the marquee has remained pretty much unchanged in the centuries or even millennia of its use. A marquee is also known as a “pole tent”. All those centuries ago, marquees were made by draping light, luxurious materials over high wooden poles. This resulted in the sweeping curves for which the marquee is still known today. Strong poles, as well as hessian ropes, were used to maintain the structure, and that’s pretty much how we maintain marquee structures today!

While marquees still tend to have an aura of luxuriousness that was felt way back in the seventeenth century, they’re no longer the totally exclusive products that they were back then. People np longer need to look upon marquees and feel that they’re something they can’t afford; that they’re a sign of exclusivity and wealth. These days, though marquees are still beautiful in aesthetic, they’re available for rental at weddings and events for affordable prices.

Dinners, weddings, or just good old summer parties – marquees are great for all of these things, as they clearly have been for hundreds of years. They’ve long evolved past their uses as safety necessities in harsh nomadic times and signs of exclusivity on the battlefields. From corporate events to cultural celebrations, the marquee is here to stay – just don’t expect its beautiful design to change all that much throughout the years!