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The Great Horse; or, The War Horse from the time of the Roman Invasion till its development into the Shire Horse.

The Great Horse; or, The War Horse
from the time of the Roman Invasion till its development into the Shire Horse.
Title: The Great Horse; or, The War Horse from the time of the Roman Invasion till its development into the Shire Horse.
Release Date: 2018-06-18
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
Count views: 32
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Engraved by J. B. Pratt.

after a Painting by Hans Burgkmair.



The WAR HORSE: from the time of the Roman Invasion
till its development into the

VINTON & CO., Limited


Since the publication in 1889 of the first edition of this little book,which I was privileged to dedicate to His Royal Highness the Duke ofCambridge, great progress has been made in the improvement of the ShireHorse. It therefore has seemed desirable to remodel and enlarge, by theinclusion of more minute details, pages which had been compiled fromnotes taken in course of an enquiry into the antecedents of the horsenow known as the Shire-bred. This research led to the conclusion thatthe Shire Horse is the purest survival of the type described by mediævalwriters as the Great Horse; and this type being the native developmentof that ancient British War Horse which evoked the admiration of JuliusCæsar, it seemed appropriate to seek permission to dedicate the book tothe Prince who combined with his high position as Commander-in-Chief ofHer Majesty’s Forces, the keenest{vi} interest in those breeds of horseswhich are most useful to the State.

It would be easy to multiply ad infinitum such evidence as is herequoted, but it is unnecessary to encumber the narrative with repetitionof details which throw no fresh light upon the history of the breed.These pages have been written for the convenience of those who desire topossess in concise form knowledge of the main facts concerning theorigin and development of this truly noble and most useful animal, andto point out the true type of the “Shire Horse.” It is not claimed thatthere is any information contained in this work which those who areinterested in the subject may not, with an equal amount of patientreading obtain for themselves.

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Elsenham Hall, Essex,
January, 1899.



The Chariot Horse of the Ancient Britons5
The Great Horse in the First Century7
From the Seventh Century to the Conquest11
From the Conquest to the Reign of King John13
The Great Horse in the Thirteenth Century16
From the Time of Edward III. to Edward IV.18
The Laws of Henry VII.20
The Laws of Henry VIII.23
Queen Elizabeth’s Time27
James I.36
Charles I.39
From the Commonwealth to William III.’s Time42
Queen Anne’s Reign48
The Shire Horse in the Nineteenth Century58
How to Preserve its Character61
The Foreign Market62
The Shire Horse Society65



German Knight of the Fifteenth or Sixteenth Century(Frontispiece)
British Coins of the First Century7
Great Horse; after Albert Dürer22
Equestrian Figure in Tilting Armour, Sixteenth Century26
Sir Walter Hungerford, Knight of Heytesbury30
The Duke of Arenburg; after Vandyke38
Seals of Charles I.41
The Protector on a Great Horse42
Great Horse; after Paul Potter46
Norfolk Cart Horse, Dodman (1780)53
A Leicestershire Shire Horse; after Garrard (1720 to 1795)54
Shire Horse, Elephant56
A Shire Gelding of Messrs. Whitbread’s (1792)57
Piebald Shire Horses, Pirate and Outlaw (1810)58
Piebald Plough Teams (1844-1855)58
Honest Tom (1865)60
Blythwood Conqueror (1893)64



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The number of books about horses which have been printed is very large;a good authority states that the total is upward of four thousandvolumes; and therefore another seems almost superfluous. Yet from thatearly book of Wynkyn de Worde, printed in A.D. 1500, ThomasBlundeville’s in 1566, the Duke of Newcastle’s in 1658, and the work bySir Wm. Hope, Kt., Deputy Lieutenant of Edinburgh Castle, published in1717, to the host of books on horses which have appeared during the lasttwenty years, there is not one which can be said to render full justiceto the peculiarly English breed whose history it is proposed to examine.

By the exercise of care and judgment{2} Englishmen have achieved manytriumphs as breeders of domestic animals; and none of these, perhaps,are more conspicuous than the establishment of the two types ofhorse—the race horse and heavy draught horse; breeds differing aswidely one from the other as the greyhound differs from the mastiff.Each horse is in its own way almost perfect; the former having beenbrought to the highest state of development for speed, the latter to thehighest development of strength; and it would be difficult to maintainthat one is more beautiful than the other. Many volumes have beenwritten on the racehorse, and innumerable lives and fortunes have beendevoted to perfecting the breed; and if little has been writtenconcerning the draught horse, it will be possible to show that forgenerations before our time no little attention has been bestowed alsoupon his improvement.

The aim of the following pages is to set out in convenient form somefacts relating to the heavy horse as it existed during the early andmiddle ages, long before it was brought into general use for farm workand for drawing heavy loads. Exceptional historic interest attaches tothis breed; for its lot has been closely interwoven with that{3} of thepeople of Britain from the earliest times. It is not a little curious toreflect that the animal which formed the very backbone of our ancestors’independence—on which our forefathers depended for their strength andprowess in the Art of War, is the animal on which we depend to carry onthe operations of Agriculture and Commerce—the arts of peace. It mustnot be forgotten that the use of the horse in agriculture iscomparatively modern. In England until the middle ages the work of thefarm and almost all heavy draught work was performed by oxen. Theseanimals were in common use for farm work until the latter half of thelast century. Arthur Young in his General View of the Agriculture ofLincolnshire, written in 1799, mentions a farm he visited where he saw“two (oxen) and a horse draw home in a waggon as good loads of corn asare common in Suffolk with three horses.” He says further, “aboutGrantham many oxen have been worked, but all have left off; once theywere seen all the way from Grantham to Lincoln, now scarcely any; a pairof mares and one man will do as much work as four oxen and two men....On the Wolds most farmers have some oxen for working,{4} leading manure,corn and hay.” When horses began to be employed by ordinary occupiers ofland they were animals by no means remarkable for strength andsubstance; “stots” and “affers,” as these were called, were of a stampdistinct from the “Strong” or “Great” horses which in those days werebred and reserved for purposes neither agricultural nor commercial.

The early foundation stock from which investigation proves that ourmodern Shire horses are descended was brought to a high state ofperfection for its special purpose, not only by the judiciousintroduction of foreign blood, but by wise enactments of theLegislature. We find in the old Statute Books numerous Acts ofParliament which supported private skill and enterprise in the endeavourto improve an animal on which, it may fairly be said, the safety of thenation in no small measure depended.

The facts which it is proposed to set before the reader are, for themost part, the fruit of careful research among old records; and it mustbe added that figures worked in tapestry, rude paintings of incidentsand illustrations which sometimes occur in these records, havefrequently been more helpful than the manuscripts themselves. The{5}artist perpetuates what the writer from sheer familiarity ignores; andfor this reason the works of old painters have been laid undercontribution in the present survey of the Great Horse breed.


No very profound enquiry is needed to furnish us with a starting pointin the history of the Great Horse. We need go no farther than our oldschool friend Cæsar, and examine his account of the forces whichresisted his descent upon England in the year 55 B.C.—nearly twothousand years ago. The following familiar passage (from Camden’stranslation, Britannia, 4th edition) throws valuable light on thestamp of horse which was employed in warfare by the early Britons:—

“Most of them use chariots in battle. They first scour up and downon every side, throwing their darts; creating disorder among theranks by the terror of their horses and noise of their chariotwheels. When they have got among the troops of [their enemies’]horse, they leap out of the chariots and fight on foot. Meantimethe charioteers retire to a little distance from the field, andplace themselves in such a manner that if the others be overpoweredby the number of the enemy, they may be secure to make{6} good theirretreat. Thus they act with the agility of cavalry; and thesteadiness of infantry in battle. They become so expert by constantpractice that in declivities and precipices they can stop theirhorses at full speed; and, on a sudden, check and turn them. Theyrun along the pole, stand on the yoke, and then, as quickly, intotheir chariots again. They frequently retreat on purpose, and afterthey have drawn men from the main body, leap from their pole, andwage an unequal war on foot.”

It is obvious from this that the horses used must have possessedstrength, substance, courage and docility. The war chariot of ourforefathers was not a model of elegance and lightness; it was requiredto manœuvre over the roughest of ground, carrying several fighting men,and the needful strength could only be obtained as the result of weightand clumsiness. To draw such a vehicle at speed and force a way amongdisciplined cavalry, horses of substance, power, and courage wererequired; while the ability of the charioteers to “stop their horses atfull speed; and on a sudden, check and turn them,” points not only tostrength and weight, but to docility and handiness. Those who saw theseanimals have recorded their admiration, holding them different from, andsuperior to, any horses they had seen before; and these witnesses, wemust remember, were acquainted with most breedsof horses employed by the nations of their time.


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Our next piece of evidence comes, not from the writer but from theartist, if he may be called so; not from without the shores of Britainbut from within. For some historical purposes coins serve a purpose asvaluable as pictures, and the present is a case in point. The coins ofwhich illustrations are here given are among the very earliest known tohave been struck in this island. They date from the age of Cunobelin(the First century), and are therefore the production of a period whenneither Art

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