All of these uses for Tudor horses called for varying requirements in the type, temperament, and size of the horse, as it needed to be well-suited for its role. Here's a look at the common types of horses one might find at this time:
- Courser - Mainly used in war and jousting tournaments, these were fast, powerful horses - (estimated to be around 15 hands high).
- Destrier - Heavier, stronger, and a little slower than a Courser, these were the most well-known war horses, as they could accommodate bulky, heavy armor well - (also estimated to be around 15 hands high).
- Rouncey - A term used since the middle ages to describe an all-purpose, ordinary horse. Lighter than the typical war horse, they were generally used for everyday riding, and could also be trained for battle (usually by poorer knights).
- Jennet - The most popular horse for everyday pleasure riding. They were light, comfortable, quick, and attractive (of Arabian stock), and thought to be introduce in England by the Spanish.
- Palfrey - Another lightweight, comfortable, 'everyday' horse - most often ridden by women.
- Hobby - A smaller, comfortable horse with an ambling gait, thought to originate in Ireland.
- Draft - The stockiest, heaviest, and strongest type of horse - used as a pack horse for farm work and plowing.
Horses were so integral to life in Tudor England, that many regulations were put in place throughout the 16th century, in order to control their export, breeding, and use. Always in an attempt to improve the quality of the 'English horse', certain laws were enacted regarding how frequently a male horse could breed a female. Interestingly, this is where the term 'stallion' comes from - as Henry VII decreed that uncastrated male horses must be kept in stalls (as opposed to being turned out in pastures with mares). This requirement to keep stallions bound and confined to stalls was inconvenient, and the practice of gelding (castrating) horses become more widespread during the middle of the century (hence the term 'gelding' for castrated male horses).
Henry VIII was also concerned about the size and appearance of horses bred during his reign. According to him and his 'Breed of Horses Act', no stallion should be shorter than 15 hands, and mares should be no shorter than 13 hands. (For those who don't know, a 'hand' is a measurement of four inches - and 13 hands is considered 'pony-sized'). Unfortunately for small horses, any that didn't meet the height and size requirements were ordered to be destroyed - though some areas of England were exempt because of their poor land quality and inability to raise horses according to Henry's standards. Certain British pony breeds that still exist today can thank this exemption for their modern existence. Luckily, regulations like these were partly repealed by his daughter, Elizabeth I!
Horse racing (the theme of today, of course!) did not become popular until the reign of James I - the first Stuart monarch. Although racing had been done in England for hundreds of years, it didn't become an organized public spectacle until this time, and it then required yet a new type of horse - one that was even faster and lighter.
While Henry VIII and his court (most likely) were not partying and cheering on race day like many Americans will be today, there's no question that horses played an extremely important role in this time period. Whether for sport and entertainment, farm work, battle purposes, travel, or everyday pleasure riding, horses grew in popularity and necessity throughout the 16th century, and were clearly valued (maybe even loved) by many Tudor horse owners. If you're interested in reading further about the role of Tudor horses, I highly recommend a book I read while at Oxford -- "Horse and Man in Early Modern England" by Peter Edwards.
I hope you've enjoyed this look inside the world of the Tudor horse. While there's much more to explore on this topic, maybe this will spark some fun discussion about these fabulous animals and their importance to our favorite time period. As always, please let me know what you think in the comments below, and if you have additional questions, ask away!
To all my American race fans: Enjoy the Kentucky Derby!