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Henry the VIII and His Horses
 By Winniefield Park   •   5th Jan 2018   •   2,017 views   •   0 comments
Henry the VIII and His Horses

Henry the Eighth (1491 - 1547) is probably the most notorious of the British monarchs. The second Tudor king was known for beheading or divorcing several wives and creating the Church of England, establishing himself, and not the Pope in Rome as the head of the church. He united England and Wales. He was said to be loud, boisterous and party-loving as well as an energetic outdoorsman and keen horseman. Of course, given Henry VIII temperament, would anyone suggest he was anything but a phenomenal horseman? One source says his horses could perform ‘supernatural feats’ and ‘fly rather than leap’. Henry VIII believed he was anointed by God as king, and therefore, everything he did was supernatural.

Like any nobleman of his time, Henry VIII had extensive stables, parts of which still exist at the Royal Mews at Hampton Court. There were kept horses used in his progress, a royal public relations tour of his kingdom, for the sport of jousting, hunting and other noble pastimes, transportation for those attending court and those used for any agricultural or other draft work. There would have also been war horses and horses kept for the ladies of the court.



Horse sports were a large part of court life back then. There were horse races, although they didn’t look a lot like the horse races of today. In the 1500s, horse races were matches raced between two horses ridden in an open field. They hunted on horseback, and again, these hunts were a bit different from the hunts most of us are familiar with. The Victorian-style hunts chased vermin from farmer’s field. But, in the Tudor era, the prey was most likely to be stags and wild boars.

But the most important sport was the joust. The men of the court would spend a lot of time practicing at the lists, or jousting fields. This was considered an essential skill in fighting battles, but as a sport, it was surrounded by chivalry and pageantry. And, it required a specific type of horse to compete. This type of horse could only be afforded by the most wealthy.

Throughout the middle ages, the time period just before the reign of the Tudors, the horses in Britain were what we would call large ponies. And this bothered Bluff King Hal. in 1535, his government passed the “Breed of Horses Act of 1535” because he claimed, “in most places of this Realme little horsis and naggis of small stature and valeu be suffered to depasture and also to covour marys and felys of very small stature”. And, in 1540, he passed another piece of legislature that decreed no horse under 15 hands should be allowed to breed. To ensure that these horses wouldn’t reproduce, they were herded up, and any animal not of the proper height was destroyed.

While Henry may have been trying to weed out the small, undesirable horses, these acts jeopardize the existence of native pony breeds such as the Welsh pony, and others. Thankfully, many were difficult to access in their mountainous and rugged homes and survived the cull.

Henry wanted larger horses in his kingdom, regardless of the fact that many common people did not have the resources to own them. And one of his goals was to create a horse suitable for battle and competing in the lists. This is how the Shire breed got its start. Henry VIII may have had stock descended from “Great Horses”. These horses were specifically bred to carry the heavy armor worn in battle. Their breeding was closely guarded and exportation was forbidden. Henry did not want his war horses in the hands of his enemies.

It wasn’t long before the use of horses in battle began to decline. The use of guns contributed to this. But that didn’t mean that the Shire and other draft breeds became obsolete. For a few more centuries, until the internal combustion engine took over, these horses, big and small, were an important part of agriculture, industry, and transport in Britain.

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Ref:
http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/657
http://www.gutenberg.org/files/16594/16594-h/16594-h.htm
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