Black Horses, British Cavalry

S G Wildman , biologist and amateur historian / archaeologist, put forward a theory in "The Black Horsemen" in 1971 that the "Black Horse" pub name was a symbol of the 5th Century British cavalry. The White Horse was the symbol of the invading Saxons. This sort of symbolism is also indicated by references to the British Red Dragon and Saxon White Dragon of the text of Nennius.

No "Black Horse" pubs in Cumbria?

Wildman's theory began to develop when he was researching the origins of inns called "The Black Horse". He discovered that the name, curiously, did not necessarily occur in areas where there were many black horses. For instance there are no Black Horse pubs in Cumbria, the Fell Pony's stronghold, and only one Black Horse Hill - on a steep pass outside Sedbergh there was an inn of that name, recorded in 1862 and 1829.

HeWildman worked back critically through the centuries from the present day, trying to fit historical events to the theme, and eventually decided that where there were groups of Black Horse pub names, there must have been strong defence of Celtic / British land against the Saxons. These names, he suggested, commemorated areas where British cavalry action had been specially important.

Behind the lines

Celtic strongholds like Wales, Cumbria, and Cornwall were in areas "behind the lines" of the fighting between Saxon and British. They were the areas defended, not those that saw fighting. Equally, the areas that had been held by the Saxons would have little Arthurian tradition and few "Black Horse" pubs.

Wildman claimed to have located all Arthur's battlefields by matching the distribution of "Black Horse" pub names, ancient placenames and the physical geography of Britain to that of known Saxon and British kingdoms of the 5th Century. He also suggested, almost as a throwaway comment, that Arthur was born or brought up in the Lake District, known at that time as Rheged.

Were the British cavalry mounted on Fells?

Wildman wondered why the Arthurian cavalry were remembered by the name "Black Horses". Could they have used Fells? Without any knowledge of horses, but researching this line of thought, he found that his theory was borne out by the work of equestrian writers and historians Antony Dent and Daphne Machin-Goodall in "Foals of Epona" who had come to the same conclusion from an entirely different starting point.

A legend (from the Scottish Eildon Hills near Melrose - mentioned by Wildman ) mentions that Arthur's cavalry horses were black. Is it a coincidence that there was a cavalry regiment stationed there during the Roman occupation?

Neither Wildman nor Dent actually say Arthur's horses definitely were black; but they both suggest a Fell type was a suitable Arthurian mount.

However, the bard Taliesin sang that Arthur brought "from the great wall, Creamy horses used to the saddle" (Dent p 47).Taliesin is traditionally a 6th Century oral poet, though the written versions of his songs date from the 12th century. His name is linked both with South Wales and with Cumbria. There is uncertainty about the translation of the "wall" though.