Saturday, July 16, 2016

How Great were Great Horses: The More-Modern Historiography

     For most of the twentieth century, the perception of many historians seemed to be of a medieval arms races resulting in ever larger and heavier horses; this remains, to some extent, supported. What exactly "larger" and "heavier" means, and how extreme (or not) the change was is the current debate. It was generally suggested that the final product was akin to the modern Shire, an animal standing as much as eighteen hands at the whither,[1] with legs a foot or more in circumference. Each of these historians point to, as evidence, mentions of “large” horses in chronicles, as well as Henry VIII's notorious "Bill for Great Horses" and further ban on "small" horses.

Earnshaw Ideal, Shire Stallion
   H.J. Hewitt (1983) supposed an average height of “sixteen or seventeen hands.” [2]  Livingston & Roberts (2002) describe these horses as “neither fast nor agile” and “sixteen hands or more and weighing 1,400-plus pounds.” [3] An animal of sixteen hands at that weight would be as thick as the heaviest draft horse today.

Zoe here is just shy of 16hh and weighs 1,400lbs
R.H.C. Davis (1989) goes further, defining the “Great Horse” as an animal of seventeen to eighteen hands. With Davis' work being the most recent and thorough by an academic (more on this next), it is heavily relied on. Davis, in turn, uses (and appears to agree with)  Sir Walter Gibley's 1899 "The Great Horse; Or, The War Horse: from the Time of the Roman Invasion Till Its Development Into the Shire."  

Intro: The Myth That Just Won't Die

Previous: Where Did This Idea Come From?

Up Next: "New" Views

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