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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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Shropshire and Everything After

When I started writing my PhD, I made a conscious decision to include North-West Shropshire with the parameters of my data collection. Which, on the face of it, doesn’t appear to be that exciting or ground breaking.

Apart from the small matter that Shropshire is in England and I was also looking at sites in Wales.

When I began reading round the topic I noticed how the Wales – England border defined the remit of book writers, even when the border, in this case, is a permeable construct. Families have, and will always live on both sides of the border for various reasons, so I failed to understand why the books stop when the archaeology, history, geology and topography don’t?

map-of-england-and-wales-border-i10

In some cases I do understand why. Books can be commissioned by national organisations, who by definition, have to stop at the border. But other books, not bound by this parameter, do not.

North-West Shropshire is an integral part of my study. Without reference to it, how would I understand the influences being passed by medieval families living both sides of the border?

Goods and Services also travelled across the border, and can now be found as archaeological finds or written records.

The research into the area around Wem, Oswestry, Whitchurch and Ellesmere is progressing very well, and I’m looking forward to be able to add the information I’ve collated to the already rich record. And as an example the medieval park at Coton near Whixall is perfect.

The park at Coton is mentioned in the Domesday Book. But then, for some reason, references are lacking. It may be that the park didn’t attract any paperwork, simply because the family who owned were not litigated against. Normally, a park only crops up in the record when somebody either breaks into it, or feels they should own part of it for one reason or another.

The park is mentioned in a Survey of 1561 – but appears by this date to be much reduced in size, and by 1833, it surrounded Coton Hall.

coton

The park is still visible – the oval can be seen running to the west of Coton Hall, south to Coton Farm, north with Woodend Hall on the left and then round to Woodside Farm and Home Farm.

This one example also has some visible archaeology outside the park, whilst I was mapping this park I found a building close to Coton Farm.

Coton AP

The Red Circle highlights the foundations of a building, whilst the blue arrow is pointing at the south east boundary of Coton Park.

Further work will enable me to work out the relationship between these two monuments and add to the archaeology of North West Shropshire.