The medieval horse was arguably the most characteristic animal of the Middle Ages. But while the development and military uses of warhorses have been intensively studied by historians, the archaeological evidence is too often dispersed, overlooked or under-valued. This three-year project, launching in February 2020, is conducting the first ever systematic study of the full range of archaeological evidence for warhorses, and horses more generally, from medieval Britain. As a collaborative venture between the University of Exeter’s Department of Archaeology (Oliver Creighton and Alan Outram) and the Department of History at the University of East Anglia (Robert Liddiard), the project is engaging with the study of medieval horses in their broader social and landscape contexts from the late Anglo-Saxon to the early Tudor period (c. AD 800–1550). The overarching aim is to produce new understandings about a beast that was an unmistakable symbol of social status closely bound up with aristocratic, knightly and chivalric culture as well as a decisive weapon on the battlefield.
Among the key questions that the project will engage with are: Did the Norman Conquest see the widespread introduction of new breeds of horse, or was the development of the warhorse a more incremental process rooted in the late Anglo-Saxon period? How was the development of knighthood in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries reflected in horse apparel? Does the archaeological record provide evidence for the celebrated ‘great horse’ of the 14th century? How do these trends relate to the changing nature and decoration of horse apparel and to the geography of horse studs? Do we see physical evidence of attested decline in warhorses, followed by Tudor-period initiatives to increase their size?