The early history of Newmarket is more or less wrapped in mystery, or
rather in confusion; in other words, the writers who have dealt with
“the inauguration of Newmarket racing,” as one of them terms it, in
many instances contradict one another so flatly that the truth can be
arrived at only by conjecture or by inference.
Apparently the destruction of the Spanish Armada in 1588 was the ill
wind that indirectly benefited Newmarket so far as its horses were
concerned, for there is no doubt that many of the horses rescued from
drowning when the great vessels of the Armada were wrecked were sent
direct to Newmarket, “where great surprise was expressed by all who
beheld them at their exceeding swiftness.”
From this one would naturally conclude that interesting races were
run on Newmarket Heath towards the close of the sixteenth century; yet
elsewhere we read that the first races of importance run at Newmarket
took place in 1640, and that the round course was not made until about
the year 1666, while a third historian goes so far as to declare that
a gold cup run for at the Newmarket Spring Meeting of 1634 affords
_per se_ the earliest irrefutable record of such an occurrence, based
on contemporary data.
Yet from statements set down in an earlier chapter we have already
seen that horse racing of a sort must have taken place at Newmarket
quite a long time before this. In point of fact, in almost every
historical record of Newmarket that I have come upon I have found
either direct or indirect allusion to the renown of the neighbourhood
of Newmarket for the horses that were bred or trained there.
The horses brought ashore from the Spanish vessels probably were among
the best that Spain at that time possessed, and several attempts were
made by the Spanish to recover some of them. It is known that towards
the close of the sixteenth century the Spanish were making determined
efforts to breed faster horses than they had previously bred, yet it
is surprising that the horses they had brought with them upon their
famous expedition should have been so swift, for they must have been
animals of far heavier type than the animals they would in a general
way breed for racing.
The Spaniards of three centuries ago, we must of course remember, were
renowned for their horsemanship far more highly than their descendants
of to-day are.
In the reign of Charles I. horse races were run in Hyde Park, a
track having been laid down there with great care. This meeting was
immensely popular, and “the inhabitants of London and those parts near
London assembled in their thousands to watch the running horses,” and
in most instances to squander large sums.
“The Park first became under Charles I. the fashionable society
rendezvous,” Mrs Alec Tweedie tells us in her interesting volume,
“Hyde Park: Its History and Romance.” “Its greatest attraction, maybe,
was the racing in the Ring. The occasions when organised meetings
took place were special scenes of gaiety, and were evidently thought
important events, as even among the State Papers there is preserved
the agreement for a race that took place there.”
In later years an attempt was made to revive the Hyde Park race
meeting, but the attempt was vigorously opposed by the mass of the
residents in the neighbourhood, and by many others as well.
A report of a race in Hyde Park appears in a copy of _The London
Post_, but is undated. As _The London Post_ ceased to exist after the
year 1640, this race was run probably a year or two before that
date. The report is said to be the first detailed account of a horse
race ever published in a newspaper.
“I made a present to the King,” Sully writes, “of six beautiful horses
richly caparisoned, and the Sieur of St Antoine as their keeper.” The
Sieur of St Antoine, who after being equerry to Prince Henry became
equerry to Charles I., is represented in the famous Vandyck picture of
King Charles in armour, in the picture now in the National Gallery.
[Illustration: VAN DYCK’S FAMOUS PICTURE, NOW IN THE NATIONAL GALLERY,
OF CHARLES I ON HORSEBACK]
* * * * *
It was about the year 1641 that the Duke of Buckingham greatly helped
to improve the breed of horses by importing the famous Helmsley Turk
and the almost equally famous Morocco Barb. It is curious to read that
the importation of these horses was at first looked upon with grave
suspicion by a great body of the principal horse breeders in this
country, and by others interested in the horse and its development.
To what the antagonism was owing one can hardly say for certain. One
report has it that some among the duke’s personal enemies—he had many
enemies—were determined to do all in their power to injure him by
wrecking any scheme in which he presumably was interested. The sums
he paid for these horses were considerable, but the excellent effect
the good blood had upon the breed fully repaid him for the incidental
outlay, also for the great trouble to which he had been put to secure
such excellent stallions.
Shortly before this some English officers serving in the Dutch army
had introduced horse racing into Holland, and the popularity of
the new sport began to spread there quickly. Soon a number of race
meetings came to be organised, and in a short time Dutch emissaries
were sent over to England for the express purpose of purchasing blood
Being comparatively ignorant of horses—ignorant, that is to say, of
the requirements essential in a racing stallion—these emissaries were
at first cheated in the most barefaced manner by some of the very men
who only a short time before had been their guests in Holland!
Later, however, they succeeded in importing some very valuable blood
stock, and in several respects the race meetings they presently
organised were better arranged than many of the English meetings of
In 1637 we find the Duke of Newcastle appointed Governor to Prince
Charles—later to become King Charles II.—with special injunctions to
teach him to ride well.
The duke’s volume on equitation, published at Antwerp in 1658,
contains particulars of the prince’s progress in the art of
horsemanship, from which we may gather that Prince Charlie was an
exceptionally apt pupil—“a horseman by nature,” he has been termed.
So emphatically was this the case that in comparatively a few years he
professed himself able to ride any horse that anyone might choose to
bring to him, an assertion in which the duke supported him.
It was not long after this that the duke persuaded his royal pupil to
import from Spain a number of exceptionally fine sires, for, as he
said, Spanish stallions were quite unsurpassed, and in his opinion no
other sort of stallion ought to be admitted into this country.
The duke himself has been described as “an iron horseman,” but the
exact meaning of the phrase is not quite clear. He had, according to
some writers, an “iron” seat on a horse, while according to others he
had “iron” hands—the latter a questionable compliment.
Probably an “iron” nerve is what they really meant, for we know that
the Duke of Newcastle was both a finished and a fearless horseman, two
important qualifications that do not necessarily go together. We are
further told that in teaching the prince to ride he never spared him,
a statement easily believed when the duke’s hard and resolute nature,
added to his known determination to succeed at any cost in every task
he undertook to accomplish, are borne in mind. Ordered to train the
prince into a skilful horseman, he had at once set to work to do it to
the best of his ability.
Some say that as a boy Prince Charlie looked, when in the saddle, as
if he had been born there, and through life this natural seat upon a
horse stood him in good stead.
In addition to being a graceful rider, he had a very strong seat, so
that presumably he possessed the precious gift that to-day we call
An eighteenth-century writer, who appears to have had access to
private manuscripts or documents to do with King Charles II.’s private
life, avers that the king never, as we should express it, pulled
a horse about. Even tempered with his horses, he seldom or never
ill-treated them. They appeared to respond instinctively to his every
touch, to understand what he meant by the varying inflection in his
voice, and to divine, as if by magic, what their master wished them to
do. Also he never outrode a horse under any circumstances—never, as we
should say, rode a horse off its legs.
He preferred long stirrup leathers to short, but then in his day most
Also it is said of him that he never would look twice at a horse that
had bad quarters or indifferent withers.
Altogether it seems clear that, though he had a natural aptitude for
horsemanship, he must have been carefully and very thoroughly coached
in all the points of a horse, as well as in all that appertained to
the management, training and stabling of horses of every kind.
* * * * *
Horses had risen in price during Charles I.’s reign. In the reign of
Charles II. they rose higher still.
Thus about the year 1635—that is to say towards the middle of Charles
I.’s reign—300 and 400 pistoles was considered a moderate sum to pay
for a well-broken young horse.
“And the Marquis of Seralvo told me,” writes the Duke of Newcastle,
“that a Spanish horse called Il Bravo, and sent to the Arch-Duke
Leopold, his master, was held as much as a Mannor of a Thousand Crowns
a year, and that he hath known horses at 700, 800, and 1000 pistoles.”
Elsewhere we find indisputable evidence that between the beginning of
Charles I.’s and the end of Charles II.’s reign sums varying from 400
to 700 pistoles must often have been paid for saddle horses, while for
race horses the prices were considerably in excess of these sums.
It is amusing to read that the duke spoke in terms almost of contempt
of the Barb, for it shows that in one respect at least he must have
been prejudiced in much the same way that some of our modern owners
and trainers of thoroughbreds are prejudiced.
Yet he was firmly convinced that many of the horses imported from such
countries as Germany, Denmark and Holland were well suited for harness
work and for the plough.
In face of this, and in face also of his strong bias in favour of
Spanish stallions, it is surprising to hear that he deemed the English
horse to be “the best horse in the whole world for all uses whatever,
from the cart to the manage,” and that he even considered some of them
to be “as beautiful horses as can be anywhere, for they are bred out
of all the horses of all nations.”
Equally enthusiastic upon the subject of the English horse and its
merits, and upon its superiority over the horses of other nations, was
Marshal de Bassompierre, who has something to say about them in the
interesting memoirs of his embassy in England in 1626.
Thus after telling us that during his residence in this country he
received from some of the high officers of state, also from the king
himself, a present of fine horses, he goes on to mention incidentally
that it was at about this period that English thoroughbreds were
introduced into France for the first time.
This is interesting, inasmuch as certain writers of an earlier epoch
state definitely that English thoroughbreds were to be seen in parts
of France in their day.
Bassompierre, who had been in England in Elizabeth’s reign, is likely
to have known the true facts. In addition to being “addicted to
horses,” he was passionately fond of gambling, and the latter hobby is
said to have cost him in a single year some £500,000.
A family notorious early in the Stuart era for its devotion to the
Turf was the Fenwick family, so much so that several of its members
are described as having run “quite out of their fortunes” in their
futile attempts to transform two or three small fortunes into one
large one. The sensational story of Sir John Fenwick’s trial, followed
by his execution on Tower Hill in 1697, establishes a sort of landmark
in the history of the public executions of the seventeenth century.
During the first half of the same century horse fairs were organised
throughout England, and year by year they became events of greater
importance, many hundreds of men and women of all ranks travelling
from far-distant parts of the country in order to attend them. The
scenes of ribaldry by which many of these fairs were followed would
not be tolerated now. Among the more important of the fairs were those
held at Ripon, Melton, Pankridge and Northampton, but many of the
others were almost equally fashionable.
It was in the reign of Charles I. that Sir Edward Harwood presented
the famous petition, or memorial, in which he explained in forcible
language that “good and stout horses for the defence of the kingdom”
would soon be to all intents at a premium owing to the scant attention
that was then being paid to the breeding of such animals, adding that
he doubted whether, if some 2000 great horses should be wanted at
short notice, it would be possible to find so many in a fit condition
to do battle.
The French horses of the same stamp, he went on to say, were in
almost every way superior to ours, and so emphatic was he upon this
last point that he openly declared that if some 2000 of the best of
our great horses were to be set face to face in battle with an equal
number of the Frenchmen’s horses, our troops would to a certainty be
routed with heavy loss.
Seeing how earnestly Harwood spoke, the king, as we are told,
expressed sorrow and great amazement at what he heard, and at once
inquired the reason of the English horses’ alleged inferiority.
Then it was that Sir Edward made his point. With considerable
bluntness he told the king that the decline of the great horse was
due chiefly to the spread of racing and hunting, and to the growth,
consequent thereon, in the number of race meetings that were being
organised, and in the assemblage of persons who attended them.
For, as he justly pointed out, so long as the attention of the
principal body of the nobility and of the wealthy landed proprietors
was centred upon the breeding almost wholly of light and swift horses,
it was not possible to suppose that time would be found to attend also
to the breeding and rearing of the powerful animals that alone were
fit to carry men-at-arms.
Upon hearing this, Charles declared, no doubt in all good faith, that
he would take steps to revive the flagging interest in the production
of good war horses, but in the end nothing practical was done.
That the king himself took interest in the great horse we are led to
infer from the fact that upon the big seal he is shown riding astride
one. In Vandyck’s portrait of Oliver Cromwell we see Cromwell riding
rather a light-coloured great horse, a point worthy of note inasmuch
as we know that from about that time onward the term “great” horse was
almost always taken to mean a _black_ horse of this particular stamp.
[Illustration: OLIVER CROMWELL ON HORSEBACK
_After Van Dyck_]
Oliver Cromwell’s world-renowned Ironsides were not, of course,
mounted on great horses. On the contrary, though the Ironsides proved
themselves to be by far the most powerful cavalry seen in England down
to that time, their strength was due not to their weight, but to their
The dismay the Ironsides spread amongst the foe is said to have
astonished the cavaliers themselves as much as it surprised the enemy.
For it must be borne in mind that the Ironsides did not wear armour.
Instead they were protected merely by light buff coats, so that
naturally they were able to ride far lighter and consequently more
Probably it was the good work done by Cromwell’s cavalry that marked
the turning-point in the life of the old _régime_ by driving out of
the field not only the great horses that until then had been deemed
wholly indispensable, but also by sounding the death-knell of armour
that for two centuries had been growing steadily heavier and more
For many years, however, a body of the English military authorities
metaphorically clung doggedly to the clumsy horses to which they
had so long been accustomed, and to the clumsy armour as well,
declaring—as some of their successors do to-day—that the innovation
of a mobile force must soon prove unsatisfactory and ultimately be
Instead, exactly the reverse happened.
By slow degrees the armour was discarded, while the great horses, as
we are told, were relegated to the coach, the waggon and the plough.
Among those who adhered longest to the theory that England must
inevitably lose her prestige if the great horse were ousted from
her army for good and all was the Duke of Newcastle of that period.
Laughed at for his pains, and spoken of by the younger generation as
a man not able to see ahead of the times, he yet stood firmly by his
opinion almost to the last. As the years went on, and the younger
generation in their turn grew retrospective and pessimistic, no doubt
they too were laughed at by their sons, and thus history continues to
repeat itself even to the present day.
* * * * *
At about this period many of the “good” roads in England were in
reality little better than broad cart tracks, so that heavy horses
were largely in demand. In consequence of this the prices paid for a
good team of horses were in many instances out of all proportion to
the animals’ true worth. By this time, too, public stages were already
being started on the highroads, and the competition this gave rise to
soon sent up by leaps and bounds the value of great horses well broken
Of these stages the first was started probably about the year 1670,
and its weight when empty must have been enormous, every part being
made of solid timber bound with strips of iron. The “speed” at which
it travelled—so far as one can gather from the early descriptive
records of the progress of the pioneer stage—must have been
approximately three or four miles an hour, upon an average, or even
An excellent reproduction of the early type of the English great
horse is to be seen in Dublin in the famous statue of William III. on
horseback. The type of horse shown is probably the exact type that was
popular not merely in William III.’s reign, but during the greater
part of the century before he ascended the throne.
True, in that statue the king is garbed like an ancient Roman, the
reason being—I take the following statement from several Irish
jarveys, and disclaim all responsibility for its alleged accuracy—that
King William adored a foreigner and tried always to look like one!
It was, indeed, a jarvey who remarked as we drove past: “Sure, and
it is in hunting kit he should be, and on one of Pat Mecreedy’s
hundred-guinea leppers.” He appeared to be convulsed with mirth at
the bare thought that the hero of the Boyne should have been depicted
mounted upon a cart horse.
Some even among our historians, however, have averred that this horse
is wrongly proportioned. Personally I incline to the belief that the
animal is in every detail true to life, and not many years ago the
late Viscount Powerscourt declared that he himself had seen used in
parts of Holland horses that in every respect resembled this animal of
King William’s statue.
Is it not likely, therefore, that William III. may have been in the
habit of riding a Dutch horse, and that the sculptor copied this horse
Certainly if the pictures of the period are to be trusted for
accuracy, soon after the overthrow of James II. by William of Orange
there were horses in plenty of almost exactly this type to be seen
in England. Also the harness that was worn by many of the Dutch
horses shown in the pictures resembled the harness that was in use
among followers of William III., more especially the parts we mean to
indicate when we speak of a horse’s trappings.
Even the bridles greatly resembled one another in some instances.
* * * * *
Bearing directly upon the story of the horse in history are the
descriptions that have been handed down to us of the almost frantic
opposition that met the introduction of the stage coach soon after
the middle of the seventeenth century.
In some respects these descriptions recall vividly to mind the rabid
antagonism some two centuries later to the introduction of the steam
engine, not to speak of the objections that are still raised by a
proportion of the community to the general adoption of automobilism.
Prior to the introduction of the stage coach into England a
four-wheeled carriage with a long, low body had been employed to
convey the general public from one part of the country to another, and
when the stage coach first arrived many of our wiseacres were quick
to prophesy that the death-knell of the nation’s greatness had in
consequence been sounded!
Perhaps one of the stoutest of the opponents of reform in this
respect was a certain Mr Cressett, of Charterhouse, who in the year
1662 openly and in very straightforward language affirmed that the
adoption of the stage coach must “entirely ruin the country,” and who
in that year wrote a vigorous tract, in which he explained entirely
to his satisfaction—also, apparently, to the satisfaction of his
partisans—that the amount of harm the introduction of road coaching
must inevitably cause to the community at large would be enormous.
His remarks, too voluminous to reprint _in extenso_, contain in one
place the observation that “by this rapid mode of travelling”—at the
period in which he wrote it took approximately three days to get from
London to Dover, even in fine weather—“gentlemen will come to London
upon the slightest pretext, which but for these abominable coaches
they would not do but upon urgent necessity.”
Nor would the impending evil, in his opinion, end there, for, lashing
himself gradually into a fury, he went on to maintain that “the
gentlemen’s wives” would come too, and that no sooner would they find
themselves in London than they would “get fine clothes, go to plays
and treats, and by these means get such a habit of idleness and love
for pleasure that they would be uneasy ever after.”
Poor Mr Cressett!
Surely he must have been an ancestor, or at the least some early
relative, of the notorious Mr Wightman who, just before the first
London and Brighton railway was laid down, wrote a book in which he
“proved” beyond refutation that no locomotive steam engine could by
any possibility be propelled at a speed greater than about half the
speed of the fastest of the coaches then on the road!
We smile indulgently at all this now, yet, when all is said, have we
changed so very greatly since those dark and peculiar ages—since the
epoch that we now refer to so complacently as “the good old times”?
The narratives of the remarkable experiences of many of the travellers
in those early coaches would make up almost enough letterpress to
fill a volume. For from the very outset the public stages became the
unlawful prey of half the rascals with which a vast tract of the whole
of England at that time teemed. Coaches were plundered almost daily,
and while sometimes blood was spilt intentionally, often this happened
rather by accident.
Charles II., who used his influence to help on the development of
the stage coach, appears at times to have become frankly impatient
with the ultra-conservatism of the bulk of his nobility and of the
aristocracy who strove hard to check the progress of the new form of
Whatever Charles’s shortcomings may have been—and we know that he
had many—he had enough of _nous_ to be able to foresee the enormous
advantages that would be derived from the general adoption of the
Consequently he encouraged the importation of stallions and the
breeding of animals of the stamp best adapted for coach work.
Himself a finished whip, most likely, he desired that all his nobles
should emulate his example by learning to drive well, though driving
in those days was a form of amusement comparatively seldom indulged
in by the well-to-do, who, as we are told, preferred being driven by
Before Prince Charles’s proclamation, however, the ten years of the
Commonwealth’s sway had to intervene, during which time the horse’s
progress in this country suffered a set-back from the effects of which
it did not immediately recover.
The beginning of the horse’s decline in public favour may be said to
have dated from 4th January 1651, on which day a report was drawn
up—to be soon afterwards presented to Parliament—demanding that
horse races, hunting, hawking matches and football playing be at
once suppressed, the plea in favour of this radical reform being
that frequently political meetings were convened by enemies of the
Commonwealth under the veil of race meetings and similar social
Though it soon became evident that the Commonwealth was determined
to oppose, tooth and nail, any step that might in the least tend to
keep alive the interest in horse racing and horse breeding that for
many years had grown up so steadily throughout almost the length and
breadth of England, not until the 3rd July 1654 did the Government
finally decide to introduce “an ordinance to prohibit horse racing.”
This ordinance was duly passed, and the result may well be imagined.
For without further parley almost every racecourse in England was
closed, thousands of men of many different grades being thereby at
once thrown out of employment. Owners of valuable thoroughbreds
lost immense sums, for, practically without warning, they found the
order thrust upon them and so were obliged to sell their racing
stock for whatever sum it would fetch in the open market.
[Illustration: HORSES OF THE CAVALIERS. SEVENTEENTH CENTURY]
In this connection Cromwell, who himself had for many years owned
race horses and been very fond of racing, suffered with the rest,
though both he and his adherents are said to have declared that they
willingly gave up their horses “for the good of the cause they had at
There can be no doubt that many valuable sires were imported into
England about the time that Cromwell was practically in power, and
one of them, “a south-eastern horse named White Turk,” apparently was
brought over by Cromwell’s own stud groom.
Several of the early records contain interesting descriptions of the
sires that were imported at about this time. Mr William Cavendish,
afterwards Duke of Newcastle, writing about the year 1658, tells
us that the Turkish horse of the period was a tall animal, “but of
unequal shape,” and that though “remarkably beautiful, very active,
with plenty of bone and excellent wind,” it rarely had a good mouth.
“The Barb,” he writes elsewhere, “possesses a superb and high action,
is an excellent trotter and galloper, and very active when in motion.
Although generally not so strong as other breeds, when well chosen I
do not know a more noble horse, and I have read strange tales of their
The Barbs came of course from Barbary, the best of them from Morocco,
Fez, and the adjacent districts, and some from the interior of
Tripoli. Even the first to be imported were said to be better shaped
than any horses that had been seen before in this country, and to
have, in addition, excellent action by nature.
From what can be ascertained at this date, the pure Arabian steed
seldom, if ever, stood higher than fourteen and a half hands, and
rarely or never became a roarer. In all probability many even of the
finest Arabian horses stood but fourteen hands high, while plenty must
have been smaller still—say thirteen two or even thirteen one.
This is worth remembering when we know that nearly every horse that
has established a reputation on the English Turf has been of Eastern
Probably the best of the Turkish horses were descended from the horses
of Arabia and of Persia, though the former were for the most part
taller, and generally “bigger built,” besides being world renowned for
their remarkable docility.
* * * * *
At last the Commonwealth came to an end, and with the accession of
Charles II. to the throne “the whole of England,” to quote the
sentence of a contemporary chronicler, “seemed to open its lungs and
For during the ten years of the great Commonwealth the Turf had to all
intents become extinct in England. The racecourses were “overgrown and
choked,” some had been built upon, others had been converted into what
purported to be pleasure grounds—“spaces for the recreation of the
But apparently the multitude preferred the spaces as they had been
in the time of Charles I., for no sooner did it become known that
the more important of the race meetings that had been abandoned were
about to be revived than “the people rejoiced greatly and gave vent to
In a surprisingly short time race horses seemed to spring up out of
nowhere, some in such good fettle, comparatively—when it is borne
in mind that the race horse was supposed to have become practically
extinct during the Commonwealth’s _régime_—that, as one historian has
it, the severity of the laws that had been passed for the suppression
of horse racing, and indirectly of race horses, must clearly have been
evaded in several parts of this country.
Thus it comes that soon after the Restoration we read of races being
run for silver bells and other prizes at Croydon, at Theobald’s, at
Chester and many other places that had been important racing centres
before the Commonwealth.
“Though race horses were few at the time of Charles II.’s accession,”
observes one writer, “and none had eaten bread for years” (about the
middle of the seventeenth century race horses were trained largely on
bread), “and these had languished in neglect, at the Restoration they
emerged from their obscurity when the penal disabilities collapsed to
which the Turf was subjected by the Puritans.
“The revival of horse racing was almost magical in its effects. Thus
we find the Turf rising like a Phœnix from its ashes on the accession
of Charles II., to be thoroughly reinstated as our great national
pastime during the Merry Monarch’s reign.
“To this resuscitation the king extended his powerful patronage and
support. His love of the equine race is typified in the soubriquet by
which he was popularly known, namely ‘Old Rowley,’ the name of his
favourite hack. It is possible that among all our sovereigns, with the
exception, perhaps, of Richard II., King Charles II. alone rode his
horses first past the winning post. He was, indeed, a thorough English
sportsman who could hold his own against all comers in the chases, on
the racecourse and so on.”
The above description approximately sums up the Merry Monarch so
far as his fondness for horses and horse racing has to do with this
history. Every inch a horseman, he appears to have been gifted with a
singular aptitude for controlling almost any animal he mounted, and to
have developed in a high degree the instinct, or whatever it may be,
that to-day we speak of as the power of judging pace in race riding.
Endowed with nerve, also with physical courage in abundance, it is
not surprising that the king should have been looked upon by many of
his courtiers almost as a demigod when first he ascended the throne,
and that the Duke of Newcastle, who had trained him to horsemanship,
should openly have expressed himself as immensely proud of his pupil
and his pupil’s skill.
In the principal race at Chester the horses used to run five times
round the Roody. It was upon a horse running in this race that Charles
once staked and lost a small fortune. The meetings he most preferred,
however, probably were those held periodically at Newmarket,
where to this day the famous Rowley Mile recalls to memory the
seventeenth-century’s cheeriest monarch, a king to whom horse racing
in this country still owes so much.
It was, indeed, King Charles II. who almost entirely rebuilt the stand
at Newmarket after the original one had been damaged beyond repair
during the progress of the Civil War. It is said that the old race
stand was besieged on at least three separate occasions during that
long and bloody conflict.
While a certain historic race meeting at Newmarket was in progress,
Philip Rotier, the famous sculptor, availed himself of an unexpected
opportunity—an opportunity for which he had long waited—to make a
sketch of the beautiful Miss Stuart, who was destined to become in the
year 1667 the third wife of the third Duke of Richmond.
Miss Stuart’s name was at that time in everybody’s mouth, the
exquisite loveliness of her face being equalled, so it was said, only
by the moulding of her figure and the irresistible fascination of her
voice and manner. It was this unfinished portrait by Philip Rotier
that was subsequently to develop into the figure that to-day we see
upon every copper coin—the figure of Britannia with her trident.
“So exact was the likeness,” says Felton, in his notes on Waller,
“that no one who had ever seen her Grace could mistake who had sat for
How rapidly the Turf must have sprung into life once more upon Charles
II.’s accession to the throne of England may be gathered from the
statement that within six years after the date of his coronation,
“the glory of Newmarket had again eclipsed itself.” Yet apparently
the country’s prosperity did not directly benefit. The nobles and
the wealthy classes seemed determined at any and every cost to warm
both hands at the fire of life in the best and worst meaning of that
hackneyed phrase. In Pope’s “Imitation of Horace,” the statement is
made quite bluntly:—
“In days of ease, when now the weary sword
Was sheathed, and luxury with Charles restored,
In every taste of foreign courts improved,
All, by the King’s example, lived and loved.
Then peers grew proud in horsemanship t’excell—
Newmarket’s glory rose, as Britain’s fell.”
Wherever in the early histories and records mention is made of
Charles’s horsemanship, we find also some allusion to William
Cavendish, afterwards to become Duke of Newcastle, and credit for
Charles’s skill is attributed in a great measure to him.
Further we learn that at the age of ten “His Majesty’s capacity was
such that he would ride leaping horses, and such as would overthrow
others, and manage them with the greatest skill and dexterity, to the
admiration of all who beheld him.”
Indeed in this one respect he must at about that period of his
life have resembled the great Alexander, for his determination and
self-confidence when he was mounted on horseback were alike amazing.
Upon more than one occasion he expressed himself ready to ride for a
wager any horse that might be brought to him, and, if need be, to ride
In his after life, as we know, this strength of will of his grew
gradually into senseless obstinacy, yet he never lost his nerve for
riding over a country, a fact the more remarkable when we reflect upon
the sort of life he came to lead as he grew older.
The descriptions we have of the race horses he bred are somewhat
contradictory and must therefore be received with caution. That he
imported many fine mares from Barbary is certain, also it is certain
that at regular intervals he sent abroad competent judges with
instructions that they should secure for him, regardless of cost, the
best animals obtainable.
From among the best of these were selected the stud that came
afterwards to be known as the Royal Mares, a designation they bear in
the stud-book to this day. The dam of the famous Dodsworth—one of the
earliest of all our thoroughbreds—was included in the royal stud, and
its pedigree has been authenticated beyond dispute.
Emphatically Charles II. did more to encourage horse racing than any
other monarch after Henry VIII. had done, and by comparison he did
much more than Henry VIII. by any possibility could have done, the
very best racing in Henry’s reign being quite inferior to the sport
shown in the reign of the Merry Monarch.
And by every means that lay in his power the Duke of Newcastle
abetted Charles. The duke himself, soon after the Restoration, sank a
considerable sum in the purchase of fresh racing stock to add to his
stud, already a large one. And thus the foundation of the thoroughbred
stud of modern times may be said to date practically from about the
latter part of the seventeenth century.
Thomas Shadwell, the famous playwright, who, born in 1642, lived for
half-a-century, alludes in several of his dramatic works to “the great
wave of passionate devotion to vices of various kinds” that seemed to
roll gradually over the whole of England during the reign of Charles
II., while special reference is made to the all-absorbing interest
taken in the Turf while the Merry Monarch was on the throne.
Speaking of Newmarket in particular, “there a man is never idle,” he
makes one of his characters cynically observe, “for we make visits to
horses, and talk with grooms, riders and cock-keepers, and saunter in
the Heath all the fore-noon.
“Then we dine, and never talk a word but of dogs, cocks and horses.
“Then we saunter into the Heath again, then to a cock-match, then to a
play in a barn, then to supper, and never speak a word but of dogs,
cocks and horses again.
“Then to the Groom Porters, where you may play all night. Oh, ’tis a
heavenly life! We are never, never tired!”
Seeing what keen and thorough sportsmen the Irish are, as a body,
one is rather surprised to learn that until towards the close of the
seventeenth century horse racing was almost unknown in Ireland. No
sooner had it been introduced, however, than it began to develop with
great rapidity, so that within a few years it spread into many parts
of the island and we hear of race meeting after race meeting being
For horse racing seemed to suit the temperament of the Irish people as
no other form of sport had done. From the first the Irish must have
devoted much time and attention to race horse breeding, and though
their facilities for obtaining the services of the best stallions were
fewer than the facilities afforded to the English breeders, they yet
succeeded in rearing a number of useful animals, while plenty of their
race meetings soon compared favourably with some of the best meetings
that were held in England at about the same period.
But few particulars are extant of the races in which King Charles
himself rode, though several of the earlier writers inform us that he
“carried all before him.” In a despatch from Sir Robert Carr, dated
the 24th day of March 1675, we read that “Yesterday his majestie rode
himself three heats and a course and won the Plate, all fower were
hard and nere run, and I doe assure you the King wonn by good Horseman
Descriptions are to be found elsewhere of a fox hunt in which the king
took part. It took place some twenty miles from Newmarket. That was in
1680, and apparently no fox hunt in King Charles’s reign had before
been described in writing.
Yet the king, though partial to hunting, was undoubtedly much fonder
of racing. It was in this year—the year 1680—that he entertained
at Newmarket the vice-chancellor and the dons of the University of
Cambridge, and, as well, all the jockeys who had ridden at the meeting.
Whether vice-chancellor, dons and jockeys were all entertained by
the king at the same time is not stated, though we are led to infer
that they must have been. Charles, as students of history know, was
cosmopolitan to the backbone, and not ashamed of the fact. Ever a
practical joker, he is known to have taken delight that was almost
boyish in bringing together an assemblage of persons whose sentiments,
views and tastes he knew to be in every way dissimilar.
The companionship of jockeys appealed to him at all times, and the
year after he had entertained those at Newmarket we find him at
supper with the Duke of Albemarle, “and all the jockeys with them.”
During the progress of this meal Sir Robert Carr and the king arranged
several matches in which their respective horses were to be ridden by
the jockey each should nominate. That Sir Robert came badly out of
the affair may be gathered from the statement that in a single day he
lost between £5000 and £6000 “and became greatly enraged”—a breach of
etiquette that the king did not forget, and that he never forgave.
A despatch from Lord Conway, dated the 5th April 1682, contains a
descriptive account of a false start that took place in one of the
races at Newmarket owing apparently to a curious blunder on the part
of the starter.
“Here hapned yesterday,” Lord Conway writes, “a dispute upon
the greatest point of Criticall learning that was ever known at
New-Market, A Match between a Horse of Sir Rob: Car’s, and a Gelding
of Sir Rob: Geeres, for a mile and a halfe only, had engaged all the
Court in many thousand pounds, much depending in so short a course to
haue them start fairly.
“Mr Griffin was appointed to start them. When he saw them equall he
sayd Goe, and presently he cryed out Stay. One went off, and run
through the Course and claims his money, the other never stird at all.
“Now possibly you may say that this was not a fayre starting, but the
critics say after the word Goe was out of his mouth his commission was
determined, and it was illegall for him to say Stay. I suppose there
will be Volumes written upon this Subject; ’tis all refered to his
Majesty’s Judgment, who hath not yet determined it.”
Another staunch supporter of horse racing in Charles II.’s reign was
the ill-starred Duke of Monmouth, whose career on the English Turf
ended abruptly when in 1682 he was practically sent abroad as an exile.
Early in the following year, however, the idea occurred to Louis XIV.
that as horse racing had become so popular in England he would like to
make it the national pastime of France also. In order to foster public
interest in the turf, therefore, he began by offering a plate valued
at 1000 pistoles to be run for at Echere, near St Germain.
The event attracted, as he had expected it would, much attention,
not only throughout France, but in several other European countries
as well, so that in the end some of the finest horses to be found
anywhere in Europe were entered for the race.
All went well until a short time before the date of the race, when a
rumour spread mysteriously that a gelding owned by the Hon. Thomas
Wharton had been privately backed very heavily by a number of wealthy
At first the report was generally disbelieved. Then suddenly it became
known that the famous Duke of Monmouth was to ride the “dark” horse in
the big race, and at once the owners of the foreign favourites became
That they had good ground for their alarm was soon proved by the
duke’s steering the English horse to victory, apparently with great
Immediately, so we are told, Louis XIV. cried out in an access of
enthusiasm that he must obtain possession of Wharton’s horse at any
cost. Upon Wharton’s informing him that the horse was not for sale,
Louis immediately offered to pay “the animal’s weight in gold.”
Thereupon Wharton relented—though not in the way that Louis had
expected him to:
“I will not sell the horse,” he said, “no, not even for its weight in
gold. If, however, your Majesty will do me the honour to accept it as
But so generous a proposal Louis flatly declined to entertain, and
eventually the horse did not change hands at all. For some weeks
afterwards the principal topic of conversation throughout France and
part of England was the great race. Indeed it is probable that this
single race and the talk that followed it served to stimulate in
France a zest for the sport that became far keener than even Louis
XIV. had deemed would ever be possible.
[Illustration: THE DUKE OF SCHONBERG ON A TYPICAL CHARGER OF THE
_After a painting by Sir Godfrey Kneller_]
Among the more prominent of the race horse’s progenitors in the
seventeenth century were the Small Bay Arabian, imported by James I.;
Burton’s Barb Mare; the Helmsley or Buckingham Turk, owned by the Duke
of Buckingham; and of course Charles II.’s Dodsworth, a well-shaped,
natural Barb, though foaled in England about the year 1670.
Mention has already been made of the Royal Mares, the majority of
which were brought over from Tangiers about the year 1669. Towards the
beginning of Charles II.’s reign the annual charge for the horses of
the king and queen and those of the officers of the royal household
was fixed at £16,640—a sum subsequently denounced by the king’s
enemies as “extravagant beyond belief.”
That it was a considerable charge to make all must admit, yet it was
not necessarily extravagant beyond measure. For in an age when outward
ostentation imparted to the court a sort of cachet, an enormous stud
of horses, and those the best obtainable, and in addition innumerable
costly trappings, were in a sense necessities—the guarantee and
stock-in-trade, so to speak, of a court anxious to gain the world’s
applause and approval, and indirectly the support of other powerful
European nations should war break out, as in King Charles’s reign it
might well have done at almost any time.
Indeed had Charles’s court been indifferently horsed, and the king
shown signs of reducing his personal expenditure—in other words, had
the trumpets metaphorically been blown less blatantly—other European
powers would probably have looked up to England with less respect.
Full well Charles must have known this, for in his way he
was thoroughly versed in the art of what is sometimes called
“international finessing.” His Government knew it better still, with
the result that the Government “played up to the king” on the lines
adopted by the king in playing up to the Government—both knew that
extravagance and display formed the note of the age, and both struck
the note firmly with a foot on the loud pedal.
And thus in the reign of the Merry Monarch did the practice that we
now sometimes speak of as “bluffing” develop into a sort of art and
come to be cultivated carefully.
In the autumn of the seventeenth century Newmarket must truly have
been one of the gayest places in England, at anyrate when race
meetings were being held there, for it was not unusual for the entire
court and cabinet to travel down from London on such occasions, when
“jewellers and milliners, players and fiddlers, venal wits and venal
beauties would follow in crowds.”
Upon such occasions the streets, we are told, were made impassable by
coaches and six. “In the places of public resort peers flirted with
maids of honour, while officers of the Life Guards, all plumes and
gold lace, jostled professors in teachers’ caps and black gowns, for
from the neighbouring University of Cambridge there always came high
functionaries with loyal addresses, and the University would select
her ablest theologians to preach before the sovereign and his splendid
Whether those able theologians were valued at their true worth may be
gathered from a further description in which we learn that during the
wildest days of the Restoration “the most learned and eloquent divine
might fail to draw a fashionable audience, particularly if Buckingham
had announced his intention of holding forth, for sometimes his Grace
would enliven the dullness of the Sunday morning by addressing to the
bevy of fine gentlemen and fine ladies a ribald exhortation which he
called a sermon.”
The court of King William, however, proved more decent, and then
the Academic dignitaries were treated with marked respect. “Thus
with lords and ladies from St James’s and Soho, and with doctors
from Trinity College and King’s College, were mingled the provincial
aristocracy, fox-hunting squires and their rosy-cheeked daughters,
who had come in queer-looking family coaches drawn by cart horses
from the remotest parishes of three or four counties to see their
“The Heath was fringed by a wild, gipsy-like camp of vast extent.
For the hope of being able to feed on the leavings of many sumptuous
tables, and to pick up some of the guineas and crowns which the
spendthrifts of London were throwing about, attracted thousands of
peasants from a circle of many miles.”
Though James II. strove to emulate to some extent the example set
by his lighthearted predecessor on England’s throne, he failed
almost from the outset to achieve popularity in any marked degree.
More partial to hunting than to racing, during his brief reign he
nevertheless gave his support to the Turf and strove to encourage
the breeding of blood stock. His interest in the chase, however,
evaporated almost completely as he became more and more engrossed in
the affairs of state.
Whether or no James II. was a finished horseman does not appear, but
it may be there is a hidden significance in the statement to be found
in several histories that he was “the only crowned head known to have
had a surgeon to attend him in the hunting field.”
Nor is there evidence of his having ever attended a race meeting after
his accession, with the exception of an important meeting held at
Winchester in 1685.
The stakes run for at about this time were of small value. Fifty
sovereigns were deemed to be a prize well worth winning, while a purse
of 100 guineas attracted many spectators and large fields and gave
rise to “heated and excited speculation as to the probable results of
At some of the small meetings valuable horses would be entered to run
for a paltry stake of thirty sovereigns, or even for five and twenty,
and it was quite common for insignificant races of this kind to be
“decided by vile persons.”
The weights carried in races run during the latter half of the
seventeenth century were out of all proportion. Thus we read of horses
carrying ten, twelve and thirteen stone in the final heats of short
flat races—in those days almost all races were run in heats. James II.
does not appear to have owned any exceptionally famous horses, nor
does the horse come prominently to the front during his brief reign of
* * * * *
Two events of national importance took place in 1689: William and
Mary ascended the throne of England, and the famous Byerley Turk, from
which so many of our thoroughbred horses are descended, was brought
over by his owner, Captain Byerley, who later was to serve in King
William’s army and fight for him in the battle of the Boyne.
Some say that Captain Byerley had the Turk with him during that
battle, but probably this was not so.
From the standpoint from which we are passing the history of this
country in review, the arrival of the Byerley Turk was an event of
almost as great importance as William and Mary’s accession, for as
the popularity of the Turf was still increasing year by year the
importation of so valuable a stallion as the Byerley Turk in a sense
served as a landmark.
And certainly this horse proved to be one of the greatest of all the
sires that were brought over in the seventeenth century. The king, a
good judge of a horse, was much attracted by “Byerley’s Treasure,” as
some soon came to call it, and it is known that the king himself owned
at this time some of the finest thoroughbreds, probably, that had ever
been foaled. That he ran horses of his own at Newmarket is beyond
dispute, and the general impression amongst historical writers appears
to be that he ran horses also at several other meetings.
It was while attending a race meeting at Newmarket that the king
commanded the unjust Act to be put into force which rendered it penal
for a Roman Catholic to own a horse worth more than five pounds.
Trustworthy historians tell us that most likely the king would not
have acted so, but for the influence brought to bear upon him by his
queen, who apparently was anxious to vent her spite upon at least one
high-born Catholic by whom she had been affronted.
The ultra-bigoted among the king’s subjects rejoiced openly at the
enforcement of the statute, but, whatever reason there may have been
for so severe a measure, the storm of indignation aroused throughout
the country caused the king considerable uneasiness.
As a natural result of the enforcement of the Act many Catholics
presently substituted teams of oxen, and with these clumsy animals
they would drive many miles to attend their church services on Sundays.
How rapidly the Turf must have continued to acquire popularity during
this reign is proved by the fact that ten years after the king and
queen had ascended the throne—namely, in 1699—more race meetings were
held throughout the country than in any previous year in England’s
history. In this year, too, the King’s Master of the Stud, Robert
Marshall, brought over from Arabia fourteen valuable stallions at a
cost of some £1100, and these were sent direct to Newmarket, where
the king was staying at the time.
* * * * *
That the reports of the evil that is said necessarily to follow in the
train of racing were in William’s reign greatly exaggerated, as they
are to-day, may be gathered from a description of the manners of the
age to be found in the diary and state letters of Henry Hyde, Earl of
Hyde, who died at Cornbury, in Oxfordshire, in 1709, at the ripe age
of seventy-one, tells us that towards the close of the seventeenth
century “a man of the first quality made it his constant practice
to go to church,” and that he could spend the day in society with
his family and friends “without shaking his arm at the gaming-table,
associating with jockeys at Newmarket, or murdering time by a constant
round of giddy dissipation, if not criminal indulgence.”
Other writers make statements practically to the same effect, so it
is safe to infer that the foregoing description forms a true account
of the style of living in the age when the Turf reached probably its
zenith. There are, however, historians who would have us believe
that at no period did horse racing flourish in this country without
bringing with it, as though by natural process, dissipation,
debauchery and general degeneration.
Indeed, as one writer exclaims in an access of unchecked emotion,
“from the period when the noble animal became debased and prostituted
in this country from the purposes for which he was intended by his
Maker—the purposes of war and agriculture—he has gradually sunk, and
those who have helped to debase him have at great length followed his
example.” Out of consideration for this writer’s feelings—for it is
to be hoped that by now he has recognised the error of his judgment—I
refrain from mentioning his name.
William met his death through a riding accident. Mounted upon his
favourite “pleasure horse,” described as “a steed of mean stature,
named Sorrel, which had a blind eye,” the king, so it is said, for
some reason lost his temper and struck his mount a violent blow upon
the head with a heavy riding-stick.
Instantly the animal bounded forward, and William, thrown suddenly off
his balance, was unhorsed and fell heavily on his side.
Personally I think the story more likely to be true is that Sorrel
stumbled over a molehill, and, in trying to recover himself, fell on
to his side. The king, thrown violently, received an internal injury
from which he never recovered. Other stories of what took place have
also been handed down to us.
* * * * *
No less liberal a supporter of the Turf than William of Orange was
Queen Anne, his successor. A modern tautological historian quaintly
tells us that “Good Queen Anne had many horses, and they were numerous
and costly,” a phrase reminiscent of the newspaper reporter’s
description of a bride’s wedding gifts.
That Anne should have loved horses and been an enthusiastic “turfite”
is not to be wondered at when we bear in mind the sort of atmosphere
in which she had been reared.
The Duke of Cumberland’s breeding establishment at Cumberland Lodge
in Windsor Great Park—where later on Eclipse and the almost equally
famous Herod were to be foaled—probably was the best known in England.
According to Mr Theodore Andrea Cook, our modern authority upon the
thoroughbred, its origin, and all that has to do with it, the finest
breed of horse ever produced was the result of the cross between the
pure Arab and the animal that was in England towards the end of the
The Darley Arabian, foaled about the month of March, 1702, and his
line of distinguished successors, in reality started the long and
baffling process which eventually ended in the production of the
beautifully shaped animal we see in the modern thoroughbred.
Probably less than fifteen hands, the Darley Arabian was a dark bay
descended from the race the most esteemed among the Arabs. Captain
Upton maintains that it was of the Ras-el-Fadawi breed, but the mass
of the evidence obtainable points rather to its having been a pure
Certainly the Darley Arabian is one of the most historically
interesting horses that has ever been imported into this country. The
property of John Brewster Darley, Esq., of Aldby Park, near York, it
was bought at Aleppo by Brewster Darley’s brother for comparatively
a small sum, and sent to England about the year 1705, where
subsequently it became the sire of Flying Childers and consequently
the great-great-grandsire of Eclipse—three names that stand out in
the history of the horse and his connection with the history of this
country perhaps more prominently than any other three it would be
possible to mention.
Flying Childers, like his sire, was a bay, and Mr Leonard Childers, of
Carr House, near Doncaster, who bred him in 1715, soon afterwards sold
him to the Duke of Devonshire.
About fourteen and a half hands, Flying Childers is described as “a
close-made horse, short-backed and compact, whose reach lay altogether
in his limbs.”
Eclipse, as we shall see presently, was the reverse of this, for he
had great length of waist and stood over much ground.
According to trustworthy statistics, Flying Childers was the fastest
horse that ever ran at Newmarket, while it is stated, on what appears
to be good authority, that no faster horse has ever lived.
[Illustration: FLYING CHILDERS, BRED BY MR. LEONARD CHILDERS IN 1715,
IS SAID TO HAVE BEEN “THE FASTEST HORSE THAT HAS EVER LIVED”]
With only Eastern blood in his veins—his dam, Betty Leedes,
was a descendant of pure Eastern horses that had lived long in
England—Flying Childers’ career upon the Turf was truly phenomenal. He
died in 1741.
* * * * *
Another historic sire of the early part of the eighteenth century was
the Godolphin Arabian, called also the Godolphin Barb, foaled in 1724.
His height was about fifteen hands, and his colour a dark brown.
We are told that he was sent to Louis XIV. by the Emperor of Morocco,
but it is known that when he died he belonged to the Earl of Godolphin.
Whether the pedigrees of all modern thoroughbreds can or cannot be
traced back to the Byerley Turk, to the Darley Arabian, or to the
Godolphin Arabian, is still a source of argument, and opinions upon
the point probably are about equally divided.
A romantic story attaches to the Godolphin Barb—to the last he was
pronounced by Lord Godolphin to be an Arabian—inasmuch as he was at
one period of his life driven in a water cart in the streets of Paris.
He died in 1753, and his remains lie under the stable gateway at Gog
Magog, near Cambridge.
* * * * *
After the race meeting known as Royal Ascot had been inaugurated by
Queen Anne, in 1712, the tone of the Turf in England greatly improved.
The rules of racing were revised, and more attention was paid to their
enforcement. Also steps were taken to prevent “undesirable and roguish
persons” from “indulging in their wicked and thievish habits”—in
short, a serious attempt was made to purify the Turf, as the process
is termed now.
To what extent this alleged purification proved effectual we are
not told, but a number of persons who probably were considered
“undesirable and roguish,” were, about the year 1718, ordered to
“abstain from attending the meetings,” a command that most likely
was the equivalent for being warned off the Turf, and apparently
is the first actual allusion to warning off the Turf that is to be
found mentioned in history. It has even been maintained that the
inauguration of the Jockey Club, believed to have taken place in
1750, was prompted by an urgent necessity for a body of responsible
Turf administrators with power “to order thievish persons to keep
I believe it is not generally known, except among persons versed in
Turf history, that prior to the inauguration of the Derby and the Oaks
it was quite exceptional for three-year-old horses to be raced at all.
Before that time the three-year-old was looked upon more or less in
the same way that to-day we look upon the yearling.
Indeed early in the eighteenth century but few horses were run
when very young. In William and Mary’s reign some of the most
important races were won by six-year-olds, and we find allusion to a
six-year-old plate that must have been run for at about this time.
Nearly all the long races were still run in heats, and some of the
horses entered were nine, ten, twelve and even more.
* * * * *
The practice of cropping manes and docking tails was expressly
condemned by Queen Anne, also by one of the Georges, probably George
III. Berenger, in his “History and Art of Horsemanship,” published
in 1771, observes that “the cruelty and absurdity of our notions and
customs in ‘cropping,’ as it is called, the ears of our horses,
‘docking’ and ‘nicking’ their tails, is such that we every day fly in
the face of reason, nature and humanity.
“Nor is the existing race of men in this island alone to be charged
with this folly, almost unbecoming the ignorance and cruelty of
savages, but their forefathers several centuries ago were charged and
reprehended by a public canon for this absurd and barbarous practice.
“However, we need but look into the streets and roads to be convinced
that their descendants have not degenerated from them, although his
present Majesty in his wisdom and humanity has endeavoured to reclaim
them by issuing an order that the horses which serve in his troops
shall remain as nature designed them.”
Only a few years after the publication of the “History and Art of
Horsemanship” a determined attempt was made to suppress, once and for
all time, the practices referred to. For a while public interest was
greatly stirred, and it seemed as though the practices would at last
be put an end to by direct legislation, but eventually undue influence
was brought to bear, and nothing was done.
Indeed, as most of us must have noticed, the practice of docking the
tails of nearly all horses except race horses is so prevalent at the
present time that in many instances the tails are cut to within a few
inches of the root, while some of our ultra “fashionable” horse
dealers go so far as to pluck out most of the hairs left on the stump.
In the west of England the latter trick is indulged in more often than
in the northern counties or the midlands.
* * * * *
Of all the famous sires whose names stand out as household words in
the annals of the horse in history, but few bear comparison with the
[Illustration: MR. O’KELLY’S ECLIPSE, THE MOST FAMOUS THOROUGHBRED
STALLION EVER FOALED 1764
_After the painting by G. Stubbs_]
Bred, as already mentioned, by the Duke of Cumberland, he took his
name from the coincidence that the great eclipse of 1764 was in
progress at the very hour of his birth.
There does not seem to have been anything particularly striking about
the foal’s appearance, and certainly none imagined for a moment that
he would be likely to grow into one of the most famous horses, if not
the most famous horse, the Turf has ever known.
Until the age of five, Eclipse was not run in public, but from the
time he won his first race, in May 1769, until his last appearance
upon the Turf, in October 1770, he was never beaten, or near being
beaten. The long list of his triumphs need not be given here, but Mr
Theodore Cook reminds us in his exhaustive work upon this horse that
it was Dennis O’Kelly’s son of Eclipse that won the second Derby, and
that out of 127 races, including the first, Eclipse’s descendants had
down to the year 1906 furnished no fewer than eighty-two winners.
Eclipse himself was sold as a yearling for less than 100 guineas. Of
his direct descendants, a yearling filly was bought not very long ago
for 10,000 guineas; a race horse in training has fetched £39,375 at
public auction; two sires have each produced stock that has won over
half-a-million sterling; and other horses tracing back to him in the
direct male line have won the “Triple Crown” nine times out of ten and
hold the record for the pace at which the Two-Thousand, the Derby and
the Leger have been run.
Upon one point all trustworthy authorities on thoroughbreds and their
performances, also the principal historians of the Turf, and in
addition the leading “turfites” of our own period, are in agreement,
and that is that since the time of Flying Childers the Turf, the world
over, has not known a horse faster than Eclipse was.
This in itself is exceptional praise, but Eclipse was to add
materially to his extraordinary reputation, for while at stud he
became the sire of 335 winners who between the year 1774 and the year
1796 won close upon £160,000 in stakes alone, exclusive of cups and
plates, and in addition his owner is known to have stated openly that
he was paid for the horse’s services as a stallion upwards of £25,000.
Referring again to the later descendants of Eclipse, we find that
in the year 1894 they won between them over £421,400 in stakes, the
number of winners being 827, and the total number of races won, 1469.
Indeed there probably is not any other horse in the world, nor ever
has been, that has been the prime cause of so much money changing
Perhaps what most attracted attention to Eclipse in his racing days
was the apparent ease with which he won. His stride is said to have
been phenomenal. Did he, during the whole of his career upon the
Turf, ever fully extend himself? The question has many times been
discussed by experts, and the consensus of opinion seems to point to
the conclusion that he never did.
For even after making his greatest efforts he did not seem to be
distressed. The race-loving public seemed almost to worship him at
about the period he reached his zenith, and in the end it was to all
intents impossible to back him.
The interest the king was known to take in Eclipse was very great,
yet probably George III. was at heart less interested in the sport of
racing than any of his predecessors had been.
Thackeray insinuates this in his immortal satire of “The Four
Georges,” and with truth it may be said that of all the great horses
that have figured prominently either directly or indirectly in the
history of this country, Flying Childers and Eclipse take precedence.
* * * * *
Much that has been written on the subject of Queen Anne’s alleged
fondness for horses would seem to be based on doubtful knowledge. The
more discriminating among our historians appear to think that too much
importance has been attached to many of the statements.
There are, I believe, letters extant from Queen Anne in which she
talks at length upon the subject of the horses that belonged to her,
but certain documents of the same sort are attributed to her which she
probably did not write.
The King of Denmark, upon one occasion made her a present of twelve
mares carefully chosen by himself, but for the rest the majority of
the stories told of Queen Anne should be accepted with reservation.
Indeed from the middle of the eighteenth to the middle of the
nineteenth century the horse again figured largely in romance, a fact
that may in a measure account for the stories that have been put about
of Queen Anne and her horses.
Smollett is but one of the writers whose works are prolific of
narratives of the kind, and some of these stories from being repeated
so frequently came at last to be believed by a mass of the people.
Thus the tales of Sir Launcelot Graves’ adventures, and of the acts
that were attributed to Sir Launcelot’s grotesque “mettlesome sorrel,”
Bronzomarte, were believed by some actually to be true.
In point of fact this Sir Launcelot must have been a sort of Don
Quixote who in the reign of George II. deemed it his mission to
roam about England “redressing wrongs, discouraging moral evils not
recognisable by law, degrading immodesty, punishing ingratitude and
reforming society generally.”
Fables were related too of Robert Burns’ mare, Jenny Geddes, while the
poets also took possession of the palfrey which belonged to Madame
Chatelet of Circy—the lady with whom Voltaire lived for ten or more
years—and wove around it, also round its mistress, many romantic but
wholly fictitious narratives.
Its name was Rossignol, and, according to one poet at least, Madame
Chatelet fed the creature “on newly picked apricots, gave it milk to
drink, and rode with a silken rein.” Rossignol is mentioned also in
the history of Voltaire’s life.
The story of Dr Dove’s steed that was called Nobbs has the seal of
Southey upon it, which may account for the animal’s having been
dragged into so many romances. At best, however, it was a foolish
beast. Dr Dove, it may be unnecessary to remind the reader, is the
hero of Southey’s “Doctor.” The extent to which some of the famous
stories of romance came in course of time to be woven into other
stories is rather remarkable.
Thus we find Dr Dove described in three different stories as three
distinct and different individuals not one of whom is recognisable as
the same person and the original, while the horse, Nobbs, is spoken of
in one story as a bay, in another as a brown, in a third as a black.
Is it possible that the authors of those stories can have read
the original Southey? And if history of such small importance,
comparatively, is thus corrupted, can one place implicit belief in
many of the serious historical narratives? Rather one is tempted to
believe the assertion of Pitt, “the boy Prime Minister,” when he
declared in all seriousness that “nothing is so uncertain as positive
* * * * *
Most historians make mention of the charger that carried Wellington so
well at Waterloo; yet the only statement with the impress of truth in
this connection is that the horse died in 1835, aged twenty-seven. It
was Wellington’s favourite steed, and its name was Copenhagen. Of
his other horses we read but little.
Marengo, Napoleon’s favourite mount, was, according to one historian,
a pure white stallion; according to another a cream-coloured gelding.
In Vernet’s famous picture of Napoleon crossing the Alps we are shown
a snow-white horse, and Meissonnier shows us a snow-white horse too,
so most likely this animal actually was quite white. The resting-place
of Marengo’s remains is the Museum of the United Services, in London.
[Illustration: NAPOLEON AT WAGRAM
_From the famous painting by Vernet at Versailles_]
In an age when attempts are made to overthrow almost every established
historical record, and when we are even informed quite gravely that
Joan of Arc was not burnt at the stake at all, but that the victim was
some other woman—a lady of rank, who out of compassion for the poor
Pucelle was at the last moment prompted to sacrifice herself in her
place!—it is not surprising that sceptics should exist who would have
us believe that Napoleon’s horse was not called Marengo.
What is it, precisely, that prompts this section of modern searchers
after “positive truth” to cast doubts upon so many of the minor
historical incidents? For, as a reviewer recently observed, it is
hardly worth the while of any serious historian to waste time in
refuting such misstatements.
Sir Charles Napier owned a mare that he prized greatly. Its name
was Molly, but it does not appear to have performed any exceptional
feats of prowess. Apparently the only point about it upon which our
historians lay stress is that the animal lived to the age of five and
thirty. As for Lord Nelson’s connection with horses, so far as I have
been able to ascertain it was limited to his superstitious belief that
the possession of a horseshoe must bring him luck. At any rate he
always kept at least one horseshoe nailed to the mast of his ship, the
The story of Siegfried’s horse, Grane, is of course well known. In
William Combe’s quaint tale of the simple-minded, henpecked clergyman,
Dr Syntax, we have a horse named Grizzle that was “all skin and bone.”
Written in eight-syllable verse, the narrative explains in rather an
amusing way how the eccentric old scholar left home in search of the
picturesque, and Grizzle figures largely in it from beginning to end,
in much the same way that the ill-starred pony, Fiddleback, figures in