Author Archives: Gary Baker

MANAGING ENGLAND’S ROYAL WARHORSES IN THE FOURTEENTH CENTURY

Dr Gary Baker, Postgraduate Research Fellow on the Medieval Warhorse Project, has been systematically working through the accounts of royal warhorses in medieval England. Here he presents some of the findings of that work

Sir Geoffrey Lutterell, assisted by his wife and daughter-in-law

The warhorses of England’s medieval monarchs were some of their most prized possessions. Not only did they have a practical use in war and the tournament, but they also served to represent the king’s wealth and power to his people, with coursers, and especially the elite destriers, acting as physical embodiments of this power. They were important as gifts to those whom the king wished to reward for good and loyal service, and those wishing to curry favour with the king often presented him with prized destriers. Warhorses, therefore, acted as an important social glue which bound the king to his people.

(Fig. 1) Detail of an account showing the monthly expenses of stabling Edward I’s horses in 1299-1300

The maintenance, care, and upkeep of the royal warhorses has generated a huge number of records, many of which can be found in The National Archives UK. The amount of money spent on these animals shows just how important they were. From November 1298 to the end of his reign in July 1307, for example, Edward I spent nearly £16,000 on stabling his horses alone; nearly £1,800 a year (fig. 1). Edward and his successors continued to spend large amounts of money on the upkeep of royal horses. They were also keen on improving the quality of their warhorses, acquiring new animals from both home and abroad. In 1334-35, for instance, Arnold Garcy, keeper of the king’s great horses south of the Trent, travelled to Spain to purchase great horses for Edward III, including the purchase of 23 such animals for a total of £715 13s 4d.

Account of Arnold Garcy, keeper of the king’s horses south of the Trent, going to buy horses in Spain in 1334-35.

Edward III’s reign provides particularly rich information on the maintenance of the royal warhorses. From the start of his reign the king appointed separate keepers of the ‘great horses’ (a catch-all term applied mainly to destriers and coursers, but which sometimes incorporated other types of horse), north and south of the Trent. The accounts of these keepers provide minute details relating to their receipts and expenses including fodder (oats, cut grass, hay, bran, horse bread) equine equipment (bridles, lunges, reins, saddles, stirrups, trammels, hobbles, horseshoes, and halters), the wages of grooms and farriers, medicines purchased to treat ailments (including vinegar, honey, powdered ginger, tallow, ointments, and bandages), and candles for lighting the lamps around the stables and helping the grooms to see in the dark winter months.

The destriers in particular were well-fed on a diet of oats and hay, with each animal consuming up to half a bushel a day (with a bushel weighing roughly 40lbs) which would have made them more likely and liable to bite and kick. Unfortunately the records do not record the size of these elite animals in horse hands (hh), though the destriers’ diet would suggest they were large by contemporary if not modern standards, perhaps 15hh. Indeed, stature and musculature were likely more important qualities for warhorses to possess to the medieval mind than height, which explains why the latter information is never recorded in medieval English accounts. It has been estimated, given the volume of oats they consumed, that destriers probably weighed 1,600lbs or more. Compared to present-day thoroughbreds which weigh roughly 1,000lbs, the medieval destrier was doubtlessly an impressive animal.

The famous Warwick shaffron, housed in The Royal Armouries

Every care was afforded these horses, as disease could ravage a herd. ‘Murrain’ (a catch-all term which was applied in the accounts to a variety of equine ailments) was a particular problem. At the stud at Ightenhill in Lancashire in 1331-32, twenty-one out of the twenty-three newborns that year succumbed to the disease. Other diseases could be just as contagious. In October 1326 one grey at Reading died of farcy, a serious bacterial disease which causes growths in the lymph vessels. Wooden and thatch buildings where the horses were stabled were also at risk of fire. Three of the king’s ‘great horses’ (2 destriers and 1 courser) being kept in stables at Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, died in a fire that started in the night of 14 April 1352 outside of the stables, though the clerk was quick to assert that their keeper, William de Fremelesworth, was not at fault.

 

Copper, a mare at the Leeds Royal Armouries in her full armour. Mares like Copper were not used as warhorses in medieval England. Instead they were utilised as riding horses and baggage animals on campaign.

The adult stallions – all destriers and coursers in medieval England were male – were accounted for and, presumably, stabled separately from the mares, colts, and foals, which were kept at the king’s studs which were located all over the country. Some of the major studs in the north were at Ightenhill, Knaresborough, Burstwick, and Plumpton; whilst in the south, Cornbury, Guildford, Rayleigh, Princes Risborough, Stratfield Mortimer, Woodstock, and Windsor predominated. From at least Edward III’s reign these studs do not appear to have had resident stallions, with the great horses being sent to cover the mares at different studs in rotation.

The accounts also provide information on the number of the horses present within these studs, with detailed records kept of the numbers throughout the year, as can be seen from this example for Stratfield Mortimer, Berkshire, in 1349-50. Detailed descriptions were also provided of the coat colours of the animals to aid identification.

Type Start End Total Acc. for Males at End Females at End
Mares 17 16 17 0 16
Colts 4 0 4 0 0
Fillies 7 4 7 0 4
Newborns 0 6 6 3 3
Total 28 26 34 3 23

Mares: start 17 (1 bay with white spots and two rear white feet, 1 bay, 1 white-grey with one left rear foot, 1 black which blends into grey, 3 greys, 1 brown bay with two rear white feet, 2 blacks with stars in front, 3 sorrels with white spots, 1 black with two white front feet, 1 grey with white spots, 1 brown bay, and 1 bay-grey); 1 brown bay mare died on 4 October 1349, as appears in the inquiry headed by Adam de Dene, ordered by the king to inquire into the deaths of the king’s horses in the memoranda delivered to the treasurer enrolled in the Hillary term of the 25th year of Edward III (1351–52) (16). Colts: start 4 born the previous year; 3 were delivered to Odiham on 4 October 1349 for breaking in amongst the king’s great horses (1); the remaining colt died on 3 October 1349. Fillies: start 7 (1 of 2.5yrs old, 1 of 1.5yrs old, and 5 born the previous year); 1 black filly, then 3yrs old, died on 5 June 1350, and on 11 June 1 grey then 1yr old died, and 1 black filly, then 1yr old, died on 16 June (4). Newborns: 6 born this year (3 colts and 3 fillies), all of which remain at the end of the account.

When young horses reached maturity (usually around 3.5yrs old for fillies and 2.5yrs old for colts) the colts were sent for training and breaking in amongst the king’s great horses, and some of the mares were selected for breeding. The remainder were either sold or sent to the household to act as horses for messengers, as riding horses, or as gifts to members of the household.

Warhorse numbers in the royal studs and stables obviously varied over time, ranging from 500-600 horses of all types over the period 1320-60. From c. 1360, however, the large numbers of horses were sold and the new position of Master of the Horse was created. The man occupying this position became an important official in the royal household, but instead of dealing with hundreds of animals, he was tasked with maintaining a smaller number of more elite beasts.

Straight from the Horse’s Mouth: The Sources for Investigating Medieval and Tudor Horses

What sorts of records are available that allow us to investigate the horses – in particular warhorses – of medieval and Tudor England? Dr Gary Baker, Senior Research Associate on the ‘Warhorse: The Archaeology of a Military Revolution?’ project explains all.

Horses were an everyday part of life in medieval and Tudor England and were used for a multitude of purposes: transport, communication, agriculture, hunting, racing, and, of course, war. Indeed, the armoured knight on horseback is the most evocative image of the Middle Ages in the popular imagination. Tens of thousands of horses of all shapes and sizes were utilized by the English at war from the Welsh and Scottish campaigns of Edward I to the wars of Elizabeth I, from the great and expensive destriers favoured by royalty and the nobility to the everyday rounceys of men-at-arms and mounted archers and the humble pack horse, which lumbered in the baggage train.

The feeding, welfare, upkeep, breeding, buying and selling, and stabling of horses, as well as the recruitment and arming of men and horses for war, has generated a massive corpus of documentary material in the surviving records of medieval and Tudor England. These records were generated at both a national and local level, and are scattered in numerous archives. Alongside the physical remains of horses and their accoutrements, this blog post highlights some of the key sources and most prominent record series (and the type of information they provide), that the team on the AHRC Warhorse project are utilizing to explore the warhorse in medieval and Tudor England.

Professor Robert Liddiard (left) and Dr Gary Baker (right) examining a sixteenth century account at the UK National Archives

Equitium Regis Accounts

A box of equitium regis accounts at The National Archives (right)

These royal stable (equitium regis) accounts are housed in the The National Archives UK (TNA), enrolled on the series E 372 pipe rolls (the particulars of which are contained in series E 101). They contain details of the management and expenses incurred by the royal stables and king’s studs. They date from the late thirteenth century until the reign of James I, and were compiled and sent to the Exchequer by the Keepers of the King’s Horses north and south of the River Trent, and, from the end of the fourteenth century, by the Master of the Horse. Some accounts consist of only a single folio whilst others are several membranes long.

The contents of these accounts include payments and expenses for provisions for the horses, equipment, stabling, the sale and purchase of beasts, and the number of animals under officials’ care. There are also miscellaneous entries such as the provision of livery for horses of noblemen visiting the royal household, and purchases for some medical expenses and healthcare for the horses.

Detail of TNA E101/97/2, account of the royal stud at Chester (1283–4) including purchase of cut grass (herba) for nineteen of the king’s horses and one of the queen’s mounts.

Horse Appraisal and Restauro Equorum accounts

These two inter-related sets of accounts, dating from the reigns of the first three Edwards (1290s to 1360s), are a unique survival of an important period of the development military service. They are located primarily within TNA E101, though some can be found in other documentary series. As part of the terms of service agreed between the Crown and men-at-arms, the Crown agreed to assess the value of a horse of a man-at-arms and pay the soldier compensation if his mount was lost on campaign. The horse appraisals are lists of warhorses appraised by the royal commissioners prior to campaign, and provide the name of the mount’s owner, the type of horse being appraised, a brief description of the beast (in terms of its colouring and distinctive features), and monetary value. The restauro equorum accounts are the sister documents to the horse appraisals, listing horses which had previously been assessed and denoting that they had been killed on campaign and the value paid to their owner in compensation.

Detail of E101/14/15 m.2 showing horses assessed for service in 1314 headed by Sir Andrew de Harcla: ‘Dominus Andreas de Harcla habet unum dextrarius peys pomele precii – XX libras’; ‘Master Andrew de Harcla has one destrier, pied spotted, price of £20’.

Private and Manorial Accounts

Manorial accounts are some of the most varied and numerous documents in existence in medieval and early modern England, and concern the business and administration of the manor. Accounts of stabling and the upkeep of horses can often be found, but there is not standard documentation, with content varying from manor to manor. Some are quite extensive, such as the Winchester Pipe Rolls, the most complete set of manorial accounts in existence, dating from 1208–9 in an almost unbroken series to 1710–11. Private household accounts are often just as fruitful, containing information about the administration of the household and its affairs.

Detail of E101/93/20 (1357-9) showing the purchase of hay for 38 horses and 5 hackneys in the household of Elizabeth de Burgh, Lady Clare

Accounts of Royal Works

These are records of the Clerks of the King’s or Queen’s Works, the Surveyors of Works, and constables of royal castles. As their name suggests, they relate to works and repairs to royal properties. Though not specifically focused upon horses and stables they certainly provide important details related to the use and stabling of these animals.

Detail of E101/458/9 f.2v, (1537–8) a description of the stables in the east ward of Barnard Castle, County Durham, which is ‘is decayed in diverse places’.

Miscellaneous Documents

As mentioned earlier, the sheer amount of records of horses and warhorses generated in medieval and Tudor England has meant that there are thousands or records that do not readily fit within neat categorizations. Often this is because the documents in question were not compiled specifically for the purpose of recording information on horses but note them in passing. The nature and benefit of such records is that they sometimes provide details about horses and their equipment which more rigidly structured official accounts do not. One such type of sources are inventories of the goods of deceased persons. In 25 July 1536, for example, John Gostwyk compiled an inventory of the goods of  Henry VIII’s illegitimate son Henry FitzRoy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset, who had died two days earlier, including the contents of his stable.[1] He possessed four horses (a jennet[2], a black, a bay, and a sorrel),[3] a little mule, two other mules, six geldings, and three nags, with several saddles including one of green velvet with a harness of the same fringed with green silk, another of buff leather with a harness of black velvet trimmed with gilt work, and a third of white leather with a harness of black velvet with great gilt buckles.

Detail of inventory of the goods of Henry FitzRoy, Duke of Richmond, 1536 (British Library Royal MS 7 F XIV f. 99r).

Wills are another excellent source of information on horses and their role in society. Horses and horse equipment were often prized and valuable goods and bequeathed to close family members and associates. Edward, Duke of York, who died at Agincourt in 1415 made his will during the siege of Harfleur on 17 August. He left to John Popham of Hampshire, ‘my new brigandines of red velvet … the bascinet that I wear and my best horse’ and ordered that his saddles and harnesses be equally divided amongst the members of his retinue, ‘except that I wish that Rokell [one of the duke’s household archers] should have the best’.[1] Over three centuries later in 1633, Phillip Weath the rector of Hinderwell in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, bequeathed to his wife Elizabeth ‘my Nagg Andrewe to ride on’.[2]

Detail from Will of Phillip Weath, 1633

The above highlights only a fraction of the source materials the team on the AHRC Warhorse project are looking to investigate. We hope to provide more interesting information as we find it in the coming months.

Dr Gary Baker is the Senior Research Associate on the AHRC warhorse project, currently working at the University of East Anglia.

Notes

[1] Baker, G. ‘To Agincourt and Beyond! The Martial Affinity of Edward of Langley, Second Duke of York (c.1373–1415)’, Journal of Medieval History 43:1 (2017), p. 50.

[2] York’s Archbishops Register: Entry 1, Register 32 f.29 (verso) entry 1 <http://https://archbishopsregisters.york.ac.uk/entry/s7526f70g> [Accessed: 23 Sep 2019]

[1] BL Royal MS 7 F XIV, ff. 83r–99v.

[2] A small Spanish horse.

[3] Chestnut.