Do you love Horses in History, Mystery, Legend and Lore?
Shergar. Kidnapping The Wonder Horse.
Shergar, the champion racehorse disappeared into an ominous Irish fog one February night in 1983 and was never seen again. The scenario was something out of a Hollywood blockbuster: The gloomy dusk of the Irish countryside, balaclava clad men, machine guns and the Ballymany Stud, the Aga Khan’s world class farm with a champion inside “protected” by just a five barred gate and a simple latch. But this was no fictional movie. This was real life and as Shergar, the Epsom Derby winning Wonder Horse, the Pegasus of Ireland moved about in his stall that night, little did he know the drama that was about to erupt outside in the stable yard.
Shergar’s kidnapping has baffled the police and the public for over 30 years creating countless theories: Was it the American mafia, was it a man with a grudge against Shergar’s high profile owner, was it Libya’s Colonel Ghadafi, or was the IRA behind the crime to secure more money for guns? And, where is Shergar resting now? in a bog in County Leitrim, Ireland; on a remote farm near Ballinamore, Ireland, or is he buried in the far east after breeding and creating super horses for a wealthy sheik. Besides the kidnapping and the frenzy it created, this book introduces the key players, places, races, and probes the “Troubles” that plagued Ireland at the time and were a key element of this story. And while accounts vary depending on which one you read the results sadly all come out the same: Shergar walked into the fog and disappeared forever.
Shergar. Kidnapping the Wonder Horse is now available as an ebook at Amazon.com and other Amazon sites worldwide.
If you were reincarnated as a horse you would want to find yourself living in the Royal Mews, England`s most famous and luxurious stables at Buckingham Palace. Interestingly enough the Royal Mews did not originally house horses; King Richard II established the Mews in 1377 near Charing Cross to house his hunting hawks during moulting (or mew) time. Sadly the building burnt in 1534 (some historians say 1537) and was rebuilt as stabling for horses while keeping its former name by the infamous King Henry VIII.
In 1762 George III bought Buckingham Palace and installed stables there in addition to those at Charing Cross. He also built an indoor arena and changed the name to the Royal Mews Pimlico. In 1820 George IV succeeded his father as King and began to change Buckingham Palace and the Royal Mews into a home fit for a King and the King’s horses. John Nash the famous architect came on board and he is credited with changing both the palace and the Mews. Nash built lovely stables around the existing riding school and had a Doric arch placed at the entrance to the central Mews quadrangle. The main coach house was on the east side and two sets of stables to house 54 horses were built on the west side. The upper Mews were added at the north end of the quadrangle where the Master of the Horse and his assistance were housed.
The Royal Mews were completed in 1825 and throughout the ages future Kings and Queens have made their own changes to keep up with the times.
Queen Victoria was the first Monarch to use Buckingham palace as both official residence and home and her beloved Prince Albert added a new forge and sheds in which a cow was stabled. She also established a school for the children of the Royal Mews servants in 1855 and this school continued for 20 years. All nine of her children learned to ride at the Mews in the school lined with pilasters and pediments.
Stalls inside the Royal Mews.
Commoners are able to enjoy a tour of the Royal Mews and see the splendour of the stables which can house 70 horses today along with a carriage repair shop and the forge. Many of the horses in residence are the famous Windsor Greys along with the Cleveland Bays, the rich chocolate brown horses used for pulling coaches when commissioners and ambassadors come to pay a visit to the Queen to present their credentials to her. If the coach is carrying an ambassador the coachman drives the coach from a box on top. If the guest is a high commissioner, then a postillion is used – that is a rider who actually sits on a horse.
Apparently Queen Victoria hated the idea of cars in the Mews and said to the Duke of Portland, her Master of the Horse, “I hope you will never allow any of these horrible machines to be used in my stables.”
Today, stabled near the bays in the Mews are the Queen’s two Bentleys and three Rolls Royces with their own fuel pump close by. But, besides modern conveyances, the Mews also houses one of the world’s best collections of carriages and coaches: broughams, clarences, phaetons and a miniature donkey barouche restored in 1962 for Price Andrew as a young child. There is also a sleigh in the collection that was given to the Queen as a gift from Canada and this has been used at the Queen`s Scottish castle Balmoral. These days it is decorated and, with small wheels attached, is driven by Santa Claus to the Queen`s annual children`s party in the Mews.
The most famous coach in the collection is the 1762 Gold State Coach, the huge gold coach that is used for the most prestigious occasions. Built in 1762, the Gold State Coach has been used at every Coronation since George IV including the Queen’s Coronation in 1953 when it was equipped with lighting so that the Queen appeared to be sitting in sunshine to the people on the street. The interior was decorated with crimson satin and a special stand was built to carry the incredibly heavy royal orb and sceptre giving onlookers the impression that the Queen was actually holding these as she went past. Finally, because of the cold temperatures on that summer day in 1953, a copper hot water bottle was also squeezed under the floorboards.
The incredible Gold State Coach.
The Gold State Coach weighs four tonnes and it never goes faster than a walking pace. The eight horses who pull it have to undergo a fitness regime which includes pulling an empty carriage with rubber tires. Bags of sand are added over time until the weight is at the four – tonne level of the coach.
Most horses living and working at the Mews are broken to harness there and they undergo a rigorous training period. They are distracted by coloured flags, balloons, sudden noises, shots, clapping and all manner of unforeseen activity. They even have to get accustomed to soldiers fainting in front of them in the hot summer weather during official functions.
Many of the Mews staff actually live there with their families and one reporter noticed a jumble of children’s bikes in one corner of the otherwise spic and span stable. The Mews has been compared to a village and Prince Charles says: “The Royal mews is a village in the fullest sense; a close community of people both live and work there, and it has it own economy, founded on traditional skills which are still practiced today, as they have been for centuries. ”
The Royal Mews is a working department of the Royal Household and the Mews is responsible for all royal road travel whether by car or horse drawn carriage.
100,000 people come to visit the Royal Mews annually.
A day at the stables kicks off at 6 am or 5 am. Mucking out and brushing is done before the stable lads have thirty minutes for breakfast. At 8:30 the horses are exercised with their carriages and this is followed by harness cleaning, a rigorous process that includes Belvoir Leather Balsam, soda crystals and an Oral B toothbrush for those tough to-get-at places.
Posted in The Royals | Tagged Balmoral, barouche, broughams, Buckingham Palace, clarences, Cleveland Bays, Coronation, Gold State Coach, John Nash, King George III, King George IV, King Henry VIII, King Richard II, Master of the Horse, Mews, phaetons, Queen Elizabeth II, Queen Victoria, Royal Mews, Windsor Greys | Leave a Comment »
Most of us know the legend about a woman named Lady Godiva who rode a horse naked through a town a long time ago. That’s the short story but research shows that the tale is actually far more complex and involves women’s rights, politics, and social customs and can even be given credit for the origins of the expression “Peeping Tom.”
The story begins in Anglo-Saxon times (from 550 to 1066) in Coventry, England.
Lady Godiva was married to Leofric, the Earl of Mercia and her name can be found in charters and in the Domesday Book, the record of the great survey of much of England and parts of Wales completed in 1086. Her name Godiva is actually the Latinised version of Godgifu or Godgfu meaning “gift of God.”
She and her husband were wealthy and generous, he having made his wealth in the mutton trade in Shrewsbury, Shropshire. They moved to Coventry and decided to make their mark despite their rather “new money” status. They gave money and land to religious houses, donated precious metals to goldsmiths, and valuable necklaces and roods or crucifixes to churches and even had a small abbey built. In the dedication ceremony Leofric was given lordship over 24 villages. They achieved their goal, gaining the social status they craved.
Lady Godiva enjoyed her life of wealth and privilege and especially the outings on horseback and hunting with the social events afterwards. She got to know the movers and shakers in the region and became interested in the arts. She wondered if she commissioned a portrait of herself, if the townspeople and others in the region would also become interested in the arts, but to no avail. She wondered why and began to realize that the men, women and children worked from dawn to dusk to make a living, pay taxes and put food on the table. There was no time for pretty paintings in their lives. By this time her husband was involved in public works and was taxing everything in sight…even manure!
Lady Godiva statue by Sir William Reid Dick in Coventry, England.
Legend tells us that Lady Godiva felt sorry for the people of Coventry as their taxes were becoming intolerable. She pleaded over and over with her husband to take pity but to no avail. Finally, he was tired of her requests and said that if she rode naked through town he would bow to her wishes, abolish all taxes save for those on horses which were in place years before he took office. She then created a proclamation that all people on a certain day were to close their shutters, stay indoors and that nobody was to look at her as she rode down the streets. She sallied forth on the day with two female aides also on horseback riding behind her. One story says that her long hair was braided and fastened on her head and all was dignified. The ride was a success and Godiva’s husband abolished all the tax. One man, bored a hole in his shutters, took a fast peek and was, the legend tells us, struck blind. This was the beginning of the expression “Peeping Tom” to describe a person who gets a sexual thrill of watching women unseen.
So, let’s take a look at all the various elements of the legend, and you be the judge…did the ride really happen or was it just a myth that grew larger than life?
• Roger of Wendover who died in 1236 wrote about the famous ride from 1057; this was the first and earliest surviving record.
• Ranulf Higden, a historian who died in 1364 wrote about it in his Polychronicon .
• Henry Knighton who died in 1396 also mentions the ride but adds information about the abolition of the hated taxes.
• Edward I, being a curious King put pen to paper and wrote about the ride after researchers discovered that indeed, around 1057 there were no taxes levied except on horses, an unusual situation for those times, thereby giving credibility to the legend.
However, despite the written records, many medieval scholars say that the ride never actually took place. Daniel Donoghue, Professor of English and American literature and language at Harvard says that, “two centuries after her death, chroniclers in the Benedictine abbey of St. Albans inserted a fully developed narrative into their Latin histories” and the legend of Lady Godiva was born. “Nobody knows quite why the legend was invented and attached to her name,” he says, “but it does seem to function as a kind of myth of origin for the town of Coventry. At the end, Count Leofric seals the agreement about taxes with his own seal.”
Another site says that the ride never took place as Coventry, founded in 1043, was barely a town at the time of the ride. It was a small farming community growing around the abbey that Godiva and her husband founded and, apparently, they did not even live in the town. Leofric, was the third most powerful man in England at the time and would have had no interest in taxing an almost non-existent community. Add to these facts is the story of the “Peeping Tom” that is not written about until 600 years after the event.
Others say that the Godiva legend is full of contradictions:
• The lady is obedient to her spouse but challenges his position on taxation
• The lady rides naked through the town but remains chaste
• The lady is a member of the ruling class but feels for the poor and their plight
Like many myths which passed down through the ages encompassing history, tradition and shared values, this “myth” attempts to resolve conflicting social and sexual dynamics, a role that movies and TV have now taken over.
So, whether you think the legend is true or just a story that has become altered and added to over the centuries, Lady Godiva has become noteworthy as the subject of poetry, movies, plays, art, books and song. There are countless references to Lady Godiva in popular culture and pop culture; here are four:
• British group Peter and Gordon’s song “Lady Godiva” was a top seller in the mid 1960s. It is about a seventeen year old beauty queen who rides naked though an unnamed town. Like Coventry’s Lady Godiva, the Lady Godiva of the song has long flowing hair that covers her body. She then takes up striptease, until a Hollywood director casts her in a “Certificate X” movie. A barber cuts her hair because she “doesn’t need it long any more.”
• Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote the famous poem Godiva in 1842.
• Lady Godiva chocolates feature a stylized logo with Godiva on her horse.
• In a season two episode of Mad Men, the comedian Jimmy Barrett suggests that Betty Draper arrive at a party on her horse, “like Lady Godiva.”
• Lady Godiva is also the patron Saint of Engineering because her story captures the essence of selfless dedication to the betterment of society, which all engineers are bound to.
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WINTER LIFE AND LIVING IN A BYGONE ERA
As horseman, horsewomen and history lovers, we owe famous Canadian photographer William Notman a debt of gratitude. Through his camera lens for 78 years, Notman captured the people, places and activities of Canada including the magic of Montreal winters. These treasures demonstrate that, far from loathing this long season, Montrealers of a century ago embraced it wholeheartedly…especially those who enjoyed sleighing in any form. Continue Reading »
The recent Royal Wedding gave us a glimpse at some of the beautiful, ornate and priceless carriages that are housed in The Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace in London and that are used for special occasions by members of The Royal Family and others.
With that in mind, I decided to dive a little deeper into transportation, driving, carriages and coaches in the Victorian Era which was from 20 June 1837 until the death of Queen Victoria on 22 January 1901.
Transport For the Masses.
In 1829, English coachbuilder George Shillibeer launched London’s first ‘hail and ride’ bus service. From 1870, horse-drawn trams on rails challenged the supremacy of the horse bus. Trams ran earlier in the morning and were cheaper than buses, giving working-class Londoners access to affordable public transport. Continue Reading »