Horse & Hound
The real cost of embryo transfer
Ahead of a major international conference dedicated to horses and royal courts, historian Philip Mansel and professor of English and American literature Donna Landry explore how horses have been used to exert diplomatic power through history, from Richard
Twins, decisions and small print — one breeder’s diary
IT’S easy to forget in today’s developed world, where horses are largely here for our pleasure and sport, that before 1900 they were a necessity. Whether it was for war or transport, agriculture or security, a country was only as good as its horses.
Monarchs in particular found horses essential for power, prestige and protection. “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse,” Shakespeare made Richard III cry as he fought for his life on the battlefield of Bosworth in 1485. Other kings would be more successful in fleeing battlefields. After his defeat by Cromwell at the battle of Worcester in 1651, the young Charles II, who had been taught riding by the great cavalier and writer on “dressing horses”, the Duke of Newcastle, owed his life to his flight in disguise, on a horse shared with a royalist lady called Jane Lane. He pretended to be her groom and blacksmith. After he recovered the throne in 1660, he would complain that their horse had been
“the heaviest dull jade he had ever ridden on”.
Across the Channel, a French king was also only as good as his horses. On 13 May 1588 King Henri III fled from the rebellious city of Paris, because he had kept his horses ready outside the walls, beyond the reach of his enemies.
Similarly, Charles II’s cousin King Louis XIV also escaped Paris from another rebellion, by horse and carriage on 6 January 1649.
Louis was a skilled horseman, having been taught by an Italian called Arnolfini. At the age of nine, Louis mastered his rearing horse, as ladies screamed with fright, removing his feet from the stirrups without showing any emotion or fear.
HORSES were also at the centre of court entertainments. On 5 and 6 June 1662 in Paris, Louis XIV led a splendid carrousel, or mock tournament, in the middle of Paris, to celebrate the birth of his son the previous year — hence the name Place du Carrousel for the space outside the Louvre today. Eight hundred knights on horseback, in five rival teams, dressed as Romans, Persians, Turks, Indians and Americans, tilted against each other, ran their lances at a ring, threw javelins at a Gorgon’s head and paraded in front of the two queens, his wife and his mother.
The King’s horses came from the royal stud farms in Normandy and the Ile de France (which also supplied the French army), and by purchase from North Africa, England and northern Europe. Foreign monarchs sent
Louis XIV presents of horses, as he did them: black horses from the King of Spain, bay horses from the Elector of Brandenburg, Oldenburg horses from the Duke of Hanover, Arab and Barb horses from the rulers of Tunis and Morocco. The courts of Europe and the
Middle East, then as now, were united by a shared love of horses.
Horses could help broker deals, and they might change sides during or after a conflict.
John Evelyn was awestruck by Ottoman mounts captured at the siege of Vienna in 1684. These Turkish spoils of war were the finest horses he had ever seen, epitomising the virtues of Eastern blood: “in all regards beautiful & proportion’d to admiration, spiritous and proud.” And he was equally struck by how well they had been schooled, their gentleness and willing obedience. Horses could be ambassadors in their own right.
Equine breeds offered an encoded language of difference and superiority across the equestrian world. The notion of “horses for courses” applies to all breeds in the sense that each has evolved in attunement with human needs and desires, whether for winning races, showing fire and stamina on the battlefield, or pulling a ceremonial coach with aplomb. By the end of his reign, Louis XIV had 700 horses of every kind in his stables: riding horses, hunting horses, processional horses, carriage horses, draught horses, making his stables the largest department of his court. They were housed in the magnificent royal stables, as big as palaces, which can still be visited opposite the château of Versailles. At Chantilly, the château of his cousin, the Prince de Condé, the stables are bigger than the château itself.
Each monarchy had its own special breed of horses — and bloodlines were as important in animals as in humans. Hanover Bays were brought from Hanover to England in the 18th century, when the Electors of Hanover — whose symbol was a white horse — reigned as kings of Great Britain. They have often been used at English coronations and were even appreciated by Napoleon. After the annexation
‘Equine breeds offered an encoded language
of difference and superiority across the
of Hanover by Prussia in 1866, the royal stud at Celle, founded by George II in 1735 to improve farm and army horses, remained a last symbol of independence. It was kept going by imported English stallions, and much visited by Hanoverians loyal to their exiled dynasty.
ROYAL courts educated young men in horsemanship, as an indispensable part of their general education. A relic of this tradition is the Spanish Riding School in the middle of Vienna, part of the great imperial palace complex of the Hofburg. The horses that are used to perform special exercises and “horse ballets” in Vienna are the famous white Lipizzaners, from the former imperial Austrian stud of Lipica, in what is now Slovenia.
Riding could be therapy for a harassed monarch and racing in particular was encouraged by royal courts. James I and Charles II encouraged racing at Newmarket, while Queen Anne helped establish horse racing at Ascot.
The first horse race near Paris was staged in front of Louis XIV in 1683, and won on an English horse by Charles II’s favourite illegitimate son, the Duke of Monmouth. The races at Chantilly, still the most important in France today, were started in the 1830s by the sons of King Louis-Philippe.
Fast, slender Arabian and Turcoman (ancestor of the Akhal-Teke) horses were imported to improve European horse breeds beginning in the 17th century. Often Arabians would be bought in Aleppo and, since the Ottoman Sultan wanted the best for his own stables, smuggled by boat to France or England. These Eastern blood horses are the ancestors of today’s thoroughbred racehorses and also figure in the pedigrees of hunters and many breeds of riding horse.
A successful monarch required a magnificent equestrian portrait like the three of Charles I by Anthony Van Dyck, now on display in the exhibition Charles I: King and Collector at the Royal Academy until 15 April. In one, from the National Gallery, London, Charles I is shown as an armoured knight riding a magnificent golden-coated war horse with all the characteristics of Andalusian or Spanish breeding.
Perhaps the finest of all portraits of monarchs on horseback is that of Catherine II of Russia in 1762 by Eriksen, now in Peterhof Palace outside Saint Petersburg.
Ladies at court were meant to ride sidesaddle, a custom said to have been introduced by Catherine de’ Medici Queen of France in the 16th century and maintained by Elizabeth II as a young queen during the Trooping the Colour ceremony. In contrast, in the portrait of Catherine II, she rides astride her superb white horse, like a man. She is also dressed as a man in military uniform with a drawn sword. She is off to depose her hated husband Peter III in a coup in Saint Petersburg. She was successful. A few weeks later he was murdered with the enthusiastic help of her lover Grigory Orlov.
HORSES were at the heart of political life — and controversy. Louis XIV’s descendant Louis XVI could not flee a revolutionary mob in Versailles on 5 October 1789, as his grooms were in revolt and the harnesses for pulling the royal carriages had been cut. His flight by carriage from Paris to Varennes in June 1791 also failed. He dared not use his own horses, and his hired carriage horses, on the long journey to eastern France grew tired too soon. His family and he were captured and brought back to Paris. He was guillotined 18 months later.
To defeat revolutions in other capitals,
horses were also used for crowd control.
Hence the phrase “charging the mob”. The Household Cavalry in London were called the “Piccadilly Butchers” in the early 19th century, as they charged the mob so often and with such deadly results.
The supply of horses remained vital in war and peace. National rivalries could be played out in terms of breeding programmes, with state stud farms being founded in the 19th century to supplement existing royal studs. There was renewed interest in Eastern horses, especially Arabians, for improving cavalry as well as providing more stylish and enduring riding and draught horses.
Napoleon was defeated as he lost horses as well as men in the horrors of the retreat from Moscow in 1812, and could not replenish the French army’s stock of horses. The charge of the Anglo-Allied heavy cavalry at Waterloo in 1815 made maximum use of the shock effect of big men mounted on big powerful horses. Although they overran the French guns in their enthusiasm and suffered many casualties, this hammer-blow of a charge helped to turn the day. Horses remained crucial in both World Wars, although less so in the second. The last major cavalry charge in wartime was by Italian cavalry on the eastern front on 24 August 1942 against Soviet artillery.
The importance of horses in daily life is shown by common phrases, derived from riding, which are still applied to politics. For example, “the Prime Minister is firmly in the saddle”; a rival is “in harness”. Followers are “spurred on”; or a politician, on a particular issue, is “completely blinkered”.
Today royal stables, maintaining specialised equestrian traditions, survive in London, Copenhagen, Stockholm, The Hague and Cordoba, as well as Morocco, Jordan, Oman and the Gulf. No monarch has been more passionately interested in horses than the present Queen. She rides them, breeds them and is heavily involved in the showing of them as well as racing.
Last year she opened Parliament at Westminster in the morning, and watched the races at Royal Ascot the same afternoon. She also practises horse diplomacy with some of the horse-loving rulers of the Gulf — their horses are flown to and from England, in the summer, in some cases to breed with her mares and stallions.
President Putin of Russia is another ruler who loves horses, and he is often photographed riding them — sometimes shirtless. Since 2006 there has been a riding school in the Kremlin, with the motto “put culture and horse riding traditions at the service of the people”. He has also revived the use of horses in the Kremlin guard, and in military ceremonies, with an annual horse show in Red Square. All these are signs of his increasingly imperial attitude to power — and the continued relevance of horses in the struggle for the world order.