“Workmen cleaning the immense statue of two horses pulling a quadriga or chariot atop the Wellington Arch on Hyde Park Corner, London, by Harry Todd.”
Thank you Matt for this spectacular oddity from Adam Curtis at the BBC. In 1982, Libya held an international showjumping contest that featured top British riders and a thousand-strong Bedouin “fantasia”. Head-tossing barb horses in embroidered bridles, a dictator at the height of his powers and one very dour Yorkshireman, who really does not want to talk to the plucky BBC film maker, all packed into 15 minutes of footage.
Here’s a gem. This salty poem appeared on a pamphlet during the English Civil War, and it pitches the Royalist Cavaliers against the Cromwellian Roundheads through the medium of a fancy, boastful war horse and a humble mill horse or ass. Some tart words are exchanged between these two, reflecting on the ideologies of opposing sides in the war, and on class and the fate of equines in general. I copied it from a microfiche in Cambridge University Library that was not always legible, so my apologies for the omissions or errors. The spelling is also “authentic”, but reading it is rewarding, I promise!
“A Dialogue Betwixt a Horse of warre and a millhorse
wherein the content and safety of an humble and painfull life, is preferred above all the Noyse, the Tumult, and Trophies of the Warre.
Full of harmeless Mirth, and variety
London, printed Bernard Alsop, published according to order, 1645
A discourse between the Cavalliers Warre-Horse and the Country-mans Mill-Horse
Well met old Mill-Horse or indeed an Asse,
I must instruct thee before we doe passe
How to live bravely; look on me and view
My Bridle and my Saddle faire and new;
Warre doth exalt me, and by it I get
Honour, while that my picture is forth set
Cut out in Brasse, while on my back I beare
Some Noble Earle or valiant Cavallier.
Come therefore to the Wars, and doe not still
Subject thyself to beare Sacks to the Mill.
Despise me not thou Cavallier War-horse
For though to live I take an idle course
Yet for the common-wealth I alwayes stand;
and am imploy’d for it, though I’m nam’d
A Mill-Horse, I am free and seem not under
Malignants that doe townes and houses plunder,
Transported on thy back, while thou must be
Halfe guilty of their wrong, and injurie
Done to their country, while without just cause,
Thought fightest for the King against the Lawess
Against religion, parliament and all
and leave the Pope and Bishops down would fall
Thou art expos’d to battle but no thanks
thou hast at all when thou dost break the Ranks
of our stout Musketiers, whose bullets flye
In showeres, as in the fight at Newbery,
And force thee to retreat with wounds or lame,
is this the glory of thy halting fame
Whereof thou dost so bragge? … [illegible] thy fault
of fighting for them who have alwayes fought
Against the common-wealth, is such a sin
That both stick closer to thee than thy skin
What though upon my back I carry sacks;
Thy meat is plundered out of barns and stacks
While thou dost feed on stolen oates and hay
the wronged farmers curse the strength away
of all thy Diet, often inviting that
diseases may consume they ill-got fat,
therefore recant and never more appeare
in field a Champion for the Cavallier;
Let not his Spurre nor false fame prick thee on
to fight in unjust warres as thou hast done.
Fame is not what I aime at, but the knowne
Right of the King, the trumpet that is blowne
Into the Battell doth not give me more
Courage, than what I had in him before,
As if we did partake of more then sense
and farre exceeded man’s intelligence,
In Hooping unto Kings, and doe prove thus
Ourselves descended from Bucephalus,
That Horse who did no loyall duty lack
But kneeling downe received on his back
Great Alexander, while men kick and fling
Against the power of so good a King
As time has blest us with, O let this force
A change in thee who art dull Mill-horse.
Thou art no Papist being without merit,
Nor zealous Brownist, for thou dost want spirit.
But with a Halter ty’d to block or pale,
… [illegible] pennance, while they master drinks his Ale
In some poore Village; such a poore thing art thou
Who Gentry scorne, beare till thy ribs doe bow
Burthens of corne or meale, while that Kings are
My Royall Masters both in Peace and Warre.
Boast not of happy fortune, since time brings
a change to setled states and greatest Kings,
England was happy; peace and plenty too
Did make their rich abode here, but now view
the alteration, warre hath brought in twos [?]
and sad destruction both this land o’flow;
Now thou art proud, but if this Warre in peace
Should end, they high ambition would then cease;
Thy strength and courage would find no regard,
Thy plundering service would get no reward,
Although in warre thou trample downe and kill
Thy foe, in age thou shalt beare sacks to mill
As i doe now, and when thy skinne is grizzle
… [illegible] underneath thy burthen, fart and fizzle
… [illegible] an old horse, a souldier of the kings
‘All imploy’d valour sad repentence brings,
when thou art lame, and wounded in a fight
not knowing whether thou dost wrong or right,
or what is the true ground of this sad warre
Where king and subjects both ingaged are;
both doe pretend the justnesse of their cause
One for Religion, Liberty and Lawes;
Doth stand, while that the king doth strive again
his right and due prerogative to maintaine;
the king keeps close to this, while subjects be
Growne mad to eclipse the sonne of Majestie
by enterpoling differences; how canst though judge
Where the fault is? both at each other’s grudge,
I know that this discourse is farre too high
For us, yet now to talke of Majesty;
In boldest manner is a common thing
While every cobler will condemn a king,
And to be politick in their discourse
Yet know no more then I a poor MIll-Horse;
Who for the common-wealth doe stand and goe
Would every common-wealth man doe so.
Mill horse in this thy space and speech agree
Both wanting spirit dull and tedious bee;
The King and commonwealth are vexed the ames
writ on by many; prathee think on Beanes
And Oates well ground, what need hast thou to care
How the deplored common-wealth doth fare;
for policy this rule in mind doth keep,
‘Laugh when thou hast made others grieve and weep,
what care we how the State of things doe goe?
‘While thou art well, let others feel the woe.
If I have store of provender I care not,
Let cavaliers still plunder on and spare not,
When Ockingham [?] was burned I stood by
and like rich widdowes wept at ne’re an eye;
When the town burnt a fellow said in leather
‘He loved to see a good fire in cold weather;
and with the simple clowne I doe stay still,
‘If I do well I care not who doth ill;
For with the Cavalliers I keep one course,
And I have no more Religion then a Horse.
I care not for Liberty nor Lawes,
Nor priviledge of Subjects, nor the cause,
Let us stand well affected to good Oates,
While that the ship of State and Kingdom floates
on bloody waves, the staved rack shall be
Crammed with hay, a common-wealth to me.
I pity thee thou great war horse
As thou art like Cavalliers without remorse;
The sad affliction which the kingdom feeles
Regarding not thou casts it at thy heeles;
And so doth prove that horses have no brains,
Or if they have they little wit containe.
Into the kingdomes tale thy prick eares lend
A whole griefe I will describe, and right defend.
Though defend right, thy right to the high way
is lost, as sure as thou dost live by hey,
In telling of a tale without all doubt
Thou needs must be humble, and wilt soon run out
of breath and sense, good Mill-horse, therefore prethee
Leave tales, there are too many tales already,
That weekly flye with more lies without faile
Then there be haires on a horses taile;
And if the writers angry be I wish,
You would the Cavalliers horse arse both kisse,
Not as the Miller thy back doth kisse with whip,
But as a lover doth his mistresse lip;
For know the Cavalliers brave warlick [sic] horse
Scornes vulgar jades, and bid them kisse his arse.
Thou pampered Jade that liv’st by plundered oates
My skin’s as good as thine and worth ten groates,
Though slow of foot, I come of good kind,
of Racers, gotten by the boistrous wind
… [illegible] when the mare turned her back-side in the mouth
of Boreas, being northerne breed not South
The Miller’s horse before the warres began,
Would take the way of Lords and Gentleman;
And when peace shall malignants keep in aw,
I shall see thee in coach or dung cart draw.
I scorne thy motion, after this sad Warre,
Perhaps I may draw in some Coach or Carre,
and which doth grieve me, Cavaliers most high-born
I may be forced to draw on to Tiburne:
In time of Peace I serve for Triumphs, more then that
I shall be made a Bishop, and grow fat,
As Archey said ‘When bishops rul’d t’was worse,
that had no more religion than a horse.’
But thou shalte weare thy selfe out, and be stil
an everlasting drudge unto some Mill.
No matter, I will spend my life and health,
Both for my country and the common-wealth,
And it is Prince-like (if well understood)
to be ill-spoken off for doing good,
and if a horse may … [illegible] his good intent
some asses raile thus at parliament
scorn is a burthen laid on good men still,
which they must beare, as I do sackes to the mill:
But thou delighteth to hear trumpets rattle
and animal rushing into lawlesse battle;
If thou couldst think of thoe who are slain and dead,
they skin would blush, and all thy … [illegible] red
with blood of men, but I do with for peace,
on that condition Dogs may eat thy flesh.
then should the Mill-horse meat both fetch and bring,
Towns brew good Ale, and drink healths to the king.
Base Mill-horse have I broke my bridle, where
I was tyed by my master Cavaliere
To come and prattle with thee, and doest thou
wish dogs might eat my flesh? I scorn thee now?
My angry sense a great desire not feeles,
to kick thee into manners with my heeles.
But for the present I will curb my will,
If thou wilt tell me some newes from the mill.
If thou wilt tell me newes from camp and court,
I’ll tell the Mill-newes that shall make thee sport.
If country news thou wilt relate and shew me,
Halters of love shall binde me fast unto thee.
It chancced that I carried a young Maid
to Mill, and was to stumble much afraid,
she rid in handsome manner on my back,
and seem’d more heavie then the long meale sacke
on which the fate, when she alighted, I
perceive’d her belly was grown plump and high;
I carried many others and all were
Gotten with childe still by the Cavaleer [sic],
so that this newes for truth I may set downe,
there’s scarce a Mayd left in a market towne;
A woman old with … [illegible] on her chin,
did tell the miller she had plundered been
thrice by the Cavaliers, and they had taken
her featherbeds, her brass, and all her bacon
and eke [?] her daughter Bridget that should wed
Clodsforms, was plundered of her maidenhead,
besides I heare your Cavaliers does still,
Drinke sacke like water that runs from the mill;
we heare of Irish Rebels comming over,
which was a plot that I dare not discover,
and that malignant Army of the king,
Into this land blinde Popery would bring.
Peace, peace, I see thou dost know nothing now,
They fleering jests I cannot well allow;
and there are Mercuries abroad that will,
tell better news then a horse of the Mill;
But I will answer thee, and tell thee thus,
thou lyest as bad as ere did Aulicus.
Who thought he write Court-newes I’ll tell you what,
he’ll lye as fast as both of us can trot.
You tell of Maydens that have been beguild,
and by the Cavaleers [sic] are got with childe,
and hast not thou when thou wast fat and idle,
often times broke thy halter and thy bridle,
and rambled over hedge and ditch to come,
unto some Mare, whom thou hast quickly wonne
to thy desire, and leapt her in the place,
of dull Mill-horses to beget a race;
while that the Cavaliers when they do fall
to worke, will get a race of soldiers all.
It had been newes whereat I would have smilde,
If the maids had got the Cavalliers with childe.
I ramble over hedge, thou meanst indeed [?]
The Cavaliers, who were compelt, with speed
both over hedge and ditch away to flee
when they were lately beat at Newbery,
the proverb to be true is prov’d by thee
that servants like unto their masters bee;
those plundering … [illegible] on thy back doe ride,
have fill o’thee with a pamper’d spirit of pride,
and hath eaten too much Popish Dates [?]
That in thy belly thou hast got three Popes;
the great grandfather of that race did come
that bore [?] Pope Joane in triumph through Rome
I heare to Mill of corne a plump long sack,
thou carriest a great Pluto upon thy back,
… [illegible] Cavallier and who can then abide thee,
when that malignant fooles and knaves do ride thee
from town to town and plunder where they come,
the country is by Cavlliers undone.
and these thy matters are, who fight and kill
and seek the blood of the protestants to spill;
for thus the newes abroad doth alwayes runne,
that the kings forces are in horse most strong
whereby it doth appeare the … [illegible] War-horse are
guilty of blood-shed, in this cruell wars
and yet the Cavalliers horse I heare
at Kenton Field beshit themselves for feare.
and the Cavalliers being kill’d, they run about
the field to seek another master out,
therefore love war, and have of wounds thy fill,
while I in peace doe walk unto the mill;
I will be alwayes true unto my selfs
and love the kingdome and the Common-wealth.
Mill-horse, because thou shewst thy railing wits,
I’ll give thee a round answer with some kicks,
which I’ll bestow upon thee, but I’m … [illegible] done,
Yonder my Cavallier doth come
to fetch me back, and Yonder too I see
the miller comming for to take up thee
if thou lik’st not my discourse very well,
Mill-horse take up my taile, and so farwell.”
Ever since I wrote about the “Ice Princess” found on the Ukok plateau in Siberia in If Wishes Were Horses I’ve been fascinated by the early cultures of the Eurasian Steppes. Aside from their deep horsiness, they also seem to have had a very egalitarian society, and their womenfolk fought alongside the men. I’m currently partway through Adrienne Mayor’s exhaustive account of the physical, textual and artistic evidence for the existence of these bow-wielding riders, The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women Across the Ancient World, and was delighted to read about two depictions of Amazons with cremellos. Since I got back from Versailles I’ve been seeing cream. So here they are: one Etruscan sarcophagus (the other side shows the creams drawing Amazon chariots) and one goblet found in Sudan.
In Benedikt Erlingsson’s Of Horses and Men, the inhabitants of a remote Icelandic valley have emotions as tightly knitted as their jumpers – except when it comes to their swift-trotting, thick-maned horses.
In the opening scene we see the coat on a grey mare’s chest, caught in whorls and feathered by drizzle as her owner’s eye lovingly traces it. And then we see the owner himself, Kollbeinn, a middle-aged man in a tightly buttoned tweed jacket, reflected in the mare’s eye. “Darling,” he calls her, and “little lady.” When he smooths the coat on her back before hoicking her saddle on, it’s a caress. She will carry him across the valley to Solveig, the woman he’s in love with, at a spanking “tolt” that is watched covetously by the rest of the community through their binoculars and windows. “She’s no slouch, that mare,” Solveig greets him, before inviting him in for tea with her mother and son.
Left tied up outside, the grey mare acts on her own unihibited romantic inclinations, humiliating Kollbein – with grievous results for both herself and her lover, Solveig’s brown stallion.
There are six interlocking stories in this dark and comic Icelandic film, which won the 2014 Nordic Council Film Prize and the Brussels’ Golden Iris. In each, horses look on as humans commit all manner of sins of pride and folly, sometimes with disastrous consequences for themselves, and more often with terrible consequences for the horses. The dysfunctional, emotionally repressed humans are direct only when they are in pursuit of alcohol, which they sink like English foxhunters (from hip flasks, on horseback, and often). They would rather watch their neighbours through those binoculars than bare their hearts.
While they love their horses, what they love more is what horses can do for them: make them look desirable or masterful, get them vodka, humiliate their sexual rivals or take them home. The horses generally oblige them – even standing pacifically on a platform suspended from the hull of a Russian trawler at sea – but they cannot save them from their own idiocy, and sometimes, just by being horses, they ruin the best laid plans of their owners. The film’s humour can be tarry black: This wimp found the story of poor Juan, the Spanish tourist whose only crime was to wear a woolly hat and want to ride a horse, a little hard to stomach.
The characters are eccentric, but not grotesques: Erlingsson’s actors can convey a repressed emotion into the minutest gesture of the hand or widening of an eye. A woman announces her intention to seduce a man by flicking her pony tail out of her cagoule. Solveig’s eyebrows perform a small, expressive dance as Kollbein stands next to her and sweet talks his mare as Solveig wants to hear him whisper to her. A homesick Mongolian sailor called Genghis embraces a horse’s head tenderly, his face shining.
Throughout the six stories runs the busy rhythm of the tolt, matched by Icelandic folk music, and the spare and beautiful landscape, where sloping green valleys give way to crags of shifting, slatey rocks. The sea is frigid turquoise. The sky changes from mackerel clouds to pelting rain or a deathly blizzard.
Towards the end there’s a shift, and a lightening. People come together, and, fortified by alcohol, dare to reach for one another across the gaps between their horses. Cries of love making blur into those of horse herding. The film’s Icelandic title is Hross í Oss, which translates as “Horses and Us” – the similarities between the words in both English and Icelandic has the sealed-in wit of a palindrome or pun. We are horses, horses are us. And when we give up our stupid human inhibitions and wrongheadedness, and act a little more like horses, we find happiness.
Benedikt Erlingsson’s 2013 feature, Of Horses and Men, will be on general release here in Germany from February 19th on, as Von Menschen und Pferde, and is available on DVD in the UK and US.
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, originally from Spain, 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’s Marengo, The Myth of Napoleon’s Horse, is now available as a Kindle e-book.
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.