They Wrote History – Regency’s Horses Part III

The character of the military equine must necessarily be memorable, given the brutal circumstances of his surroundings. Those that are remembered, however, tend to have their traits and habits subsumed in the personalities of their famous riders.  By the dawn of the Regency, and the Romantic age, an expanding literate population hungered for stories that centered on the personality of the military charger without regard to whoever was on her back.

At this time, the French had superior cavalry, and Napoleon’s horses figured largely in the history of Regency-era chargers.

L’Empereur had a deep, abiding relationship with his horses. He favored Arab stallions  but also kept a few mares. All were required to be  ‘sweet, gentle and reliable.’ Accounts relate how well his mounts were suited to him.  This was a good thing, for apparently Napoleon had a unique style of riding–one that combined effective direction while managing to appear as if he might fall off at any moment.

Meissonier’s portrait below agrees with these contemporary observations. Napoleon’s weight is not centered, but pressing against a very sensitive area of the animal’s back, just behind the cantle. His heel is too far forward, and the reins are slack. It takes a special horse to remain balanced, not to mention sweet, when being ridden this way, particularly as Napoleon was known to take off suddenly, only to slide to a crashing halt while on the field of battle.

Le Vizir, a favored mount, can still be seen today in Paris. He was stuffed after his death, the imperial N brand visible on his hip.

Napoleon had pet names for his horses, a habit that gives us a window into their characters.   Cirus, for example, he referred to as Austerlitz, for displaying uncommon equine valor at the famous battle.  Another stallion he nicknamed Cuchillero, which means assassin.  Coco was an affectionate reference to still another, meaning mate or friend. He called his mare Marie Zina, which means adultery.

I’ve known a few mares who displayed remarkable tendencies toward the hussy end of the character spectrum.

On the British side, the stories of Sir Thomas Brotherton’s mare Fatima are especially memorable. She was a pure Arab given to him by his father, on the occasion of his gaining a commission in the Coldstream Guards in 1800.  Her exploits in battle are exquisitely illustrative of her character.

Note the fly swatter attached to the horse’s bridle–Fatima, like many Arab-type chargers, had sensitive skin and required such a device to ward off biting flies.
Light Dragoons Officer (1805) by Robert Dighton, the Younger

According to Col. Hamilton, this intrepid mare suffered several injuries in combat, including sabre cuts to the head. Undaunted, she would fight the enemy with her hooves and teeth.  She saw action at Salamanca, when she was nearly put down from a grave injury to her stifle, but for the intervention of the stud-groom accompanying a noble comrade-in-arms. Other noblemen in service would offer fabulous sums of money to Brotherton to have her, including Sir Charles Stewart, brother to the Viscount Castlereagh, British Foreign Secretary.

“She was particularly fond of raw beef-steaks and it was difficult to keep the men’s rations from her, even if suspended on trees, as they usually were, for safety.”

— Historical Record of the 14th (King’s) Hussars, 1715 – 1900 by Colonel Henry Blackburne Hamilton (1901)

In the end, she was captured by the French Government, and carried away to the stud farm.



They Wrote History ~ Regency Horses Part II

Oh! the joy of the chase. Especially in the fall, when the morning air is sharp and cool.

“With high-over–now press him!  Talley-ho! Talley-ho!”

— Sporting Anecdotes, Egan (1807)

The excitement begins upon arrival. The hunters disembark from their trailers, greeting strangers and friends alike with animated snorting and the occasional squeal. A gelding ranges too close to a mare, who nips him in outrage.  The poor fellow shivers from hurt feelings and embarrassment. All is forgotten when another hunter bucks in excitement, a maneuver garnished with an exuberant fart.

Hunter Pace at Sweet Briar College with the Bedford County Hunt–no live quarry involved. Great fun!

As in the last post, the focus here is less on the Regency era’s breeding and training of the hunter. Today we are more concerned with the hunter’s character, best displayed in the often-alarming atmosphere of hunting with hounds.

Pierce Egan in his Anecdotes relates what happens when an experienced hunter is paired with an inexperienced rider.

A young Oxford man was egged on by his colleagues to purchase a seasoned hunting horse for forty-five guineas. The November weather of that first hunt lulled our virgin Nimrod into a sense that fox hunting was wretched, boring work with a lot of standing around under dripping trees.

That is, until the hounds scented the fox.

His mount immediately perceived this and the next three hours were spent in a “state of torment,” as the rider was carried along helplessly, his hunter following the chase, over coop and hedge, and dashing down boggy lanes. Finally, he came to a stop so abruptly rider and horse parted company. No entreaties could persuade either of them to partner again.

It cannot be said enough that horses have minds of their own.

The horse is Undertaker, Sir Ralph Lambton’s favorite, gathering hounds at a covert. By James Ward via Wikigallery

“..returning from a hard chase with his victorious horse Telegraph (which he bought of Lord Villers for 600 guineas) Sir Henry St. John Mildmay dismounted and told his groom he might venture to pat him; and accordingly [the Baronet] put his right hand towards his neck, when the horse instantly seized it in his mouth and held it there for over a minute..

Despite the endeavors of two grooms to disengage it, the consequence was that Sir Henry was compelled to suffer an amputation of all his fingers from that hand, in the course of the day.”

— Annual Register, Volume 39 (1800)

Never look a gift horse in the mouth–via

The Monthly Review of 1835 contains a lively essay of early nineteenth century fox hunting in England. Among the reports is that of one Reverend Marmaduke Theakston. In the heat of the chase, this man of God was thrown as he tried to ford the River Tees aboard ‘a spirited and powerful animal. ‘ One should never navigate by sawing on the reins. Horses know very well how to swim.

Simply hold onto the mane, as the editor related his own personal experience. He was hunting with Sir Watkin Wynn aboard Thetis (goddess of water, yeah?) Left to her own devices, the mare saved him from being dashed and drowned amongst a stream’s boulders.


“A man may attempt the Hellespont for a woman; but on cooler reflection, he is scarcely justified in running such risks of his life for a fox.”

from Nimrod’s Hunting Tours, Pittman (1835)

Thetis rides Hippocamp bearing her son’s armor. She appears quite often in English maritime history–twelve ships of the Royal Navy have borne her name.





They Wrote History ~ Regency’s Horses Part I

There are many blogs out there that do a remarkable job of recreating what we know of the equine’s contributions to Regency-era history. Some are overviews of breeds, others concern themselves with riding and driving techniques of the time.

This series of posts is devoted to various reports of equine personalities during the late Georgian era. Did horses then differ much in attitude from today’s Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses, Holsteiners, among others?

Perhaps not much, but combing through the Regency’s magazines and sporting manuals, it becomes clear a good story is even better when the horse is a character.

“Come, gentlemen sportsmen, I’ll sing you a song,

Of Marcia’s Son, who can run the day long.

Otho, they call him, and he got his name

After conquering Merlin, that racer of fame.”

— Sporting Magazine, Rogerson and Tuxford, Volume 5 (1820)

In the waning years of George III’s reign, the enthusiasm for the sport of horse racing was only growing. What was recorded included a good deal of individual racers themselves, their temperaments, their good qualities, and their vices.

Sultan–a Regency-era horse, successful at racing and at stud. He suffered chronic pain in his legs, and the editors of1820’s Sporting Magazine worried he might have to “undergo the iron,” referring to pin-firing therapy. The method is still used today, under anesthesia.

The names given to Georgian era racehorses–instructive of the time–said less about the nags and more about their owners.  Apparently the more vulgar the name, the better the horse performed, or so the thinking went. As the Regency approached, demand for civility increased at sporting events. To get around this stricture, and still preserve the expectation of winning, the christening could be drawn from a foreign language–preferably dead or French, in that order.

From Horse Racing in England–a Synoptical Review by Robert Black, 1893, the following examples:

Pudenda, Filho de Puta and Melampygus.*

Not necessarily vulgar, but to amuse spectators and confound bookmakers:

Abomelique, Foxhuntoribus, Fal-de-ral-tit, Ploughator and Pot-8-Os (a la OU812).

Racehorses more often than not were lauded for perseverance in difficult circumstances.  Take, for instance, Dr. Syntax, a rather small, mousy-colored colt who had a long career that ended in paralysis, for which he was put down behind the racing barn at Newmarket in the sad presence of many trainers and jockeys.

“He would not brook either whip or spur..and yet, by simple stroking and talking and an occasional hiss, he could always be made to do his best.”

Horse Racing in England–a Synoptical Review by Robert Black, 1893

Dr. Syntax sired a racemare, Beeswing, so beloved they called her the Pride of Northumberland, and several villages renamed themselves in her honor.

It is possible that the skeleton revealed during excavation at Newmarket in 2014 is that of Dr. Syntax — the corpse was carefully buried and there was ‘substantial wear and tear’ on the legs

In Lawrence’s 1820 British Field Sports Guide there is an entire chapter devoted to abuse by whip and spur. The point of the passage is concerned less with cruelty, however, and more with the opposite result such treatment tended to bring about.

In short, horses did, and still do, have minds of their own:

“..the old Duke of Cumberland had a winning horse brought to a dead stop –within half a distance of the Ending Post—by a stroke upon a delicate part, under the flank.”

George Lane Fox (1793-1848), known in Regency circles as (and this is saying a lot) ‘the Gambler,’ was a Whig with a ‘stumbling oratory style.’ He had dissipated most of his fortune, separated from his wife, unsuccessfully tried to reconcile with her, lost his home in a fire, and refused to provide villagers with a beast for bull-baiting, because he hated the cruelty of the sport.

Black’s Review reports Fox pitted his racing colt Merlin in a match against the Earl of Portland’s Tiresias in 1820. During the race, the former broke his leg. All efforts were exerted to save the horse, but he struggled against the slings that would mend the break, frustrated and insensible of his owner’s good intentions. The result was that Merlin

“..became one of the worst ‘savages’ ever known, and murdered his groom with most ghastly accessories.”

“Grunting, Henry replied, ‘He’s as cunning as he is vicious.’ ” Satan, an unforgettable equine character, since 1947.



*I left out some of the more colorful examples listed in Black’s Review. Look them up, if you wish, but don’t tell him I sent you.





Publisher to the Regency

The Publisher to the Regency began as a ‘piratical intruder upon the profession of a bookseller.’ *  In spite of this early criticism, the efforts of John Bell (1745-1831) during the Georgian Age made possible the widespread dissemination of art and literature during the Regency.

As a twenty-something bookseller in the Strand, Bell started printing the Morning Post, a popular Whig publication, in concert with two reverend parsonical banditti (!) While the paper acquired the distinction of spreading “fake news,” (quoting NYR Daily) it answered increased demand for printed material, fueled by the growth of a literate population eager to read.

Bell realized he had tapped into an opportunity for mass press and began to publish English works that were affordable for the ordinary citizen to purchase. His series on Shakespeare and British Theatre, joined later by Poets of Great Britain from Chaucer to Churchill, were highly successful. This was in part due to the use of smaller fonts, which did away with hanging characters and the elongated S, and progressively improving printing methods.

Alarmed, established publishers attacked his papers and his character in their publication.

Bell relished his new-found notoriety and put it to work at other endeavors.  He opened a lending library called the British Library and published another newspaper, the English Chronicle, featuring sports news, mostly from the boxing ring. By 1788, he had become Bookseller to the Prince of Wales, enjoying the honor of hosting HRH at his residence.  Publication of  La Belle Assemblée or, Bell’s Court and Fashionable Magazine Addressed Particularly to the Ladies, sealed his reputation.

Another of the prints we like to decorate our Regency blogs with–thank you, Mr. Bell–which features a French court dress, with the court lace lappets suspended from a tiara of gold and pearls. La Belle Assemblée, Vol. 17 & 18, Jan-Dec 1818

However, he continued to be plagued with lawsuits filed against him by jealous rivals.

It was revenue from La Belle Assemblée that sustained him, through the clever use of beautiful engravings in color and paid advertising. One of the services advertised was the Westminster Central Mart, an office he owned which served as a central information board for domestic servants as well as a repository for the references such persons needed for employment. A nominal fee was charged to register with the Mart, and prospective employers could meet there with prospective employees for interviews. It could not have made much money for Bell, for the operation required a good deal of clerical effort to keep things sorted. Some have speculated that the whole thing was got up as an occupation for a needy acquaintance.

This “Puck” of booksellers was in the distribution of information for more than just money.

He died at the ripe age of 86, and his obituary recalled not only his fine publications twinned with artistic style, but  his encouragement and support to those around him: innovative typographers, striking employees bailed out of jail, and sponsorship of young, starving poets.

We are indebted to one of the latter, Leigh Hunt, for providing us with the following contrasts of a man who made reading to the masses possible:

“He had no acquirements, perhaps not even grammar, but his taste in putting forth a publication, and getting the best artists to adorn it, was new in those times, and may be admired in many.”

— Leigh Hunt in his Autobiography (1903 edition)


*this and other excellent anecdotes are from the publisher’s biography: John Bell, 1745-1831: A Memoir, by Stanley Morison (1930) and an impressive catalog of art featured in his publications: John Bell, Patron of British Theatrical Portraiture: a Catalog of the Theatrical Portraits in His Editions of Bell’s Shakespeare and Bell’s British Theatre, by Burnim and Highfill (1998)

There Must be No Children

When on holiday, it is a good thing to pass the time with friends.

Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger (1759 – 1806) achieved his political fame at a very early age. Thus, his circle of friends and allies was comprised of generally young men–former schoolmates and up-and-coming politicians.  As comforting as loyal company was, however, Pitt occasionally needed a break from it all.

The following video illustrates the tumult of No. 10 Downing Street rather well:

When Pitt sought relief in the country,  he not only enjoyed the change of scenery, but the change of company as well. There was riding, dogs and dining with the large families of the district. Laddishness was exchanged for domestic tranquility.

Holwood, Pitt’s country estate, is about fourteen and a half miles from London Bridge down to Keston, the nearest village. In his time, the road used to pass a Roman encampment called Caesar’s Camp which the prime minister eventually had enclosed in his property there.

As an aside, many remarkable objects had been retrieved from the site over the years–tiles, broken bits of pottery and coins–inspiring a group of enthusiasts to formally get together to try to preserve it.

‘We have not heard much of the results from them beyond some agreeable meetings.’ — Handbook to the Environs of London,  Murray (1876)

Agreeable meetings can sometimes make up for lack of progress. My own experience is proof of that.

Holwood House was for sale in 2015 for £12 million.

Also in the neighborhood of Holwood were other country estates, such as historic Breckenham, once the home of Henry VIII’s boon companion, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. Nearer was Eden Farm, a manor set a park of 130 acres. This estate was sort of a stopover for many dignitaries and other famous persons transiting the country, for Lord Aukland, the owner, was a member of the influential Eden family. Pitt would often take his dinner there, spending the night afterwards, even though his own house was close by.

One of Pitt’s protégés, George Canning, (whose supernatural exploits have been previously addressed in this blog), was not content to remain in London, cooling his heels and waiting for the return of his master.  Upon visiting Holwood, he made a startling discovery:

“… a rare development in Pitt’s life–an apparently close friendship with a woman.”

— William Pitt the Younger, by William Hague( (2004)

The lady in question was Lord Aukland’s daughter, Eleanor Agnes.  Pitt’s sojourns to the country took on an entirely different meaning, touching off all kinds of rumors and disquiet, particularly among those left behind in London.

Pitt made a point to deny a serious attachment, to his laddish friends as well as to the outraged father.  Indeed, he seemed more horrified than the poor girl, snuffing out their friendship as if he’d  been caught doing something forbidden.

Writing to her father, he was unable to repeat her very name:

“It can hardly, I think, be necessary to say that the time I have passed among your family has led to my forming sentiments of very real attachment towards them all, and of much more than attachment towards one whom I need not name…”

— Wiliiam Pitt the Younger, to Lord Aukland, 20 January 1797

Of course, the abrupt nature of Pitt’s action, ending the connection, led to increased speculation. He only added fuel to the fire when he stated that continuing the connection was made quite impossible by “insurmountable obstacles.”

“He never touched a woman,” one of his cronies said, that rascal Dundas.

It was an awkward, blundering action by one who was erudite and masterful in his dealings with others. The ax he let fall between himself and Eleanor points to a troubled past–one he could not allow another to be made to suffer by it.

ITV’s television series, Number 10, starring the incomparable Jeremy Brett as William Pitt, the Younger, explains:

“There must be no children.”


A Fashionable New Year

At the beginning of the New Year, the climate in London was unseasonably mild, throwing fashion expectations in disarray. Indeed, the “mountain wrap was rendered too warm, and the Venetian cloak to be preferred.” — La Belle Assemblee, January, 1825.

When the weather permits, walking is preferred. Cloaks can be awkward, because the armholes catch a chill breeze so that they are “quite exploded.” Pelisses are more comfortable, but are thick and heavy, generally lined with fur, particularly at the bottom of the skirt to keep out drafts, “in the German fashion.” New pelisses feature a lighter fabric–made of Gros de Naples, a stout and yet finely woven silk–heavy enough for a windbreak, yet holding a luxurious feel.

Happy New Year!


“Pelisse of gros de Naples, of a tourterelle colour.”

Christmas with a “K”

“For Christmas that year Princess Augusta, known to Victoria and Albert’s children as ‘Aunt Prussia,’ sent Vicky four miniature fruit and vegetable shops just like those in Berlin, and to brother Bertie, five cartons of Prussian toy soldiers in wood and lead.”

— An Uncommon Woman, by Hannah Pakula (1997)

In exchange, the Princess Royal’s mother, Queen Victoria, sent a Scottish kilt to Germany, as a present to Fritz, the fifteen-year-old prince.

Aunt Prussia  forced the poor lad to wear it for a State dinner.

Set of World War I toy German soldiers.

I love vintage German ornaments. The reproductions are quite nice, too. They remind me that a lot of Christmas as we know it came from Germany.

German “putz” houses

glass tree ornaments








German Christmas customs have become so embedded it’s easy to forget their origin. The Advent wreath, for instance, marks the Sundays of Advent. On each one I pray that the combination of so much greenery adjacent to an open flame does not burn the church down.  Weihnachtsmarkte, the Christmas market, makes a great fundraiser for any group, be it a historical society or a soccer booster club. Der Adventskalender, or Advent calendar, is meant to provide order to the wild anticipation children experience with the coming of Christmas.

This is entirely theoretical, of course.

A 1970s Advent Calendar — from Cold War West Germany


They even say der Weihnachtsmann, or Christmas man,  resembles Santa Claus. Scholars would have us believe this mythical figure is derived from Thor.

A Santa worth waiting up for.

Merry Christmas!