Home Forums Renaissance Renaissance-era English war horses

This topic contains 8 replies, has 3 voices, and was last updated by Guy Farrish Guy Farrish 3 weeks, 6 days ago.

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  • #73792

    Brendan Morrissey
    Participant

    Can anyone give me some (any) answers to the following questions:-

    1. Prior to the introduction of the Arab horse into the British Isles in the 17th/18th Centuries, what breeds were used for military purposes?
    2. Do these breeds still exist, or if not, which other breeds have they become mixed with?
    3. Other than size, was there any distinction between “heavy” cavalry (eg demi-lancers) and “light” cavalry (eg Border Horse) horses?
    4. What would have been the predominant colours of those types/breeds?
    5. Would markings – socks, darker legs, face marks, etc – be the same/as common as they are now?
    6. Is it safe to assume that “colour co-ordination” (ie same colour horses in a troop/higher formation or white for trumpeters) lies in the future?

    I’m looking specifically at the 1500-1520 and 1580-1600 periods.  Any help gratefully received.

    #73795
    Guy Farrish
    Guy Farrish
    Participant

    Try Ann Hyland’s works – particularly perhaps ‘The Warhorse’ 1250-1600 for your period – but it covers Europe and the east rather than Britain in particular. Her ‘The Horse in the Middle Ages’ deals with the breeds and sizes and roles (and the whole infrastructure of medieval and Tudor horse management).

    ‘The Medieval Horse and Its Equipment, c.1150-c.1450’ by John Clark, has a lot of good stuff from just before your period but would tell you a lot about breeds etc that still applied.

     

    Basically: Heavy cavalry would be destriers ( which were not Shire horses in size or shape – Henry VIII regulations are looking at stallions of at least 15 hands – and horse armours suggest between 15 and 16 hands as the norm). They were well built but not with the thickness of muscle of modern Heavy horses.

    Border horse or prickers, courreurs etc would be using what would be a modern pony type breed or small Welsh Cob type for size.

    The main difference seems to have been the heavy horse was bred for load bearing and a relatively short sharp charge (nowhere near as fast as current riding horse with the admix of Arabian or contemporary eastern horse). The ponies for lighter horsemen were bred for stamina (think of the use border horse put their mounts to – driving cattle long distances relatively fast).

    Demilances probably had to put up with Cobs and smaller great horses c 14-14.5 hands with a balance of the above characteristics.

    As for markings and colour coordination – I’m sure I knew this once upon a timebut it seems to have disappeared for the moment. I’ll try and get back to you.

     

    • This reply was modified 1 month, 1 week ago by Guy Farrish Guy Farrish. Reason: Memory loss re author John Clark
    #73805

    Brendan Morrissey
    Participant

    Guy,

    Magnificent – that is precisely the sort of stuff I was looking for.  I shall attempt to obtain those three books via the public library inter-loan service.  Any info you can add on colours will be a bonus, but don’t worry if it doesn’t come back to you, as I suspect something will be in the books anyway.

    I recall reading that destriers were trained to actually “participate” in the fighting, being taught to kick and bite anyone on foot who came near them.

    Thank you very much.

    Brendan

    #73848
    Guy Farrish
    Guy Farrish
    Participant

    I met Ann Hyland once at a conference  – lovely person, very knowledgeable and extremely scary! I don’t know about the horse she trains but I would have jumped over anything if she said so! She really knows her stuff though.

    Yes, war horses in the late middle ages and renaissance period were trained to lash out with their front hooves and bite. I’m still not convinced about the ability of riders and horse trainers to make a horse charge a hedge of pikes frontally – I had a discussion with Daniel Staberg (Daniel S in ‘another place’) about it- he remains firmly convinced you can make a horse do anything – I’d prefer not to be the one who tries! But I’m a wuss.

     

    Oh – as for breeds – I should have said – basically ‘No, they aren’t still around as they were, and we don’t know precisely what breeds they were. You get all sorts of attempts to breed from current heavy horses something that matches late medieval descriptions but Hyland’s work in particular with skeletal remains, existing horse armour and calculated weights of riders+armour suggests they weren’t anything like as big as some of the exaggerated claims.

    The old standard ’24 hands’ still appears on the more ‘pop’ history sites, but frankly that is very unlikely – with modern breeding techniques you are looking at 20-21 hands being the biggest the Belgian Draft Horse and Shire Horse top out at. I’m not saying it’s impossible but its hard to imagine troop after troop of these behemoths cantering around medieval Europe.

    As for the ‘prickers’ mounts the breed is sometimes characterised as  ‘scrubby nag’! which is harsh and is probably more akin to the Galloway Pony or Irish Hobby.

    #73869

    OB
    Participant

    Mounted prickers were sometimes described as having their feet about a foot off the ground.  Small cuddies indeed.

    OB
    http://withob.blogspot.co.uk/

    #74349

    Brendan Morrissey
    Participant

    As for markings and colour coordination – I’m sure I knew this once upon a timebut it seems to have disappeared for the moment. I’ll try and get back to you.

    Hello Guy,

    Any epiphanies?  I’m at SELWG on Sunday, if you are there, and would be happy to buy you a drink for your advice so far.

    Brendan

    #74370
    Guy Farrish
    Guy Farrish
    Participant

    Hi Brendan,

    Regrettably, I can’t make SELWG.

    The only things I can recall are that ‘spotted’ – piebald, skewbald, weren’t generally well regarded.

    White/greys had to overcome some prejudice regarding Revelations (possibly – some arguments about this – White was regarded early on by the Church as a symbol of purity – and of victory -but connotations changed and became associated with plague) – not common either.

    Dark colours for the late Middle Ages would be the norm – Bays, Black, (both of whom you would think would also have problems with the press from Revelations!) and probably the most popular, Chestnut. (Black horses had a melancholic humour apparently!). The popularity probably reflects the frequency of colour being born – selective breeding was certainly practised but it was a bit hit and miss.  Bays probably got a pass because they are such a commonly occurring colour.

    The existence of specific breeds and colours was a later thing and the reliable breeding of the more exotic colours mostly came with this in Europe. So stick with boring bays and chestnuts. Socks certainly existed but white socks in particular were regarded as signs of weakness and best avoided. Take a look at depictions of medieval/early renaissance horse – eg Charles V at Muhlburg by Vecellio – dark (black? melacholic?!) horse – no socks, no blaze.

    Sometimes they had to take them but they weren’t regarded as first rate.

    And that is about it off the top of my head.

    Sorry – hope it helps.

    (My main source used to be my cousin who was horse mad – regrettably she is no longer with us, otherwise I would have risked hours of earache to ask for you!).

    Best wishes

    Guy.

    (Enjoy SELWG!)

     

    #74553

    Brendan Morrissey
    Participant

    Hi,

     

    Thanks for that – very useful.  Sorry you couldn’t make SELWG – good show, just not that many people attending  (lowest crowd I’ve ever seen at the Crystal Palace venue).

    Re. colours – the depiction of Henry VIII meeting Maximillian (apparently with the Battle of the Spurs going on in the background, must have been a bugger to hear each other) bears out the absence of socks, blazes, stars etc.  The white (grey) thing is a bit strange as you so often see battle paintings showing general so-and-so on a white horse; maybe artists didn’t all get that memo?

    Sorry to hear about your cousin – she sounds like a veritable fount of knowledge (and a force to be reckoned with!).

    Brendan

    #74570
    Guy Farrish
    Guy Farrish
    Participant

    Thanks – glad you enjoyed SELWG – attendance at many shows seem to be waning, probably people are like me – lazy! Travel costs, other commitments, the internet giving instant viewing to many products that used to be a single line of print in a catalogue all probably have some responsibility for the decline.

    Re my cousin, well she wasn’t as formidable as Ann Hyland! But she ran her close -I think it must be something to do with a life around horses. I spent hours as a child grooming her ****** beasts (and having my feet stood on by the things!) and she definitely treated them better than she did me or my other cousins she inveigled into looking after the d****** animals!

    Later in life however all those hours of force labour payed off – got to ride the things, she took me round lots of country pubs and whenever I needed info on historical horse stuff it was like turning on a tap. Turning it off again was the problem!

    Best wishes

    Guy

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