To King Henry VIII, therefore, the present Shire horse is indebted for a good deal of the size and power it possesses; but in spite of the improvements brought about by the active policy of that much-married monarch, the English animals, even at the conclusion of his reign, were not as a rule equal in stature to the horses of the Continent. This is borne testimony to by the writer last quoted, who, in alluding to the position of the equine race in this country in the days of Queen Elizabeth, expresses himself as follows: "Our horsses moreover are high, and although not commonlie of such greatnesse as in other places of the maine, yet if you respect the esinesse of their pase it is hard to saie where their like are to be had. Our cart or plough horses (for we use them indifferently) are commonlie so strong that five or six of them (at most) will draw three thousand weight of the greatest tale with ease for a long journie, although it used to be not a load of common usage - which consisted onlie of two thousand, or fiftie foot of timber, fortie bushels of white salt, or six and thirtie of bail, or five quarters of wheat - experience dailie teacheth, and (as) I have elsewhere remembered. Such as are kept for burden will carie four hundred weight commonlie, without any hurt or hindrance." An ability to move about under such a weight must have been thought a sine qua non in the case of the charger of the period, for, as Sir Walter Gilbey has pointed out, the armour carried by horse and man about that period must have scaled quite that amount. As an instance, there is the armour which is credibly believed to have belonged to the Duke of Suffolk, one of the numerous brothers-in-law of King-Henry VIII, now lying on view in the museum of the Tower of London, the weight of the various portions being as follows : man's armour, 99 lbs. 9 ozs.; horse's armour, 80 lbs. 15 ozs., which, added to the weight of the rider and his accoutrements, would have brought the figures up to very nearly if not quite the amount alluded to by Holinshed as being the ordinary burden for the charger of the Elizabethan era.
Some extremely interesting allusions are contained in the book published by Thomas Blundeville of Newton Flotman, Norfolk, in 1566, as the author was evidently a practical judge of horses, and succeeded in collecting for his work a good deal of very useful information to lay before the readers of his Breeding of Horses and Art of Riding. As may naturally be expected, the "Great Horse "occupied a good deal of his attention, and he commences by referring to the fact that "some men have a breed of Great-Horses meete for the war and to serve on the field". This breed Blundeville describes as "though not finely, yet strongly made, he is of great stature", and he offers some interesting descriptions of both the Flanders and the Almaine or German heavy horses, with which he evidently associates the English animals. Blundeville commences by referring to the similarity which in many points existed between the two breeds, and then proceeds to describe their points as follows: - "The Flanders horse in his shape and disposition differeth in a maner nothinge from the Almayne horse, saving that for the most parte he is of a greater stature and more puissant. The mares also of Flanders be of a greate stature, strong, longe, large syze and fruytefull, and besydes that wyll endure great labour as is wel sene, for that the fleminges do use none other draught, but with these mares in their wagons, in the whiche I have sene twoo or three mares to go lightly away such a burden as is almost incredible."In his description of the "German horse" Blundeville thus expresses his opinions : "The Almaine is commonly a great horse, though not finely yet very strongly made, they be very grosse and heavy, yet by industry can be made lighter behind than before. The disposition of this horse (his heavy moulde considered) is not evyll, for he is very tractable, and will labour indifferently well by the waye, but his pace for the moste part is a very harde trot."It is extremely probable that in paying his tribute of praise to the capacity of the Flemish mares Blundeville was labouring under the impression that the summit of equine perfection had very nearly been attained by these heavy animals; and there is no denying that, though their powers may appear almost contemptible in the eyes of modern Shire horse-breeders, their performances were better than they at first appear to be, as the vehicles to which they were attached must have been of ponderous weight, whilst the condition of the so-called roads was indescribably bad during that period of the world's existence.
Later on, in the reign of James I, it is recorded that when horses were required for military purposes beyond the seas, it was calculated that eight animals would have to be provided for each baggage wagon that carried a ton, and three for each ambulance conveyance that was to be supplied for carrying the wounded and invalids to places of safety. The estimated value of these horses was £9; but they were clearly regarded as being of inferior quality to the "strong or great" horses which were also alluded to. It was recommended that 200 of the latter should be purchased at the price of £15 apiece, which shows that the breeders of the bigger horses were making money out of their studs.
In the year 1667, the first Duke of Newcastle published a second edition of his work, The Manner, and Feeding, Dressing, and Training of Horses for the Great Saddle, and Fitting them for the Field in time of War, which had appeared in 1658. His grace appears from his writings to have been inclined to take rather a pessimistic view of the position of the English horse of the period, for he states: "There were many good races [of horses] in England, but they are all now ruined, and the many' new breeders of horses come up presently after the wars are, I doubt, none of the best; for I believe their stallions were not very pure, because the men that did govern in those days were not.