A Horse of a Different Color: Nation and Race in Early Modern Horsemanship Treatises

  • Karen Raber
Part of the Early Modern Cultural Studies book series (EMCSS)


In his New Method and Extraordinary Invention of Dressing Horses William Cavendish reports that when he was asked by an observer which horses he liked best, he replied “there were Good and Bad of all Nations; but that the Barbes were the Gentlemen of Horse-kind, and Spanish Horses were the Princes.”1 There are nations of horses, as there are of men, and like nations of men horse breeds have their own national character: Barbs, according to Cavendish, are more docile, whereas Spanish horses are unnervingly intelligent; English horses are lumpish and fit only to pull carts, and Turkish horses, although rare and beautiful, are not so physically suited to the high schooling. In this chapter I am going to argue that Cavendish’s treatises mobilize a description of horse culture in the interests of a specific human cultural goal: they suggest that only the right kind of Englishman with the right kind of material situation, knowledge, and ideas can secure England’s future as a dominant European and global power. If we consider the moment when Cavendish is writing—in exile, during the civil war and Interregnum—then the importance of such a project, and the degree of Cavendish’s personal investment in it, are clear. English national identity is under reconstruction in the Puritan Commonwealth Cavendish has fled.


Global Power Exotic Breed Foreign Breed Country Estate Beinecke Library 


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  1. 1.
    William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle’s A New Method and Extraordinary Invention to Dress Horses (London: Thomas Milbourn, 1667, abbreviated as NM in this chapter); the quote is from NM 6. Cavendish had also published a treatise in French, La Methode et invention nouvelle de dresser les chevaux (Antwerp: Jacques van Meurs, 1657/58; abbreviated as Methode nouvelle in this chapter), which marked the beginning of his efforts at writing a complete description of his training techniques. The plates by Abraham van Diepenbeck intended for this first volume were in fact published in a later translation of Cavendish’s 1657/58 French text, entitled A General System of Horsemanship (London: J. Brindley, 1743; abbreviated as GS in this chapter).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Xenophon’s classical treatise on horsemanship is the basis for Astley’s pamphlet and Blundeville’s works; Grisone’s Gli ordini di cavalcare (Naples: Giovan Paolo Suganappo, 1550) provides the continental equivalent of a masterwork on horse training for many early writers in England.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Gervase Markham, Cavelarice, or, The English Horseman, Contayning all the Arte of Horse-manship, as much as is necessary for any man to vnderstand … (London: Edward White, 1607).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Quoted in Leslie Hotson, The Commonwealth and Restoration Stage (New York: Russell & Russell, Inc., 1912), 21.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Cavendish’s passion probably also inspired another visitor to his household in Holland: Thomas Hobbes wrote a pamphlet on Considerations Touching the Facility or Difficulty of the Motions of a Horse on Straight Lines and Circular most likely pursuant to the many discussions he and Cavendish had about the nature of the horse. For this and other discussion of Cavendish’s horsemanship pursuits see Geoffrey Trease, Portrait of a Cavalier: William Cavendish, First Duke of Newcastle (London: Macmillan, 1979), 74ff.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    See e.g. Walter Liedtke, The Royal Horse and Rider: Painting, Sculpture, and Horsemanship 1500–1800 (New York: Abaris Books, 1989) or the analysis inGoogle Scholar
  7. Roy Strong, Van Dyck: Charles I on Horseback (New York: Viking Press, 1972).Google Scholar
  8. 7.
    Antoine de Pluvinel, Le Maneige royal où lon peut remarquer le defaut et la perfection du chevalier en tous les exercices de cet art (Paris: G. Le Noir, 1623).Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    Wendy Wall, “Renaissance National Husbandry: Gervase Markham and the Publication of England,” Sixteenth Century Journal 27/3 (1996): 767–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 11.
    Gerald MacLean, “Ottomanism before Orientalism? Bishop King Praises Henry Blount, Passenger in the Levant,” in Travel Knowledge: European “Discoveries” in the Early Modern Period ed. Ivo Kamps and Jyotsna Singh (New York: Palgrave, 2001), 85–96, p. 86.Google Scholar
  11. 13.
    See e.g. Mark Girouard, Life in the English Country House (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1978)Google Scholar
  12. Alastair Fowler, The Country-House Poem: A Cabinet of Seventeenth-Century Estate Poems and Related Items (Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press, 1994)Google Scholar
  13. Martin Kelsall, The Great Good Place: The Country House and English Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993).Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Kari McBride, Country House Discourse in Early Modern England: A Cultural Study of Landscape and Legitimacy (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2001), 9.Google Scholar

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© Karen Raber and Treva J. Tucker 2005

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  • Karen Raber

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