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Tell me about it, stud.

The medieval horse.

Most people when they see those words tend to have something like this in mind.

Copyright THoog
Copyright THoog

A knight and his similarly armoured stallion.

But how often did the stallion end up in all his armour? And what did he do on his day off? Which sounds ridiculous, but is a valid point.

Most of the time he would have being doing this:

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Or making foals…but you don’t need a picture of that…

Part of my research is looking for the evidence for the medieval horse studs – The word “stud” comes from the Old English ‘stod’ meaning “herd of horses, place where horses are kept for breeding” – within my study area of North Wales and North West Shropshire. There are several sources of evidence that I’ve been using and I thought I’d discuss them this week.

Firstly, there is the archaeological evidence – and this can be divided into the skeletal evidence for the horses themselves and the evidence for their horse ‘furniture’, pieces like reins, saddles and horseshoes. Skeletal evidence is, unfortunately, a bit thin on the ground, and where it does exist, for example at Aldford Castle in Cheshire (Longitude:53.130188; Latitude:-2.870270) it was very badly ‘smashed’ – that is to say, it was in pieces big enough to know it was a horse, but too small to be able to estimate the size of the horse.

I’ve previously discussed the loss of the site of Parc-y-Meirch (The Horse Park) in the blog post https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/07/08/archaeological-arrogance/ but fortunately during the rescue excavations medieval horseshoes were recovered from the site – which helped corroborate the second strand of evidence I want to discuss – the historical evidence.

Again, it is possible to divide the historical evidence into two sections, that is evidence for specific sites – such as the evidence from ‘The Survey of the Honour of Denbigh’ taken in 1334 which lists Parc-y-Meirch. The other section is the historical evidence which is non-site specific. An example of this can be found in the writings of Giraldus Cambrensis / Gerald of Wales:

“There are some excellent stud-farms. A superb race of blood-stock is now bred there, tracing its descent from the Spanish horses which Robert de Bellême, Earl of Shrewsbury, had gone to some pains to have imported long ago. The horses which are sent out from Powys are greatly prized: they are extremely handsome and nature reproduces in them the same majestic proportions and incomparable speed.”

Welsh poetry of the medieval period can also help understand the breeding programme. The poet Cynddelw Brydydd Mawr described Madog ap Maredudd (Prince of Powys from 1132-1160) as a ‘companion of Gascon horses’ and the poet Llywarch ap Llywelyn says that Llywelyn ap Iorwerth (Prince of Gwynedd 1195-1240) had Gascon horses. Gascony is in south west France (Longitude:43.763138; Latitude:-0.046619), so the importation of the horses appears to have gone on for at least a century.

Finally there is the pictorial evidence for horses in the Welsh Law Books – in Peniarth MS.28 on folio 24v there is a picture of a horse within the section of the law on horses:

mrw 090

So, as you can see from this small selection of sources, the study of horses and where they were kept and bred is full of variety and I’m really enjoying the research to find out more.

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Park it like you stole from it…

The blog is a day later than usual – but that because the story of this current blog post has only just come to an end.

I had a day off last Monday, and I used it to visit two archaeological exacavations happening 10 minutes away from where I live. Both are on prehistoric hillforts, and both are fascinating.

I’ll confess now to a previous life as a prehistorian – I spent 4 years at Bournemouth University as part of the ‘Billown Neolithic Landscape Project’ on the Isle of Man. I learnt so much about looking at, and interpreting a landscape without documents – which can be a bit like looking for medieval deer parks in North Wales – relying on the palimpest of landscape features to guide your thought process.

The excavations at Moel y Gaer, Bodfari (Latitude 53.226804; Longitude -3.357079) by the University of Oxford: http://www.arch.ox.ac.uk/bodfari.html and Penycloddiau (Latitude 53.198650; Longitude -3.306009) by the University of Liverpool: http://www.liv.ac.uk/sace/resource/LAFS_report_2012.htm are excellent examples of where archaeologists working in different disciplines can assist each other in interpreting a site.

I’m interested whether the prehistoric hillforts found themselves an afterlife as animal enclosures in the medieval period, see my blog post: https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/07/08/archaeological-arrogance/ for the re-use of Parc-y-Meirch / Dinorben as a medieval horse park.

So far I have at least three hillforts where I can attest their re-use, either from historical or archaeological sources.

By the same token, the prehistorians are interested in what happened to their sites after they went out of use as hillforts. It’s early days in understanding the later use of Penycloddiau and Moel-y-Gaer, Bodfari, but the archaeologists could not have been more helpful.

While this was happening, my crowdfunding PhD page was attracting the attention of the media. The Daily Post, a newspaper which covers North Wales ran this story: http://www.dailypost.co.uk/news/local-news/archaeologist-crowd-sourcing-donation-internet-5378330 and the BBC ran this story: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-north-west-wales-23458968 about my discovery of a medieval deer park at Brynkir (Latitude 52.967469; Longitude -4.197846) (but unfortunately left out my name as the finder)…

Thanks to the generosity of the media in running the story, the funders who have made sure I’ve already made it to 1/8th of my required total: http://www.gofundme.com/medievalgardensandparks and fellow archaeologists for allowing me to visit their excavations I’ve enjoyed a positive week – with the final part coming at 7:55 this morning when I was interviewed on BBC Radio Cymru (the Welsh Language radio station) about the work at Brynkir Medieval park.

Let’s see what happens next.