The continent whose history and progress have been the least
influenced by horses probably is Northern America, for it seems beyond
doubt that when Columbus discovered it horses were unknown there.
How then did they come to be there in such immense herds in later
This question has been asked many times, and the reply generally is
that the horses subsequently introduced there by the Spaniards must
have bred with great rapidity.
Other solutions to the problem that have been put forward are hardly
worth considering seriously. So enormous did these herds become,
however, that down to half-a-century or so ago horses in their
thousands ran wild over the vast prairies of the western states. At
the present day such herds are practically extinct.
We read that when, in 1519, the renowned Hernando Cortes set out from
Cuba to conquer the empire of Montezuma, he took with him “sixteen
strong and picked horses.” Bernal Diaz, who was Cortes’ comrade,
apparently was greatly devoted to horses, and in his famous account
of the Conquest of Mexico he describes in detail each of these
sixteen animals, and mentions in rather a quaint way the principal
characteristic that each possessed.
Seeing that Cortes’ force consisted of some 660 trained men and about
200 Indians, the sixteen horses of course in no way approached the
number he would have liked to take, and the reason he took so few is
made clear by Diaz when he tells us that owing to the smallness of
the ships of that period and the limited amount of accommodation that
could be found on board them, even in proportion to their size, the
difficulty of transport was very great.
It was, indeed, owing chiefly to the difficulty of transporting horses
to Cuba and Hispaniola from Spain that the prices demanded even for
horses of inconsiderable value were so exorbitant. Even it seems
possible that this scarcity of horses directly led to a campaign
that was expected to last for only a few months being prolonged to
approximately two years; for though Cortes set sail with his little
army in February, 1519, the subjugation of Mexico was not completed
until nearly two years had elapsed.
There seems to be no doubt but that the redoubtable Francisco Pizarro,
who afterwards conquered so effectually the kingdom of the Incas, was
in Hispaniola as early as the year 1510, and he may have been there
even before that date. When, in 1524, he began to move southward from
Panama on his famous expedition, he travelled without horses, and the
attempt to reach the realm of gold proved futile.
His second expedition, however, was more successful, but then he had
with him a number of horses that he had taken the precaution to buy
before leaving Panama, and the expedition numbered, all told, about
160 men. The horses would appear to have been of the roughest, and
some of them in poor condition, yet Pizarro positively refused to give
leave for any of them to be destroyed, having apparently taken to
heart the lesson he had received from the reverse which had overtaken
him on his previous expedition when he was without horses.
It is probable, however, that even Pizarro was not prepared for the
extraordinary part that was presently to be played by those very
animals that he had with him.
For before he had advanced very far it became apparent to him that
the native Indians had never in their lives before set eyes upon a
horse, and thus it happened that when presently they beheld Pizarro’s
advancing cavaliers, their attitude, which until then had been both
threatening and defensive, became almost immediately changed to one of
Pizarro was at first amazed at this. Then as the Indians suddenly and
of one accord turned and fled, uttering, as we are told, “strange and
shrill cries,” the truth flashed in upon him—his mounted men had been
mistaken by them for some kind of weird creature, possibly something
in the nature of a centaur!
As one writer says, “consternation seized the Indians when they saw
a cavalier fall from his horse, for they were not prepared for the
division into two parts of a creature that had seemed to them to be
but a single being.”
In a letter addressed to Henry Bullinger by Bishop Hooper there is a
statement to the effect that “two most beautiful Spanish horses” were
received by Edward VI. from the emperor, Charles V., on 26th March,
1550, and that the king expressed his delight at the gift by giving
way to “extravagant conduct.”
The incident is of interest because poor young Edward VI. was not
supposed to be fond of horses. Yet Camden, the famous antiquary, who
lived between 1551 and 1623 and was in a position that should have
enabled him to speak with authority, gives it as his opinion that the
lad took interest in horses of all kinds.
Hargrove, in his “History and Description of the ancient City of
York,” maintains that the origin of horse racing can be traced back
“even to the time of the Romans,” a statement apt to prove misleading
if we take it quite literally.
That horse racing of a sort can be traced back to a very remote period
has already been indicated, but, as we have also seen, almost the only
kind of racing in which the Romans took keen interest was chariot
racing, so there is reason to believe that some of the early allusions
to chariot races may unwittingly have been confused with horse races
by some of our later historians.
In a letter that appeared recently in a newspaper published in
Ireland, and that dealt at length with the supposed origin of horse
racing, the writer remarked with unconscious humour that “undoubtedly
the first races in England were held in Scotland.”
In this belief he was, of course, mistaken, though it is known that
the Scottish people have from very early times been fond of horse
racing, and that the great race meeting held in Haddington in 1552
attracted an enormous concourse of spectators from the Highlands and
Later the Haddington race meeting came to be held annually, the
principal prize run for being “a silver bell of value.”
Rather an eccentric individual, named David Hume, was connected with
the Turf in Scotland about the middle of the sixteenth century. He
appears, indeed, to have been quite an interesting personality. A
resident of Wedderburn, where he died in or about the year 1575—the
early writers, while admitting that when he died he must have been
fully fifty years of age, yet disagree as to the exact date of his
death—he is especially worthy of mention because probably he was
typical of a particular stamp of man that during the latter half of
the sixteenth century was in a great measure responsible for the
development of the race horse.
Presumably David Hume owned property, for he is spoken of as “a
gentleman of good status in Berwickshire,” and in later years his son,
known as David Hume of Godscroft, wrote a book which became famous in
Scottish literature, the “History of the House of Douglas.”
The elder Hume is described as “a man remarkable for piety, probity,
candour and integrity.” How ironical that description unconsciously
was we shall see in a moment. The son, we are told, “seldom missed
an opportunity of speaking in still more laudatory terms of his
father,” but Mr J. P. Hore’s opinion is to the effect that if some
such institution as the modern Jockey Club had been in existence when
Hume the elder was in his heyday, that gentleman would, in spite of
his alleged probity, integrity, and so forth, have been warned off the
Turf at short notice.
For we read that “so great a master in the art of riding was he that
he would often be beat to-day and within eight days lay a double
wager on the same horses and come off conqueror” (_sic_). No doubt
this paragon of honour has many emulators on the Turf to-day, but the
relatives and friends of the latter at least have not the effrontery
to tell us that such men are “strictly just, utterly detesting all
manner of fraud,” the statement made again and again about the elder
Hume by his kinsfolk.
Elsewhere we learn that sometimes he ran two horses in one race and
that upon occasions he was able to hoodwink the spectators assembled
into believing that a horse had tried hard to win when in reality it
had barely extended itself.
Hume himself would talk openly to his friends about the races he meant
to win, and apparently he seldom attempted to conceal the fact that
some of his horses were meant to lose.
Possibly this very “ingenuousness” may have led some of his friends,
and a proportion of what we should to-day call the general public, to
believe that he acted honourably and always in good faith.
In justice let it be said, however, that he bred good stock,
also that he was a better judge of a horse than the bulk of his
contemporaries—though that is not high praise. While himself engaged
in roguery in connection with racing he was all the time striving to
purify the Turf. He would, in all probability, have amassed a large
fortune—or what was deemed in those days to be a large fortune—had
he been less addicted to gambling for gambling’s sake, for it is
certain that from first to last he won much money by laying against
his own horses as well as by backing some of them. The more amazing,
therefore, is it that certain writers, even in comparatively recent
times, should speak of him in all seriousness as a man of remarkable
Queen Elizabeth loved the Turf and apparently was extremely fond
of horses, while in her youth she must have been rather a fine
horsewoman. She kept many riding horses for her own use and many
more for the ladies of her court, and we know that she was extremely
partial to chestnut animals.
There is not, I think, any trustworthy evidence that she ever attended
a race meeting held at Newmarket, but the statement made in at least
one history of her period that she witnessed races at Doncaster
probably is accurate, for we have proofs that a racecourse had been
laid down there or marked out by the year 1600. Also we know that
Elizabeth was fond of gambling and that she squandered vast sums
probably in connection with the turf.
It must be remembered, however, that in the second half of the
sixteenth century gambling was a besetting vice. “In the reign of
Queen Elizabeth,” Mr Clarkson writes, “racing was carried on to such
an excess as to injure the fortunes of many individuals, private
matches being then made between gentlemen, who were generally their
own jockeys and tryers.”
The descriptions of some of these matches are almost as quaint as the
account already given of the race between Blanche Rose and Nicolle
Dex, for the majority of the riders were wont to have recourse to the
worst sort of trickery when they believed it might enable them to win.
Thus an instance is recorded of ground glass being mixed with a mare’s
food, the ill-starred animal being in consequence hardly able to cover
the course, on which she died in great agony when the race was over.
This statement is made without comment, and cases somewhat similar are
cited which, if they occurred now, would fire our indignation and lead
swiftly to retribution.
From this we may to some extent infer that the morality of the Turf in
Queen Elizabeth’s reign had sunk to a low ebb. Indeed the maxim the
majority of the “tryers,” even of the “gentleman tryers,” apparently
was—“Win honestly if possible—but win.”
In Elizabeth’s reign it was not customary to run important races for
cups. Nearly all the “big” races were for “specie,” or else for a
silver bell—sometimes for both. Silver bells awarded as prizes over
three hundred years ago are, it is said, still to be seen in some old
country houses and in some museums, but though I have tried I have not
been able to discover the whereabouts of any of them.
In 1603 the Earl of Essex offered a snaffle made of gold as a prize
to be run for at a race meeting held near Salisbury, and at about the
same time it was proposed that “race gatherings” should take place
near Salisbury at fixed intervals.
The latter suggestion, though strongly resented by “a number of
Salisbury gentlemen” who presumably were under the impression that
to establish a race course near their town must necessarily prove
demoralising to the townsmen, was eventually adopted, the queen
having, so it was said, brought her influence to bear in favour of the
We may approximately estimate the value of horses of a particular
stamp at about this time from an inventory that was drawn up in 1572
of the effects of the second Earl of Cumberland of Skipton Castle.
Therein we find a stoned horse called Young Mark Antony valued at
£16; another horse, Grey Clyfford, at £11: Whyte Dacre, at £10;
Sorrell Tempest, £4; White Tempest and Baye Tempest, each at £5; Baye
Myddleton, £1, and so on. Some mares and their followers are also
mentioned, and lastly ten cart horses.
Many fictitious stories have been woven around Suleiman, the favourite
charger of the Earl of Essex, but they are not of sufficient interest
to place on record. In Elizabeth’s reign a number of barbs, also many
Spanish horses descended from barbs, were obtained from captured
foreign vessels, and these the queen looked upon for the most part as
her personal perquisites.
Consequently about the middle of her reign an order was issued
that all captured horses must without exception be sent direct to
the queen, the infliction of a severe penalty being threatened if
the order should be disregarded. A number of these animals were
subsequently sent as gifts to the more faithful of her nobles, and all
the recipients sent in return “expressions of extremest gratitude.”
There is a diversity of opinion as to what constituted “the staple
article of food” of horses in the sixteenth century, though of course
hay was used largely. Bishop Hall throws some light upon the subject
when he mentions that thoroughbred stallions when largely in demand
were given eggs and oysters.
Reference to eggs and oysters in this connection is made elsewhere, so
we may conclude that the custom of thus feeding stallions was not an
uncommon one, at any rate in the time of Elizabeth.
Horse bread has already been mentioned, but I have not come upon any
direct allusion to oats being used to feed horses upon at this period.
Several of the writers in Elizabeth’s reign openly bemoaned the
development of horse racing, urging that trouble and disaster followed
in its train, but their moans were for the most part stifled in the
clamour of general approbation.
Among those who spoke strongly in condemnation of horse racing was the
rather eccentric Lord Herbert of Cherbury. Late in life he wrote—to
the amusement of his friends and relatives—a complete history of his
own career, in which volume he again reverts to his pet aversion by
declaring that among the exercises of which he disapproved were “the
riding of running horses, there being much cheating in that kind.”
Hunting also he clearly objected to, for he goes on to tell his
readers that he does not like hunting horses, “that exercise taking up
more time than can be spared for a man studious to get knowledge.”
From other of his remarks it becomes obvious that some three centuries
ago the men who devoted the better part of their lives to the sport
of hunting became to such a degree engrossed in it that in time they
could hardly be brought to talk, or indeed to think, of anything else
That the same can be said with truth of a proportion of our modern
hunting men is well known, and the question is asked to-day, as
it was asked three hundred or more years ago—How comes it that
over-indulgence in the chase has this odd effect upon us, whereas
over-indulgence in other forms of sport but seldom makes its votaries
shallow-minded to the same degree?
Indeed Lord Herbert of Cherbury, eccentric as he admittedly was, made
many sensible observations upon this and kindred topics; and there can
be no doubt that in decrying the then increasing tendency of men and
women of what were looked upon as the educated classes to squander
their fortunes, he voiced the views held by a vast proportion of the
thinking population of this country.
A contemporary of Lord Herbert’s wrote practically to the same effect.
His name was Burton, and he reached his heyday about the time that
Shakespeare’s era was drawing to a close. The diatribe he launched
against the increasing spread of gambling upon the Turf has probably
never been surpassed in vigour.
In one of his mildest passages he pronounces horse races to be “the
disport of great men, and good in themselves, though many gentlemen by
such means gallop quite out of their fortunes.”
Shakespeare himself, though rather fond of horses, was hardly less
opposed to the practice of heavy betting. His description of a
thoroughbred’s points is good:
“Round-hoof’d, short-jointed, fetlocks shag and long,
Broad breast, full eye, small head, and nostrils wide,
High crest, short ears, straight legs, and passing strong,
Thin mane, thick tail, broad buttock, tender hide.”
It would take long, also it is unnecessary, to describe at length
all the horses of which Shakespeare speaks in his plays. According
to a recent writer, Oliver’s steed, Ferrant d’Espagne, or “Spanish
traveller,” has been “bastardised.” What the writer means is, I think,
that the horse has been introduced into works of fiction without
Such certainly is the case, and so greatly has the animal been
distorted in some instances that only with difficulty is it
In Shakespeare’s time—that is to say during the latter half of the
sixteenth and in the beginning of the seventeenth centuries—the
barbary horse clearly was highly esteemed, for it is referred to
frequently in books and memoirs which bear upon that period.
Shakespeare speaks several times of roan horses too, as for instance
in _I Henry IV._, where we come upon the sentence, “Give the roan
horse a drench.” To bay horses he makes allusion in _King Lear_, in
_Timon_, and elsewhere, and in _Timon_ he refers also to a team of
white horses. These bare allusions make dry reading, but they are
instructive and of interest in connection with the story of the part
the horse played in British history.
More especially is this so when we again bear in mind what has already
been stated at length in the introductory note to this book, and that
is the enormous extent to which automobilism has increased in this
country, and for that matter the world over, since the introduction of
the petrol motor, which makes it obvious that the horse’s reign must
be fast drawing to a close.
* * * * *
That we have, as a nation, already to a great extent lost much of
the interest we took only a few years ago in horses, and in all that
appertains to them, is, I think, beyond dispute. The number of men
who keep what must be termed “pleasure” horses decreases year by
year, almost month by month, and indeed it would be possible to name
at off-hand between fifty and sixty well-known men and women fond of
sport who, within the last six months or so, have sold their carriages
and all their harness horses, and whose stables now contain only
hunters, while in other cases even the hunters have been got rid of in
order to make way for automobiles.
And yet, bemoan the change though we may, the gradual transition is
not uninteresting to study. History in the past has for centuries been
both directly and indirectly affected by the horses and horsemanship
of the various races the world over. History in the future is going to
be similarly affected by motor power applied in a variety of ways.
And yet, who knows? Perhaps even half-a-century hence, when the horse
will to all intents be extinct in England, save where he is kept for
racing and in some instances for hunting purposes, interest may still
be taken in Shakespeare’s plays and therefore in the stories of such
whimsical characters as the self-satisfied, conceited and generally
grotesque Sir Andrew Aguecheek and his celebrated grey steed, Capilet,
that we find portrayed so admirably in _Twelfth Night_; in Lord Lafeu
of _All’s Well that Ends Well_ and his curious bay horse, Curtal, a
name that means literally “the cropped one”; and in Cut, the carrier’s
horse of _King Henry IV._,—to name but a few of Shakespeare’s
creations that surely must live on for ever.
With regard to barb horses, of which so much has been said and
written, the probability would seem to be that “barbed” is in reality
a corrupt form of the word “barded” that came originally from the
French, _bardé_—that is to say, caparisoned—and therefore it may
signify indirectly a horse in armour. Hence the meaning probably
intended by Shakespeare to be conveyed in the following lines in _King
“And now—instead of mounting barbed steeds,
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,—
He capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber,
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.”
Shakespeare and Bishop Hall, in addition to one or two other writers,
speak of the horse, Marocco, which lived in Elizabeth’s reign, and
belonged to a man named Banks, or Bankes, a brother of the first
keeper of the New Warren.
Foaled, so far as one can gather, at Newmarket, Marocco appears to
have been one of the cleverest of the few horses that at that period
had been trained to perform at fairs, and in shows and circuses.
Some of the feats performed by it are described at length in the old
records, and though we read that in those days such feats were deemed
“marvellous past belief,” we should smile if anybody were to-day to
express amazement at seeing a circus horse perform tricks so simple.
That Marocco should be able to walk upright upon his hind legs, for
instance, was considered so astounding that questions were asked in
all seriousness as to whether supernatural aid of some kind had not
In addition to this, Marocco would rear, kneel, sit, or lie down,
when told to do so, and he would indicate amongst the spectators any
individual selected by his trainer.
What was deemed most remarkable of all, however, was a performance in
which Marocco walked backwards, “the while turning in circles,” when
Banks ordered him to do so.
We are told that upon witnessing this performance a proportion of the
audience was so deeply affected that several people dared not remain.
Consequently one is less surprised at reading that when, later, Banks
and his pupil gave a performance in Rome, both man and horse were
pronounced to be in league with the devil and ordered to be publicly
burnt as magicians, which monstrous sentence was duly carried out.
In justice let it be said that this act of barbarity—the direct
outcome of the pitiable ignorance of the age—created intense
indignation in England, while in Italy it stirred up a strong feeling
Attempts were made later to create the impression that political
wirepullers had been at work, and that man and horse had been
sacrificed expressly to make bad blood between the British Court and
the Vatican, if not between England and Italy, but there is no reason
for believing that the agitators achieved their purpose.
Nor, indeed, is it certain that Banks’ death sentence was pronounced
by the Pope, or by his order. That the man had come to be looked upon
as a magician, however, in every part of Italy where his horse had
been exhibited, apparently is beyond dispute.
Though strolling players of many sorts were, as we know, plentiful in
Elizabeth’s reign, it seems more than likely that the exhibition given
by Marocco may directly have inaugurated in England the practice of
training animals to perform tricks of the same sort for public shows.
Certainly we hear soon after Marocco’s tragic end that exhibitions of
performing animals were advertised to take place in different parts
of the country, and from that time onward incidental allusions to
entertainments of the kind that we to-day call circuses are to be
found in some of the old books.
There mention is made of the methods employed in order to train the
animals to their owners’ satisfaction, methods barbarous enough, in
all conscience. Yet none took exception to them. For the tendency
of the age, three centuries ago, and down probably to a much later
period, was one of cruelty. The literature of the last three hundred
years makes that but too apparent.
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.