PLATE LXXVI. ECLIPSE.
From the painting by G. Stubbs, R.A.
PLATE LXXVI. FLYING CHILDERS.
From the Painting by Sartorius after Seymour.
The tournament on the Continent had been for many years a pastime with warriors, but the love of hunting to which the English nobles were devoted delayed its becoming a British institution until the time of Henry II. At this time Fitz-Stephen tells us that on every Friday in Lent a tournament was held at Smithfield, where young Londoners armed and mounted on horses performed a variety of warlike evolutions, and from this age the tournament ruled supreme both in England and on the Continent until the reign of Queen Elizabeth, when the race-course gradually pushed out of existence this ancient pastime. The tournament was not established in England until sixty years after the Norman conquest, but from the account of Stephanides of Canterbury it is evident that during the reign of Henry II various equine breeds were common in England, the charger or tournament horse being spoken of as distinct from the cart-horse. These animals were the descendants of imported Norman horses, and were representatives of an improvement that had been impressed upon native stock by the judicious selection of parents under the supervision of their owners. During the Plantagenet dynasty the chase became the incentive which led to the propagation of swift horses, and in the same way the tournament operated in causing the production of the great horse; and consequently we find that during the reign of King John the development of the great horse was continued. We read that this monarch imported one hundred stallions from Flanders, and, as the tournament was at this period a great national institution, we may presume that these animals were destined for performance in the tilting yard and at the same time for purposes of the stud. The value set upon these horses during this reign is indicated by a fine that King John imposed upon a person named Till, who "possessed a noble breed of horses", but falling under the king's displeasure was condemned to pay a fine of ten horses, each worth thirty marks, about £300 of our present currency. These were the days when large horses were in request, and when kings and nobles vied with each other in attempting to procure by importation and by breeding magnificent specimens of the "great" horse, and also lighter bred animals for the chase. Soon after Edward II ascended the throne we find a commission is given to one Bynde Bonaventure for twenty war-horses and twelve draught horses to be purchased in Lombardy. John de Trokelow, in 1307, bears testimony to the care this prince bestowed on horses and the zeal with which he attempted their improvement. Edward III was an ardent supporter of the tournament and the chase, and warmly encouraged the importance and breeding of light and heavy horses. It is recorded that this monarch purchased fifty Spanish stallions for 1000 marks, and imported from France four great horses, for which he paid Count Hainault 25,000 florins. This prince also introduced horse-racing, in which sport Spanish horses seem to have been engaged, and those animals which performed on the turf were named running-horses. During this reign the various breeds of horses were separated into classes, each breed being distinguished by a name indicating the use in which each respective class was employed. Laws also were enacted to prevent dishonest dealing and to control prices; and as the laws were principally directed against owners residing in Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire and Yorkshire, we can perceive that even then these counties were considered favoured localities for breeding and rearing horses. The equine importations mentioned above consisted of large horses from Flanders and from Lombardy, and of light ones whose ancestors had been bred in Africa or in Arabia; and it is from these two breeds that our race-horses, hunters, and heavy wagoners have by gradual and progressive development derived their origin.
The Crusades offered an opportunity to the warriors who left this country for the Holy Land, to note the excellence of the horses ridden by the Saracens, and on their return to this country they brought with them many Asiatic horses, which became the progenitors of that stock whose descendants in the days of the first Stuart and later were conspicuous on the race-course. These horses most likely had descended from the stock with which Mohammed and his followers had waged war, and were represented by Barbs, by Arabs, by Persians, and by Turks. They were small, as they are to this day, i.e. not more than 14½ hands high, but from these animals the English pony gained size and the charger quality. For the tournament the light Arab-looking horses imported by the Crusaders would have been useless. For this pastime heavy horses were obtained, and it was from intermixture between these two types that quality was acquired and greater size induced. Upon such steeds the warriors of old faced their enemies in the battle-field and on the tilting-ground, encased in armour so weighty that it sometimes demanded the assistance of two squires to mount them.
Chargers of great size were imported by Anglo-Normans, by Plantagenets, and by Tuclors from Flanders and from Lombardy, and Chaucer gives a distinct picture of this breed when he depicts its grand conformation in the following verse: -
" For it so high was, so broad and long, So well proportioned for to be so strong, Right as it were a steed of Lombardy ".
After the time of Richard the First there is little to record of importance relative to the breeding, rearing, and importation of horses, until the reign of Richard the Third, when we learn for the first time that during 1483 post-horses and stages were first introduced, and that horses were specially employed in this service. Soon after the first Tudor ascended the throne we are put in possession of interesting facts relative to the treatment and disposition of horses by Polydore Virgil, who tells us how cattle and horses browsed over English pastures and common lands, and that horses, both mares and entire horses, were mingled together, which caused so much confusion and disorder that Henry VII enacted that no entire horse should be pastured out on fields or common lands. This law caused such horses to be kept within bounds and tied in stalls, whence the name "stallion" or "stalled one" was applied to the entire horse. The inconvenience of this enactment in causing so many horses to be stabled led to' their emasculation, which from this date became a common practice. The exportation of stallions and of mares of less value than six shillings and eightpence was prohibited, but the importation of foreign horses was warmly encouraged as previously. Henry VIII, like his father, paid particular attention to the raising and the improvement of horses, and it is evident from the laws that were passed during his reign that small horses were too numerous. In his endeavour to obtain a stronger and better type of animal a law was enacted that no stallion less than 15 hands high and no mare less than 13 hands should run wild in the country. A colt two years old and under 11½ hands high was not allowed to run on any moor, forest, or common where mares were pastured; and at Michaelmastide the neighbouring magistrates were ordered to drive all forests and commons, and not only to destroy such stallions, but also " all unlikely tits whether mares or foals".