Tuesday, April 09, 2013

'Full of juice' Horses in 12th century London

horseshoe from the city of London circa 1300
Today's research snippet comes from William FitzStephen's Norman London, written in the later 12th century as a short description of the city and its activities. Here the author talks about horses, horse racing and joust training in the city.

"On every sixth day of the week, unless it be a major feast day on which solemn rites are prescribed, there is a much frequented show of fine horses for sale. Thither come all the Earls, Barons and Knights who are in the City, and with them many of the citizens, whether to look on or buy. It is a joy to see the ambling palfreys, their skin full of juice, their coats a-glisten, as they pace softly in alternation raising and putting down the feet on one side together.
Next to see the horses that best befit Esquires, moving more roughly, yet nimbly, as they raise and set down the opposite feet, fore and hind, first on one side and then on the other.
"Then the younger colts of high breeding, unbroken and high stepping with elastic tread, and after them the costly destriers of graceful form and goodly stature with quivering ears, high necks and plump buttocks. As these show their paces, the buyers watch first their gentler gait, then the swifter motion, wherein the forefeet are thrown out and back together, and the hind feet also, as it were, counterwise.
When a race between such trampling steeds is about to begin, or perchance between others who are likewise, after their kind, strong to carry, swift to run, a shout is raised, and horses of the baser sort are bidden to turn aside. Three boys riding these fleet-footed steeds, or at times two as may be agreed, prepare themselves for the contest. Skilled to command their horses, they curb their untamed mouths with jagged bits and their chief anxiety is that there rival shall not gain the lead. The horses likewise after their fashion lift up their spirits for the race; their limbs tremble, impatient of delay, they cannot stand still. When the signal is given, they stretch forth their limbs, they gallop away, they rush on with obstinate speed. The riders, passionate for renown, hoping for victory, vie with one another in spurring their swift horses and lashing them forward with their switches no less than they excite them by their cries.
In another place apart stand the wares of the country-folk, instruments of agriculture, long-flanked swine, cows with swollen udders, and wooly flocks and bodies huge of kine. Mares stand there, meet for ploughs, sledges and two-horsed carts; the bellies of some are big with young; round others move their offspring, new-born, sprightly foals, inseparable followers."

William FitzStephen also tells us that every Sunday in Lent after dinner 'A fresh swarm of young gentles goes forth on warhorses steeds skilled in the contest, of which each is apt and schooled to wheel in circles round.
From the gates burst forth in throngs the lay sons of the citizens, armed with lance and shield, the younger with shafts forked at the end but with steel point removed. They wake war's semblance and in mimic contests exercise their skill at arms. Many courtiers come too, when the King is in residence; and from the households of Earls and Barons come young men not yet invested with the belt of knighthood, that they may there contend together. Each one of them is on fire with hope of victory. The fierce horses neigh, their limbs tremble, they champ the bit; impatient of delay they cannot stand still. When at length the hoof of trampling steeds careers along, the youthful riders divide their hosts; some pursue those that fly before, and cannot overtake them; others unhorse their comrades and speed by."

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