Journal Issue No. 7 - April 2006

Elegance in Action
Reconstructing a mid 15th century bridle from the Devonshire Hunting Tapestries

Procuring historically accurate 15th century tack is quite difficult, as there are so few people worldwide who make it. Modifying purchased modern tack is an option, but not usually a satisfactory one when you want strictly accurate equipment. Some Spanish or Portuguese tack can "make do", but really isn’t an answer I’m happy with. I’m lucky to be set up to make things like historical horse equipment, but it’s been hard to find time in my schedule to make something for myself.

Devonshire Hunting Tapestry, 15th century (detail)

In January, I was looking through "Medieval Life and Leisure in the Devonshire Hunting Tapestries" (Linda Woolsey, V&A Publications, 2002) and several very attractive sets of horse tack and trappings really caught my eye as well as my imagination. Tapestry #2 Falconry shows various members of a hunting party as well as several horses. One of those horses particularly caught my eye because it was fitted with red trappings with gold colored fittings and harness mounts and red's my favorite color. The tack on that horse was so smashing and depicted in such fantastic detail, I vowed to make a reconstruction of the bridle. I've never had a fully detailed and completely accurate bridle and my horse Petrus was very much in need of some medieval kit. The plan was set.

Petrus sporting historical recreation of Devonshire Hunting Tapestry tack.(Photo: Gwen Nowrick, 2006, All Rights Reserved)

I began by taking measurements of Petrus' head, then assembling my collection of appropriate buckles, fittings, etc. I determined how many mounts were needed and sorted everything out to see what fittings would need to be fabricated. The mounts pictured on the tapestry were simple rounds of two sizes, but I chose quatrefoil mounts, another popular 15th century mount style, because they coordinated well with the Devonshire bridle’s octafoil bosses. The best method to create the bosses' bevel edged "hollow" shape was to hammer the pieces from sheet brass, giving space behind for the bit-bridle connection hooks. On the reverse of the upper bosses, I placed prongs to connect them to the headstall. I engraved all four bosses as in the tapestry with “M” [for Maria, or Mary. Use of the “M” is an extremely common on all sorts of things] using techniques found on the gilt fitting of a 15th century horn cup in the Burrell collection of Glasgow Scotland, and described in the Museum of London’s book on Dress Accessories.

I covered the headstall and standing side rein pieces with red goatskin, since coloring tooling leather something other than black is difficult. For the curb reins, I decided to repeat the religious imagery by using strips tooled with IHS (also copied from the MoL's Dress Accessories) from our friends at Mandrake Armory. I fabricated all the buckle plates and other needed fittings, engraving where needed, and arranged them to fit onto a double-rein bit I made a few years ago for our late mare Bella. After assembling the headstall pieces, I gilded all the hardware with 24 karat gold.

It took a full day's work to affix the mounts, buckles, chapes and hardware to the leather. I calculate it took 40 hours for this project, over half of them spent gilding the fittings and mounts.

Riding with this bridle arrangement is slightly different than most modern double rein bridles in that the rein connected to the bit's mouthpiece is not "running", meaning it's not used in the hand with the curb rein. It's quite short and lies on the horse's withers, creating a "martingale" effect, holding the horse's head in close to his chest. The curb rein is used for control and added collection, with only very light contact needed. Although I've tried it out a bit, I'm anxious to see how the standing rein functions over the long term. I expect it will offer the collection seen in so many 15th century illustrations, without the work of using both reins in hand, and without the extra straps of a martingale.

Detail of the 'M' bosses and quatrefoil mounts. (Photo: Gwen Nowrick, 2006, All Rights Reserved)

The completed bridle is spectacular tour de force of 15th C. opulence, and I can honestly say the only place I've ever seen anything like it is in a period image. I'm extremely happy with the result, and thrilled to finally have a historically accurate 15th century bridle. I look forward to the pleasure of seeing it in use as well as using this elegant work of very functional art.
Written by Jeffrey Hedgecock

Livro da Ensinança de Bem Cavalgar Toda Sela
by Dom Duarte (1438)

A book review of the recent printing of "The Royal Book of Horsemanship, Jousting, & Knightly Combat: Dom Duarte's 1438 Livro da Ensynança de Bem Cavalgar Toda Sela" translated by Mr. Antonio Franco Preto.

Leonardo da Vinci sketch of rider on the attack.

When one picks up "Livro da Ensinança de bem Cavalgar Toda Sela" by Dom Duarte, renamed "The Royal Book of Horsemanship, Jousting & Knightly Combat: Dom Duarte's 1438 Livro da Ensinana de Bem Cavalgar Toda Sela", I think that it is important to note that firstly, this is a translation of a work written in 1438 by Dom Duarte, King of Portugal. It was translated by Antonio Franco Preto, who has done an exception job of bringing this rare work into English. Secondly, it is not a literal translation, so some terms and phrases seem very modern. While slightly distracting at times, this is an important work on the topic of Medieval Horsemanship, not just jousting; a misconception that many readers seem to have due in large part to their limited exposure to snippets of translated text in Barker and Barber's "Book of the Tournament" which only addressed that specific topic.

The book covers what most would find in a beginner's book of horsemanship in the twenty-first century, care of tack, importance of seat, having the right saddle and horse for your activity, proving again, that many people in the Middle Ages were exceptional thinkers and that exceptional horsemanship did not begin with Federigo Grison, Antoine de Pluvenil, or William Cavendish, Duke of New Castle, that horsemanship has a much older linage. Indeed in one chapter, Duarte cites the Romans and how they kept wooden horses to practice mounting and weapon handling to keep their skills honed.

This concept is carried into later chapters in the book regarding swordsmanship from horseback and the use of lance and spear. It is a practical no non-sense guild on what to do and not to do else you may follow your spear out of the saddle.

"...there are some who get so excited about doing specific actions (like handling and throwing a spear) that, due to impatience and ignorance, they forget how they should behave to stay mounted, and fall off the beast. I have seen a few falling down for exactly that reason: they grasp the spear so strongly that they are physically forced to let it fall to the ground, they also go down, keeping it company; others throw the spear with so much energy that they get unbalanced and follow it out of the saddle!" (pg 37).

Duarte's goal for writing this work is simple; to teach (ensynança) anyone, no matter their age or physical condition, to become good horsemen. From «De o gabar mais, e culpar menos» (Of bragging more, and blaming less), the initial teaching of young and new riders, to encourage them even when they make mistakes until they achieve a high level of competency, to matching the mounts to the riders skill level before giving them a more "wild" or maleficent beast.

Leonardo da Vinci sketch of rearing horse.

Only after a rider has shown real skill can the more knowledgeable horseman chastise them for errors. Causing the "embarrassment" that will make the rider try harder to correct the error and succeed.

Duarte writes in several places throughout the text, that his writing on the topic was not always well received by many. Many felt it was a waste of effort and that it was unseemly for a king to spend his time writing. However, Duarte persevered until his untimely death, in writing what he felt was rapidly becoming a lost art form because of the frivolities of courtly life, mainly the younger nobles pursuing poetry and song and pella (I am thinking the early form of tennis) this last one Duarte heartily opposes, stating that it is bad for the horseman's arm.

Many times in the text, the author makes sure to note that he has "experienced" things himself. Like many horsemen, Duarte notes that everything must be done with elegance and grace and that the rider looks confident in his seat even when at times he does not necessarily feel that way including small "deceptions" that allow one to cover the misbehavior of one's horse.

Duarte gives thoughtful attention to a subject that is obviously close to him. From reading the pages it is clear that he offers insight into the world of Medieval Portuguese horsemanship. Expressing everything in terms of what should be done and how to correct errors that occur. Including the aid of another experienced rider to help "spot" the rider like a modern athlete, to help the rider correct things that they might not be aware. It is not unusual for him to state psychological reasons for a rider's failure to do something based on the rider's mental or emotional state.

What it is not, a book of breeding or a veterinary treatise. Duarte notes early on, that it is not a treatise that discusses the maladies of horses. Admittedly, not being an expert in that area of knowledge, Duarte wrote that there were other more experienced men who had written on the topic. However, he felt that veterinary texts were worthy of study.

About the Translation
When this project was first seeking translators back in 1996, this reviewer was under the impression that images of the original document held in the Bibliotheique Nationale France, would be included so that readers could see the manuscript for themselves. I am not certain why it was not included, but think that the work suffers from its abscence. Despite the lack of the original, I was eager to dive into the material, and was met with another disappointment, the lack of having any of the text as transcribed by Joseph Piel in 1944. I think that the book should have included portions, in whole or in part, of Piel's work, giving readers an appreciation of the language of Duarte’s time and a notion of the level of dedication and indeed, from my own personal experience with the work, the difficulty Mr. Preto must have experienced bringing it to English.

The only contextual piece of Medieval Portuguese that is in the book is from a chronicler of Duarte's time written after his death. It describes Duarte to us and is a nice addition.

The translator, Mr. Preto, goes into a brief, yet informative history of Duarte's time, though I fail to see the relevance of events post 1440, before launching into the translation. He also affords specific glances and speculations in some of the footnotes of the translation. These footnotes are not the kind I am used to seeing in scholarly works.

The book also contains a section on wrestling that has been translated into modern terms to facilitate understanding. Preto states, "It is understood, based on the chapter's first paragraph [page 123], that all the technical descriptions that follow, were not written by D. Duarte" 57. Admittedly, I did not read this section, but Western Martial Arts enthusiasts who have read Fiore's work or any of the other medieval masters, will recognize the significance of learning to do on the ground and working your way up to the horse's back. Wrestling is the foundation of many western combat systems. Indeed Duarte stresses this progression from ground to saddle especially with the lance. If you do not feel safe or comfortable doing this on the ground, then you will definitely not be confident doing it on horse back.

Presentation of the material:
As a collector of fine, high quality books and having spent the last seventeen years of my life as a graphic designer, the ultimate disappointment with this book is its construction and typographical layout. Half way through my first reading, the binding separated. The glue that holds the end papers down was not well applied to the paper so it is peeling in places; the glue excess for the same papers was not wiped off and thus makes for a visually sloppy presentation. The use of faux gold leaf does not work well on the faux leather cover with the chosen type face. It bleeds together making the title difficult to read; Petro's name looks like "Perro" to me. The thin, faux leather cover is not affixed to the boards well. Already the cover has air bubbles beneath the surface. The poundage and choice of paper left me with a feeling of cost savings vs. quality. It does not seem worthy of the text contained within, the heroic efforts of the translator, nor the king who wrote it.

I find this book, despite its shortcomings in presentation and lack of the original text, worthy of any serious equestrian and medieval enthusiast's library. Written by Jenn Reed

The Naked Equestrienne
Lady Godiva's ride emerges from the shadows of history

Unlike her legendary "cousin" Robin Hood, Lady Godiva definitely existed. Godgyfu (as her name was originally) was a Saxon noblewoman married to Leofric, Earl of Mercia, one of the most powerful noblemen in the land. She is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 as holding many estates in Warwickshire, including Coventry, inherited from Leofric who died in 1057. Documents show that she and her husband were generous benefactors to religious establishments at Evesham, Worcester, Chester and elsewhere.

The Coventry Connection
The connection with Coventry began in 1043 when Leofric and Godiva moved from Shrewsbury, Shropshire to Coventry. The move was to facilitate the founding of an Abbey there after the couple noted the lack of educational facilities for the clergy.

As the town of Coventry grew, so Leofric began assuming a greater role in its public affairs. He began handling the town's financial matters and initiated grand public works. According to the story, Lady Godiva, who was much younger than Leofric, became a patron of the arts, believing they would raise the consciousness of the populace.

But a love of aesthetics was of little interest to a peasantry striving to keep body and soul together. The legend says that Godiva, generous and strong-willed, was outraged at a poll or tax that Leofric was planning to levy on the people of Coventry. She persistently asked him to lift the imposition, or at least use the money for the provision of works of art that the peasants might enjoy. Leofric shrugged off the requests until one day he offered Godiva a deal: if she would ride naked on horseback through the town, then he would agree to waive the tax.

Leofric pointed out that the ancient Greeks and Romans viewed a nude human body as one of the highest expressions of the perfection of nature. If Godiva truly believed in her crusade for art, she should lead by example. If she would ride naked through Coventry marketplace at midday as a celebration of the perfection of God's work, he would in return abolish all local taxes save those on horses. To his surprise, she agreed.

On the appointed day, flanked by two fully clothed horsewomen, she rode naked through the market, straight in her saddle, with a composed expression, unashamed of her nudity. The taxes were duly removed.

Lady Godiva (1898) by John Collier (1850 - 1934).

The History of the Godiva Legend
Chroniclers of the 11th and 12th Centuries mention Godiva as a respectable religious woman of some beauty but do not allude to the famous nude ride.

The earliest record of the ride was written by Roger of Wendover some time prior to his death in 1236:

"Ascend," he said, "thy horse naked and pass thus through the city from one end to the other in sight of the people and on thy return thou shalt obtain thy request." Upon which she returned: "And should I be willing to do this, wilt thou give me leave?" "I will," he responded. Then the Countess Godiva, beloved of God, ascended her horse, naked, loosing her long hair which clothed her entire body except her snow white legs, and having performed the journey, seen by none, returned with joy to her husband who, regarding it as a miracle, thereupon granted Coventry a Charter, confirming it with his seal."

After this account, the plot thickens and the fable grows.

Matthew of Westminster, writing in the 14th Century, infers that a miracle took place because the pious lady, in her state of undress, was not observed by anyone.

By the 17th Century the story had been elaborated to include a local boy named Tom who took a peek at Lady Godiva in all her natural glory. The expression Peeping Tom comes from this version of the story - but it was probably puritan propaganda designed to blacken the reputation of the church before the Reformation.

Godiva- From Fact to Fable
Regrettably, the story of Lady Godiva's ride is almost certainly a myth. A critical fact that has almost been lost in the millennium since Godiva lived is that the good lady herself possessed the village of Coventry outright and she needn't have begged Leofric to suspend or repeal any taxes imposed upon it. Godiva controlled the collection of these herself. As Octavia Randolph points out:

"The reason for this persistent misrepresentation is simple, but profound in its implications to the unfolding of the tale. Because Anglo-Saxon woman indeed all women in England had by the time of even the earliest extant retelling lost the extensive property (and other personal and legal) rights they had enjoyed prior to the disaster of 1066, chroniclers wrote from the perspective of Norman law and mores."

Roger of Wendover's account of the ride was written more than a century after Godiva's death. Wendover is renowned for his exaggeration and politically biased embellishment, and he is considered more a collector of stories and legends than genuine historian.

It has been suggested that Godiva may have been naked in the sense that she was unadorned by jewels and the trappings of power. This seems unlikely too, since the ride would still have been noteworthy, and the word naked has no great record of being ambivalent. Academics' best guess is that some local church historian may have borrowed from various aspects of folklore concerning fertility and/or pagan rites which commonly feature ladies on horseback. A tale was conceived regarding the pious Lady Godiva in order to attract pilgrims - and their purses- to Coventry.

Coventry has long hosted an annual fair. The Godiva procession at Southam, near Coventry, formerly included images of the goddesses Holda and Hela. Godiva herself might be an ancient representation of the Celtic horse goddess, Epona. As part of the festivities, a nude woman would reenact Godiva's ride. From at least 1678 onward, the reenactment supposedly held on the anniversary of the original ride was a Coventry staple and continued annually with little interruption until the mid-19th Century, originally as part of Coventry's Great Whitesun Fair. Actresses in a kind of body stocking ("fleshings") played the parts of Godiva and her handmaids. In 1854, however, a truly nude woman on a horse crashed the pageant, creating much consternation amongst the Victorian burghers, who suspended the pageant for eight years. The Annual Godiva Procession in Coventry continues, however, and is a tourist draw card for the industrial city of Coventry.

"Knight School" resumes for 2006
Popular clinic for jousters and their mounts kicks off a new season

The weather was perfect for the first 2006 session of Knight School, with 4 enthusiastic participants and 3 horses participating. Saturday morning the first order of business was hitting the books, looking at period images of jousting, and discussing jousting as it was done in the middle ages. Discussion then moved on to modern recreations of jousting, with Jeff showing pictures from recent jousting events, explaining details such as scoring, running passes, lance handling, and judging. At the end of the book session, lances, coronels and lance fragments were pulled out and equipment was discussed.

Knight School student Rachael Spryn concentrates on aim at the quintain (Photo: Gwen Nowrick, 2006)

At that point, instruction moved to the school for some quintain work on foot. Students practiced until everyone got a feel for timing. After a lunch break, riders mounted up and Jeff discussed riding position, balance and basic horse management in armour and with a lance, as well as lance handling for the ground crew. Next was running in the lane without a lance, working on "steering", position, timing and pacing. Once everyone was confident that they could get their horses down the lane straight and at a comfortable pace, it was time to move on to lance work. Most of the rest of the afternoon was spent practicing at the quintain, providing lots of lance handling practice for the ground students. The first day wrapped up with a few dry passes at the tiltyard, before cooling the horses out on a short, leisurely hack.

On Sunday, students worked on honing riding and mounted lance handling skills and 2 horse passing exercises, practicing and building on Saturday's work.

It's clear that the first session of "Knight School" was a great success. Everyone had good time, and a lot was accomplished. Attendees have a solid understanding of the historical model, and a good general understanding of how that translates into a modern sport. After the book session one participant made the comment "This is great- Jousting 101!"

"Knight School" is a monthly training session devoted to the schooling of horse, rider and support staff to participate in jousting and skill at arms activities. We work with at all levels of experience, from rank novices to skilled jousters. For more information and schedule, please email Jeff at

Students listen intently as Jeffrey explains balance and riding position for jousting. L to R- Bill Reyolds on Sox, Jeff Hedgecock on Leopold, Eric Joseph (on foot), and Rachael Spryn on Petrus (Photo: Gwen Nowrick, 2006)

St. Stephen
Patron Saint of Horses

Stephen was the first Martyr of the Christian Church and since earliest times has been venerated as patron of horses. A poem of the tenth century pictures him as the owner of a horse and dramatically relates how Christ Himself miraculously cured the animal for His beloved Disciple. Though there is no historical basis for this association with horses in the life of Saint Stephen, various explanations have been attempted. Some are founded on ancient Germanic ritual celebrations of horse sacrifices at Yuletide. Others use the fact that in medieval times "Twelfth Night" (Christmas to Epiphany) was a time of rest for domestic animals, and horses, as the most useful servants of man, were accorded at the beginning of this fortnight something like a feast day of their own.

St. Stephen's Day is an ancient holiday celebrated in the British Isles and Europe. It was a general practice among the farmers in Europe to decorate their horses on Stephen's Day, and bring them to the house of God to be blessed by the priest and afterward ridden three times around the church, a custom still observed in many rural sections. Later in the day the whole family takes a Saint Stephen's ride in a gaily decorated wagon or sleigh.

Horses' food, mostly hay and oats, is blessed on Stephen's Day. After Mass these blessed oats were tossed at the priest in an imitation of stoning, performed in honor of the saint's martyrdom. While the priest was being "stoned" with oats, young people would throw walnuts at one another, a vestigial remnant of ancient fertility rites.

In the past centuries water and salt were blessed on this day and kept by farmers to be fed to their horses in case of sickness. Women also baked special breads in the form of horseshoes called Saint Stephen's horns which were eaten on December 26. In Austria it is customary to bless horses on this day.

Equestrian Statue of St. Stephen.

Horseshoes, Doors, and Devils...The Legend of St. Dunstan
Why horseshoes are used for luck

Many people still place a horseshoe over their door to ward off evil thanks to a medieval blacksmith named Dunstan. One day the Devil came to Dunstan's forge to have his cloven hooves shod. Dunstan agreed to make the Devil's shoes, but instead he lashed the Devil to the anvil and furiously beat him with his hammer. The Devil begged for mercy. Dunstan made the Devil promise never to visit a door where a horseshoe hung. The Devil quickly agreed; and since then, blacksmiths and others have placed a horseshoe over their doors. The horseshoe must be placed with the toe down so that it can catch goodness from heaven. And what of the noble Dunstan? He did not remain a simple blacksmith, but became the Archbishop of Canterbury and was made a saint after his death.

An early medieval woodcut of a blacksmith at his forge. Most likely taken from the 20 volume 'Der Bilderschmuck der Frühdrucke', edited by Albert Schramm.

All contents ©2006 by Gwen Nowrick & Historic Enterprises, all rights reserved.

Page created by Jenn Reed.