Thursday, 12 December 2013

A Regency Christmas

Kissing Bough

In England, Christmas as a time of feasting had been celebrated from at least medieval times as an interval of cheer in the midst of winter. Oliver Cromwell, however, put a stop to the festivities in 1644 and for the poorer sections of society it became just another working day. Christmas as it is known today was developed by the Victorians, but the Georgians had already, with their flair for excess, reinstated many of the old traditions and customs.

Preparations began for the Christmas season, which extended in Georgian times from St. Nicholas Day (6th December) to Twelfth Night (6th January), with the country households of the gentry and aristocracy gathering winter greenery with which to ‘deck the halls’. Preparations also included stocking up the larder, cleaning the guest rooms and polishing the best tableware. The lady of the house would have ordered her gowns for the festive season months before, the more wealthy travelling to London to visit a fashionable modiste. Each gown could easily have cost her husband as much as £4000 in modern terms and been delivered well in advance, perhaps as early as the previous summer

The Georgians loved any excuse to party and Christmas was no exception. It was considered a time for games and feasting, for lively house parties, masquerades, balls, visiting and play acting. The rich salved their consciences at such blatant overindulgence by gifts of charity to the less fortunate. On many estates, servants were rewarded with a feast, although they usually partook of their own Christmas meal in the middle of the morning to enable them to wait on their employers and ensure the family’s festivities were perfect.

A Regency Christmas was mostly an adult affair, with children ‘out of sight, out of mind’ in the nursery. Any gifts tended to be given on St. Nicholas Day, while they might be expected to attend church twice on Christmas Day. The holiday became more geared towards family and children in the Victorian era.

Guests from nearby estates and sometimes farther afield would begin arriving soon after this, signalling the beginning of balls, parties and other entertainments. New arrivals would be welcomed with a warming glass of wine mulled with cloves, cinnamon and other spices, or a tumbler of rum punch. The gentlemen would indulge in hunting, shooting, billiards, political discussions and other manly pursuits, while the ladies would take the opportunity to gossip, exchange patterns and recipes, enjoy poetry, reading and music. Christmas Eve was the start of twelve days of religious reflection, for the Georgians were devout outwardly at least and it was traditional for an enormous Yule Log to be lit. It had to be large enough to keep burning for all twelve days, since it was considered unlucky for it to go out. The Georgians had not abandoned the long-held belief that the pagan plants still used today to decorate homes holly, ivy and mistletoe warded off evil spirits. The Yule Log also had its customs, in that it was thought bad luck for it to be touched by a barefooted woman or a visitor with flat feet!

Amidst the decorative garlands of fruit and foliage which festooned the house on every available prominence (with an eye for beauty and elegance, of course), there would be, except in the primmest of establishments, a ‘kissing bough’. This was a ball of greenery (including the wicked mistletoe!), which was suspended from the ceiling. It was constructed around a basket, then ornamented with ribbon and sometimes candles. Each time a kiss was claimed beneath it, a berry had to be removed, the kisses then supposed to cease once all the berries had gone. Most houses would not yet have had a Christmas tree, but although Queen Victoria’s consort, Prince Albert, popularised its use after a picture appeared in The Illustrated London News in 1848 of the tree he had installed at Windsor Castle, he was not, as is often thought to be the case, responsible for its introduction to Britain. That honour falls to George III’s wife, Queen Charlotte, who brought the tradition from her native Hanover at the turn of the nineteenth century.

Dinner was a grand affair right through the season, not just on Christmas Day itself. Composed of up to twenty dishes and by the Regency partaken of between six and seven o’clock in the evening the formally and symmetrically arranged pattern of dishes à la francaise was gradually giving way to the system à la russe. This latter, possibly brought from the continent by the Prince Regent’s famous French chef de cuisine, Marie-Antoine Caréme, consisted of dishes arriving at table in sequence, more as we would today. Thus soup, fish, meat and dessert courses would be defined as such and follow each other.

Regency Christmas fare included brawn, made from a pig’s head which had been boiled for five or six hours, the flesh and fat then pressed into a mould; Jerusalem artichokes, a cod’s head, asparagus soup, turtle soup, spices, fruit, blancmange, Madeira jelly, chocolate drops and a great deal of wine and spirits. It was a golden opportunity for the gentry to display their affluence and a chance for less well-favoured guests and family to enjoy the hospitality of their wealthier neighbours or relatives. Goose was the most traditional choice of main course, along with beef. Turkey had come from America in the sixteenth century, the birds fitted with boots and walked to London from Norfolk by drovers, but it did not become popular until Victorian times.

A particularly favourite way of showing prosperity was to have on the table a traditional Christmas pie. This was made from whatever birds were available on the estate and comprised a three to five bird roast which was then encased in pastry. A common combination was chicken, pheasant and pigeon, all of which were boned and then stuffed inside each other. Particularly in Yorkshire, this was often given as a gift.

A more elaborate version of this dish caused the great bustard to be driven to extinction in Britain by the 1840s. Great bustards were prized for their flavour and cost about two guineas each in the first years of the nineteenth century. French chef Grimod de la Reyniere included in his book of that time, L’Almanach des Gourmands, a now famous recipe incorporating the bustard. It began with an olive stuffed with capers and anchovies, which was pushed into a garden warbler. This was then put into an ortolan, followed by a lark, a thrush, a quail, a larded lapwing, a plover, a red-legged partridge, a woodcock, a teal, a guinea fowl, a duck, a fattened pullet, a pheasant, a turkey and finally the bustard, each time the whole being placed into the larger bird. The stuffed bustard was then cooked in a sealed pot with ham, carrots, onions, celery, herbs, spices and lard for twenty-four hours. It was the kind of dish which would have graced one of the Prince Regent’s grand banquets.

Two other dishes to appear on the groaning Regency Christmas table are more familiar to a modern eye. Christmas porridge was the traditional pudding, known from the fifteenth century, but was not the sweet affair we enjoy nowadays. It was made from chopped mutton or beef and mixed with breadcrumbs, onion, dried fruit, herbs, spices and wine, a savoury accompaniment to the other meat dishes, with the fruit added for depth of flavour. It was eaten all winter. However, the plum pudding was gaining in favour and eventually replaced the traditional version. Parson Woodforde, the celebrated diarist, recorded a grand dinner of 3rd December 1776, when he gave his guests ‘…surloin of Beef roasted, a Leg of Mutton boiled and plumb Puddings in plenty…’

Mince pies were also a far cry from their modern equivalent. They contained minced meat beef being the preference for the affluent and fruit. Both Christmas pudding and mince pies contained less sugar than present day varieties.

So much food was required for a country house party, the cook and her staff were kept busy for days preparing as much as they could in advance. Black butter was mentioned by Jane Austen in one of her ‘Letters to Cassandra’, a ‘simple, uncostly and delightful conserve’ made from apples. Parts of a pig, such as the ears and feet, or those of another animal, were pickled ‘soused’ for use in cold dishes. Hot meals were augmented with cuts of cold beef, mutton, hare and venison. Sweet dishes included gingerbread, which has no religious connection, but was cooked by monks for spiritual festivals; cakes, jellies and puddings. Jane Austen mentions rice pudding and apple dumplings.

Twelfth Night, the feast of the Epiphany, was an excuse for revelry and games. Celebrations included masquerades and the drawing of characters to be played for the evening. Among other entertainments were card games and the popular ‘Snapdragon’ snatching raisins from a bowl of flaming brandy. This was the forerunner of setting the Christmas pudding alight. The centuries-old ‘Blind Man’s Buff’ often took the evening into the early hours in a somewhat disorderly fashion.

The main dish of the evening was Twelfth Cake, a rich and expensive confection of icing sugar and fruit cake Christmas Cake. The staff were invited to join in the fun, most of the guests having left by then and if they got a pea or a bean in their slice of cake, they were made king or queen for the night.

Carols have their origins in songs associated with round dances to celebrate anything from a birth to a wedding and singing at Christmas dates as early as the fifteenth century, when the ‘wassail’ was a salutation to good health. The wassail could have been sung about any celebration, even to a good apple harvest or cattle; ‘wassailing’ was the action of carousing, or going from house to house singing songs of good cheer and collecting gifts. Such carousals date from 1602, the carols or songs from 1650 and the Twelfth Night and New Year’s Eve drinking of healths from 1661, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Many of the best-loved carols for example ‘God Rest You Merry Gentlemen‘, ‘The First Noel’ and ‘I Saw Three Ships‘ date from at least the sixteenth century, while others, like ‘Good King Wenceslas‘, have more contemporary words set to traditional melodies. Many of these evolved in the Victorian era. ‘Oh Come All You Faithful’ was composed by John Francis Wade in the 1740s and ‘Hark The Herald Angels Sing’ by Mendelssohn (1809-47).

So while you are enjoying your mince pies, chocolate yule log, Christmas cake and mulled wine, sit back by the fire and think of times of yore...

A Very Happy Christmas to you all! Seasons Greetings, Heather.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Regency Accessories ~ Reticules

I called this blog A Regency Reticule because I intended for it to contain a ‘pocket’ of Regency information and tales. Having a lifelong passion for horses, I have enjoyed my excursions into the world of the Georgian horse, particularly the putting together of a work entitled The Horse: A Regency Author’s Guide, which is yet to be published. However, for this post I thought it about time I featured reticules themselves.

When the high-waisted muslin and silk empire gown became fashionable, a need arose for an article in which a lady might carry any of the following: smelling-salts, lavender-water, some pin money, gloves, her fan, a handkerchief, her dance card and a pencil.

The reticule or ‘ridicule’ (so dubbed by the satirical press) therefore became that essential addition to a lady’s wardrobe, although ‘knotting bags’ had been carried in the latter decades of the eighteenth century, to all intents and purposes to hold the items required for a pastime considered de rigueur, yet clearly calculated to proclaim a lady’s needlecraft. Many ladies fashioned their own reticules, which were generally drawstring bags, decorating them with either embroidery or patterns composed of miniscule metal or glass beads, although some were created from lacquered or painted tin or even cardboard.

Designs were as varied as the personalities who conceived them. Some consisted of intricately worked depictions of garden flowers and leaves; others achieved stunning effects with a single flower in full bloom upon a dark background. Silk was invariably the fabric of choice of the beau monde, with velvet becoming ever more fashionable around the beginning of the Regency proper, from about 1810. Both types were artistically adorned with spangles, tassels and/or an exquisitely embroidered border around the neck. They came in various shapes: rectangular, oval, that of a lozenge or, more classically, a Grecian urn. During the wars with France, reticules even appeared in a style similar to the ‘sabretache’ (a type of satchel) used by cavalry officers. The ladies’ fashionable magazines featured patterns which were eagerly anticipated by those with a desire to be à la mode, while ready-made metal frames also became available, providing an excuse for further embellishment. A lady might create a reticule to match her gown, her cloak or spencer, her shoes and on occasion, her gloves.

Reticule, from Latin reticulum, meaning net.

Reticules were even used to make a political statement. During the 1820s, The Ladies’ Society for the Relief of Negro Slaves was responsible for the issue of indispensables made of silk, while The Female Society of British Negro Slaves in Birmingham produced literature which was inserted into workbags sewn from cotton, satin and silk for sale at markets and rallies.

Stocking Purse

For the purposes of carrying money, some ladies preferred the practicality of a stocking purse. This was a sausage-shaped bag with the opening in the middle, whereby coins could be slipped into either end. Two metal rings positioned on each side of the opening could then be pushed along the fabric to fasten one or both pouches. Ladies frequently made their own to suit their requirements, usually netting, knitting or crocheting the purse and decorating the ends as fancy or fashion decreed. Nevertheless, for those less dextrous and with the wherewithal to do so, such items could be purchased in milliners‘ shops, as well as establishments like Minster Yard in York and Bedford House in London.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Heather King Regency Romance Author Celebrates


A Sense of the Ridiculous is here!

Follow me on Facebook!

And Now Goodreads! 

A Regency Repository features A Sense of the Ridiculous


There's nothing quite like seeing your book on Amazon! You can read an excerpt too! I should love to hear from you... I gather there are problems leaving comments on my blog, so speak to me on Facebook as Heather King, or at A Regency Repository.

Love Heather

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Look Out For 'A Sense of the Ridiculous'!

A Sense of the Ridiculous

                                            will soon be available!           

Your patience is about to be rewarded. Jocasta and Richard will be romping across your computers, kindles and other devices VERY SOON!!  In two days, in fact!  I'm so excited.

As from the first of November, A Sense of the Ridiculous will be available to purchase from Musa Publishing and other outlets.

I do hope you enjoy reading it. I should love to hear from you if you do. Leave a comment on this blog (polite, please) if you can.


Sunday, 13 October 2013

Equestrian Pursuits 3

Riding and Driving in the Parks          

     Whilst horses were used for various forms of transport throughout the Regency and beyond, for many they were not only a status symbol, but a way to ‘take the air’ or an agreeable form of exercise. Riding was often the only manner in which a gently-born lady might enjoy vigorous exercise, or meet eligible gentlemen in an informal setting.
     Riding or driving in Rotten Row, in London’s Hyde Park, at the fashionable hour, was not just an amusement, it was a way for the ton to display the quality of their horseflesh, equestrian skill and, above all, affluence. The park hack had therefore to add to the overall appearance of eye-catching elegance, possess graceful movement and the most perfect manners.
     Rotten Row, originally ‘Route de Roi’ or Way of the King, has been so called from the time of William III. His gracious Majesty commanded the route from Kensington Palace to St. James’s to be lit with oil lamps for safety, for it was then a wide thoroughfare which encircled the inner boundary of the park. In Rotten Row, a Regency lady might ride with a gentleman with perfect propriety; two ladies could drive alone together; lovers could meet ‘by accident’ and dowagers were able to bow in dignified acknowledgement of friends and acquaintances. Because of the number of vehicles and pedestrians, riding was conducted at decorous paces only and it was severely frowned upon to flout this rule.
     A greater measure of freedom could be had in Richmond Park, where the undulating landscape of grass, woodland, gardens and groves made it ideally suited for the more adventurous horseman and woman. The largest of the royal parks at two and a half thousand acres and situated only twelve miles from St. Paul’s Cathedral, it was also the perfect destination for alfresco entertainments, including walking, driving and picnics.
     Keeping a horse in London was a costly business and the aristocracy therefore flaunted their wealth with the unabashed splendour of their hacks and equipages. Showy, high-stepping horses were chosen for single turnouts, while matched pairs (and teams) of prime cattle were in demand for sporting curricles, dashing high-perch phaetons and elegant barouches. Captain Gronow relates, in his Reminiscences, that Lord Petersham’s carriages were, ‘…entirely brown, with brown horses and harness’, and Lord Barrymore drove, ‘…four splendid greys, unmatched in symmetry, action and power.’
     Although favoured by sporting gentlemen for its slightly raffish appearance, ladies would sometimes drive a phaeton, but in general these were the lower versions pulled by ponies. Matched teams of cream, black and grey ponies were considered all the rage. Sir John and Lady Lade each drove a four-in-hand of stunning bays, whilst on occasion Sir John was to be seen on the box behind the Prince of Wales’ six highly-bred greys. During his later years, when he became somewhat stout, George IV could be seen taking his daily exercise in Windsor Great Park. Accompanied by his grooms, he drove a low phaeton drawn by two bay or brown horses, as depicted in an engraving by Melville and in another by Dickenson. This model came to be known as the George IV phaeton. 
     Of course, there were inevitably those few, intrepid ladies who thought nothing of driving both perch and high-perch phaetons. Georgette Heyer’s Grand Sophy wickedly drove the annoying Miss Wraxton down St. James’s Street, the bastion of male preserves, in her racy, high-perch version!


Monday, 9 September 2013

Equestrian Pursuits 2


     If racing was an expensive and sometimes ruinous sport, the less affluent could still enjoy the thrill of equestrian chase. Hunting has existed in the British Isles since at least the Norman Conquest, but it is likely that packs were devoted solely to fox-hunting since the eighteenth century. It was towards the end of the seventeenth century when landowners – the main body of the hunting fraternity – started to notice that foxes provided better sport. The fox was craftier than either deer or hare, not as strong smelling as the one and could run for longer than the other.

     It was largely due to the patronage of royalty and members of the aristocracy, such as the Duke of Buckingham, that fox-hunting flourished. Buckingham’s estates were in the north of England; the Dukes of Berkeley hunted across lands between London and Bristol and the Dukes of Beaufort from Bath to Oxford. The necessary establishments to hunt such large areas were hugely expensive. With the Industrial Revolution came the new gentry, with new money, and subscription packs were set up to hunt smaller areas.
     Many packs were owned by an individual, whether duke, landed gentry or even an innkeeper with pretensions of grandeur. The nineteenth century was termed the heyday of hunting, but it came at a price. With little care for the land or the farmer whose crops they destroyed, enormous fields galloped great distances at a fast and furious pace, since there were no tarmac roads, barbed wire or artificial manures to slow up the chase. The fox-hunting season lasts from November to March, once harvesting is over and the leaves gone from the trees, continuing until the frost is but a memory and farmers ready to sow their fields.

     On the hunting field everyone, within reason, was equal. A farmer could rub shoulders with an earl; a magistrate could take a lead over a bullfinch from the landlord of the village inn. All types, shapes and sizes of horse and pony might be seen. From the squire and his lady, mounted on their quality animals, to reckless young bucks of the nobility on mettlesome blood horses; from farmers on their cobs or draught animals to grooms on steady hacks, the meet was a tapestry of the equine species. Children too young to hunt might attend the meet on the leading rein, mounted on one of the sturdy and sure-footed breeds native to the British Isles. Irish hunters were imported by many a discerning gentleman, for the bone, substance, staying power and scope (jumping prowess) of such an animal was greatly prized.

     Particularly in the fast, galloping country of the English shires, it was often the practice to employ a ‘second horse’. The owner would ride his best horse in the morning, then change to his ‘second horse’, which was fresh, for the remainder of the day. The groom followed the hunt quietly along the lanes and bridle paths until the spare horse was required.

     Packs of foxhounds have existed all over the British Isles for more than three hundred years. Some of the oldest are the Belvoir, the Berkeley, the Cottesmore, the Duke of Beaufort, the Pytchley, and the Quorn. The Pytchley, the Belvoir, the Cottesmore and the Quorn were all founded in the 1770s. The latter three are not only three of the most exclusive hunts, but also possibly the most famous.

     Melton Mowbray, in Leicestershire, is home to these renowned institutions and could be termed the headquarters of fox-hunting. Upwards of three hundred horses were reputed to be stabled in the town during the season, with many a hard hunting gentleman maintaining a string of hunters, since it was possible to hunt six days a week with the various packs. Melton Mowbray was described in a nineteenth century guide as ‘one of the brightest and busiest resorts’ when the wealthy and fashionable sportsmen poured into town. Many of the finest buildings are former clubs and hunting lodges. During the hunting season, these establishments played host to such diverse persons as royalty, high-ranking army officers, eminent politicians, rich young bloods and industrialists. Indeed, the Prince Regent, the Duke of Wellington and Beau Brummell were notable visitors, as were Winston Churchill and Edward VII when he was the Prince of Wales.

     Melton Mowbray is also reputedly the birthplace of the saying ’painting the town red’. Since hard days in the saddle were followed by hard drinking and wild deeds, it is not to be wondered at if the account labelling the eccentric Marquis of Waterford the precipitator of the phrase is accurate. It is said that, in 1837 the Marquis and his cronies celebrated in spectacular style, by rampaging through the winding streets armed with paintbrushes and tins of bright red paint.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Equestrian Pursuits - Regency Style



The Godolphin Arabian

For the nobility and the landed gentry, the horse has long been an instrument of pleasure as well as a practical part of normal life. In Regency England, the quality of the horseflesh either under saddle or between the shafts reflected a person’s position in Society and the depth of his or her purse. In the case of the gentlemen in particular, the type of ‘cattle’ also defined the driver or rider’s skill, knowledge and horsemanship. Not the least of these testaments to wealth – as it so often still is today – was the breeding, purchasing and running of racehorses.
     Throughout the centuries, horse racing has quite rightly been dubbed ‘The Sport of Kings’. From Charles I, through Queen Anne, George IV to Queen Elizabeth II, many of the British monarchy have been avid supporters of what is now a multi-million pound industry.
     Commissioned by Lucius Septimius Severus, the Emperor of Rome, it is believed the earliest racetrack recorded existed in Yorkshire between 208 and 211 AD, while the earliest account of horse racing in Britain seems to have been written by a monk from Canterbury. In 1174, during the reign of Henry II, William Fitzstephen wrote of races which took place at a horse fair held at Smithfield in London, describing the horses as being ‘strong and fleet’. It is believed that a trophy was first presented at Chester in 1512, during a fair, when the winner of a race received a small flower-decorated wooden ball.
     Prior to the reign of Charles II, the horses raced were home bred, racing ‘galloways’, as they were known, the ‘hobby horse’ or ‘running horse’. When James I (1603-25) was on the throne, race meetings were established near Richmond (Yorkshire), Croydon and on the Enfield Chase. In addition to building a hunting lodge at Newmarket in Suffolk, he was responsible for the first grandstand on Newmarket Heath.
     Charles I (1625-49) put up the prize money for the first Gold Cup race at Newmarket in 1634 and annual races have been held there since 1667. Racing was banned in 1654 and 1655 by Oliver Cromwell, but was re-established by Charles II (1660-85), who increased both the number of races and the prize money. He took part himself and also instituted rules and guidelines for the running of races. Epsom Racecourse came into being during his reign, although it was not until 1780 that the Epsom Derby was first run.
     During her reign (1702-14), Queen Anne and her consort Prince George of Denmark imported Arabian horses to improve their racehorses, leading to the development of the English Thoroughbred as a breed. In 1711, she inaugurated races at Ascot, which is still home to the Royal Ascot meeting in the summer, and held regular race meetings on heathland near Windsor Forest.
     In 1728, George II was a spectator at Newmarket races, where ‘nothing was spared to make them successful’, while George III regularly attended race meetings at Egham and Ascot. The Prince Regent, later George IV, was a superb horseman who adored all forms of equestrian sport.
     Private race ‘matches’ were held by gentlemen and there were even races for ladies only. In 1723, the first race for female jockeys was held in Ripon, making that town the subject of national interest. A Racing Directory was being issued by 1727 and in 1752, the Jockey Club was established at Newmarket by the foremost gentlemen of the day, evolving from the Red Lion Inn (probably) to a private coffee room. With the addition of the New Rooms, it has remained the Jockey Club Rooms ever since. From 1750 they had also convened at the Star and Garter in Pall Mall.
     Rules were set out to govern and regulate courses, races, breeding and licensing. Richard Tattersall started Tattersall’s horse sales in 1766 and in 1773, James Weatherby was appointed Keeper of the Match Book, in which was noted all course records. The introductory General Stud Book was first published in 1791, the first volume of which was then issued by Weatherby’s in 1808. Jockey Club stewards were required to attend every race meeting.
     Prior to 1744, most horses entered for races were five years old or over, but in that year a contest for four-year-olds began and in 1756, two races were established for three-year-olds, followed by one at Newmarket for two-year-olds in 1786. The five British Classic races are still considered the most prestigious prizes in racing today. The world’s oldest Classic race – the St. Leger – came into being at Doncaster in 1778. The Oaks was introduced for three-year-old fillies by the Earl of Derby at Epsom in 1779, with the Derby’s first running, over a mile, the following year. The 2000 Guineas was inaugurated at Newmarket in 1809 and the 1000 Guineas came into being at the same course in 1814.
     In the early days, and even into the 1800s, races were run in a series of heats. The winner was the horse that won most heats and sometimes this amounted to as many as four over a four mile distance. Before the ascension of the Thoroughbred, horses were untrained and bred for stamina rather than speed and the jockeys more skilled in nefarious tactics such as jostling rivals or attempting to ‘unship’ them than in equestrian dexterity. Many of the horses were owner-ridden.
     Traditionally, Assize week was the time for the races, when the market towns were filled with the gentry in order to attend the courts and markets. A festival atmosphere prevailed, with hangings, cock fights, fairs and other entertainments. The local landowners would follow an afternoon at the races with a ball in the evening.

County Cork in Ireland was the site of one of the first recorded steeplechases, which took place in 1752. Cornelius O’Callaghan and Edmund Blake competed against each other on their respective hunters, over the four and a half mile distance between Buttevant Church and the St. Leger Steeple. Blake won and was presented with ‘a hogshead of claret, a pipe of port and a quarter cask of Jamaica rum’. It was the ‘steeple to steeple’ nature of the contest which led to the sobriquet ‘steeplechasing’. Other hunting gentlemen indulged in ‘wild goose chases’ across country, in which one rider led the way, while his pursuers had to follow the same line, yet try to catch the leader.
     The first such recorded event with more than two starters was in 1792. Charles Meynell beat Lord Forester and Sir Gilbert Heathcote in a gallop over eight miles of Leicestershire countryside, from Barkby Holt to Billesdon Coplow and back. However, the first official steeplechase did not occur until 1830, at St. Albans.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Horse and Stable Management

 Stabling and Feeding

Traditionally, and in particular at the country houses of the Georgian era, stables were in long brick or stone buildings, often within a courtyard. A narrow passage gave access from the stable yard to the horse accommodations and harness rooms, if the latter were not sited in a separate building. In the space above the stables, fodder was stored in a hayloft, or living quarters were provided for the grooms and other stable staff. Within the courtyard there was a coach-house as well as feed rooms and other storerooms. It was even known, in some larger establishments, for there to be a washing-down house.

The horses were generally housed in what we would now call stalls, tied with a stone or wooden weight on the end of the rope (‘log and rope’). A leather or rope halter was used to secure each animal, leather being preferable since it would break in an emergency. Loose boxes were far less common than they are today due to the space they occupied; those there were tended to be kept for stallions or a foaling mare. Young and breeding stock were usually kept at pasture, but most working horses spent their leisure hours stabled so that they were on hand when required. They were bedded on thick straw, since that was freely available, the choice of rye, wheat, barley or oat straw usually dictated by the crops grown on the estate. 

Feed usually consisted of hay and oats. A horse is designed to eat small quantities of food often. In the wild they will feed in a pattern of grazing and resting throughout a twenty-four hour period. They have also evolved to subsist on large amounts of forage. Stabled care must reflect this, the individual’s diet adjusted in order to provide sufficient forage to maintain the digestive system and the correct quantity of grain in relation to the level of work expected. A racehorse or hunter required several pounds of oats a day in order to gallop, whereas a coach horse, needing stamina, may well have had peas, beans or maize, feeds which are heating but less ‘enlivening’ in effect than oats. High spirits within the shafts can have dire consequences. Horses doing slow work such as ploughing were often fed barley, as it has a slower release of energy into the system and is good for maintaining condition (weight). Roots such as carrots, swedes and beets would have been given in season to add interest and wherever possible ‘green meat’ (fresh grass) was cut if time at pasture was not feasible. Hay was provided in either a metal hay rack or a wooden manger.

Basic horse management has changed little over the centuries. Writing in the early seventeenth century, Gervase Markham recommended that following a half-day’s hunting, the horse should be rubbed until dry, then unsaddled and his back rubbed. Having been rugged up with a rug secured by ‘a surcingle well padded with straw’, he should be given ‘a feed of oats and hemp-seed, the gentlest and easiest scouring for a horse’. Approaching two hundred years before the Regency, therefore, the importance of resting, after strenuous work and before a day off, the digestive system of a fit horse eating large quantities of grain, was recognized if perhaps not fully understood. Nowadays we would consider this a ‘sudden change of diet’ and something to be avoided, but for many years a bran mash has successfully been the traditional feed for horses following a hard day’s hunting, because it is easy to digest.

Herbs were used to remove internal parasites – what we would now term ‘worming’ – and for medicinal purposes, the same as for humans. Rugs, blankets and sheepskin pads were employed by Regency grooms just as they are by the horse owners of today.

The groom

The groom (or ostler in a coaching inn) was always male. In the stables of a gentleman, there would be a head groom, several under-grooms and also a stable boy or two. Often the head groom would be responsible for teaching the daughters of the house to ride and thereby frequently held a position of respect and licence. He was usually provided with a cottage on the estate, invariably sited near the stable yard and his charges. He was responsible for the smooth running of the stables, from hiring and firing staff, to ordering feed and sending horses to the farrier. These were walked to the blacksmith by an under-groom, sometimes as far as the next village.

Daily routine

The groom’s day was long. It would begin early, in order that the horses could be fed, mucked out and groomed before the household required their mounts or carriage horses. The stables and yard would thus be immaculate by the time the master ventured forth and the horses would have had opportunity to digest their food prior to work. After work the groom would rub the horse down to remove sweat and any mud or dirt and walk him around to cool off (no fancy sweat rugs to remove moisture then!) The horse was then groomed thoroughly. Unless allowed out to pasture, all the horses had to be fed and watered three or four times a day as well as having their hay replenished at regular intervals. Where there was a hayloft above, the forage was forked via trapdoors into the wooden or iron mangers below. Water buckets and troughs within the stable were scrubbed meticulously every day, as horses require fresh, clean water at all times. The stone trough in the yard received less frequent attention. Water becomes tainted by standing in the stable for too long; horses are finicky and may well refuse to drink, and while they can live without food for a month, they can only survive for forty-eight hours without water. In addition, rugs and harness needed mending and/or cleaning, the muck heap had to be ‘squared off’ to limit flies and smell, and all paths swept. It is little wonder that grooms were often small, wiry men, since their workload ensured there was always plenty to be done with little room for idleness! At the end of the day the head groom took a late check around, just before retiring, to ensure all was well.


Stabled horses – as in hunting yards today – were groomed probably three times every day. The first was to make the horse presentable for exercise; the second took place after work and was a thorough grooming (strapping) to keep the horse healthy and gleaming, while the final ‘set fair’ was designed to ensure he was comfortable for the night. The groom had to roll up his sleeves and work vigorously with brush, currycomb and stable rubber to ensure the horse had a glossy coat which was free of dust or grease. It was (and still is) considered a mark of shame for a horse to leave his stable with straw in his tail or a stable stain on his flank. A wisp – a plaited hank of straw or hay – was used to promote muscle tone and bring the natural oils to the surface to improve the coat’s shine. The horse’s hooves were picked out several times during the day, both before and after work and last thing at night. This was essential to keep the feet healthy by the removal of muck, mud and stones. Should one of the latter become lodged in a horse’s foot, it can cause bruising and even lameness. No nineteenth century groom worth his salt would have allowed one of his charges to become lame in such a manner through his negligence.

Mucking Out

The horse was ‘short racked’ (tied up short) with a small hay net to occupy him, then all manure and soiled straw removed with a pitchfork to a muck sack. The groom worked efficiently and methodically, tossing the clean straw to one side of the box so that the floor could be swept. When the floor was dry, a day bed was put down to encourage the horse to stale (urinate) and lie down. Droppings were skipped out at regular intervals throughout the day and then at evening stables, the bed was again mucked out, a deep bed with thick walls being laid for protection and warmth. Fresh straw was added at this time where required. A good bank of bedding around the walls of the box or stall offered protection from injury and draughts and also helped to prevent the horse becoming ‘cast’ (unable to rise) by lying too close to the wall or beneath the manger.


Horses have evolved to wander the vast grassy plains of the world in large numbers, grazing sporadically. Man has appropriated them for his own use, enclosing them in small fields and paddocks and shutting them in stables. If stabled horses do not receive time at pasture, they must be exercised or worked instead, else bad behaviour and vices (pawing, stamping, kicking the door, weaving, crib-biting) will result. It was thus the job of the Regency groom to quietly exercise about the estate those horses not required by members of the household or their guests. This frequently involved the groom riding one horse whilst leading one, or even two, others. In a portrait of 1793, George Stubbs painted the Prince of Wales’ groom, William Anderson, employed in this manner with two saddle horses.

Writing Exercise

One of the most famous quotes in history is, ‘A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse.’ Use this as a first line and see where it takes you... 

Have fun, Heather.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Regency Regrets for 'Ridiculous'

Sorry folks, but A Sense of the Ridiculous has been delayed through forces beyond my control. The new release date from Musa is now November. In the meantime, enjoy the following snippet. Heather

As Richard closed the yard door, a tiny sound somewhere above his head made him stop and listen. There was a rustle and a miniscule snap, as manifest as a gunshot to his ears—which were straining for the least sound—though he doubted he would have noticed it ordinarily. Holding his breath, he waited again. The night was cloudy and there was no moonlight, but he could make out the shape of the garden door as it very slowly began to open. She certainly did not lack courage, this girl. He stood with legs apart and arms folded across his chest, right in front of the door. He surmised that, expecting him to have gone to bed, she had climbed down the creeper, which grew up the wall around her window.
Slipping through the garden door, she closed it behind her with a tiny click and turned straight into his chest. Her screech of alarm died in her throat, curtailed in an instant by his calloused hand over her mouth. As she pressed back against the rough wood of the door, her fear gave him a somewhat wicked relish. He stepped closer in as menacing a manner as he could summon. Her chest heaved, her heart thumping loud enough for him to hear, and she tried to edge along the wall towards the house. Grinning into the darkness, he barred her way with a brawny arm and leaned against the stone. Putting his hand in a similar position on her other side, he pinned her against the wall. He waited while several seconds elapsed before he spoke, a deliberate strategy to punish her a little. When he did speak, it was in a conversational tone.
Do you ever do as you are bid, Duchess? What is to be gained by this? Setting aside the gross impropriety of your conduct, did you not think Ned and I would notice you asleep in the stable? Or were you planning to hide every time one of us came in?” He sighed, rubbing his face. “I sincerely pity the poor man you marry. I doubt he’ll have a moment’s peace. Now take yourself off to bed and stay there, or I shall remove from your room every stitch of clothing, saving your nightdress.” Her sharp intake of breath informed him that his words had at last gone home. He pressed his advantage. “And don’t you think I won’t, either. I shall have no compunction, I assure you.”
Standing back, he made way for her to return to the house. White-faced in the grey light, she glared at him.
You are no gentleman,” she said in a lofty tone, marching past him with head held high. As the yard door closed behind her, he shook his head, and chuckling deeply, he crossed the cobbles to the stables.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Tips For Writers

I am indebted to my friend and mentor Sue Johnson for the following guest post. She is an amazing teacher and a remarkably talented lady. For all you budding writers out there, who perhaps are afraid of being told off or shouted at, she is encouraging, positive and will boost your confidence without you even noticing! You can contact her via her website, which is at the bottom of the post.


Poet, novelist and creative writing tutor Sue Johnson shares her tips for successful writing.

1.         Carry a notebook wherever you go. Use it to jot down brief descriptions of people and places and fragments of overheard conversation. You will find these useful for creating poems, stories and scenes from novels. You may think you’ll remember every detail until you get home – trust me, you won’t!

2.         Write every day even if you only manage ten minutes. It will help to keep the thread going with the story you are working on. Time spent visualising (otherwise known as staring out the window) is never wasted either. The more clearly you can ‘see’ a story before putting pen to paper, the better it will be for your reader.

3.         If you’re working on something historical, find out as much as you can about what life was like during the period you’re writing about. Read as much as you can, visit stately homes, find out about fashions, food and customs. Check any facts with at least three different sources.

4.         Get to know your characters as well as you can. (You need to know them better than some members of your own family!) Create biographies for each of them and find magazine pictures or photographs that look like them. As you go through your day, visualise them in a variety of situations – e.g. getting out of bed, getting dressed, eating something.

5.         Make sure there is enough action in your story. What does your main character most want? What is stopping them from getting it? Don’t allow problems to be solved too easily.

6.         Where is your story set? Don’t forget to allow the seasons to change. Use weather as a means of causing additional problems for your characters – e.g. a flooded river or a snowstorm.

7.         What do your characters sound like? If they speak with a particular dialect, give a flavour of this. It can be tedious to read if written too exactly!

8.         Use the senses as much as you can! Colours, sounds, smells and textures all help to bring a story to life – and to give your reader a full picture.

9.         Set a date for completion of your first draft. Keep going no matter how bad you feel the writing is. As Australian novelist Kate Grenville says: “It can all be fixed later.” You cannot edit a blank page!

10.       Reward yourself for the effort you put in.

Sue Johnson

I hope you all find this useful, I know I do. Anybody got any questions/comments?

Keep Writing and Good Luck!


Wednesday, 29 May 2013

A Sense of the Ridiculous ~ Heather King

The positions we authors get into, trying to please our editors...!

For all of you waiting for A Sense of the Ridiculous...

Sorry, but there has been a hold-up on the editing front. In the meantime, here's another snippet to keep you going!

Richard Cowley was whistling a jaunty tune as he walked into the kitchen of his mother’s Holly Tree Inn. It was a bright, sunny morning, and he had been up since dawn mucking out and feeding the sixteen horses at present in the stables. The tantalizing aroma of frying bacon made his mouth water. His mother, Meg, flipped over the thick slices as he sat down at the scrubbed oak table, and the sound of sizzling fat filled the wide, low-beamed room.
Have you washed your hands?” she asked without turning around.
Yes. I am no longer five, Mother.”
She did turn then, brandishing the fish slice she had been using. “I am all too aware of that, having been present at your birth,” she said in an acerbic tone. “You are seven-and-twenty and still unwed.”
He groaned. “Not that again.”
I thought you liked Miss Bowen?”
Richard rubbed his face with his hand, remembering the pale blonde daughter of one of his mother’s cronies. She had been so shy that she had conversed with him in monosyllables.
I liked her well enough,” he said noncommittally.
But?” prompted his mother, a resigned look on her face.
She agreed with everything I said.”
And that is a bad thing?”
I should like my wife to know her own mind, to be able hold her own opinions.”

(C) Heather King

Thursday, 9 May 2013

A Georgian Masterpiece - The Development of the Thoroughbred

Eclipse, by George Stubbs

There can be few of the world’s horse breeds that do not owe their existence to the desert-bred Oriental horses known today as the Arabian. Without the importation of Barb, Turk and Arab blood, the world’s ‘Super-horse’, the English thoroughbred, would not exist.

Racing had flourished in England in one form or another for centuries prior to the dawning of this ultimate equine athlete. The horses used were the native ‘running horses’, produced in the main from galloways and the Irish hobby, with the addition of Flemish, Spanish and Belgian blood. In the latter part of the seventeenth century, the so-called Oriental horses were imported in large numbers – although this influence may have already begun much earlier when efforts were made to improve native stock.

Many of the English sovereigns were instrumental in improving the indigenous breeds. King John was a firm believer in the efficiency of Eastern blood and devoted a great deal of attention to his stud at Eltham. In the reign of Henry I, two horses were imported into England from Barbary, one being presented to the king and the other to the church of St. Andrews by Alexander I of Scotland. This is the first recorded instance of the importing of Oriental horses into Britain. Some authorities claimed that from these two stallions stemmed the English Thoroughbred. Youatt considered this to be ‘devoid of foundation’, but if they were Barbs or Arabians, they were of the appropriate breed from which racehorses could be produced.

Match racing began in the reign of Elizabeth I, but it took until the time of Henry VIII for breeding to improve. Blood of the high class English horses, which had fallen into foreign hands during the Wars of the Roses, was re-introduced and not only did Henry restore the Eltham stud to glory, he founded similar establishments at Windsor and Hampton Court. The master of the stud was titled the Keeper of the Barbary Horses, so clearly Henry also had a preference for such stock. The Barbs were crossed with horses he received from the Marquis of Mantua, a beneficiary of the Lancaster–York conflicts. He is reputed, for one fine English horse, to have declined an offer of its weight in silver.

Queen Elizabeth I had studs at Greenwich, Hampton Court, Windsor, St. Albans and Waltham, but only when James I came to the throne, did racing become recognized in England for the great sport it still is, centuries later. Its popularity was established earlier in Scotland and Queen Elizabeth it was who presented James with some racehorses long before he succeeded to the English throne.

Among his racehorses, James I included Arabians brought to England by Sir Thomas Esmond. One of these was the Markham Arabian, which he purchased for a price variously believed to be £200 or £500, but it seems that he was sold a dud, for the horse ran poorly and no records remain of his being the progenitor of any good stock.

During the reign of Charles I, the Duke of Buckingham acquired the Helmsley Turk, a much better proposition, for he sired a number of valuable offspring. According to some authorities, Charles II commanded Sir John Fenwick, his Master of Horse, to bring back the Royal Mares and some stallions from the Levant (Syria), thus increasing the influx of Oriental bloodlines. This is the explanation given in the General Stud Book for the Royal Mares mentioned in a considerable number of early Thoroughbred pedigrees. However, it seems far more likely that it was James D’Arcy, Master of the Royal Stud, who procured the mares from various sources. D’Arcy was contracted to supply King Charles with ‘twelve extraordinary good colts’ each year for the royal stud at Sedbury in Yorkshire. The Royal Mares, plus a few stallions, were dispersed through the country when the king died.

During the reign of William and Mary, many valuable Eastern horses were imported by the Crown. This was the time when the Byerley Turk arrived (see below).

Queen Anne was undeniably a racing monarch. She owned racehorses and ran them in her name; she also gave plates which were contested for in different parts of the kingdom. It was very soon after she came to the throne that the Darley Arabian (see below) came to these shores. Queen Anne instituted races at Ascot, in her park. The Darley Arabian’s fame at stud surpassed even that of the Leedes Arabian, sire of Betty Leedes, dam of Flying Childers, the fastest horse of his day over distance. No fewer than twenty-three stallions of Eastern blood came to England during Anne’s reign and it is from her period that breeding of the Thoroughbred appears to have been conducted upon more scientific principles than before.

Two hundred Oriental horses are listed in Volume II of the General Stud Book from 1721 - 59, one hundred and seventy-six being stallions. These included the three most influential in the subsequent development of the Thoroughbred – the Byerley Turk, the Darley Arabian and the Godolphin Arabian. All modern Thoroughbreds are descended from these three through the male line. There were other important Oriental stallions, but the influence of these, while still seen, is not in the male top line. For example, every grey Thoroughbred can trace its origins back to Alcock’s Arabian, and the Leedes Arabian can be found in more pedigrees than any other horse. The Lister Turk was taken at the siege of Buda (as was the Byerley Turk) and brought to England by the Duke of Berwick. He appears in the pedigree of Eclipse as the sire of Coneyskins, being also responsible for the celebrated horses Snake and Brisk. Hutton’s Bay Barb, sire of Blacklegs, is another Eastern sire in Eclipse’s bloodline.

The most important female influence on the development of the Thoroughbred is the Arabian foundation mare, Old Bald Peg, sired by the Unknown Arabian. Thousands of repeat crosses of this mare appear in the pedigrees of many famous racehorses, according to Lady Wentworth’s The Authentic Arabian.

There were no further infusions of Arab blood after 1770 and in 1773, James Weatherby was made keeper of the match book for the Jockey Club. In 1791, Weatherby’s (still the official agents of the Jockey Club) published An Introduction to a General Stud Book and in 1808, issued the first volume of the General Stud Book. A pattern of recording Thoroughbred breeding had been established. The modern GSB, still published by Weatherby’s, includes all pure-bred mares and their progeny as well as the pedigrees of both mares and sires.

It was not until 1821 that the word thoroughbred was first used in connection with the racehorse. The term appeared in the second volume of the General Stud Book, although as a distinct breed the English Thoroughbred did not establish itself until long afterwards, when crosses to the Arabian had ceased. Indeed, the increase in numbers and incredible worldwide spread of the Thoroughbred has really only come about in the last hundred years.

Thoroughbreds of the early nineteenth century were smaller than those of a century later. Doubt was expressed in the 1920s as to whether the then modern racehorse was as sound as his predecessor and in the opinion of some experienced trainers, when it came to stamina and constitution, the old horses were superior. It certainly would appear that horses running even in the late nineteenth century were expected to achieve more in public than they were a generation later.

When heat-running was in vogue, while the number of races a horse actually ran were not so many, the miles he was called upon to gallop were often a good deal more. For example: Eclipse, who won thirteen King’s plates, in eleven of which he carried twelve stone and in two, ten stone.

The Byerley Turk

A dark brown horse according to the painting by John Wootton and perhaps of bigger build than the Oriental horses being introduced to England in the seventeenth century, the Byerley Turk nevertheless had certain characteristics associated with the Arabian. He was the first of the three founding sires of the Thoroughbred to arrive.

According to legend, it was at the Battle of Buda in Hungary that Captain Robert Byerley acquired the believed eight-year-old from a captured Turkish officer. A serving officer in William of Orange's 6th Dragoon Guards, Captain Byerley was born in 1660, son of Colonel Anthony Byerley of Middridge Grange, Co. Durham, and had risen to the rank of colonel by the time he was twenty-eight. During King Williams War in Ireland in 1689, Robert Byerley used the stallion as his charger and also the following year at the Battle of the Boyne. There was time for leisure though. In the spring of 1690, at Down Royal in Northern Ireland, a race meeting was held and Captain Byerley’s steed won the top prize of a silver bell.

Captain Byerley was married in 1696 to the great-niece of prominent horse-breeder Lord Wharton, of Goldsborough Hall near Knaresborough, a property Mary later inherited. They moved to the estate and when he died in May 1714, Robert was buried there.

On Robert Byerley’s retirement, the Byerley Turk stood at stud, firstly at the family seat at Middridge Grange and after 1697, at Goldsborough Hall. He remained at stud into his twenties, his son Basto, the best-known racehorse and a good stallion in his own right, being foaled in1702. Bred by Sir William Ramsden, Basto was sold to the Duke of Devonshire. He stood at Chatsworth, the Duke’s seat, where he died in 1723. As with many of the Byerley Turk’s progeny, Basto was dark bay, almost black, and with no white markings, bore a marked resemblance to his sire.

The most influence in breeding terms was exerted by Jigg, another of the Byerley Turk's sons. Although considered of little importance until his son Partner began to achieve great success on the racecourse, it was Partner’s son Tartar who immortalized the line, as the sire of the renowned stallion and racehorse, Herod (1738). Jigg was also the sire of Robinson Crusoe, who sired Bucephalus, the winner of many plates and proclaimed the first horse of his time, as well as the dam of influential stallion Coneyskins.

The foundation mares of several Thoroughbred families owe their sire line to the Byerley Turk and his sons, in addition to a number of good racing mares which were greatly prized. However, that sire line continues down to comparatively few Thoroughbreds of today.

The Byerley Turk died in 1706 at Goldsborough hall. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Captain Byerley buried his old charger on the estate, as is widely believed.

The Darley Arabian

The second of the three dominant sires which founded the Thoroughbred breed. He was, from the painting by John Wootton, a fine bay stallion with a narrow blaze, two white hind socks and a white fetlock on the near fore.

Born in the Syrian desert outside Aleppo, the property of Sheikh Mirza II, the elegant bay yearling colt was bought by merchant and Her Majesty’s Consul to the Levant (Syria), Thomas Darley. That Darley bought the horse and he arrived in England in 1704 is historical fact; how he arrived and how much was paid for him is clouded in mystery.

According to one version of events, the price was three hundred gold sovereigns; in another it was a flintlock rifle. The story goes that, having paid for the colt, Darley was met by the sheikh’s reluctance to part with the best of his youngstock. Treating this with a typical Yorkshire ‘no-nonsense’ attitude, it is said that British sailors were commandeered by Darley to acquire the colt and smuggle him out by way of Smyrna.

The Darley Arabian’s original name was ‘Ras el Fedavi’ which translates as ‘The Headstrong One’ and he was, according to Darley, “immediately striking owing to his handsome appearance and exceedingly elegant carriage.” He was put to stud at Aldby Park in Yorkshire, seat of the Darley family, covering mares from probably 1705 until 1719. He remained there, it seems, until his death in 1730, at the ripe old age of thirty.

As the foundation stallion with the greatest influence on modern Thoroughbred bloodlines, he was responsible for the renowned Eclipse, who was never beaten on the racecourse, through his unraced son Bartlett’s or Bleeding Childers. The latter stood at his owner’s stud at Nutwith Coate near Masham in Yorkshire.

A previous mating of the Darley Arabian to Betty Leedes, orchestrated by Leonard Childers of Cantley Hall, Doncaster had produced the also unbeaten Flying Childers. Bought by the Duke of Devonshire, Flying Childers was supposed in the General Stud Book to have been ‘the fleetest horse that was ever trained in this or any other country’. He was also prolific and successful at stud. One son, Blaze, bred the influential trotting sire Old Shales, which went on to found the Hackney. Blaze’s great-grandson Messenger became a foundation sire for the American Standardbred and his successful racing daughter Miller’s Damsel later produced the supreme racehorse American Eclipse.

Another son of the Darley Arabian, Manica, is revered as a foundation sire of the modern Cleveland Bay, although it must be remembered that Clevelands have existed in the Cleveland Hills of Yorkshire since medieval times.

Flying Childers, after Sartorius


The Godolphin Arabian

Sometimes called the Godolphin Barb because he was believed to have come from Tunisia, on the Barbary Coast, portraits of him yet show the characteristic dished face and high tail carriage associated with the Arab. According to the Viscount de Manty, he had beautifully proportioned conformation, well let-down hocks and “unequalled lightness of forehand.” A brown bay with a ‘reddish mottle’, he stood in the region of fifteen hands with white on his off-hind heel. He was powerful and short backed, and inclined to be headstrong.

Many are the legends surrounding this celebrated stallion, although the facts of his origins are few. He was brought to England by Edward Coke in 1728, that gentleman having connections with France and in particular with the Duke of Lorraine. It is therefore quite conceivable that Coke came by the stallion through the French court.

A highly coloured and detailed account of the stallion’s ‘adventures’ was written by M. Eugene Sue in his History of the Godolphin Arabian, and condensed in The Sporting Magazine of 1839. It seems doubtful, however, that Edward Coke discovered the horse being beaten whilst within the shafts of an overloaded wood or water cart at the foot of the Pont Neuf. Nevertheless it is possible he was in poor condition, since it is likely that he did indeed arrive in France as one of a contingent from the stud of the Bey of Tunis, and a ‘half-starved’ description might well have been applied after such a voyage. If he also had a questionable temperament, he could have been kept lean to aid his control.

The accounts of the Flying Childers mare, Roxana, rejecting the advances of her intended mate Hobgoblin, in favour of the teaser ‘Scham’, otherwise known as the Godolphin Arabian, are also included in M. Sue’s fables. One therefore cannot help wondering if these legends are true either, although mares have been known to be awkward at such times. George Stubbs painted the stallion with a cat. Was this the constant companion Grimalkin, or did it merely lead to the story? What is indisputable fact, is that Coke’s ‘ye Arabian’ stood at his owner’s Longford Hall in Derbyshire and covered the chestnut filly Roxana in 1731. The resulting bay colt, Lath, ‘a very elegant and beautiful horse’ by all accounts, was sold in due course to the Duke of Devonshire, to become the best racehorse of the day.

When Edward Coke died in 1733, his stallions were inherited by his friend Roger Williams and his mares and foals (including Lath) by the 2nd Earl of Godolphin. Lord Francis purchased the Arabian stallion and moved him to his stud in Cambridgeshire, in the Gogmagog Hills near Babraham. At this time the horse
gained the name by which he would be referred to throughout history.

After Lath’s success on the racecourse, the Godolphin Arabian became the earl’s prize stallion and to this day is represented in the pedigrees of many a great racehorse, including the mighty Eclipse, although not through the direct sire line. Lath’s dam, Roxana, also produced Cade (bay colt, 1734) who although not as prolific a racehorse, was the sire of Match’em, responsible for the male line continuing to today.

Several of the Godolphin Arabian’s sons were undefeated on the track and many went on to be influential sires, including Jalap, another considered to be a foundation sire of the modern Cleveland Bay. One of these sires was Cripple, sire of Gimcrack, who was the Red Rum of his day. Among his daughters was the dam of another great racehorse and sire, Highflyer. Many famous American racehorses, including Seabiscuit and Man o’ War, trace back to the Godolphin Arabian through their sire line.

Wandlebury House, the Earl of Godolphin’s seat, stood within Wandlebury Ring (Iron Age site) until demolished in the 1950s. Stables and other buildings still remain and the Godolphin Arabian is commemorated with an inscribed stone slab over his grave just inside the archway of the stable block. Approximately twenty-nine, he died in 1753, and universally lamented, was laid to rest with due ceremony. The story goes that Grimalkin followed him to his grave, sat disconsolately on the body as it waited to be lowered into it, before disappearing, never to be seen again.

(C) Heather King