• Karen Raber
  • Treva J. Tucker
Part of the Early Modern Cultural Studies book series (EMCSS)


When Shakespeare’s Richard III wanders the field at Bosworth crying, “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!,”1 his position on foot presages the failure of his campaign to save his kingdom from Richmond’s efforts to end the division between the houses of York and Lancaster, and it represents just punishment for his illicit machinations and murders. Indeed, Richard’s horselessness signals his profound unfitness for rule—hunched of back and afoot, he is made common, literally pedestrian, worthy of nothing better than a traitor’s death. Richard’s words have become a familiar and now nearly comic example of the importance of practical things to great enterprises: kingdoms, empires—whole worlds, both material and immaterial— were built on the backs of horses. But scholars as a rule must approach early modern culture with only a limited, usually secondhand understanding of the horse’s role in defining and delimiting that culture. Thus they are, not entirely unlike the pedestrian Richard, trying to succeed while lacking a basic and profoundly necessary tool. This volume reintroduces scholars, in depth and on many fronts, to the significance of the horse in creating the early modern world we now study.


Eighteenth Century Seventeenth Century National Identity Sixteenth Century Early Modern Period 
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  1. 1.
    William Shakespeare, Richard III 5.4.13, in Complete Works of Shakespeare ed. David Bevington (New York: Longman, 1997).Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    If one includes only book-length treatments devoted entirely to horses in the early modern period and written in English by trained scholars within the last 30 years, the exceptions are rare indeed. They include Joan Thirsk, Horses in Early Modern England: For Service, for Pleasure, for Power (Reading, UK: University of Reading Press, 1978)Google Scholar
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    Citing the Equitium accounts of Giles of Toulouse, R. H. C. Davis says, “Some idea of the running costs involved can be gained from the fact that in 1315, when the daily wage of a skilled man was 4d., it cost between 6d. and 7d. a day to maintain one of the king’s horses at Kennington Park near London”; see R H. C. Davis, “The Medieval Warhorse,” in Horses in European Economic History ed. F. M. L. Thompson (Reading, UK: British Agricultural Society, 1983), 8. While these precise numbers certainly would not be applicable across time and place, they nonetheless offer at least some perspective on the costs of (admittedly very high-end) horse ownership in relation to the larger economy and to the ability (or not) of most people to support a horse.Google Scholar
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    Quoted in Stuart Piggot, Wagon, Chariot and Carriage: Symbol and Status in the History of Transport (London: Thames and Hudson, 1992), 69. Ruffus, a Sicilian knight, served as farrier to Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II (emperor 1220–50; king of Naples and Sicily 1197–1250).Google Scholar
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    Quoted in Arthur Vernon, The History and Romance of the Horse (New York: Dover, 1974), 159.Google Scholar
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    Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene ed. Thomas P. Roche (London: Penguin, 1987), II.V.46 and II.VI.2. For additional examples of texts, dating from antiquity to the present, that refer to the connections between horses and elite social status, seeGoogle Scholar
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    Lucy Worseley and Tom Addyman, “Riding Houses and Horses: William Cavendish’s Architecture for the Art of Horsemanship,” Architectural History 45 (2002): 194–229; quote from 217. For evidence of a similar trend in seventeenth-and eighteenth-century France, see the magnificent volume, Les Ecuries royales du XVIe au XVIIIe siècle ed. Daniel Roche (Paris: Association pour l’académie d’art équestre de Versailles, 1998). This collection includes several essays on the stables of the French monarchy and of high-ranking French noblemen, as well as two essays on the stables of the English monarchs during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Quoted in Pia F. Cuneo, “Beauty and the Beast: Art and Science in Early Modern European Equine Imagery,” Journal of Early Modern History 4 (2000): 269–321; quote from 269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Lisa Jardine and Jerry Brotton, Global Interests: Renaissance Art between East and West (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2000), 145.Google Scholar
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    Karen Raber, “ ‘Reasonable Creatures”: William Cavendish and the Art of Dressage,” in Renaissance Culture and the Everyday ed. Patricia Fumerton and Simon Hunt (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999), 42–66.Google Scholar
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    Roy Strong, Van Dyck: Charles I on Horseback (New York: Viking Press, 1972).Google Scholar

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© Karen Raber and Treva J. Tucker 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Karen Raber
  • Treva J. Tucker

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