5 June 2020 marked the 500 year anniversary of the meeting between Henry VIII and Francis I known as the Field of the Cloth of Gold. Members of the Warhorse team investigated the role that horses played at this meeting as part of an online exhibit curated by the Royal Armouries.
This month Rob Webley joins the ‘Warhorse’ team – here he introduces himself and the project’s examination of equine material culture
It is a pleasure to have started working on the ‘Warhorse’ project, where my focus will be on the objects used to ride horses and to decorate them – their material culture. One of our aims, by studying images and artefacts, is to see which objects were associated with the warhorse, or essential to using horses in combat, and which were used in other contexts. My background in archaeological artefacts comes from over a decade’s work for the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) for whom I made nearly 10,000 records of objects found by members of the public. Many of these objects related to the early-medieval, medieval and post-medieval horse, and much of this equestrian equipment has, in turn, featured heavily in my PhD thesis undertaken at the University of York. My thesis considers developments in portable material culture focused on the 11th and 12th centuries, part of which has been to assess and contextualise the impact of the Norman Conquest.
The database of the Portable Antiquities Scheme will feature heavily in my ‘Warhorse’ work, as it holds over 16,000 records of equestrian equipment from our period of study. Most objects recorded by the PAS are non-ferrous (not made of iron), because the majority of those reporting to it are metal-detector users. This is both a challenge and a blessing. Taking horseshoes as an example, being iron, PAS records number only in the hundreds (a particularly interesting example is featured above), while we know that during the Hundred Years War horseshoes were being forged in their thousands every year in Nottinghamshire alone. To assess changes in shape and size in horseshoes, information will have to be extracted primarily from excavation reports and museum examples: this can then be compared to zooarchaeological data to establish whether such changes are useful approximations of changes in horse size and stature.
The most exciting challenges posed by PAS data come when it throws up large numbers of objects that are otherwise neglected in the documentary record. A case in point is the harness pendant: a copper-alloy item which came to real prominence in the 12th century as a means primarily of decorating a horse’s breast strap (examples to right). Nearly 6,000 of these pendants have been recorded on the PAS database. This quantity inevitably raises questions about what type of horse was decorated with these objects: Who used such horses? Did this change through time? Hopefully the evidence of representations of harness pendants in art, along with the objects themselves, will – if approached with due caution – yield some answers.
A final example may be provided by stirrup fittings. A fashion in the 11th century (running on into the 12th century) saw stirrups – generally iron objects – embellished with highly decorative copper-alloy terminals at the ends of their tread-plates (see the example below). Also made of copper alloy are contemporary mounts which protected and decorated the stirrup leather where it passed through the apex loop of a stirrup. Both are often decorated with zoomorphic (animal) designs. Many hundreds of such ‘stirrup-strap mounts’ are now known, and, alongside the stirrup terminals, provide evidence for large numbers of horse riders in late Anglo-Saxon England. They therefore serve as a counterpoint to perceptions of the innate ‘horse-mindedness’ of the Normans. As with harness pendants, their sheer numbers challenge our sense of where to situate them socially, suggesting more people were riding or engaging with horses than previously thought.
Because so much equestrian equipment was lost in transit, and so little has, proportionally, been recovered archaeologically, it has not always been studied in depth and there is plenty of work to be done on bringing new data together and starting to associate it with different horse roles. For unequivocal equipment of the warhorse – its armour – you may want to explore some of our other posts.
As you will have seen from previous posts, our project team are busy trying to find out as much as we can about the size and shape of medieval horse types from their skeletons. However, warhorses also had exoskeletons (external skeletons). While we might think of animals with exoskeletons as being creatures such as insects and crabs, warhorses had artificial exoskeletons in the form of armour. What can horse armour tell us about stature and shape of the horse that it fitted?
On the face of it, this sounds easy. The size of armour surely tells us a lot about size of horses selected for warfare and jousting. When one starts to examine the prospect more closely, however, some difficulties emerge. Leg lengths tell us most about withers heights, but horses didn’t wear greaves. Peytrals and cruppers certainly tell us a bit about the width of a horse’s chest or rump, respectively, but they don’t tell us much about height as they differ greatly in design in that respect. The crinet on the neck is designed to expand and contract with head movement, so there are not appropriate fixed points to measure. The other big problem with horse armour is its rarity: pieces survive in fairly small numbers, mainly in important museum collections. We are going to take measurements where we can, but those elements are unlikely to yield the datasets we need.
Shaffrons, on the other hand, survive it quite large numbers and were fitted quite closely to the horse’s face, with just a little paddling in between. They might give us lots of data on the size and shape of horse’s heads.
Deciding what to measure on shaffrons is not easy as they also vary in design quite considerably. Some extend fully from the back of the head to the nose, but then have a wide range of designs around the nasal area. Some ‘half shaffrons’ don’t extend as far as the nose. Shaffrons also vary in the way they extend down the cheek, with some having separate cheek pieces. Eyes holes can be plain or have additional guards of different types. Our best course of action is to be thorough in our metrical recording, so that we don’t regret the choices we made at a later point.
While some measurements will mainly tell us about shaffron design, there are others that relate directly to the size and shape of the horse’s head. These include overall width measurements and measurements between eye and ear holes in various combinations. Overall length is quite difficult because of the difficult designs at the nose. We have started to collect our shaffron data, but there is much yet to do. We have also been carrying out equivalent measurements on live horses of different type, breed and withers height so that we can understand what our shaffron data mean.
We’ve still got to measure many more shaffrons and horses, but what do we know so far? As you might imagine, horse head size doesn’t have a simple relationship to withers heights, but there is nonetheless some relationship, and we will be able say something about varying stature and head shape. We can already see that shaffrons can be of radically different sizes and some were clearly fitted to pony-sized animals. However, there are some impressively large examples out there too! As our project develops, it will be fascinating to see how our data from shaffrons relate to the zooarchaeaological material, especially in terms of trying to answer the big question about the size and appearance of medieval ‘great’ horses…
The horse’s body was not meant to carry a saddle, let alone a rider encased in clanking metal.
Riding is unnatural, and although there are ways to keep the damage to a minimum, it will take a visible toll on the horse’s skeleton.
These pathologies — deviations from the normal structure of bones and teeth caused by disease, age, or stress — are a valuable tool for the zooarchaeologist as they can illuminate aspects of the animal’s life and sometimes death.
For the Warhorse Project, pathology is a true treasure trove. Injuries, possibly sustained in battle or on the tournament field, or evidence for regular riding, all hold the potential to tell us something about the lives of horses in the Middle Ages.
Bony changes in the horse’s spine are a relatively common result of riding. Fusion of several vertebrae or even entire backs can frequently be seen in the zooarchaeological record.
The abnormal weight of a rider (or any heavy load) on their back forces the spine to bend downwards, which brings the spinous processes of the vertebrae (long bony projections protruding from the top of the vertebrae) much closer together than they should be. When they touch and grind against each other repeatedly this causes new bone growth around the affected area — a painful condition called ‘Kissing Spine’.
To counter this, the horse will become stiff in the back in an attempt to minimise movement between the vertebrae. Similarly, the bones themselves will react to the repeated strain by growing bony bridges between vertebrae, locking them into place. Such fusion in the spine can be a normal consequence of old age and it is not uncommon to find it in two or three lumbar vertebrae. However, exceptional strain on a horse’s back may eventually lead to the complete fusion of the spine, known as a ‘bamboo spine’.
For any pathological condition to grow as severe as an immobile spine, the animal must have survived it for a considerable amount of time. That means its owners or caretakers cared for the animal, indicating a bond between humans and horses that reached beyond mere exploitation. It paints the horse as a companion and partner that did not lose its value even when it outlived its usefulness.
In our search for Medieval warhorses, we naturally will encounter a large quantity of horses not used in combat. The zooarchaeological record in Britain is full of horses, from the impressive Iron Age human/horse chariot burials, to the Post-Medieval remains of work horses. The task for those of us working on the bones of these animals is identifying signs that could indicate what the horses were being used for while alive. Because of the biased nature of preservation of biological remains, we frequently encounter bones and teeth, but rarely find evidence of more delicate materials, such as skin, fur, hair and muscle. Thus, it is our job to find proxies for these things with the faunal data we do have.
Muscles are a hugely important factor in how a horse moves, and those used for work (draught horses) would have utilised their muscles in very different ways from those used primarily for riding, or combat. Though we cannot study the muscles themselves, bones leave evidence of the nature of musculoskeletal loadings at the point where the muscle is attached to the bone. By looking at these areas of muscle attachment, we can investigate changes in robusticity, and changes in size, shape and surface complexity of horse bones.
As an analogy, imagine a draught horse as a front wheel drive car, deriving its power from the forelimbs, pulling with the aid of a harness. In contrast, in combat a horse is a rear wheel drive car, and would need to be able to perform short bursts of speed, and turn in tight, quick movements. It is likely this power would be derived from the hindlimbs. These vastly different movements repeated over the life of the animal would induce stress to the muscles, and the attached bones.
But, what can we expect to see on these bones? There are a few different ways that we are investigating these morphological changes, and a previous blog post discussed the 3D methods we are using. However, in-life movement and stress not only affect the surface of the bone, but also the internal structures. Studies of living horses have successfully used CT scanning and x-ray to investigate the internal structures of the lower limb bones (metapodia) providing a measurement of cortical thickness which has been shown to change depending on in-life usage of the horse. A few weeks ago, we used the x-ray in the archaeological science labs at the University of Exeter, to investigate the ability of x-ray to show the cortical thickness in archaeological bones.
We investigated how the cortical thickness changed at different locations on the bone (i.e. near the ends and towards the centre of the shaft). This was preliminary investigative work to determine a sampling strategy for all the bones in our assemblage. We wanted to see how the cortical thickness changed along the bone, and decide on a standardised place to measure its thickness from. From the x-ray images of the horse bones, we will be able to measure the thickness of the cortical wall and compare this with the thickness of modern horses with known in-life activities.
It has been a busy year for the Warhorse project, with work progressing on multiple fronts. We thought that a quick end of year blog would be a useful way of summarising some of the key activities and achievements so far and for alerting everybody to our packed programme for 2020.
In terms of our team of post-doctoral researchers, we have welcomed on board Dr Gary Baker, who, working alongside Prof Rob Liddiard, has been making great strides in capturing documentary references to the royal network of studs. Preliminary results are really exciting, and we can report that the project has already generated an initial map of how the royal studs were distributed across the English landscape, which we think is the first time this has been done.
We are also delighted to welcome to the team Rob Webley, who from spring 2020 will be working on the material culture work package of our project, examining all things metal and equine from harness pendants to horseshoes. Rob has a fantastic pedigree of working with medieval objects through the Portable Antiquities Scheme, and we look forward to developing this side of the project with him on board. We have already made good progress in collecting together some excellent examples of medieval representations of horses on wall paintings and sculpture (see images below, taken by Prof Oliver Creighton).
On the zooarchaeological front we have set up our Geometric Morphometrics Lab with new digital photogrammetry and X-ray facilities, and 2020 will see an energetic programme of data collection in the UK and Europe led by our Project Officer Dr Carly Ameen and our dedicated PhD student Helene Benkert, working with Prof Alan Outram.
Our programme of impact and outreach activities also continues to gain momentum, with project members present at the Royal Armouries’ Easter Joust, at the Tewkesbury re-enactment and at the Being Human Festival in Exeter Cathedral. Team members have already contributed to the Leeds International Medieval Congress, the Society for Medieval Archaeology Student Colloquium, the International Council for Archaeozoology GMM Conference, Paris, and the Postgraduate Zooarchaeology Forum in Yerevan, Armenia.
If there is one thing that excites our project team most is the potential for integration between our different strands of evidence. We have our first Steering Group in March 2020, and while it is still early days for our work, with over two years still to run, we will be turning our minds to the ways our different work packages need to interact and add value to produce new insights.
2020 will also see team members analysing and measuring horse armour, and trying to draw our first connections between surviving material culture in modern-day museum collections and the dry bones of long-dead medieval horses. The challenge is to understand what the ‘live’ horses of the medieval period looked like when all we have are their bony endoskeletons and their humanly created steel exoskeletons. So bring on the next stage of our project …
The standards demanded of a medieval warhorse were enormous.
A destrier needed to be strong enough not only to carry a rider in full armour but also armour of their own. They needed to be large and sturdy enough to be able to withstand the chaos of battle and to potentially charge through the ranks of the enemy without breaking stride. Yet they also needed to be fast and agile enough to be able to manoeuvre quickly. And, perhaps most crucially, they needed to have nerves of steel.
As a flight animal, i.e. one that would run away in the face of danger, most of these demands are unnatural to the horse. Charging at another being goes against all a horse’s natural instincts, with the noise of battle alone enough to trigger flight. Add to that lethal arrows dropping from the sky, sharp weapons cutting and stabbing all around them and bodies crashing into each other and you get a potent mix that would send any animal into a frenzied flight.
In light of these challenges, it seems an extraordinary feat to train efficient and deadly cavalry.
In spite of all the brutal looking bits and spurs and other riding implements of the medieval period, both horse and rider must have been exceptionally well-trained. A horse was a knight’s life-insurance (and worth huge sums of money), so they had to be reliable.
Modern jousters know this as well as any medieval knight did. Some horses are just not the right “person” for the job, some might only cope with it for a season before they refuse to ever charge again. The horse must be mentally and physically able to comply with the high demands of war and tournament.
Cold-blooded horses, for example a Percheron or Suffolk Punch, tend to be not only sturdy, strong animals but also have a much calmer disposition than a temperamental thoroughbred. That is not to say that the latter are unsuitable for war, and there is plenty of evidence of the contrary. However, they are more suited to a very different style of fighting on horseback as employed by various Near Eastern and Eastern European peoples for example.
For the classic medieval Western European style on the other hand, relying heavily on strength and force, a horse more reminiscent of a modern cob or light cold blood was needed.
The Warhorse Project’s aim is to trace these very horses across medieval Europe, from their physical development to their training and usage. Understanding where, when and how medieval warhorses emerged and evolved will shed more light on military transitions and associated social changes such as the development of chivalry.
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’.
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. He possessed four horses (a jennet, a black, a bay, and a sorrel), 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’. 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’.
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.
 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.
 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]
 BL Royal MS 7 F XIV, ff. 83r–99v.
 A small Spanish horse.
Our project’s PhD student Helene Benkert has been on another mission to infiltrate the world of medieval re-enactment. This time it took her to Tewkesbury Medieval Festival, one of the largest gatherings of its kind in Europe.
Thousands of enthusiasts gather each year on the fields near Tewkesbury Abbey, the very same fields where on 4 May 1471 the Lancastrian army was defeated by the Yorkist contingent, to relive this critical battle. Stalls and tents of re-enactors from all over Europe are scattered across the area and swarmed by excited visitors.
Just like the big Easter Jousting Event at Leeds, Tewkesbury’s Medieval Festival draws a huge crowd. It seems, hitting each other with sticks – whether lances or swords, on horse or on foot – is as popular as ever. At least, they have cut back on the blood that gave The Bloody Meadow its name.
While this event is mostly horse-free – there is a single mounted knight with a stunning Percheron-type grey, aptly named ‘King’ – there would have been plenty of equids in the original battle, whether for combat or transport.
In lieu of the actual horses, the ‘Warhorse’ project acts as their ambassador at Tewkesbury. Armed with posters, flyers and real horse bones from Exeter’s reference collection I go about my mission to draw people into the world of medieval warhorses. And people are most willing to follow the lure.
After a fabulous day of chatting with many wonderfully engaged and interested people about our project and horses in general it is time for the Big Event, the re-enactment of the Battle of Tewkesbury. Narrated like a modern football game, we watch the drama unfold as several hundred re-enactors in full armour and armed with lances and swords charge at each other in a rain of arrows and the smoke of large guns. It truly is a spectacle and the audience dutifully holds their breath and cheers at the appropriate moments.
For the final skirmish, re-enactors and visitors alike make their way through Tewkesbury town and to the abbey. The conclusive beheadings are accompanied by much cheering and laughter (perhaps not too much unlike the real ones some 600 years ago) and followed by friend and (revived) foe joining each other for a pint or many.
It’s wonderful to see so many people interested in history and a town so invested in its own past. As much as importance is placed on authenticity, the feeling of community and integrity within the accurate historical settings is just as valuable.
Next year, we will be back to represent medieval warhorses. We will happily share our newest research and chat about horses. There will also be fun activities for old and young alike, so do pop by and say hello.