So far as hunting was concerned, Henry VIII. was, as we know, a keen
sportsman, and Queen Elizabeth would appear to have been almost an
equally enthusiastic sportsman. Passionately devoted to the chase,
nothing gave her greater pleasure than to see “the quarry broken up
before her.” Statements to this effect are to be found in the works of
three trustworthy writers at least, so we may take it that the records
are approximately accurate. The queen “loved to be on horseback for
its own sake,” and was fond of open air at all times.
It is in connection with Elizabeth’s partiality for the chase that the
story is told of a man named John Selwyn, for many years under keeper
of the park at Oaklands, in Surrey, where some of the queen’s hunters
were usually stabled during the autumn and winter.
Selwyn must in several ways have been a remarkable character, but
it is with his horsemanship only that we have here to deal. On the
occasion, then, of a great stag hunt which the queen had arranged
should take place in the park at Oaklands, Selwyn was “chief in
attendance”—in other words, huntsman.
Suddenly, as we are told, a stag was started.
When it had been hunted only a short time, a fear was expressed by the
queen that it would escape, “the animal having proved of such unusual
swiftness that it was feared the hounds would not be able to overtake
Determined that this should not happen, “Selwyn pressed spurs to his
horse, and galloping at an angle, and sideways,” succeeded in coming
alongside the stag as it was about to turn off abruptly.
At once the enthusiasm and excitement of the spectators, especially
of the queen, became intense; nor did it abate when they saw Selwyn,
still galloping at top speed, neck and neck with the stag, suddenly
vault right off his horse’s back on to the stag’s, “where he kept his
seat gracefully in spite of every effort of the affrighted beast to
throw him off.”
Thus he galloped on for some yards, the queen and all the spectators
wondering what he would do next. They were not kept long in suspense.
Of a sudden Selwyn swiftly but calmly drew out his hunting knife.
Then he began to prod the animal with its point, first on one side of
its neck, then on the other, until at last he succeeded in forcing the
stag to gallop round to a point within a few yards of the very spot
where the queen sat waiting.
At last, when the animal was very near the queen, its rider suddenly
plunged his knife deep into its throat, “so that the blood spurted out
and the beast fell dead just by her feet.”
This display is said to have delighted the queen so greatly that she
soon afterwards granted Selwyn several favours, and on the monument
still to be seen at Walton-on-Thames he is portrayed in the act of
stabbing, in the manner described, the stag slaughtered on that
memorable occasion. Selwyn died on 27th March, 1587.
* * * * *
Of the famous horses of fiction and romance in the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries, one or two more must be mentioned. Don
Quixote’s immortal squire, Sancho Panza, who, it will be remembered,
rode upon an ass named Dapple, was Governor of Barataria.
Though endowed with common sense, and though his proverbs have
become historical, he was wholly devoid of what is sometimes called
Nevertheless Don Quixote and his horse, Rosinante—a name that means
literally “formerly a hack”—came gradually to be renowned the world
To this day, indeed, “a perfect Rosinante” is the comment not
infrequently passed upon a horse that is mostly skin and bone.
Peter of Provence’s wooden horse, Babieca, is another “creature” whose
name must not be omitted.
“This very day,” we read in Don Quixote, “may be seen in the King’s
armoury the identical peg with which Peter of Provence turned his
wooden horse which carried him through the air. It is rather bigger
than the pole of a coach, and stands near Babieca’s saddle.”
Don Quixote himself rode astride the wooden horse, Clavileno, on the
occasion when he wished to disenchant the Infanta Antonomasia and her
husband shut up in the tomb of Queen Maguncia, of Candaya, and Peter
of Provence rode it when he made off with beautiful Magalona.
Merlin was the name of its maker, and the horse was so constructed
that it could be governed by turning a wooden peg in its forehead.
The name means “wooden peg.” A comprehensive description of these
incidents may be found in the fourth and fifth chapters of the third
book of “Don Quixote,” but the description is not of sufficient
interest to be quoted here.
The story of the Cid’s horse, to date back to an earlier century, is
almost as well known as the story of Rosinante. The Cid’s horse died
some two and a half years after its master’s death, and during the
whole of that period none rode it, the order having gone forth that
under no circumstances was anybody to mount the animal. At its death
its body was buried near the gate of the monastery at Valencia, two
trees being planted close to the grave to mark its whereabouts.
According to the popular legend, the horse acquired its name through
Rodrigo’s having, when told in his youth that he might select a horse,
chosen an almost valueless colt. His godfather, annoyed at this
display of ignorance, at once nicknamed the lad “the dolt,” which
nickname Rodrigo presently conferred upon the horse itself. Literally,
however, “Cid” is Arabic for “lord.”
* * * * *
Among the few traits in the character of Mary Queen of Scots that have
not formed subjects for controversy among the many biographers of that
ill-starred sovereign, her undoubted fondness for animals stands out
From first to last I have read many biographies of Mary Queen of
Scots, and it is remarkable that no two coincide consistently in
their statements, from which we are forced to the conclusion that the
majority of such works have been produced by writers who either were
bigoted or deeply prejudiced, or else who had some private axe to
With regard to Mary’s horses, her two chief favourites would appear to
have been Rosabelle—the animal at one time worshipped by a proportion
of the body of minor poets!—and Agnes, called after Agnes of Dunbar, a
countess in her own right. This palfrey—almost all the horses of the
period of Mary Queen of Scots are spoken of as “palfreys”—apparently
came as a gift from her brother, Moray, and though it does not appear
to have been a steed of exceptional quality she was extraordinarily
fond of it. We find it referred to occasionally as Black Agnes.
Then, though all the evidence obtainable tends to convey the
impression that Mary Queen of Scots must have been a clever
horsewoman, she does not appear to have been very fond of hunting, in
consequence of which two at least of her biographers go so far as to
hint that her alleged distaste for the chase tended in a measure to
increase Elizabeth’s hostility towards her.
From what early historians tell us, Mary probably looked far better on
a horse than Elizabeth ever did—the slimness alone of Mary’s figure by
contrast with Elizabeth’s may have been in a measure responsible for
this—and the knowledge must have vexed Elizabeth, who took particular
pride in her riding and was desirous above many other things to be
deemed a finished horsewoman. How vast a number of horses must have
been owned by the nobles and by other persons of wealth who dwelt
scattered over the whole of England may be gathered from the statement
of Ralph Holinshed that Queen Elizabeth alone required, when she
travelled, some 2400 animals, almost all of which had to be provided
by residents in the districts in which she moved.
The majority of these horses were employed to drag the great carts
which contained the queen’s baggage, yet we are told that “the ancient
use of somers and sumpter horses” having been “utterly relinquished,
causeth the trains of our princes in their progresses to show far less
than those of the kings of other nations.”
Naturally it must be borne in mind that the weight of the baggage of
persons of rank in the sixteenth century was excessive, especially
when it was added to the weight of the clumsy carts that were used for
the conveyance of such baggage, so that four, six and even more horses
were often enough harnessed to a single cart when it was fully loaded.
Then, too, the roads were for the most part in so bad a state of
repair—many of them could not, properly speaking, be called roads at
all—that frequent changes of horses were necessary.
* * * * *
In Drayton’s well-known “Polyolbion” we have a horse that is very
famous in romance. Arundel by name—a name that is said to have been
originally a corruption of the French word, _hirondelle_—it was
“swifter than the swiftest swallow.” This horse belonged to Bevis of
Southampton, “the remarkable knight,” and apparently it had as many
good points as any animal can possess. In the sixteenth century almost
every horse of note actually living, or in romance, took its name from
one or other of its chief characteristics. Thus in Tasso’s “Jerusalem
Delivered” we find Raymond’s steed, Aquiline, that was bred on the
banks of the Tagus, particularly remarkable for what we should to-day
call a Roman nose.
Aquiline figures largely in “Jerusalem Delivered,” and Raymond, who
was Count of Toulouse and commander of some 4000 infantry, and who,
in addition, was remarkable for his wisdom and coolness in debate, is
shown to have owed a measure of his success to Aquiline’s phenomenal
sagacity. Indeed Aquiline probably saved him from destruction upon
more than one occasion.
We come upon other horses in several portions of “Jerusalem
Delivered,” especially in connection with the slaying by Raymond
of Aladine, the cruel old king. The stirring description of this
incident, and of the planting of the Christian standard upon the tower
of David by Raymond, is to be found in the twentieth book; but as we
know that the Holy Land was being ruled by the Caliph of Egypt at the
very time Raymond is supposed to have been attacking King Aladine, it
at once becomes obvious that the narrative must have been fictitious.
* * * * *
“The Faerie Queene” is another classic in which we find interesting
allusions to horses, mostly the horses of romance.
One of the best known of these animals is Brigadore, called sometimes
Brigliadore, which belonged to Sir Guyon, and was remarkable for a
black mark in its mouth, in shape like a horseshoe.
Sir Guyon, who impersonated Temperance or Self-Government, was the
companion of Prudence, and he alludes several times to Brigadore. His
fame, as most scholars will remember, rests in a great measure upon
his destruction of the enchantress, Acrasia, in the bower called the
Bower of Bliss, which was situated in the Wandering Island.
The name Acrasia means self-indulgence, and this witch was
particularly dreaded because of her partiality for transforming her
lovers into monstrous shapes and then keeping them captive.
The story of Sir Guyon’s stealthy approach while Acrasia lay
unsuspectingly in her bower, and of the way in which he succeeded in
throwing a net over her, subsequently in binding her firmly in chains
of adamant, then in breaking down “her accursed bower” and burning it
to ashes, is too well known to need description here, and of course it
has no direct bearing upon Brigadore.
So far as we can judge, the horses of Anatolia and Syria must have
been well known in Europe by about the middle of the sixteenth
century, though one or two writers aver that they did not come over
An artist who died about the year 1603, and whose name was Stradamus,
produced, not long before his death, a series of drawings, and a set
of these was subsequently issued under the title, “Equile Johannis
Ducis Austriaci,” which means, “The Stable of Don John of Austria.”
It is interesting to note in this connection that practically all the
horses and mares imported between the year 1660 and the year 1685 came
from Smyrna, though the renowned Darley Arabian and several more came
This is of particular importance in relation to the records of the
horse in England’s history, for there can be no doubt that a great
part of our thoroughbred racing stock is descended from these very
* * * * *
That remarkable feats of horsemanship were performed in the reign
of Elizabeth is beyond dispute, but unfortunately the particulars
obtainable are extremely meagre.
Of Sir Robert Carey’s historic ride upon the death of the queen,
details worth recording are given. No sooner had the queen breathed
her last, we are told, than Sir Robert Carey, notorious sycophant that
he was, who for days and nights had been loitering about the queen’s
bed-chamber and displaying the keenest anxiety as to her condition,
set off on horseback to convey to the heir, King James, the news of
“So great was his desire to bring the news to King James before that
monarch had heard it from any other source,” we read, “that with the
lamentations of the dead queen’s women still ringing in his ears
he left the bedside of his kinswoman and benefactress and started
to announce the important tidings to King James, an act quite as
indelicate as it was wholly unauthorised.”
Sir Robert’s indelicacy, or alleged indelicacy, however, is no
concern of ours. As a feat of endurance, his ride was truly an
extraordinary one, for he actually galloped the whole distance from
London to Edinburgh, about 400 miles, in less than sixty hours, though
during the journey he had at least one severe fall.
How many horses he rode I have not been able to ascertain, but that
he had made in advance full preparations for this journey is more
than likely, as it is beyond dispute that he had covered the first
160 miles by nightfall on the day after he started. The exact time at
which he set out we are not told.
What made the feat more wonderful still was the condition of nearly
all the roads in England during Elizabeth’s reign, with the exception
of the Roman roads and a few besides, some north of Doncaster being
really little more than tracks.
That Sir Robert Carey was well repaid for his enterprise may be
gathered from the statement that King James I. “rewarded him for being
the first to bring him the glad news, by granting him signal favours.”
* * * * *
From about this period onward the horse may be said to have entered
upon the third phase of its career in the history of all nations, but
more especially in the history of our own nation. For, as we have
seen, from very early times down to the period of the Norman Conquest
the nations that had not horses had almost without exception been
forced to take a secondary place in the world’s progress.
From the period of the Norman Conquest down to the beginning of the
accession of the House of Stuart—indeed, as we shall see presently,
almost down to the period of the Commonwealth—the improvement and
development of the horse as an “arm” in warfare had gone practically
hand in hand with the improvement in the training of men to fight in
battle. And from then onward, that is to say from the beginning of the
period of the Stuarts and the Commonwealth, down to the present day,
the horse has been connected with history in the capacity of charger
or war horse, hunter or pleasure horse, and thoroughbred or race horse.
Let me state at once, then, that it is not my intention to describe
at length, or even to mention by name, all the more or less famous,
horses that have been owned by the more prominent or distinguished men
at any time within the last three hundred years, for such a collection
of names, or of descriptions, would not be likely to prove of interest
to the modern reader. In addition comparatively few of the records
concerning these animals bear the impress of truth.
As we come to the close of the nineteenth and the opening of the
twentieth centuries historical records increase enormously in volume,
so that now we find ourselves confronted by a mass of reports, many
of which bear directly upon horses that are of no interest whatever,
though they may have belonged to famous men whose names are still
Thus in a single history of Napoleon I. we find two pages of
descriptive matter to do with a horse of his called Wagram; two pages
about Cyrus, another of his horses; a page about his horse named Emir;
half-a-page about his Coco; three pages about Gongalve; two about
Coquet; three about Tausis, and so on all the way through, while
everything that is said about them could quite easily be condensed
into three or four short sentences.
Indeed the biographers of the majority of our great military leaders
have deemed it necessary to write long and verbose descriptions of the
animals that were owned by these historical celebrities, apparently
for no other reason than that they did belong to celebrities.
When all is said, it is difficult to imagine how or whence they can
have obtained such circumstantial information. Granting, however, the
truth of all the statements—and one cannot say definitely that any
one of them is not true in every detail—was it worth while to tell us
that Piers Gaveston owned a grey, or that Blucher remarked upon some
uninteresting occasion that he had a horse that used to jib?
Yet trivial points of this sort are to be found mentioned in plenty of
the so-called popular biographies of our great men.
Of more interest it would have been had the biographers succeeded in
discovering, and then told us, what sort of bits Napoleon liked to
ride his chargers in, and his reason or reasons for preferring them,
or whether Blucher ever tried his grey in blinkers. Then the horses
described at such weary length might possibly have taught us a lesson
or two worth learning.
“King James I.’s love of racing,” writes a trustworthy chronicler of
the movements at the court of James I. and Charles I. “was due to the
importation into England of the first Arab horse ever seen here.”
That simple statement records one of the most important incidents
that has occurred in the development of the horse in this country, an
incident that subsequently proved to be of great moment in connection
with the history of Great Britain. For though the assertion has many
times been controverted, careful research proves beyond doubt that
until the arrival in England of the Markham Arabian—which in after
generations was to become so greatly renowned—no Arab of any sort had
been brought into this country.
[Illustration: STATUE OF COLLEONI BY VERROCCHIO IN VENICE]
The stories that have been told of this, the first of the famous
Eastern sires, are numerous, and, as is usual in such cases, the
majority of them are apparently untrue.
One of the most widely circulated of the misstatements was to the
effect that the price paid by King James to Mr Markham for this
particular Arab sire was not less than £500, and in papers and books
almost innumerable, in which the Markham Arabian is mentioned, this
false statement is repeated.
That it is false beyond dispute is proved by the actual entry of the
purchase that may be seen to this day in the Exchequer or Receipt
Order Books in the Public Record Office. The entry runs as follows:—
“Item the 20th of December, 1616, paid to Master Markham for the
Arabian Horse for His Majesty’s own use, £154, 0. 0.”
It is almost inconceivable that anyone can seriously have believed
that £500, or any sum approaching it, could have been paid for this
sire, for at that period no sum approaching £500 ever was paid for any
horse, the purchasing value of money being until after the reign of
James I. so much in excess of its purchasing value some two centuries
That several thoroughbred Eastern sires were bought by James is well
known, among the last to which reference is made by the historians
being the famous Villiers Arabs, which the king does not appear to
have acquired until towards the end of his reign.
Yet in spite of all that has been said and written about John
Markham’s stallion, the horse was not, according to that excellent
judge of horses, the Duke of Newcastle, the class of animal that any
man would have chosen to breed from for looks, for, in the duke’s own
words, “He [the Markham Arabian] was a bay, but a little horse, and no
rarity for shape; for I have seen many English horses far finer….
Mr Markham sold him to the King for five hundred pounds (_sic_), and
being trained up for a course, when he came to run, every horse beat
I believe I am right in saying that the identity of John Markham has
never been positively traced, also that the consensus of opinion
inclines to the belief that he was the father of the famous author,
Gervase Markham, who for many years held the post of keeper of
Clipston Shraggs Walk, in Sherwood Forest.
Among the works of Gervase Markham is a volume entitled “Cavalarice,
or the English Horseman,” in which many grotesque and unintentionally
humorous passages are to be found.
Each of the eight books which together go to make up this work is
dedicated to some distinguished personage, of whom James I. is one,
and Henry, Prince of Wales, another.
To James I. we are probably indebted for the existence of the town
of Newmarket, for it is certain that he not only inaugurated the
construction of the village, but in addition brought his influence to
bear upon its development, and that he greatly helped to stimulate the
interest which the people of Newmarket and the neighbourhood already
took in the breeding and training of running horses. It may be partly
for this reason that Newmarket is still so often spoken of as “the
Notwithstanding the disappointment the Markham Arabian must have
afforded James I., we read that the king offered a silver bell of
considerable value to be run for at Newmarket, that the entries
for the race were numerous, and that “the event gave rise to much
speculation, wagering and public interest.”
It was, indeed, in this connection that Ben Jonson wrote so
caustically, or rather satirically, in his famous “Alchemist,” and
alluded incidentally to “the rules to cheat at horse races.”
Elsewhere Jonson describes, and mentions by name, some of the race
horses that probably were well known on the Turf at about that period.
Seeing how keen the interest was that James I. took almost from
boyhood in all that related to the Turf, and to the breeding of race
horses, we can hardly be surprised to hear that during his reign the
general interest in the breeding of “great horses,” which had been so
marked a feature of Henry VIII.’s reign, also of Elizabeth’s reign, at
one time threatened to die out.
Robert Reyce speaks of this in his “Breviary of Suffolk,” a book which
he dedicated to Sir Robert Crane, of Chiltern, and elsewhere allusions
are to be found to the decay of interest in the breeding of “great
Indeed James appears to have admitted quite openly that the bare
sight of the animals bored him “owing to the clumsy appearance they
presented,” a view that is shared to-day by several of the more
prominent of our owners of race horses.
Under the circumstances it is amusing to find the king himself
inditing a ponderous treatise “for the instruction and edification of
his son,” Henry, Prince of Wales, a treatise suitably enough entitled
“Religio Regis: or the Faith and Duty of a Prince.”
Apparently he wrote the greater part of this work at Newmarket, for in
it he alludes more than once to the races which were being held there
at the time, races at which he had been present on the day he wrote.
That he deemed horsemanship to be a form of exercise of inestimable
value becomes obvious as we read “Religio Regis”; but then in the
reign of almost every monarch from about the beginning of the Stuart
period down to the time of the four Georges great stress is laid by
the various sovereigns upon the advisability that the sons of the
nobles and of the aristocracy should become proficient horsemen.
The author of “The Court of King James” also is emphatic in his advice
to courtiers “to be very forwardly inclined to bring up horses,”
adding that such horses should be bred from the best strains only,
and that no matter how great the sum expended in order to secure good
strains, the money could not be looked upon as wasted.
Of the royal studs in the reign of James I., the most important
probably were those at Newmarket, at Eltham, at Tutbury, Malmesbury
and Cole Park, and among the manuscripts in the British Museum there
may be seen to-day an interesting list of the “necessaries” which
appertained to the royal stables, all classified under separate
headings—geldings, cart horses, coursers, hunters, battle horses, and
Remarks upon the part played by the horse in history at about this
time are to be found also in Lodge’s “Illustrations of British
History,” where, in the third volume, we read that on 6th April 1605
there arrived at Greenwich Palace “a dozen gallant mares, all with
foal, four horses, and eleven stallions, all coursers of Naples.”
These the archduke begged King James to accept as a small mark of the
esteem in which the king was held by himself and his country-men.
In the historical records of almost the whole of James I.’s reign we
find reference made repeatedly to race horses, also to the sport of
hunting. An important fixture, as we should call it to-day, apparently
was the Chester Meeting. It took place on St George’s Day, and the
chief race was known as “The St George’s Cup.” The riders carried ten
stone, and the entrance stake was half-a-crown.
A quaint rule in connection with this race was that the winning owner
had to contribute to a fund for the benefit of the prisoners confined
in the North Gate jail “the sum of six shillings and eightpence or
three shillings and fourpence, on certain conditions.”
In addition to the cup, silver bells were run for at this meeting,
and it is interesting to learn that before removing their prizes the
cup winner and the bell winners were compelled to deposit “adequate
security”—presumably with the race committee—for these trophies. For
all the principal trophies had to be run for again at the following
meeting, and we are told quite seriously that it was feared that if
the temporary owners were allowed to remove these prizes without
leaving any security they might have been disposed to make away with
them before the date of the next meeting!
At the Chester Meeting, and therefore presumably elsewhere, the
sheriff acted as starter, “and if any rider committed foul play during
the race he was disqualified in case he won.”
About the year 1624, however, certain changes were made in the rules
of racing, and from that time onward some of the races were run five
times round the course instead of only three times, also the winner
of a cup became entitled to retain it as his property “upon the first
occasion of gaining it.”
Professional jockeys in the reign of James I. held, in a sense, quite
a good position. The king associated with them frequently, especially
at Newmarket. Indeed, he openly admitted that he preferred the company
of sportsmen to that of politicians, and that the surroundings of the
racecourse and the pleasures of the chase attracted him far more than
did the business of the state.
His enemies, as we know, took advantage of these carelessly uttered
assertions when later they set to work to encompass his downfall, and
during the closing years of his reign he was made to suffer unjustly
for many of the minor follies of his youth.
It was wholly characteristic of James that he should upon one
occasion—he was staying at Croydon at the time in order to attend
the race meeting that was held there in Easter week—have in a sudden
access of emotional enthusiasm created his friend, Philip Herbert, a
knight, a baron and a viscount in the course of a few minutes.
This he is said to have done in order to mark his appreciation of
Herbert’s self-control when, after being struck in the face by a
Scotsman named Ramsey, Herbert refrained from hitting back.
Though the king and all his courtiers and many strangers were present
upon the occasion, Herbert did not betray the least sign of annoyance,
though the blow was a severe one.
It should be borne in mind that during James’s reign the Scots had, as
a nation, come to be almost execrated, so that the affront was all the
The king is said to have expressed it as his opinion that under the
circumstances Philip Herbert’s self-restraint came near to being
As James’s fondness for racing increased, so did the great majority of
his nobles, his barons and his courtiers profess to grow fonder of the
sport, while many soon took to gambling with great recklessness.
This the king apparently encouraged them to do, for we learn that he
was “wont to laugh heartily when told that some of his sycophants
had lost exceptionally large sums of money,” or, as was frequently
the case, that one or other of them had been compelled to part with
a portion of his estates in order to meet debts of honour. The women
of the court also aped the king at this time, as indeed they appear
to have done in almost every age. Yet their losses were small by
comparison with the sums lost on the Turf by their daughters and
granddaughters in the reign of Charles II., half-a-century or so later.
Two years after James I. had ascended the throne there set in one of
the coldest winters this country has ever known, with the result that
a long stretch of the River Ouse became frozen over and so afforded
the king an opportunity, of which he was quick to avail himself, of
organising a race-meeting on the ice.
Drake tells us that the course extended “from the tower at the end
of Marygate, under the great arch of the bridge, to the crane at
But even so early as this in the reign of King James the opponents of
horse racing began to raise indignant protests against “the folly and
wickedness of betting on running horses,” protests to which but scant
attention was paid.
Not until some years later did the extremely zealous clergyman named
Hinde set seriously to work to denounce the practice of gambling in
any and every form, and he appears then to have spoken and written so
forcibly that many persons of intelligence and education—I quote from
a trustworthy source—gathered round and strove to encourage him to the
best of their ability.
Racing in particular he waged war against, declaring it to be “an
exercise of profaneness diligently followed by many of our gentlemen
and by many of inferior rank also.” Great injury, he maintained, was
done by men of rank and others “who of their weekly and almost daily
meetings, and matches on their bowling greens, or their lavish betting
of great wagers in such sorry trifles, and of their stout and strong
abbeting of so sillie vanaties amongst hundreds, sometimes thousands,
of rude and vile persons to whom they should give better, and not
so bad example and encouragement, as to be idle in neglecting their
callings; wasteful in gaming, and spending their means; wicked in
cursing and swearing, and dangerously profane in their brawling and
These observations, and many more to the same effect, are to be found
in the “Biography of Bruen”; yet in the long run the diatribes made
but little difference, for the passion for gambling had taken a firm
hold of the people of almost all classes, and while it lasted it
We do not hear of many famous horses during the reign of James I.,
save the sires which the king himself imported; yet it is certain that
the popularity of the horse increased during the first two decades of
the seventeenth century, quite apart from the popularity that betting
upon horse races continued to acquire.
As a natural result, perhaps, greater attention soon came to be paid
to the management and care of horses, to feeding and exercising them,
so that probably the owners of the thoroughbreds of those days had
begun to realise, as they do not appear to have done before, that
a horse’s working years may be considerably prolonged if he be fed
carefully and exercised regularly.
Indeed the crass ignorance that until about this time had prevailed
with regard to the treatment of sick horses comes near to being
ludicrous. Superstition, as we know, was rampant in connection with
the curing of suffering humanity, and various forms of superstition
extended in a great measure to the treatment of animals that were out
Thus we read of horses supposed to be possessed by evil spirits,
when what they probably were suffering from was an attack of simple
staggers; of witches being consulted when a horse went lame, and paid
liberally for their grotesque advice, and so on to the end.
That horses so often went lame at about this period was due probably
to the ignorance of many of the farriers of the very rudiments of
In Ireland, possibly also in parts of England, a horse with what is
called to-day a “wall” eye was looked upon as a harbinger of evil,
and deemed likely to bring bad luck, especially upon the family and
relatives of the man who owned it; while any man so “ill-advised” as
to breed a fearsome creature of this kind often was afterwards glanced
at askance by persons who before he had numbered amongst his friends.
Then there existed also a superstitious belief in connection with a
horse with a white hoof, but what this particular superstition was I
have not been able to discover. Apparently the owner of a horse so
marked was glad enough to get rid of it for a sum much below its true
worth, and generally he deemed himself fortunate if able to sell such
a horse at all.
An instance is on record of a weakly foal being left out all night
in a snowstorm as a superstitious test. We are told that it died
of exposure, and that its owner at once thanked God for His mercy
in having taken from him a creature born with an evil spirit, the
inference being that but for the alleged evil spirit the little foal
would have been able to withstand the rigour of the blizzard and the
Stolen horses in particular were believed to possess a supernatural
power that would enable them to find their way home to their rightful
masters if they succeeded in escaping from the thief. But plenty of
horses, as we know, are to-day able to find their way home from a long
way off, horses that have not necessarily been stolen.
In justice let it be said that James laughed to scorn the majority of
these superstitious beliefs. This is strange, for in some respects he
must have been almost as superstitious as many of his courtiers—and
for that matter as the great bulk of his subjects.
Partial to tall horses, he expressed a wish that his nobles should not
ride cobs, deeming such animals to be out of keeping with the majesty
of the court.
It was probably for this reason that he strove to encourage his
subjects to ride tall horses.
Then, though several historians appear to take it for granted that
the Turkish horse was unknown in England until the arrival of the
famous Byerley Turk in 1689, we may rest assured that Turkish horses
were here in James’s time, and probable before his time. Blunderville
is only one of the early writers who say so in so many words.
Incidentally he mentions that fully a century before the Byerley Turk
was brought over he himself had seen “horses come from Turkey, as
well into Italie as thither into England, indifferentlie faire to the
eie, tho’ not verie great nor stronglie made, yet very light and swift
in their running, and of great courage.”
Also we read that about the year 1617 “half-a-dozen Barbry horses”
were brought to England by Sir Thomas Edmonds and stabled at Newmarket
in the royal paddocks.
A quaint description is to be found in the works of several of the
writers in James I.’s reign of an accident that befell the king in
December of the year 1621 as he was riding after dinner, an accident
that in spite of its undeniable grotesqueness might well have proved
The king, it seems, had “gone abroad early in the day, and to
Theobald’s to dinner.” He appears to have enjoyed his dinner at
Theobald’s greatly, and to have decided quite suddenly, as soon as the
meal was over, that he would like “to ride on horseback abroad.”
The accident that presently was to occur is attributed by different
writers to different causes, the most charitable of the reports
being to the effect that the king’s horse stumbled and threw his
royal master on to the frozen surface of the New River “with so much
violence that the ice brake and he fell in so that nothing but his
boots were seen.”
Sir Richard Young, who chanced to be riding just behind him, instantly
sprang off his horse and succeeded with the help of a friend, though
only with great difficulty, in dragging the dripping monarch “out of
the hole and his undignified predicament.”
According to another chronicler, “there came much water out of his
mouth and body,” yet “His Majesty rid back to Theobald’s, went into a
warme bed, and, as we heere, is well, which God continue.”
That the king had a sense of humour is made manifest by the statement
that upon his recovery he laughed heartily at the recollection of the
incident, while we are further told that his gratitude to Sir Richard
Young, his rescuer, “did not stop short at the hearty grasp of the
hand he gave him.”
Mention has already been made of James’s strange literary work,
“Religio Regis: or the Faith and Duty of a Prince.” This is said to
have been written during the King’s temporary residence at Newmarket
“for the betterment of his health” (_sic_).
It was produced primarily for “the instruction and edification” of
his son, Henry, at that time Prince of Wales, but it came to be read
widely by his nobles and all about the court.
In this remarkable treatise we are told that “the honourablest and
most commendable Games that a king can use are on Horseback, for it
becomes a Prince above all Men to be a good Horseman. And use such
Games on Horseback as may teach you to handle your Arms thereon, such
as Tilt, Ring, and low-riding for handling your sword….
“As for hunting, the most honourable and noblest Sport thereof is with
running Hounds; for it is a thievish sport of hunting to shoot with
Guns and Bows….
“However, in using either of these Sports observe such Moderation
that you slip not therewith Hours appointed for your Affairs, which
you ought ever precisely to keep; remembering that these Pastimes are
but ordain’d for you to enable you for your Office, to which you are
call’d by your Birth.”
Before the close of James’s reign the Turf bore every sign of having
been granted a fresh lease of life. Private riding matches among men
of rank and wealth had become popular again, and though some of these
were “’cross-country matches,” plenty were ridden on the flat, upon
which occasions vast sums of money were run for almost always.
Of these races one that seems to have attracted much attention was run
in the year 1622, for a cup valued at twelve pounds, when the crowd
that assembled was one of the biggest at that time on record.
The wagers that were made were mostly in large sums, and we are told
that, to the surprise of the majority of the betting men “and their
subsequent discomfiture,” the race, in which there were six “tryers,”
was won by an outsider, the property of a popular sportsman, Sir
The judge in this race was a Mr Humphrey Wyvell, and so greatly
annoyed did the crowd become at the defeat of the favourite that they
made a desperate attempt to attack the judge, with the intention of
injuring him seriously, an attempt that fortunately was frustrated.
We are not told if the king was present upon this occasion, but the
principal racing men of the period undoubtedly were there. The king
himself attended a meeting at Lincoln in the spring of 1617, where he
lost very heavily.
Towards the end of this reign strong opposition to the increasing
popularity of racing began to manifest itself among what we should
to-day call the middle class, owing, so it was said, to the sport
being vigorously denounced from pulpit and platform as a growing
national evil, “one likely to imperil the whole country’s prosperity.”
For some time the king strove to smother these denunciations, and he
even partially succeeded in the attempt.
Yet in the end the people must have triumphed, for we read that
James was still on the throne when some of the more popular of the
flat-race meetings were tacitly allowed to be abandoned, while in
1620 the meeting which usually had been held at Thetford was directly
suppressed by an order of the Privy Council.
Among the most important of the private riding matches, as they were
then called, that took place in James’s reign was the one arranged at
Newmarket between Lord Haddington and Lord Sheffield.
Run at Huntingdon towards the end of the year 1607, the race was
extremely exciting from start to finish. Both men appear to have been
good riders, and the stake run for is said to have amounted to a
Yet the various accounts of the match give versions which differ
widely as to what happened, and while one writer declares that Lord
Haddington won with difficulty, another contradicts him by maintaining
that the stake was awarded to Lord Sheffield.
With regard to the pictures that are said to have been drawn from life
in those days, if they are true to life it becomes obvious that some
three centuries ago it was not customary for race riders, or “tryers,”
to stand in their stirrups while riding races, as they do to-day and
most certainly did in the last century and the century before it.
This is strange, for some of the earliest of our writers who touch
incidentally upon the subject of race riding are rather emphatic in
declaring that the jockey should get rid of all “dead” weight, and of
course it is chiefly by standing in the stirrups that “dead” weight
can be neutralised.
James I. would seem to have paid more attention to the theory of
training horses he intended to run than any of his predecessors
did, though this is not great praise, so ignorant of the fundamental
principles of scientific training were the horse owners of about that
Upon slight provocation horses were freely bled, just as human beings
were bled or “leeched” less than a hundred years ago. Indeed we read
of one horse that was bled while in the hunting field, owing to its
having proved too restive for its owner to ride with comfort (!);
while another was driven into a leech pond in order that the leeches
might suck off “the goodlie warts” with which its belly and thighs
So far as I have been able to ascertain, about a century and a half
ago the leech cure was deemed quite the best for warts. Yet perhaps we
are wrong to think or to speak contemptuously of the ignorance of our
forefathers. Who can say that in years to come our descendants may not
speak as contemptuously of us—their ancestors—because we fired horses,
and because we drenched them with physic for various ailments?
Indeed there are already veterinary surgeons who aver that to fire a
horse under any circumstances is to commit a grave blunder, and that
firing as a general practice ought emphatically to be abandoned.