Musings on Melancholy

     This week for one of my classes we’re reading Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy. We are invited to post our musings before class, and considering what I decided to write on this week I thought I would share it here as well:

   At *every* conference presentation I’ve given on horse-related topics I have gotten a question about eating horses. So, of necessity, I collect assorted references in order to answer this entirely off topic question. 

“horse…which although some countries eat, as Tartars, and they of China; yet [1354] Galen condemns. Young foals are as commonly eaten in Spain as red deer, and to furnish their navies, about Malaga especially, often used; but such meats ask long baking, or seething, to qualify them, and yet all will not serve.”
Robert Burton. The Anatomy of Melancholy (Kindle Locations 3815-3818). 

     Here the eating of horse meat is dismissed as a foreign practice, and the meat considered of lower quality. It is rightly compared to red deer (much larger than white tail), having a similar low fat content and long muscle fibers. Studies by John Clark suggest that horse meat went out of vogue around London in the 14th century, but survived at a lower volume in more remote areas (in those cases possibly indicative of lack of other meat sources, or inability to feed the horses). With Anatomy of Melancholy first published in 1621, it is reasonable that the practice of eating horsemeat was well out of memory, especially in light of the long rhetoric of the Church against the eating of horsemeat as a pagan practice. 

“At this day in China the common people live in a manner altogether on roots and herbs, and to the wealthiest, horse, ass, mule, dogs, cat-flesh, is as delightsome as the rest, so [1447] Mat. Riccius the Jesuit relates, who lived many years amongst them. The Tartars eat raw meat, and most commonly [1448] horse-flesh, drink milk and blood, as the nomades of old.”
Robert Burton. The Anatomy of Melancholy (Kindle Locations 4043-4046). 

     Again both China and the “Tartars” (Tatars) are mentioned as eaters of horse. I expect this actually does have basis in fact (although “raw” is a bit of an exaggeration– acid cooked is more likely). Despite being in a section that claims to be fairly moderate in view, suggesting that there are in all parts (including those close to home) dietary customs that others would consider unusual, and each man’s body has its own unique nutritional foibles, the inclusion of cannibalism in this section makes it unlikely that Burton actually supports other unusual practices.

Also of note:

     On November 20th 1627, Charles I of England issued a proclamation outlawing snaffle bits for horses “employed for [military] service.” Had Charles I not been deposed, he would likely be credited with the creation of the Thoroughbred horse; the General Studbook was published in 1791, but despite the dispersal of Charles I’s herd and brief suppression of racing, horses he imported still had a large effect on the new breed. The outlawing of snaffles for military use suggests than many lords were employing their race or hunt horses (ineffectually) for service. Burton seems to have a comfortable familiarity with “modern” racing (despite sometimes trying to shoehorn in ancient comparisons), but still upholds the hunt and the height of gentlemanly “disport”; I’ve been wondering at why, and these are some possibilities: hunting was still more in vogue; hunting was a more “active” and therefore healthful sport (air & exercise); or the possibility of “real” racing still being reserved to the most elite, while hunting was available to the gentry.

horses-then-vs-now

 

 

And a final fun note:
“To see horses ride in a coach, [and] men draw it.”
Robert Burton. The Anatomy of Melancholy (Kindle Location 1204). 

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Historical Horse Tack: Snaffles, Curbs, and Losing Ones Head

charlesI
Charles I

On November 20th 1627, Charles I of England issued a proclamation outlawing snafflesYouatt, a prolific nineteenth century equine historian, suggested that this law may have been meant to counteract the trends towards favoring light racing horses over the (comparatively) heavier cavalry horse, but as the law specifically exempted racing and hunting this cannot have been the case. Charles I did have a fondness for imported hotbloods, and bred a number of early ‘thoroughly-bred’ horses, most of which were dispersed under Cromwell.

While it is easy to consider Charles I cruel in suggesting that only ‘bitts’ (i.e., curbs) be used, it is important to consider both who this law applied to, and the training processes of the time. First, this law was specifically directed at horses “employed for service,” i.e. warhorses.* These horses must be managed with one hand, and their swift and precise reaction would determine wether they, their rider, and their companions lived or died. These were not, generally, the heavily armored knight that we think of; the heavy lancer had become ineffective in the face of greater deployment of archers, along with both canons and pistols becoming more accurate, and the bulk of military forces no longer being limited to the elite. Secondly, the introduction of the ‘bitt,’ or curb, was considered an advanced step in the horse’s training in England at that time, more like modern dressage than western riding**. Thomas Blundville’s 1580 adaptation of Frederico Grisone’s treatise on the training of warhorses is a fascinating and entertaining read on this subject, full of both good advice and startling horrors. Charles I’s proclamation may have been an effort to ensure that riders put time and training into their mounts, rather than showing up on a horse that was either green, or used to an entirely different form of riding (as in racing or hunting).

bits
17th century curb bits
Look how tiny the mouthpieces are! I’d love to get a ruler on these. The ones I’ve seen usually look like they’re about 4″ to 4 1/2″

Charles I was executed in 1649, but his law stood.

*Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series, of the Reign of Charles I: 1627-1628 Great Britain. Public Record Office – January 1, 1858 Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, & Roberts, pg 441

**though I hate to draw that particular comparison; this is the beginning of ‘classical’ dressage, but it does not have a strong relation to either modern dressage or what modern riders call ‘classical’ dressage.