The Fell Pony Museum: 15th and 16th Centuries
The Fell Pony Museum
Packponies :: 15th & 16th C :: Horses in Tudor Times :: Cumbrian Romances

15th and 16th Centuries

The Black Death (1348) and the Peasants' Revolt or Poll Tax Riots (1381) were no more than a distant memory. The Hundred Years' War (1338 to 1453) was history. The Wars of the Roses ended in 1485 with the death of Richard III. Incidentally, Richard was well liked in the Lake Counties; the propaganda of the pro-Henry VII Shakespearean play Richard III seems not to have affected Cumbrians' opinion of him. At the death of Henry VII (d 1509), the Tudor dynasty continued in power with Henry VIII (d 1547), followed by his son Edward VI (d 1553), Lady Jane Grey (executed in 1554 after nine days "in power"), his elder daughter Mary I (d 1558) and his younger daughter Elizabeth I (d 1603).

No great technological advances dawned over agriculture, though kings made laws to improve horses and their keeping and breeding. Many books make a great deal out of the efforts of Henry VIII to increase the size of the horse stock, but his is only the most famous of government efforts to influence the quality of transport in the kingdom.

Cumbria and County Durham were too far away from London for effective enforcement of breeding laws, and the wild lands were too harsh and rough to support large breeds. But being so far from centres of law was in fact another reason why horse breeding would still have been extremely important. The problems for Cumbrian farmers and their little horses were the same as always - making the farm provide - but their problems did not end with the land and the weather.

Border Reivers

From 1450 to around 1600 the "Border Reivers" were very much a local scourge. Emboldened by the constant disputes between the Scottish and English crowns over this border land, the Reivers became a law unto themselves. They extorted "blackmail", which was Chicago-style illegal protection money, named to differentiate it from "greenmail", which was a legal payment for tenancy of land. Like gangsters, they "reived" (stole) from those who did not pay. Notorious Cumbrian Reiver clans were the Armstrongs, the Humes, the Watsons and the Grahams. The situation was not resolved until Scotland and England were united in the reign of James I of England and VI of Scotland.

The Reivers were mounted on fast ponies. Speed was a necessity for the job - like a fast getaway car - and of course they would have a head start over the startled farmers from whom they stole. For a long time, one of the worst offences under equestrian law was to export horses to Scotland. However, northern documentation of the Reivers is thin, apparently because of the determination of the Crown to erase all evidence of their existence.

Norfolk: The Paston Letters

Interesting lights are thrown on the daily life of the times by the Paston family Letters, written 1425-1496.

Although wheeled vehicles had never quite gone away since the Roman era, at this time no-one would seriously choose a cart for long distance work. The roads were well-worn and often bad, except where the local monasteries maintained them. Packponies were essential to anyone who travelled with goods to sell, and comfortable riding horses were highly valued. Here are some letters written to Margaret Paston in 1471 (online ref): young Mr Paston, who had been detained away from his Norfolk home for some time, wished to make sure that his horses were well fed, healthy and available for him to use when he returned:

... Also Mother, I beseech you, that my horse that was being treated at the Holt (should) not be taken up for the King's hawks, but he may be taken home and kept in your place, and not to go out to water nor to nowhere else, but that the gate be kept shut and he should be chased, after water(ing), inside your place, and that he should have as much food as he may eat....

... I have now enough hay of my own, and as for oats, Dollys will purvey (buy/provide) for him, or I will pay whoever does so. And I beseech you that he have every week three bushels of oats, and every day a penny worth of bread (probably horse-bread, made of beans). And if Boton is not at Norwich and Syme keeps him, I shall pay him well for his labour. Also that Philip Loveday should put the other horse out to grass there as he and I agreed....

... I very much want my gray horse kept indoors (to avoid) the biting flies....

... May it please you that Purdy at Heylysdon may be sent to for the horse that he has of mine, and that the horse may be kept well and have as much food as he will eat between now and the time that I come home; and that Jack's nag have enough food also....

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Last updated 23 May, 2021 .
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