Galloway racehorses: the “Noble Bruites” racing before Charles II in 1684?

A fascinating image in the Royal Collection provides an interesting insight into horse racing in the days of Charles II. The image is a print dating to 1687 created by Francis Barlow, entitled “The Last Horse Race run Before Charles II of Blessed Memory”. It  shows King Charles II at Dorsett Ferry Races in the year 1684, and was published to commemorate the king after his death.

It is also the only image in existence that actually shows the so-called Merry Monarch Charles attending a race meeting. It is widely presumed that Charles II, along with other Stuart monarchs, played a significant part in the development of horse racing in Britain. Racing was certainly popular among the elite by this point, and had been a particularly well-supported activity in Scotland and the north of England since at least the early sixteenth century. So much so in fact that the satirist David Lindsay mocked the activities of the sporty Scottish court in 1552:

Better go revell at the racket
Or ellis go to the hurlie hackat
Or then – to schaw our curtlie corsses
Ga se quha best can rin thair horses. 

The oldest sporting trophies in existence are the Carlisle Bells, awarded for horse races at the end of the sixteenth century, and still on view in the city’s Guildhall. Eila Williamson published an interesting paper which reveals the advanced state of horse racing in Scotland in the early seventeenth century, with handicaps, penalties, prizes, and various other accoutrements associated with the modern sport of horse racing.

The scholar Andrea Tonni notes that when Henry VIII was engaged in horse exchanges with the Gonzagas of Mantua, the best racers that Henry had were “Scottish runners”, which Tonni suggests were Galloways. The reputation of the Galloways for speed was subsequently endorsed by various commentators including Michael Drayton and Bishop Leslie.

So precisely what horses were available as runners in the reign of Charles II, prior to the development of the Thoroughbred? Barbs had long been prized as racers, and had provided the main foundation stock for the Gonzaga family in the creation of their breed(s) (razze) for the Palio races. Gonzagan mares were sent to Henry VIII, who gifted Hobbies and equos gradarios, ambling horses, in return. Some of these are likely to have been Irish and Scottish, but not identified as such in the official documentation. The island of Britain was famous for the quality of its ambling horses, and those in Scotland, and particularly in Galloway, were reckoned the best by many commentators, including Bishop Leslie who wrote about them in the 1570s.

Barbs and Spanish horses were referenced by elite horsemen such as William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle, who also named the Galloways as the best nags in Scotland. North African Barbs had been recognised as valuable horses for a long time. Shakespeare acknowledges this in his references to the famous roan Barbary of Richard II. Turks appear in the documentation during the sixteenth century too. However, due to the complex relationship between Europe and Turkey during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the terms Turk or Turkoman were frequently not a popular choice to describe horses. Many horses that most likely were Turkoman type were not described as such. But weren’t there Arabs, or Arabian horses, too?

As I wrote elsewhere, “The Arabian, or more correctly, Arab horse, is widely acknowledged to be one of the most influential horse breeds in the world. Enthusiasts of the breed admire its beauty and its quality of endurance. They also frequently claim it has a long and influential history, some suggesting this dates back to the days of the kings of Egypt, if not beyond”.  (To read the rest of this paper go to:

The issue is that there are major problems with many interpretations of literary sources, and Arab, or Arabian horses are frequently identified as such in documentary and visual sources without providing any support for this belief. In Britain, the first properly identified Arabian horse (at least by name) is in the work of Gervase Markham in the late sixteenth century, with a further Arabian horse identified later in the reign of James VI/I. This horse was bought from a John Markham, and may have been, if not Gervase’s Arabian, very aged by this time, then one of its offspring. The next reference can be found in parliamentary documents dating to the period of the Commonwealth, in which Cromwell states he wants to acquire horses of this type from Constantinople. His studmaster Rowland Place owned a horse called Place’s White Turk. Scholars such as Alexander Mackay-Smith and Richard Nash suggest that this stallion was a Turkoman/Arabian cross.

Thereafter there is no real evidence for significant imports of Arabian horses until the time of William III. Even then, the terms Turk, Arab, Arabian, and Barb are somewhat liberally applied to horses of various kinds. (Clearly these Orientalist terms made a good selling point for dealers.) The concept of the Thoroughbred racehorse, a blend of equine material from various sources, was not even a twinkle in the Merry Monarch’s eye in 1684. So what are the clearly small, docked, horses racing to please the king at his last trip to the races?

Print by Francis Barlow, The Last Horse Race run Before Charles II of Blessed Memory, depicting Charles II at Dorsett Ferry Races in 1684. Published in 1687 in memory of the king. By kind permission of the Royal Collection Trust © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2022.

They are evidently not imported Orientals, as various experts in racing history agree. The authors of the informative book The Heath and the Horse suggest that Arabian horse influence cannot be seen in 1670, showing a rare picture of imported Mantuan horses at this date, which would indicate this breed or type was still as popular as it had been in Henry VIII’s day. They suggest that the Barlow image, which obviously is not one of taller imported horses, show how “the few other pictures of the period, such as the Barlow, underline the point over the coarseness of the little racing galloways of the day”, and indicate how later Arab imports after this date would improve the racers. In other words, it would appear to be the case that the horses in the Barlow image are Galloways.

I disagree with the pejorative “coarseness”, as applied to Galloways, and also that the Arab horses later made a significant contribution to the Thoroughbred. This fact is now supported by DNA research which suggests the significant contributors to Thoroughbred speed and stamina were horses of Turkoman, Galloway, and Hobby type, along with Barb influence which may not be quite so obvious as it was introduced in earlier times. However, there can be no ambiguity about this identification, since in the brief span between the image of the non-Arabian Mantuan horses in 1670 and the small racers in 1684 it is clear that no significant improvement could have been made even if Arab(ian) horses had been available and imported, for which there is no evidence.

So these are unequivocally identified as Galloways by experts in this field. What is even more significant is the poem which accompanies the image:

Ancient Rome, with her Olympick Game,
By which she did achieve so great a fame,
When o’er the circus the bright chariots whirld
Surprising with delight the gazing world,
Could ere compare to England’s nobler chase,
When swift as lightning or the winged race

The generous beast outstrips the wind
And leaves the wondering crowd behind.

In this debate monarchs their umpirage boast,
And even an empire’s wealth is won and lost:
The noble bruites with emulation fird,
Scorning by managers to be inspird,
As if they understood their betters will
They show with pride their eager force’s skill.

And without aid of spur or rein
They cut the air and scour the plain

To future times may these illustrious sports
Be only the divertisments of courts
Since the best man, best judge, and best of kings
Whose president the best example brings
When’er his God-like mind unbent from care
To all his pleasures this he would prefer;

So gods of old did not disdain
The rural pastimes of the plain.

And Dorsett ever celebrated be,
For this last honour which arrivd to thee,
Blest for thy prospect all august and gay.
Blest for the memory of this glorious day:
The last great race the royal hero viewd
O Dorsett to thy much-loved plains he owd.

For this alon a lasting name
Records thee in the Book of Fame.

Thus Barlow’s accolades “swift as lightning or the winged race”, “generous beast(s) that outstrip(s) the wind”, “noble bruites with emulation fird” that need “no spur or rein”, showing “with pride their eager force’s skill” are applied to racing Galloways, not imports. There’s no “coarseness” there! As Nicholas Russell pointed out in his book “Like Engend’ring Like: Heredity and Animal Breeding in Early Modern England”, in the sixteenth century most racehorses in Britain were not “foreign exotics” but Irish Hobbies from Ireland and Scottish Galloways “from the peripheral regions of these islands”. It would appear to be still the case in the last days of Charles II.

To support this claim, there is evidence from the year 1681, in which Galloways played an important role in vital negotiations with Moulay Ismail (1672–1727), ruler of Morocco. “Six Gallway naggs” “of the smallest size of Gallowaies that are possible to bee had”  were among the gifts proposed, “and ’twill bee very necessary that they have long tailes, they having little esteeme for others”, and “such a trifle as this obliges theise sort of people more than can bee imagined, for the Moores are of an humor that loves presents mightily”. This might even reflect the fact that racing Galloways were mostly docked, as shown in the image, the order being to make sure that they retain their long tails.

Interestingly, at least some of docking shown in the Barlow image may not represent the kind in which the bone of the tail was cut, but rather a shaving of the tail hair. This was a standard way to maintain ponies underground in the coal mines of Co. Durham and Northumberland, where the pit ponies were always known as gallowas.

And that is where the Galloway nags for Moulay Ismail were despatched from: Sunderland in Co. Durham. However, none of the gifts to Moulay Ismail went down too well, including the “Gallowaies”, which do not appear to have met the required standards, the Emperor having expected “by a description he gave of his fancy impossible to be comprehended, something extreamly small and swift, and not to be found in England”.  It does however highlight that Galloways were seen as a very acceptable gift to a powerful ruler, and that they were identified as fast, and a culturally-specific Scottish product. Also, that the north of England was seen as a shipping point for them.  The term Galloway, or rather gallowa, is still used in the north of England as a generic for horses and ponies.

So why were the racers in the Barlow image not identified as Galloways in the poem? It’s clear that the reputation of the Galloways for speed was known as far away as Morocco. There could be several reasons, including cultural appropriation. Henry VIII had appropriated Irish Hobbies as an English breed when exchanging them with the Gonzaga family. Alternatively, it may have been that Galloways from Galloway itself retained a particular reputation for speed over the English “running horses”. However, it seems highly likely that the noble brutes racing in this image dating to the reign of Charles II’s were pony-sized Galloways, not Orientals. 

Miriam A Bibby, April 2022.

Further reading: The Heath and the Horse: A History of Newmarket Heath: A History of Racing and Art on Newmarket Heath Hardcover – 30 Sept. 2015, by David Oldrey and Timothy Cox, with additional material by Richard Nash.

It’s enough to make a Galloway Nag laugh

I know, I know, you wait years for a Galloway Nag blog and then two come along at once. Can’t be helped though. This is the result of discovering material that arrived too late for inclusion in the PhD, yet which deserves wider recognition.

The once popular little Galloway Nags were credited with speed, strength and great feats of endurance that belied their small size. For a good overview of some of the amazing actions credited to the Galloway, check out the Fell Pony Museum website here:

However, I (or rather my husband, for he gets the credit for its discovery) recently came across one feat that seems to have been overlooked in material published on the Galloway. It is to be found in an odd little publication from 1688, Coffee-house Jests Refined and Enlarged, by the Author of the Oxford Jests, who clearly wanted to maintain his anonymity (pretty sure it was a he) for reasons which should become apparent.

It contains such side-splitters as number 35:

A Gallant did fancy that he sung exceeding well, although he had a very bad and hoarse Voice; and having observed that a poor Woman did always cry when she heard him sing ; ask’d her the reason of it ? Truly Sir, said she,When I was forcd, being poor, to sell all my Goods, and nothing left me but one poor silly Ass,which was all my Support; and at last I lost my Ass too; and that which makes me cry, is, that whensoever I hear you sing, it puts me in mind of my poor Ass.

And number 142:

One was saying also, that the Tapster and the Brewers Horse are both alike; for they both do draw Beer; but yet I must confess they differ in this, That the Tapster draws Beer and drinks it; but the Horse draws, but drinks none.

Now that you’ve recovered your senses after the incontinent laughter produced by those witticisms, let us move swiftly on to what is surely the best story in the book:

Another was saying, that once upon a time it was his fortune to be in Hide-Park, where he saw several races run; and at length, says he, I undertook to run a race with my little Galloway Nag, with another of that size, a Race of a Mile long, for Five pound: And just as we were riding with full speed, he that rode with me was on the right hand, and so pass’d by the coach; but my poor Galloway (and being a cunning Jade, and unwilling that his Master should lose, for if he did, he thought that he should fare the worse for it at night); presently cast me off his back, and leap’d quite thorow the Coach himself (notwithstanding it went at a great pace) but it was done so nimbly and dextrously that all admir’d, and so well ‘twas ordered, that just as he came thorow the Coach when he came out, he catch’d me directly upon his back again on the other side of the Coach, and though ‘twas done so hastily, yet the other got ground of us; but my Horse so handled his Legs that without Switch or Spur I won the Wager. Now, says he, show me such  a Galloway Nagg in England again, then they all told him ’twas very much, and more than they could have believed, if he had not told them.

Now, if that isn’t, ahem, proof that the Galloways were the smartest, savviest, swiftest and most agile nags on the block, I’m not sure what is. It must be true – I read it in a seventeenth century book of jests, clearly the equivalent of today’s fake news on the internet!

Miriam A Bibby, 2021

Going down to the underground

‘But I don’t want to go among mad people,’ Alice remarked

‘Oh, you can’t help that,’ said the Cat; ‘we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.’

‘How do you know I’m mad?’ said Alice.

‘You must be,’ said the Cat, ‘or you wouldn’t have come here.’

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Most researchers will be familiar with the phrase “down the research rabbit hole”. For those who are not, let me explain from the start that it describes an experience, rather than an educational procedure or method. The idea draws, of course, on Alice in Wonderland. Alice followed the White Rabbit (oh my ears and whiskers!), who owned a large watch (the watch is important) down the rabbit hole. After falling in darkness for ages she ended up in a place where none of the usual rules applied and time appeared to stop. Everything Alice found was fascinating, but it was also BLOODY ANNOYING AND DISTRACTING. No sooner had one mouse in a teapot faded from the scene than a caterpillar with a hookah or a queen with a flamingo for a croquet mallet would turn up. And it appeared to go on for ever.

What follows is a description of one such experience. 

Galloway Nags


Here is an image of Galloway horses, or Galloway nags, that has circulated, in a limited fashion, on the internet. The fact that use of this image is so limited is interesting in itself, since it may be indicative of how little the horses are known today. It is important as it is one of the few images of the Galloway type, which was deemed “extinct”, or at least “decayed”, or absorbed into other breeds such as the Clydesdale, by the time this image was produced. Thereby hangs a tale – when was it produced, and by whom? Which work is it in? Spoiler alert: I still don’t know, dammit.

A bit of internet detective work suggests that this image first became publicly available when published on a website called Falling Angels, Lost Highways, belonging to Brian Moffat. It was published in a blog post about the Galloway as the horse of choice of the border reivers (which is very likely true, though no specific primary documentary evidence supports this).

The image was published along with the text that accompanied it in the source, which Brian Moffat cited as Oliver Goldsmith’s Natural History, since he’d apparently found it in his own copy of that book. He did, however, point out that the text appeared to be later than Goldsmith’s original work, but not how much later, nor who might have written it. Readers will search in vain for either the image or the text in Goldsmith’s early editions: it is not there. However, sharp-witted equine history researchers with an interest in unusual horse breeds will immediately spot the source of the text on the Falling Angels, Lost Highways page  as William Youatt, the prolific nineteenth century author of animal husbandry texts:

A horse between thirteen and fourteen hands in height is called a GALLOWAY, from a beautiful breed of little horses once found in the south of Scotland, on the shore of the Solway Firth, but now sadly degenerated, and almost lost, through the attempts of the farmer to obtain a larger kind, and better adapted for the purposes of agriculture. There is a tradition in that country, that the breed is of Spanish extraction, some horses having escaped from one of the vessels of the Grand Armada, that was wrecked on the neighbouring coast. This district, however, so early as the time of Edward I, supplied that monarch with a great number of horses. The pure galloway was said to be nearly fourteen hands high, and sometimes more; of a bright bay, or brown, with black legs, small head and neck, and peculiarly deep and clean legs. Its qualities were speed, stoutness, and sure footedness over a very rugged and mountainous country.

This text can be found in numerous editions of Youatt’s work. (I took my version from William Youatt, The Horse, with a Treatise of Draft (London: Chapman and Hall, 1843), 102.) The bit about the Armada isn’t true either, but that’s a whole other rabbit warren. Like the work of his predecessor Gervase Markham some centuries earlier, Youatt’s work was popular, ran to multiple editions and was widely cited, indeed, plagiarised. Tracking down every edition of Youatt, and every other text that may have used his work, with or without authorisation, is a major research undertaking in itself. However, it is interesting that Google Books, which contains several editions of his work, does not appear to include any edition with that image in it. Searching for the image, as indicated above, only results in a handful of hits, some of which appear to have used the Falling Angels, Lost Highways website as source, as they too attribute it to Goldsmith.

Goldsmith’s work was also frequently reused by later authors. I have an undated edition of his Natural History “by Henry Innes” which is described on the title page as Goldsmith’s Natural History, with notes from all the popular treatises that have been issued since the time of Goldsmith collected with the utmost care: combining a mass of information and reference, forming a complete vade-mecum of modern discovery in the science which it illtstrates [sic]. Mr Innes was clearly proud of his collection of bits and pieces, a scrapbooking approach to producing popular science texts which is fairly typical of the time.

Convinced, however, that the attribution to Goldsmith on the Falling Angels, Lost Highways website was incorrect (never assume, folks!), and that the quote and image must be in some edition of Youatt, I set out to find it. I had no success despite accessing numerous editions of his work. The text yes, the image, no. The historiography of the Galloway is elusive and fractured at the best of times. It was deeply irritating to come so close to a drawing said to be of the Galloway, and yet still remain apparently so far away.

By this time there were two of us searching for the elusive image, myself, and my husband. With his analytical skills honed over a long career in IT, he found it more quickly than I would ever have done. It is in an edition of Oliver Goldsmith, another mash-up version that includes samples from other texts. It dates to 1858 and was published by Blackie and Son of Glasgow and Edinburgh.  

The editor of this version had decided to include chunky “footnotes” of text by other authors, which were often much longer than the main text itself. The publisher also had an unusual way of referencing these additional authors. The footnote number 1 appeared at the start of each section by an author, thus:

With the source, or name of the author and the volume title appearing at the end of the section of text, thus:

So far, so good. That clarified things a bit, and I found the Youatt, or apparent Youatt section, with its reference to the Galloway and the image, very easily. It begins with a bit of interesting nationalism which precedes the actual breed descriptions themselves:

This is not in my version of Youatt. I have gone so far as to discover that it is in The British Cyclopaedia of the Arts and Sciences, Including Treatises on the Various Branches of Natural and Experimental Philosophy, the Useful and Fine Arts, Mathematics, Commerce, &c · Volume 2, by Charles Frederick Partington, published in 1835, which appears to include Youatt’s work on horse breeds.

I have not checked in every accessible edition of Youatt, though, having too many caterpillars with hookahs following me around already, and no, I don’t need another flamingo, thanks.

However, whoever the author of this section might be, they go on to say: “We proceed to notice a little more particularly some of the more prominent kinds of British horses. In doing so, we shall chiefly follow the ‘Treatise on the Horse,’ published in the Library of Useful Knowledge”. This is the Youatt volume, but since it doesn’t specify which one, I’m still no further on. However, I do some double-checking just to be sure, by cross-checking entries between the Goldsmith volume and my own edition of Youatt.

In the Goldsmith compendium, as I call it, the description of the coach horse which follows is near enough that of Youatt:

In Youatt from 1843 we have the very similar: “This animal in external appearance is as different from what he was fifty years ago as it is possible to conceive. The clumsy -barrelled, cloddy-shouldered, round-legged, black family horse – neither a coach nor a dray-horse, but something between both – as fat as an ox — but, with all his pride and prancing when he first starts not equal to more than six miles an hour, and knocking-up with one hard day’s work, is no more seen ; and we have, instead of him , an animal as tall, deep -chested, rising in the withers, slanting in the shoulders, flat in the legs, with far more strength, and with treble the speed”.

And so I continue reading the giant footnote, which is clearly mostly Youatt, reminding myself that it is a footnote and not the main text, going through the various breed descriptions, until that section appears to come to an end, with a snarky and uncalled for comment on the horses of Ulster:

And a new section follows, preceded by the 1 we have previously come to note:

So this should be the start of a new author, and a new text. But wait – there is no attribution at the end of the previous section of footnote!!! Certainly no reference to Youatt. So this is why Brian Moffat and anyone else who read it didn’t realise it was in fact Youatt. Curiouser and bloody curiouser, said Alice, kicking the White Rabbit in the arse, setting light to the caterpillar and twisting the flamingo’s neck into a knot. (No imaginary animals were harmed during the making of this blog and I especially love caterpillars, particularly hawk moth caterpillars, as long as they aren’t irritatingly pompous and don’t have hookahs.) Alice takes a long coffee break, and the caffeine makes her even more irritable and sweary. It’s a good job Alice no longer smokes, as she would be a 60 a day gal with nicotine-stained fingers and a voice like motorbike tyres skidding on gravel.

The end of the section that follows the uncredited “Youatt” section attributes it to one J. Stewart:

A search for J. Stewart follows, “just in case”. His work also ran to several editions, some of which were illustrated, and others not. Not one viewed so far has yet yielded references to Galloways, or indeed to horse breeds in general. That was not the purpose of his volume. Nope, the image is almost certainly from an edition of Youatt; but which one?

And so, the researcher pops her head above ground to take a quick breath and a look at the beautiful scenery where lots of people are simply relaxing and there’s not a single book in sight. Then plunges down the rabbit hole again, grabbing at volumes along the way as they fly past in the space-time continuum, appearing, disappearing and morphing into sparkly three-horned unicorns and giant, sniggering toads. The researcher finally lands with a thud in a pile of torn-up, wet, blackened paper with mystic scribblings and enigmatic phrases that disappear as soon as you look at them. Waiting patiently (with lots to tell) are a large white rabbit, a caterpillar and a flamingo. Hello friends, I’ve really, really missed you!

(Copyright Miriam A. Bibby 2021, wondering if it will end up in a compendium that foxes researchers in 2121)

Horsey Superstitions for Halloween!

I recently participated in the first of a series of Horse History themed virtual seminars, organised by Anastasija Ropa of the Latvian Academy of Sports Education, on the topic of “Equestrian Superstitions and Folklore”. It was great fun. You can now watch it on YouTube here:

The Best Breed of the North

Anastasija Ropa makes some very welcome comments on my chapter on the Galloway nag in “Horses in Premodern European Culture”.


Speculating on the origins of the Galloway horse is a process that is fraught with the issues besetting any contemporary breed enthusiast, since the whole concept of a “breed” is a very modern one and it probably did not cause medieval horse breeders any sleepless nights. A good horse was a good horse, valued for purpose rather than ancestry, and described by gait, or height, or even color or size, but principally by function.

Miriam Bibby, ‘The (Galloway) Horse and His Boy: Le Roman Des Aventures De Fregus and “The Best Breed in the North”?’

in The Horse in Premodern European Culture, ed. A. Ropa and T. Dawson

What do Fregus, Robert the Bruce, and Shakespeare’s Pistol have in common? These disparate individuals, who are either completely fictional (as Talbot’s characters) or partially fictionalized (Fregus is based on a an actual Scottish ruler, but was turned into the title…

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Galloways: a 16th century elite riding horse

It’s been a busy year for me, with a visit to the Leeds International Medieval Congress to present a paper (and meet with other equine history researchers). I’ve a couple of chapters and papers in press too. Here’s the early fruits of my Galloway research for the PhD, published on Academia. Lots of very interesting material emerging about our famed northern Gallowa’, and lots more to come!

#ShelfieSunday: Kingdom of the Workhorse

Here’s a review of one of my favourite books about working horses, written for the Equine History Collective.

Equine History Collective


Kingdom of the Workhorse by A.J.Dampier
Countryside Publications, 1987
ISBN 0 86157 226 2

Review by Miriam Bibby

   This splendid account of the lives of working horses in and around the city of Manchester at its 19th century zenith, when it was the “workshop of the world”, home to the greatest manufactories in Britain, is one of my favorite books.

   A.J. (Tony) Dampier was from north west England and knew his subject both from his own research and from contact with the horsemen of the region from the middle of the 20th century until his sad death in 2011. It’s therefore largely, though not exclusively, based on local history and oral traditions. Arguably it’s the type of history of which we need more, because all too often the stories of working people and animals are not recorded and then they simply disappear. Frequently the only histories we…

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