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, 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.

War Horses Week: Invisible Horses

While wild horses in the right environment can blend beautifully into their background, the better to fool predators, it’s another story with domestic horses – especially those pressed into service in battle. The Camoupedia is a blog dedicated to the art of becoming invisible. Fascinatingly, it includes three posts about the camouflaging of horses in World War One – one about the French painting their horses khaki, and another about US soldiers in Mexico in 1915 grubbing up their favourite grey, while British troops in East Africa liked to transform their mules and ponies into zebras. And to flip the concept around, here are US snipers using a papier mâché “dead horse” to take a pop at the Hun.

Peach Blossom, Trout and Tiger: Horse Colours in 1730s France

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Screengrab from Archive.org.

A list of horse coat colours taken from The School of Horsemanship by François Robichon de la Guérinière (first complete edition 1733. Translated by Tracey Boucher. Published by J A Allen, London, 1994):

light bay
chestnut bay
black-brown
golden bay
dapple bay
jet black
rusty black
dapple grey
iron grey
silver grey
tiger (grey with black spots and large solid black areas on white undercoat)
flea-bitten grey
pied (black, bay, chestnut)
light chestnut
dark chestnut
wine-coloured roan
moor’s head roan (blue roan)
rubican
mouse dun
wolf-coloured (with dorsal stripe)
all-flower or peach blossom
trout (a black undercoat and a body and head dotted with reddish or chestnut spots)
blue-grey (“a white undercoat and spots over the entire body, such as one sees on porcelain vases”)
isabella
palomino
cream

UPDATE 17/1/2017: I rediscovered my copy of The Wilton House Riding School, a reproduction of 55 paintings by Hapsburg riding master Baron Reis d’Eisenberg depicting haute-école movements. I can’t find a date for the completion of the paintings but in his introduction Dorian Williams says that the baron lived in the mid-eighteenth century. As I flipped through the pages I noticed that several of the colours mentioned by Guerinière appear, which might help to decipher the original French list.

There’s a German-bred horse described as a “porcelain piebald” which turns out to be a dapple grey (he’s called “Superb”). A Turkish horse is “silver trout” – what we would call flea-bitten grey. A leopard-spotted appaloosa is “tiger” (a confusion I’ve come across in some nineteenth-century descriptions of spotted horses). Our mysterious “mille fleurs” or all-flower looks rather like a blue roan with black freckles.

Whole Heap of Little Horse Links

  • Composer Eve Harrison teamed up with Scottish schoolchildren to write a musical about the horse meat scandal, called The Unspeakable. If I weren’t on the move just now I would dig out a 17th century story in which Scottish children chased and stoned a man known to eat horse meat. (BBC)
  • The FAO reports that the number of horses in the world has dropped by a million every year from 2009–2011, doubtless in response to the recession. The number of donkeys has increased – again, I’m pretty sure that’s down to the recession too. Donkeys make the developing world go round, after all. (Horse Talk NZ)
  • In the wake of the horse meat scandal, Ireland tightened its enforcement of slaughter regulations, with the result that the number of horses entering abattoirs has plummetted. The government is now considering a humane disposal programme for horses that have been treated with bute and other drugs that render them unfit for human consumption. (Irish Times) Meanwhile the UK’s DEFRA will close the loop hole that allowed horses travelling between Ireland, the UK and France to escape a full vet inspection. Racehorses and FEI competitors will still be excused (Horse Talk NZ)
  • In May the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ and Exhibitors’ Association’s executive committee voted in favour of a bill that would end the use of padded shoes and chains. The board of directors nixed it. Now a member of the executive committee is running an unauthorised poll among members to ask them what they think, and feathers are flying (The Tennessean)
  • Archaeologists in Bulgaria have uncovered a 2,500 year-old Thracian chariot and two horses – the twist? The horses were somehow buried standing (Habitat for Horses)
  • Steed Poll: Mary Queen of Scots & King Francis II of France

    Steed Poll is an irregular series of brief blog posts about the mounts of famous figures – horses, ponies, donkeys, mules and even zebras who have strayed into texts and been preserved in some small way for history.

    Horses there were in abundance, Fontaine and Enghien being the dauphin’s favourites, and Bravane and Madame la Réale the favourites of Mary Stuart…

    Mary Queen of Scots, by Antonia Fraser

    No Plans for the Weekend? Why Not Pop Over to Chantilly?

    The Prince of Condé, Louis Henri (also a Duc de Bourbon) was prime minister of France for Louis XI from 1723 to 1726. He was also, according to an old tale I really hope is true, sure he would be reincarnated as a horse. He built the stables by which all other stables are judged and found wanting: Chantilly, in a forested area just outside Paris. These “Grandes Écuries” or “great stables” rival Versailles itself: architect Jean Aubert pulled out all the stops to create a facade some 180 m long which still overlooks the race course where the “French Derby” or Prix du Jockey Club is run every June. The town remains central to the French equine aristocracy, as it’s a major training centre, and the Grandes Ecuries survived the revolution and are now a Living Museum of the Horse, stuffed with equestrian art from Thelwell to Stubbs, and a collection of 30 breeds from Indian Marwaris to Shetland ponies.

    Your reason to go this weekend? The museum is reopening after a hefty makeover, thanks to the Aga Khan. Tens of millions have been spent restoring the stables and dusting up the exhibition, and you can see some highlights in a slideshow here at CNN. You can also catch displays of equitation and an extensive collection of historic items. As the Aga Khan is not just a hippophile but also a living god, there’s something pleasingly circular about the tale: from a prince who wanted to be a horse in the afterlife, to a horse-loving prince who’s already divine.

    Whole Heap of Little Horse Links

    New York Subway Art

    New York Subway Art

    • I’m usually sceptical about “horses stolen for meat” stories (unless they come from Florida), but this one rings true. A Romanian has been arrested in connection with the theft of several draft horses in eastern France, allegedly for the slaughter trade. Some of the horses were already being raised for meat. (The Horse)
    • The English police horse who was punched by a drunk football fan has received boxes of polo mints from fans of the opposing team. (Daily Mail)
    • A British university claims that the Carneddau ponies that died of starvation and exposure in Wales earlier this year are part of a genetically distinct breed that shares a common, but centuries-removed ancestor with Welsh Mountain ponies. (BBC)
    • Ipswich Transport Museum is restoring a horsedrawn tram. The lightweight draft horses that drew these vehicles were dubbed “trammers” and in the nineteenth century typically only lasted a year between the shafts because of the effort of drawing the tram through often clogged tracks. (BBC)
    • “Thank God for the horses. Thank God for the bloody horses,” – a trooper at the 1917 Battle of Beersheba. (ABC)
    • Wild horse and burro sanctuaries in California, and how to visit them. (SFGate blogs)
    • Awards for teenage boys who saved a trapped Shetland pony from drowning. (HorseTalk)
    • I can’t keep up. Now the NYT is saying there will be federal approval for a horse slaughter house in New Mexico.. (NYT)
    • A horse had to be euthanised in Belfast after hitting a car. The case raises ongoing concerns about horses that are kept untethered (or tethered, come to that) on housing estates in the city. (Belfast Telegraph)
    • Interesting, given the cheap meat scandal: the value of horse meat exported from the UK has more than doubled in five years. (This Is Wiltshire)
    • Horse racing begins again in Libya. (Al Arabiya)
    • Seventh century horse armour/tack unearthed in Japan. (Asahi Shimbun)