Saturday, November 14, 2009

Review of The Complete Soldier

Over at my blog I've posted a review of The Complete Soldier: Military Books and Military Culture in Early Stuart England, 1603-1645 by David R. Lawrence. The book includes a chapter on cavalry drill books and horsemanship manuals, so might be of interest to some people here.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Scold's bridles and the Skimmington Ride (from Bavardess)

In a recent posting on Bavardess, Amanda McVitty gives a succinct account of the scold's bridle and the skimmington ride, both practices that connect the early modern discourse of gender with horses. I'm fairly sure most readers of this blog are aware of this nauseating cultural practice, but Amanda's account is an excellent synopsis. I've been meaning to let this blog in on it. With her permission, I'm crossposting the entire entry here:

Begin crosspost... "

I’ve been doing some research this month for an encyclopedia entry I’m writing on the ritual of the ‘skimmington’ or ‘skimmington ride’ in early modern England. The skimmington was a form of community censure that in England was primarily aimed at women who transgressed gender norms by dominating or beating their husbands, a transgression that was generally assumed to go hand-in-hand with female sexual infidelity.

Accounts of skimmington rituals tend to be embedded in broader analyses of patriarchal authority and social order during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and so the material I’ve been looking for has often appeared alongside discussion of other gendered constructions of crime and punishment, such as the use of the cucking stool to punish women accused of ‘scolding’ and whoring. In a strong strand of continuity from the medieval period
, such censure persistently conflated uncontrolled or unruly female speech with female sexual disorder, with both forms of specifically female ‘sinfulness’ perceived as threats to proper patriarchal authority and social hierarchy. (Lydia Boose, in the article ‘Scolding Brides and Bridling Scolds: Taming the Woman’s Unruly Member’*, introduces an intriguing reading of the unruly female tongue – represented in the ‘scold’ – as an unauthorised appropriation of phallic authority which carries with it the implicit threat of male castration and a usurpation of man’s ‘natural right’ to rule.)

Anyway, I’d been reading through all this material with my usual sense of intellectual curiosity coupled with relative emotional detachment until I ran across a detailed account on the use of the ‘scold’s bridle’ or ‘brank’, a particularly nasty piece apparatus that emerges in records of the late sixteenth century as a tool of coercion to enforce women’s silence. The bridle was a metal contraption that covered or encircled the woman’s head and incorporated an iron bar or ‘gag’ to hold her tongue down, thus preventing speech. The association of the unruly woman with a horse that needs breaking is obvious, and no doubt part of the punishment was the shame of being reduced to the status of an animal.

A woman accused of scolding – basically, any form of unsanctioned female speech that was perceived as unruly or disruptive – had this vicious device forcibly shoved into her mouth and locked around her head. She was then subjected to the ritualised public humiliation of being led or dragged
through the town, tied up in the public square and pelted with rubbish and excrement, urinated on, and otherwise mocked and degraded. In parts of England, there is also some evidence to indicate that a husband could have his wife bridled and tied up to a hook embedded beside the fireplace in their home.

Scold’s bridles took various forms, but their general design is such that at the least, they would inflict a measure of pain and discomfort. Some versions, which featured spikes or rasps on the gag part that is inserted into the woman’s mouth, would clearly inflict severe pain and damage. A 1653 account from Newcastle talks of a woman being led through the town with blood pouring from her mouth; other accounts allude to teeth being broken or wrenched out, and even of jawbones and cheekbones being cracked. A perilously high price to pay for the ‘sin’ of voicing an opinion.

I found these descriptions of the scold’s bridle and its use – numerous of which have been preserved by various nineteenth century antiquarians and folklorists** – deeply unsettling to my normal scholarly sang-froid. In fact, I found them downright chilling. I felt both nauseated and enraged at the extent of physical violation and psychological degradation women may be subjected to in order to enforce a suitably meek and silent feminine demeanour in the face of male authority. When women today express what is often trivialised or dismissed as ‘unreasonable’ or ‘irrational’ anger at attempts to silence them, I think it’s against history such as this that their anger should be read.

* Lynda E. Boose, ‘Scolding Brides and Bridling Scolds: Taming the Woman's Unruly Member’, Shakespeare Quarterly 42, no. 2 (1991): 179-213.

** Boose includes descriptions from an 1858 account by one T. N. Brushfield of the Chester Archaeological society, and reproduces some of the drawings he made of devices he had turned up in places including women’s work houses and mental institutions. It adds another layer of horror to the history of these devices that by the eighteenth century, although they had largely fallen out of use for the public punishment of mouthy women, they appear to have found a new home amongst the tools of coercion and control behind the walls of state-run institutions wherein were incarcerated some of society’s most marginal and vulnerable members.

The images are from 1899’s Bygone Punishments by William Andrews , which draws on Brushfield’s earlier work.

ETA: After I posted this, I remembered a podcast I listened to recently featuring Martin Rediker talking about his book The Slave Ship: A Human History (great book, by the way. I thoroughly recommend it). While I’d previously understood on an intellectual level what he meant when he was talking about how personally draining doing this sort of history is, it wasn’t until I read the material on the scold’s bridles that I really understood at a visceral, emotional level what the cost of doing this type of ‘history from below’ – the history of the poor and despised, the marginal and the silenced – can potentially be."

-- end cross post Thanks, Amanda!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Tickets for 2010 World Equestrian Games go on sale this Friday at noon (EDT)

You can find links to tickets and the schedule here. As I mentioned in a previous post, the games will be at the Kentucky Horse Park. On the grounds of the park is the International Museum of the Horse, always worth a visit. There is also a very nice (and inexpensive) campsite at the park. In case anyone wants to join me, I'm aiming to get my family tickets for the 1-3 of October.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Help needed with horse racing accidents

[Cross posted to Investigations of a Dog.]

I’d be really grateful if anyone could help me find more details of a couple of fatal accidents in American horse racing. I’ve picked up various stuff from the web, including YouTube videos, but I really need some respectable printed sources that I can cite in a history journal. Would the stud book contain dates and circumstances of death of the horses involved? Where else could I look?

Prescott Downs, Arizona, 26 August 2000. Loose horse Pacific Wind was running the wrong way round the track and collided head-on at full speed with Lot O Love ridden by Stacy Burton. Both horses were killed and Burton was severely disabled by the accident. So far I’ve got a YouTube video and a couple of stories from Google News (here and here). The accident is mentioned in Jockey: The Rider's Life in American Thoroughbred Racing by Scott A. Gruender, but it doesn’t say what happened to the horses and doesn’t cite any sources.

Churchill Downs, April 2009. I’m not even sure about the exact date but it was at the Kentucky Derby meeting. Sources on the web can’t even agree on the names of the horses or other details. All the reports I’ve seen appear to be derived from one of two common sources. During training a loose horse (Dr or Doctor Rap) galloped into Raspberry Miss (or Kiss) who was standing/walking on the track. Both were brought down. Raspberry M/Kiss died later, but it’s not clear if she was put down or died of her injuries before she was put down. Dr/Doctor Rap apparently survived and didn’t break any bones but was possibly injured in some way. Also not clear if the jockey broke any bones. The video has been removed from YouTube for ToS violation. The only respectable source I’ve got is the New York Times, and I’m not sure if the report is accurate.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Group library updated

I've now added all the horse references I've got so far to the Zotero group library. There will probably be more to come soon. If you're not using Zotero 2.0 and you know of any books, articles, theses etc. about horses which aren't already in the library you could leave a comment here and we'll add them. But do try Zotero if you can as it's better than Endnote and competely free. Maybe one day we'll have a list of everything by Gervase Markham. Or maybe not...

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Horses, War and Gender Update

[cross-posted at Investigations of a Dog]

When I started my comeback as a historian in 2006, after a 5 year career break, I wanted to push myself in new directions. Therefore I challenged myself to come up with the most way-out research question possible. What I came up with was: do people construct gender for horses? I decided to look specifically at the roles of horses in war, partly because I’m a military historian, and partly because war is one of the most heavily gendered things in history. I first wrote a blog post about the project in October 2006, but since then I’ve changed my mind about lots of things. I followed up with two posts about how cavalry drill books specified criteria for good war horses. While the books I looked at didn’t always explicitly say that stallions were always best, there was a definite male bias, and mares were never mentioned. This post is a look at where I’ve got to now, and where I need to go next.

In my first post I naively expected animals to be a state of nature where there was only biological sex and no gender. I don’t think this is viable now. I’m increasingly following Judith Butler and Thomas Laqueur in the view that gender versus sex is a false dichotomy. Perceptions of the body are always gendered. Furthermore it now looks hopelessly wrong to assume that non-human species have no culture or gender. Dominance hierarchies can be heavily gendered. Chimpanzees have patriarchal societies in which disputes are often settled by violence, but Bonobos have matriarchal societies in which disputes are often settled by lesbian sex, despite the genetic similarities between the two species (see Joshua Goldstein, War and Gender).

This actually leads to a simpler way of putting the question: if humans always perceive each other in gendered ways, why wouldn’t they also perceive animals in gendered ways? In fact there is scientific evidence that humans even perceive inanimate objects in gendered ways! A post at Babel’s Dawn mentions an experiment which showed that the grammatical gender of a noun affects how people perceive and describe the physical object which the noun refers to. Genus and sexus are not separate in people’s minds. They bleed into each other in a way which can interfere with perception. This could also have major implications for metaphors. Saying that one thing is like another might cause people to perceive them as the same thing, with serious consequences for how they get treated in reality (we all know about early-modern misogynists who said women were more like animals than men).

As I started to read more about early-modern gender I realized that some of my own assumptions about the relationship between gender and biology were specifically modern. While perceptions of the body (and especially the genitals) have always played a part in gender ideology, modern science has made the reproductive organs appear more important than they did before. In early-modern England clothes were probably more important than bodies. This opened up many possibilities for gender swapping. In Agnes Bowker’s Cat, David Cressy looked at the case of a young man who passed as a woman for long enough to gatecrash a lying-in party (one of the few kinds of all female spaces in England at this time). Diane Dugaw wrote a whole book about warrior woman ballads which featured women dressing as men in order to join the army or navy. She showed that this behaviour was possible and not even particularly uncommon in real life (although I now think the differences between ballads and reality might be significant – in ballads the woman was always found out eventually, usually by exposure of the body, although usually not specifically the genitals; in real life they weren’t always found out and sent home; how many more were never discovered at all? Were the ballads a way of dealing with anxiety about this possibility?). If people could change gender by changing their clothes (and since the female soldiers were perceived and treated as male, their gender effectively was male) where does this leave horses?

When I read Dugaw I thought that this was a problem because horses didn’t wear clothes, but then at the Roehampton horse conference Erica Fudge reminded us that horses did wear clothes. I had a quick chat with Erica afterwards, and the point I should have got straight to is that although horses did sometimes wear clothes, sometimes they didn’t. Horses sometimes had their genitals on display in public in a way which would have been very unusual for humans. So where does that leave us? Horses can wear clothes, but don’t have to, which seems to open up even more possibilities and raise even more questions. Why don’t displays of horse genitals cause the same anxieties that displays of human genitals cause? (Or do they? Did William Prynne have issues with this?) Is a stallion with big balls on display the epitome of masculinity? Do the trappings of a medieval war horse signify masculinity? Or does covering up the body (especially the genitals) make a horse less masculine? Can a mare in trappings masquerade as a stallion? Does a more masculine horse make the rider look more masculine? How male are geldings? How does the creation of an artificial third sex through routine castration complicate the ideas of male and female? This is why I was asking strange questions about testicles at the conference.

As Jennifer Flaherty reminded us at the Roehampton conference, there are lots of representations of war and horses in Shakespeare’s history plays, and lots of interesting ways that they intersect with gender. She told us about the substitution of horses for women, and how horsemanship contributed to masculinity. I think there’s a lot more potential for looking at how the horses themselves are gendered, and especially how their roles in war are gendered. I’m hoping that Jennifer or someone else will have done this, or will be doing it, but I just have a few observations on Henry V:

Good war horses usually seem to be referred to as steeds. This is a very masculine word, coming from the Old English for stallion (as does stud) according to the OED.

Bad horses are referred to as jades. The OED is vague on the etymology: it might come from a Norse word for mare, but there doesn’t seem to be much definite proof. Jade meaning bad woman seems to appear later than jade meaning bad horse, but the relationship between them isn’t very clear from the OED. In any case one might still connote the other. In the light of the experiment about grammatical gender that I mentioned above, it wouldn’t be surprising if two unrelated meanings of the same word can bleed into each other in people’s minds. After all, this is how puns work.

Shakespeare seems to assign a lot of agency to horses. They threaten each other, they neigh for present service, they seem to want to keep fighting when their riders are dead. Does this suggest that horses were imagined to be active participants in combat, and not just transport for their riders? How widespread was this idea? Does it require the horses to be male because only men were supposed to fight?

When I started out on this project I was heavily influenced by Joshua Goldstein’s hypothesis that war, gender, and the exclusion of women from combat roles all appear to be more or less universal, and that war and gender shape each other. The more I think about it the more problems I can see with his model. As I pointed out here, his assumption that the point of gender roles is to create warriors doesn’t seem to hold for early-modern England, where (according to Alexandra Shepard) manhood was defined mostly by domestic paternalism (where age, wealth, marital status and other things intersected). War and soldiers were often viewed with ambivalence, and it seems to me that a career in the military was no more than a second best kind of masculinity. As Bruce Boehrer pointed out in Shakespeare Among the Animals, the third Earl of Essex turned to soldiering after the failure of his marriages and his humiliation as an impotent cuckold.

Goldstein acknowledged that although some form of gender is found in every culture, there are wide variations in the forms it takes and the meanings it has. I suspect that if we look closer we might find similar variations in the forms and meanings of war. Although women have mostly been excluded from combat roles in most cultures at most times, I’m not sure that this translates to a universally rigid boundary between active male and passive female roles. The boundary might sometimes be more or less rigid or in a slightly different place, and there might be very different justifications for it. The exclusion of women from combat roles in early-modern England might not have been as exclusive as in later periods. For example, in War in England Barbara Donagan mentions that codes of conduct from the English Civil War protected women from violence unless they took up arms. One of the excuses the New Model Army gave for the massacre of the “Irish whores” at Naseby was that they were carrying knives.

That’s all for now. There’s still obviously a lot to do, and I’m still not entirely sure what that is, so it'll be a long time before I have anything publishable. There’s a whole world of possibilities for looking into gendered perceptions of animals. I’m limiting myself to horses in war to keep it manageable, so there’s plenty of scope for other people to do horses in other situations, and every other species.

  1. Bruce Thomas Boehrer, Shakespeare among the animals (Palgrave: New York, 2002).
  2. David Cressy, Agnes Bowker's Cat (Oxford Paperbacks, February 2001).
  3. Barbara Donagan, War in England 1642-1649 (OUP Oxford, February 2008).
  4. Dianne Dugaw, Warrior Women and Popular Balladry, 1650-1850 (University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1996).
  5. Joshua S. Goldstein, War and Gender (CUP: Cambridge, 2003).
  6. Thomas Walter Laqueur, Making Sex (Harvard University Press: Cambridge, Mass., 1992).
  7. Alexandra Shepard, Meanings of Manhood in Early Modern England (Clarendon Press: Oxford, 2006).

Friday, July 31, 2009

Carriages as Status Symbols

Full details of the Museum of London's conference in November

Pomp & Power – Carriages as Status Symbols

are now available on the Museum's website

Quote: 'The conference brings together experts from around Europe and the USA who will explore different aspects of the coachbuilding trade in London and examine particular coaches made in Britain and Ireland from the 17th to the 19th century. The social history of carriages will be discussed as well as French and British influences on British carriage design.'

But sadly, a singular lack of horses in the programme!

John Clark

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Group library available for Zotero users

Those who use Zotero 2.0 to manage their research and bibliographic citations may be interested in the collaborative group library I've set up for us. Anyone can click through and view items in the library, but to get the most out of it, and to contribute items of your own, you will need to set up a Zotero profile and be using Zotero 2.0. If you're not familiar with it, Zotero is a free add-on to the Firefox web browser. It is a bibliographic tool (like Endnote but free) designed by and for academics (George Mason University & the Mellon Foundation). I highly recommend it.

I have started the group library by adding several items, but I have not systematically gone through my library for every horse-related source, so the results are still a little eclectic. I'm eager to see what sources others might be able to add.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Hi All,
Several of you have been asking about progress regarding a publisher for the collection of essays of the conference. I started to think about it this week and have drafted out a proposal to send to Brill. I have sent a copy to Elspeth Graham, the co-editor, who will be back from a conference tomorrow (I am on my fifth in less than a month at the moment). If you have not sent me in an updated abstract, I would be grateful if you could email it to me ... even if it is the same as the one in the programme. Sara is away on holiday and so cannot send me her electronic copies. Courtesy of Gavin Robinson, we now have a blog foal.

Best wishes,
Pete Edwards

Monday, July 6, 2009

Dig the New Breed

One of the many interesting things to come out of the conference seemed to be a general agreement that the concept of the breed as we know it today didn't exist in the early-modern period. This is something that I briefly hinted at in my PhD thesis in 2001 so I feel vindicated there. I also remember Kerry Cathers exposing British native breeds as a myth in a paper on Anglo-Saxon horses (and someone in the audience getting extremely stroppy about it!). But now I'm wondering when and why the idea of the breed did emerge. Was the founding of breed societies somehow linked with eugenics and anxieties about racial purity? Did this depend on Darwin changing people's understanding of biology? The idea of pure bloodlines doesn't seem compatible with geohumouralism, for example. I expect Sandra might be able to tell us a lot about these things (if you can overcome your Luddite tendencies ;)). Does anyone else have any thoughts on this?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

New Book: _Horses in Asia: History, Trade and Culture_

William Clarence-Smith reports this new book (he's having trouble with his Google log-in)

FRAGNER, Bert G. - KAUZ, Ralph - PTAK, Roderich - SCHOTTENHAMMER, Angela (Hg.)

Pferde in Asien: Geschichte, Handel und Kultur
Horses in Asia: History, Trade and Culture

Abstract: Horses, horse-breeding and horse-keeping, as well as the trade in these animals played an important role in the history of Asia´s pre- and early modern civilisations. However, horses were unequally distributed over the Asian continent and their acquisition was usually associated with different expectations. When the knowledge spread that horses could be profitably used in warfare as well as for overland transportation and for agriculture, this did not only promote trade relations, but also led to the emergence of new cultural links, often between distant sites, both by land and by sea. The contributions to this volume, twenty-one articles in all, are based on a conference entitled "Horses in Asia" that was organised by the Institute of Iranian Studies of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in October 2006. The articles are arranged into four regional sections: (1) Iran and West Asia, (2) Central Asia, (3) the Indian Ocean, (4) and China. They are complemented by a preface and two introductory essays. Each article takes its own approach, while, at the same time, opening doors to related academic fields, the main interest lying in the transfer of horses between different regions.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Address for Photos

I forgot to include the link to the photos.


Photos from Liz Tobey Posted to Gallery

Dear Everyone,

I just wanted to let you know that I am in the process of uploading my photos onto the photo gallery on the blogsite. These include photos from the conference and our dinner at Il Forno, photos from the party at Sara's, and the walk through Richmond Park. I am also uploading photos from the trip to Epsom.

If anyone would like a CD with my photos on them, please send me an email at and give me a mailing address to which to send the CD.

It was great meeting everyone, and thanks to Ian for setting up this site so that we can all stay in touch.


Friday, June 26, 2009

Shameless self-promotion

It's great to see so many people getting involved in this blog (I know that's a horrible word, but it's what we call a site like this). I just want to get all smug and self-satisfied about the fact that I've been doing it for years. I started my blog, pretentiously titled Investigations of a Dog, in 2006. It covers my research interests in horses and military history, and all kinds of other things, so there should be plenty to interest people here. In future I might cross-post horse stuff that would be relevant here, but for now you can explore my archives. In the sidebar of my site there's a cloud of keywords (eg horses, cavalry), and clicking on one of them will bring up all the posts tagged with that word.

Some things which people might find particularly useful:

My Social-Political Animals paper. Not just about horses, but suggests a more materialist approach to bringing the non-human into early-modern social history.

A whole series of posts on cavalry charges. Say no to equine battering rams!

Somewhere there are also some tentative thoughts on the gendering of war horses, although I've changed my mind about a lot of it since then. The points Erica raised about horse clothes might change things even more. It's probably about time I wrote something new on this to see where I've got to. I've been thinking about it for 3 years but I'm still not entirely sure what questions I should be asking, let alone how to answer them.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Photos from 2009 Conference

Here's a link to a site with photos. Please add more to the site if you have them (by email or by clicking the upload button). You can download photos too.

Link to Kentucky Horse Park

Here's the website for the 2010 World Equestrian Games. Don't forget that the Museum of the Horse (at the park) will be having a major exhibition during the games on the the horse in the Arab world.