The Cremellos of Versailles

Curious cremello Lusitano at the Académie Équestre, Versailles, November 2014.

Curious cremello Lusitano at the Académie Équestre, Versailles, November 2014.

Scraps of incomplete research I’m doing to trace the history of cream-coloured horses at Versailles and earlier French royal stables.

I knew the Hanoverian monarchs of England had cream-coloured carriage horses (the “Hanoverian creams” mentioned in W J Gordon’s Horse World of London in 1893), and that cream horses are mentioned by François Robichon de la Guérinière, who ran the French royal manège at the Tuileries from 1730 onwards (poetic list of horse colours compiled by Guérinière here). But were cremellos just one of many exotic and distinctive colours collected by the rulers of France? Or did they have more special significance?

From “Third Letter from Paris” by “Chasseur”, a correspondent of The Sporting Magazine in November 1830, a hundred years after Guérinière. In July 1830, the unpopular Bourbon King Charles X was overthrown and replaced by Louis-Phillippe, the first of the Orléanist kings, and a constitutional monarch. The aftermath of what was known as the July Revolution included some sort of fire sale of Charles’ hunting paraphenalia, from gaiters to otter hounds. And, of course, his horses:

I was not at the horse sale, but many good useful horses were given away almost. By useful ones I mean the carriage horses – bays, with short tails – English three-parts-bred ones. The hunters I never thought much of. By the way, an old cream-coloured horse with red eyes, in the Versailles stable, a favourite of Napoleon’s, I hear has again changed masters, though not passed into the hands of Royalty. I would have bought him had I been there, to prevent so distinguished an animal from being degraded by base servitude, as I fear he will be subjected to.

Where might the cream horse have come from? This Wikipedia page for the Celle State Stud in Lower Saxony, Germany, says that cream carriage horses, “possibly of Persian extraction,” were bred for ceremonial use at Herrenhausen. They are the source for the English Hanoverian creams, and apparently Napoleon pilfered several:

When he captured Hanover, he ransacked the stables of the Elector and found a number of beautiful cream colored horses. These he incontinently purloined and not long afterward these same Hanoverian steeds drew the splendid state coach in which Napoleon rode to be crowned as Emperor at Notre Dame.

Frank Leslie’s popular monthly 52: 42, “Historic Coaches, Old and New”. 1882.

This wonderfully researched page has some contemporary images of these creams and the trappings they wore at Napoleon’s coronation. Serious plumes. And a cheeky statement from this upstart from Corsica – he appropriated the very horses of true royalty for his own apotheosis. The scraps I’ve found here seem to hint that either the same horses were also used for riding (which seems unlikely) or both Napoleon and the British kings had creams to ride in addition to the carriage horses. James Ward called his famous painting of a cremello, “Adonis, the favourite charger of King George III,” and then, from Jill Hamilton’s Marengo, the Myth of Napleon’s Horse:

Tolstoy in War and Peace, wrote: ‘Napoleon was riding on his cream-coloured English horse, accompanied by his guards . . . Napoleon rode on, dreaming of Moscow.’

Read more of Chasseur’s John-Bullish thoughts on Frenchies and horses here. If you want to read an excellent book about Napoleon’s horses, Jill Hamilton has made the PDF of her Marengo, The Myth of Napoleon’s Horse, available here.

Around the World in Horses

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When I was a girl I was only interested in things in museums if they involved horses. I’ve developed a slightly broader range of interests now, but to my mind, by focusing on horses, I learn about everything else: As Chomel put it, “L’Histoire du cheval est celle de l’humanité” – the history of horses is the history of man. So here’s a jumbled, greedy selection of some images from the trips I’ve made to research book two. I took these for my own reference, and I’m scrupulous about not using a flash if asked not to, so I’m afraid these are a little gloomy, but you get the jist. Here goes.

Bed-mates with a Nightmare

Travelling salesman to Henry Mayhew in London Labour and the London Poor, 1851, describing sleeping arrangements at The Castle beer shop in Braintree:

I was a muck-snipe when I was there – why, a muck-snipe, sir, is a man regularly done up, coopered, and humped altogether – and it was a busyish time, and when the deputy paired off the single men, I didn’t much like my bed-mate. He was  shabby-genteel, buttoned up to the chin, and in the tract line [i.e., religious]. . . . I tipped the wink to an acquaintance there, and told him I thought my old complaint was coming on. That was, to kick and bite like a horse, in my sleep, a’cause my mother was terrified by a wicious horse not werry long afore I was born. So I dozed on the bed-side, and began to whinny; and my bed-mate jumped up frightened, and slept on the floor.

Bidets, Somali War Horses, Blue Tongues, Bloodhounds and Sidesaddle: Some Equestrian Long Reads

 

Etincelle of Wanderreiten im Havelland has a snack.

Etincelle of Wanderreiten im Havelland has a snack.

Hello to everyone who arrived after the New York Times piece on Sasa and Tav. I’m in the final months of writing book two, so I’m a terrible blogger just now. However, I do have a few long reads in the archives and on other sites, and you’re welcome to dip into them. I also didn’t realise until this week that Amazon has made a US Kindle version of If Wishes Were Horses: A Memoir of Equine Obsession available. It has no US publisher as folk found it a bit too British, but it’s still a good 120,000 words of horse history and memories. Here’s my eclectic long reads selection:

 

 

The Language of Riding: A piece for the New York Times’ Menagerie Blog

Sasa’s name means “so-so” in Portuguese. It’s a little joke, because the gray lusitano gelding is anything but — he’s a beautiful horse who can, like many Iberian equines, claim descent from the war horses of the Renaissance. Look at Uccello’s “Battle of San Romano” and there’s Sasa’s likeness carrying a Florentine general: compact as a rubber ball, strong enough to balance on his hinds, and with a crested neck that ends in ears tilting forward like his rider’s lance.

This a piece I’ve written for the New York Times‘ Menagerie blog and horses and how we communicate with them. When I publish something I like to provide a little cheat sheet and some links to source material, because most of the readers who like this blog also want to do their own investigating and reading around.

Here’s the paper on horses and heart rates.  This is the Uccello painting, The Battle of San Romano, which is at the National Gallery in London.

People have (rightly) wanted to know how on earth a horse could realise that its rider was pregnant. Here is the anecdote behind it, from the Horse and Hound Forum. The horse in question was a challenging ride for its owner. One day, its behaviour changed, and it was good as gold. This was odd, and odder still when the good spell went on for weeks. The owner happened to take a pregnancy test after a while, and had a positive result. The horse (a mare, if that’s relevant) continued to be biddable and obedient until the owner’s baby was born, at which point it reverted to its old, challenging behaviour.

What this doesn’t tell us, of course, is HOW the mare knew, and WHY she acted differently. But if there are dogs and other service animals that can detect an oncoming epileptic fit or a cancerous tumour, I see no reason why a horse should not.

A little “unpacking” for the term sprezzatura, as some of the sense of the piece got lost in a series of last minute additions and edits. There’s a line missing before that sentence, which is, “My instructor calls this the art of doing bugger all.” Sprezzatura is indeed a Renaissance term, but I’m not sure if it was directly applied to riding by contemporaries. It’s championed by Castiglione in his Book of the Courtier, and there’s a little explanation here. My source/inspiration was a really excellent thesis on riding, the Renaissance and sprezzatura by Treva Tucker, called Destrier to Danseur: The Role of the Horse in Early Modern French Noble Identity. She unpacks it far better than I can in my wee NYT piece, so hunt it out.

This is the page for my memoir, If Wishes Were Horses: A Memoir of Equine Obsession, and some more photos of Tav. You can get a US Kindle edition here.

Here’s a couple of videos of Sasa in action with a much better rider than I (he and Holly Barber are currently ranked 10th in the world in Working Equitation). And here’s the school that owns him: Pine Lodge in Norfolk, UK.

A Brazilian City Stormed by a Cavalcade

Thank you to artist Christa Joo Hyun D’Angelo for drawing my attention to this work by Brazilian artist Jonathas de Andrade. Andrade organised a race through the centre of the Brazilian city of Recife for the carters who – despite being officially outlawed by city officials who see them as an afront to their notion of a modern, fully urban community – are a daily part of the economy and landscape. It’s called “Uprising” (somewhat wince-inducing but also magnificent photos of the horses at this link):

The rite blessed invisibility in a celebratory existence. The men with the carts didn’t give a fig for the movie, and the project became a pretext for taking the city in a coup and at the gallop. The ground was churned up – the paw, the horseshoe, the horseshit. Characters were incorporated. Any protagonism of the team was wiped out and dissolved into the mass. The front was taken by the horseman, a herdsman minstrel bellowing out improvised verses about the scene, the cart flying along. Forces came to the fore pulling on the reins; rhythm; momentum – ecstasy and disobedience. The sound of the horses’ hooves on the asphalt was multiplied, echoed off the walls of the buildings and spread throughout the city. The sound silenced and set the boundaries of the territory. An atmosphere of a trance being underway. Presence of spirit, incorporation of desire – Pure Candomblé*. The uprising became more that of the tremendous, sensory and corporeal passing into being of formulating policy, and the project gained new meaning from its own reinvention.

More at VDrome.

World War One and Britain’s Equine Army

The Equine Army is a BBC documentary about Britain’s horses and mules in the First World War, and the people who sourced, trained and handled them. It’s on BBC4 today at 8pm, and features yours truly squinting into the sun with a migraine. And some cavalry charging. And mules. And some fascinating stories delivered by historian Saul David.

If you’re interested in finding out more about women, horses and the Great War, here are two lovely long reads I prepared earlier.

Women, Horses and World War One

Russley Park Remount Depot, Women, Horses and Sources

If the history of humans and horses is your scene, you might like If Wishes Were Horses, which takes you from Lascaux to My Little Pony, with many nostalgic stops in between (Pat Smythe and the W H Smith Win a Pony contest, anyone?)