Cover image for Becoming Centaur: Eighteenth-Century Masculinity and English Horsemanship  By Monica Mattfeld

Becoming Centaur

Eighteenth-Century Masculinity and English Horsemanship

Monica Mattfeld


$99.95 | Hardcover Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-07577-8

288 pages
6" × 9"
35 b&w illustrations

Animalibus: Of Animals and Cultures

Becoming Centaur

Eighteenth-Century Masculinity and English Horsemanship

Monica Mattfeld

“Monica Mattfeld explores eighteenth-century English masculinity and gentlemanly honor from a scintillating new perspective—the horse’s back. Richly archival and theoretically alert, this splendid book illuminates the equestrian worlds of William Cavendish, London riding houses, the hunting field, Philip Astley’s celebrity circuses, and Henry Bunbury’s savage satires, revealing a hidden history of horses as secret sharers and historical agents in Englishmen’s self-imagining. A must for historians as well as animal studies scholars.”


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In this study of the relationship between men and their horses in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century England, Monica Mattfeld explores the experience of horsemanship and how it defined one’s gendered and political positions within society.

Men of the period used horses to transform themselves, via the image of the centaur, into something other—something powerful, awe-inspiring, and mythical. Focusing on the manuals, memoirs, satires, images, and ephemera produced by some of the period’s most influential equestrians, Mattfeld examines how the concepts and practices of horse husbandry evolved in relation to social, cultural, and political life. She looks closely at the role of horses in the world of Thomas Hobbes and William Cavendish; the changes in human social behavior and horse handling ushered in by elite riding houses such as Angelo’s Academy and Mr. Carter’s; and the public perception of equestrian endeavors, from performances at places such as Astley’s Amphitheatre to the satire of Henry William Bunbury. Throughout, Mattfeld shows how horses aided the performance of idealized masculinity among communities of riders, in turn influencing how men were perceived in regard to status, reputation, and gender.

Drawing on human-animal studies, gender studies, and historical studies, Becoming Centaur offers a new account of masculinity that reaches beyond anthropocentrism to consider the role of animals in shaping man.

“Monica Mattfeld explores eighteenth-century English masculinity and gentlemanly honor from a scintillating new perspective—the horse’s back. Richly archival and theoretically alert, this splendid book illuminates the equestrian worlds of William Cavendish, London riding houses, the hunting field, Philip Astley’s celebrity circuses, and Henry Bunbury’s savage satires, revealing a hidden history of horses as secret sharers and historical agents in Englishmen’s self-imagining. A must for historians as well as animal studies scholars.”
“This is the first detailed study of horsemanship and masculine identity across a long period, reinforcing our appreciation of the iconic status of horses through the eras. While Mattfeld draws on work done on the seventeenth century in particular, she takes the analysis forward into comparatively untouched territory. In doing so, she not only opens up the latter period but also charts the changes that occurred over time, resulting in a work of considerable value.”
“Monica Mattfeld’s brilliant and incisive book describes the embodied process of co-becoming that entangled men and horses in eighteenth-century culture. Blending posthumanist and materialist perspectives to illustrate how the horse-human partnership was crucial to the creation of diverse and competing versions of masculinity, Mattfeld offers a thoroughly historicized and original account of ‘centauric leviathans,’ equine theatrical actors, urban riding schools, and reactionary satirists, adding exciting new scholarship to a burgeoning field.”

Monica Mattfeld is Assistant Professor of English and History at the University of Northern British Columbia and coeditor of Cosmopolitan Animals.


List of Illustrations


Introduction: Of Horses and Men

1 William Cavendish and Hobbesian Horsemanship

2 Riding Houses and Polite Equestrianism

3 Astley’s Amphitheatre

4 Henry William Bunbury and the Mock Manuals of Horsemanship





Of Horses and Men

In 1780 there appeared in the Gentleman’s Magazine a remarkable piece of writing. It recorded the words from a funerary monument placed in the gardens of John Boyle, fifth Earl of Cork, fifth Earl of Orrery, and second Baron Marston in 1754. While reprinting such information was not unknown, what made this monument unusual was that it marked the final resting place of King Nobby, a horse. By all accounts, Nobby had a good life with Boyle. He “was purchased in a lucky hour” and served as a “faithful servant” for “near 28 years” as a “docile, social, and even a domestic animal.” According to the monument:

[Here] are interred the bones of KING NOBBY; a Horse, who was superlatively beautiful in his kind. He loved his master with an affection far exceeding the love of brutes. He had sense, courage, strength, majesty, spirit, and obedience. He never started, he never tript, he never stumbled. He lived to an uncommon age, and till within two years of his death retained all his natural excellences and vigour. His limbs were sound to his last moments, he having enjoyed the peculiar felicity of scarce ever having been lame or sick during the long course of his life.

He also “performed two journeys into Ireland, without accident and without fatigue. Though he was strong and hardy, his limbs were light and delicate. His mane shone like jet, and flowed gracefully from his crest to his shoulders. His ears were small. He was——Oh! he was all perfection.” This interesting and highly anthropomorphized monument points to a multispecies bond that was not terribly uncommon during the eighteenth century. For Boyle, King Nobby was a beloved companion, cherished for his service, obedience, stamina, and strength, while for Nobby, we are led to believe, Boyle was his happily obeyed master.

Boyle was not alone in memorializing a cherished equine companion. As Ingrid Tague argues, while many obituaries or memorials for animals, frequently pets, were intended as satire or comedy, some horse memorials were entirely serious performances of grief and affection for a missed loved one. The 1771 Annual Register, for instance, included an epitaph for a horse similar to Boyle’s for King Nobby.

A Generous foe, a faithful friend—

A victor bold, here met his end.

He conquer’d both in war and peace;

By death subdu’d, his glories cease.

Ask’st thou, who finish’d here his course

With so much honour?—’Twas a HORSE.

As these memorials indicate, horses were special, unique, and extraordinary animals in the eighteenth century. They were the partners of choice for many men, and it was through their presence that men sought to become, and to be observed as, something other, something powerful, awe-inspiring, even mythical. For men of this period—when the horse was central to agriculture, the economy, and transportation—creating a partnership with a horse was essential to their understanding of the world and their place in it. Horses influenced political discourse, social standing, scientific understanding of rationality, personal identity, and the performance of gender, while frequently transgressing the boundaries between what was considered human and what was understood as animal. Nicholas Morgan of Crolane, for example, argued that “amongst other liuing creatures, the horse is esteemed more noble, & more necessary then others, as well to Kings & other Princes, in the time of warre and peace.” For Thomas Bewick, “The various excellencies of this noble animal, the grandeur of his stature, the elegance and proportion of his parts, the beautiful smoothness of his skin, the variety and gracefulness of his motions, and, above all, his utility, entitle him to a precedence in the history of brute creation.” And The Gentleman’s Dictionary defined “horse” as “an Animal so generally known, that to define him, ’tis sufficient to say, he is the noblest and most useful of all Animals, and his Sensible Nature, Obedience, Swiftness and Vigor are at once the Object and Subject of the noblest and most necessary Exercise of the Body.”

However, these remarkably similar descriptions of horses from wildly differing time periods raise more questions than they answer about horse-human interactions during the eighteenth century. Why, for example, was the art of horsemanship so necessary for some men but not for others? What was meant by the animal’s “utility,” and how did it change over the course of the century? How was horse-human interaction understood over the century, and what did the representation of multispecies relationships say about gendered performance? These and other questions about the performance of masculinity and horse-human interaction are the focus of this book. It examines the interconnected world of equestrians in the long eighteenth century, a world related through the horsemanship manuals, memoirs, social satires, images, and ephemera produced by some of the period’s most influential horsemen. By exploring the often controversial and complicated considerations of political horse-human communication alongside the gendering of both man and horse, this book seeks to develop new understandings of gender performance and identity, while interrogating changing conceptualizations of “human” and “animal” during the long eighteenth century.

Conformation of the Fields

Horses were everywhere in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe and interactions with them had a profound impact on the lives of humans, but this very “taken-for-granted centrality of horses to human lives in the past,” along with the Otherness of horses in today’s motorized Western society, has played a central part in their relative invisibility in the history and literature of the long eighteenth century. We frequently “fail to notice them.” As a result, men’s preoccupations with their horses and the horses’ influence on human lives have rarely been the subject of scholarly investigation. While in recent years there has been a marked increase in scholarly interest in everything equine, much of the work done to date either limits its focus to the pre-1650 early modern period or picks up the story in the nineteenth century. These innovative texts, although they begin the process of including horses and the art of horsemanship in human history, do not focus on the long eighteenth century in Britain. This century remains almost uncharted territory, with the exception of studies of the related practices of sporting art and culture, rather than the central practice of horsemanship itself. Donna Landry’s pioneering Noble Brutes and Stephen Deuchar’s Sporting Art in Eighteenth-Century England are two examples of this tendency; Landry examines the influence of Eastern bloodstock and equestrian traditions on English sporting practices, while Deuchar studies the role of sporting experience in the formation of masculinity. As a result, while scholars of horse-human relationships perpetuate animal studies’ current state of “mammalian hegemony,” to use Robert Markley’s phrase, there is much that we still do not know about the role of horses in human life.

Similarly, scholars know relatively little about masculinity during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Frequently restricted to the description of categories and stock characters, and working under a plethora of approaches, gender studies is only now beginning to entertain masculinities that follow or question hegemonic models and to consider them as a part of larger historical events. According to Karen Harvey, “We still know too little to argue for an ancien régime of masculinity.” The emergent status of the study of masculinity has led to a situation where men of the early seventeenth century and those of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries appear to be “different species rather than different generations.” This separation, as Alexandra Shepard correctly observes, is due more to the methodologies of scholars than to any major shift in identity formation. Study of the early seventeenth century is dominated by an approach that focuses on the patriarchal role of men in the domestic household, an approach that argues that normative masculinity and the many divergent discourses of masculinity were formulated, enacted, and continuously imperiled through interaction with women—most often wives. Elizabeth Foyster’s Manhood in Early Modern Britain and Anthony Fletcher’s Gender, Sex, and Subordination in England embody this approach, and like most texts that approach manhood through the lens of domestic and gendered interaction, both are based on the popular domestic advice literature that was beginning to emerge at the time. In this narrative, the focus is on the gendered power of the patriarchal man over women and how that power interacts with codes of honor. Studies like Foyster’s and Fletcher’s argue that through the maintenance of control over the household and its residents (of all genders), a man could achieve the patriarchal ideals of hegemonic masculinity and gain honor in the process.

This patriarchal picture stands in rather dramatic contrast to the situation of the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, where men’s participation in a “public” consisting chiefly of other men has become the primary focus of scholars. As Shepard argues, “Crudely summarized, the long eighteenth century is heralded as the passageway to a reconfigured private domestic order, and to modern gender identities, rooted in notions of binary sexual difference (as opposed to a gender hierarchy which placed men above women on a continuum).” These identities in turn “were increasingly internalized and . . . [were] ultimately connected with a modern sense of self” as part of the longer “civilizing process” identified by Norbert Elias. In these arguments, the socially defined patriarchal head of the household, or his opposite, the cuckold, is replaced in the Restoration period by a veritable proliferation of male identities increasingly defined by interiority of identity rather than “public” displays. While, as Fletcher notes, the way in which pervasive masculinity “involved an internalised identity—an interiority of the mind and emotions—as opposed to a sense of role-playing—is very hard for the historian to judge,” the consensus among scholars is that masculinity, as an internalized sense of self, is defined by homosocial interaction rather than by heterosocial relationships that created an externally defined identity. Within this narrative, masculinity prior to 1660 was primarily related to social status, while the “public” man of the Restoration and eighteenth century was of cultural construction. This development can be seen in scholarly arguments on the history of dueling. In the eighteenth century, honor becomes not so much a performance before others, capable of conveying honorable status to the duelists, but an increasingly outmoded display of internal emotion that had little bearing on social status.

While this change in masculine performance was not instantaneous, and while after the Restoration the patriarchal man of honor stepped aside to allow the sexually predatory libertine and the effeminate figure of the fop to take the stage, these characterizations take a back seat to socially or “publicly” defined categories of identity formed in relation to politeness. Politeness had many definitions in the eighteenth century, but in general it can be understood as an artful pursuit of social agreeableness in speech and deportment, sometimes at the expense of truth, for the sake of social and personal improvement. Philip Carter and Michèle Cohen are the most influential authors here, and their work has led the vanguard in the emphasis on politeness as the new and overwhelmingly hegemonic form of masculinity that supplanted most older forms. This aspect of masculinity studies increases the tendency for scholars to point to a sea change in identities somewhere between the seventeenth, eighteenth, and even nineteenth centuries, where there may not be any, or where such change has been overstated. While there is ample evidence that polite culture was indeed a strong molding force in late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century society, its status as a metanarrative is, as Karen Harvey points out, clearly problematic. Here, it is the post-1660 man of commerce and conversation, most often from the middling sorts, who pushes aside the landed gentleman as the primary figure of investigation, which is a trend that is carried out for the rest of the eighteenth century. As masculinity studies now stands, there is no “comparing like with like” over the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a fact that “undermines any attempt to draw a line from the seventeenth-century patriarch to the eighteenth-century polite gentleman.”

Animal Studies and Performance

Situated within and across the fields of animal studies and masculinity studies, this book aims to begin sketching that line between the diverse forms of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century masculinities by following the lives, publications, and animal-human relationships of horsemen. In doing so, it attempts to unravel the complicated gender performances of men who shared similar interests and forms of gender performance that also incorporate men from the social elite alongside those from the middling sorts. By doing so, the book starts the process of comparing like with like, while including nonhuman animals as an essential component of gendered display. The book focuses primarily on the genre of the horsemanship manual. A form of didactic literature situated, sometimes uncomfortably, between the similar genres of courtesy literature and husbandry manuals, the horsemanship treatises of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were written by practicing horsemen interested in personal and public improvement through textual production. Often containing information on correct forms of riding and horse training alongside advice on hunting practice, veterinary care, and ideal masculine behavior, the genre provides unique insight into the lives and practices of horsemen. However, as scholars who work with courtesy literature in their study of gender and identity have consistently illustrated, what is advocated in these and other didactic texts is frequently misleading in relation to personal embodied realities; instead, it provides an idealized view on and representation of morals, social behavior, and identities.

There is a similar danger inherent in the study of horsemanship manuals, with some of the advocated behavior, actions, and languages of display providing only a partial look at equestrian culture of the time. The information contained in the manuals of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, for example, does not address the entire horse-working society; the manuals were intended for a socially elite audience, an audience (for the most part) that could afford to purchase, train, and keep horses, and not for men who used horses to work the land or for other labor. Produced by men who frequently knew one another personally or knew their predecessors’ work, and who functioned within a close-knit and self-regulating community of fellow horsemen, the manuals are situated within ongoing and enacted discourses of horsemanship practice. As this book illustrates, the authors wrote back to one another while working not only to elevate their own public image and reputations but also to benefit the wider community of horsemen and, by extension in a number of cases, the wider commonwealth of elite citizens.

These authors were also practitioners of the art and instructions they put on paper. Unlike courtesy literature, horsemanship manuals allow for a relatively accurate insight into the lived and embodied experiences of horsemen. While some of the content and anecdotal evidence contained in the manuals often has undergone idealization, much of the practical equestrian instruction, gendered language, and expressions of horse-human relationships were based on the lived experience of the authors. Constructed and published within the close-knit group of fellow horsemen, a group with shared epistemologies, ontologies, and discourses, manuals of horsemanship were intended for direct use within the many riding houses of the eighteenth century. They were frequently written by masters of horsemanship, although there were class variances within this model, who were also consumers of previous manuals on the subject with and against which they discussed their own theories. These masters, in turn, and their reading audience, worked to put the behavioral and practical teachings contained in the manuals into practice. Richard Berenger gives an example of this materiality of the text; for him, “The present Henry [Herbert] earl of Pembroke, (non corpus fine pectore) is an illustrious labourer in this vineyard [of horsemanship]: he has honoured the art by composing a treatise upon ‘The Method of breaking Horses’; and practising what he preaches, instructs the world both by precept and example.” Like other horsemen, such as William Cavendish, William Hope, and Sir Sidney Meadows, Herbert practiced what he preached in his 1762 Method of Breaking Horses and Teaching Soldiers to Ride, Designed for the Use of the Army. He lived and experienced what was written in the manual, just as manuals of horsemanship today comment in detail not only on external kinesthetic actions but also on (ideal) internal behavior and processes necessary for riding; these constructed elements of embodied subjectivity as a horseman are in turn enacted on the ground and in the saddle, as it were, while interacting with an animal.

This multispecies exploration of gendered performance also questions the unnatural categories of “human” and “animal” (the definitions of which frequently negate the presence of the breed, culture, or individual), not as binary pairs within a teleological ladder of order but as reciprocally informing concepts. As Donna Haraway argues in her paradigmatic Companion Species Manifesto (and in its later incarnation, When Species Meet), the evolutionary history of all of earth’s inhabitants is a story of co-development and opportunism. “Earth’s beings are prehensile,” she writes, “opportunistic, ready to yoke unlikely partners into something new, something symbiogenetic. Co-constitutive companion species and co-evolution are the rule, not the exception.” The history, language, and literature of animal-human interaction is one of recognition of a being both like and unlike ourselves, of the intelligence, subjectivity, objectivity, motivations, and needs of the nonhuman animal, while understanding or seeing the co-dependence and evolution that make up “companion species.” For Haraway, there can be no essentialized human over animal, and there can be no human without animal; there are only beings constitutive of both. When this constitutive intersubjectivity is recognized, the traditional parameters of humanism are problematized, and the nonhuman animal—in all of its messy, shared, co-companion situatedness—becomes an acting agent in history. As a result, scholars in animal studies argue that there must be a movement beyond animal as symbol in order to understand how animals are never fully animal and humans are never fully human but amalgamations of both. The inclusion of real, actual animals in the creation and performance of group, individual, human, and nonhuman identity is necessary for Erica Fudge; matter must come to matter, to paraphrase Karen Barad.

Taking up Derridean preoccupations with discursive practices and engaging with Haraway’s theories of co-evolution, Barad merges quantum physics and gender studies in an innovative retheorization of performativity. Instead of relying on a Cartesian differentiation between “things” and “representation,” or “the inherent distinction between subject and object, knower and known” that dominates much of today’s scholarship, Barad argues for a reorientation of focus that radically reworks our current understanding of discourse, performance, causality, and agency. According to Barad, there needs to be “a causal relationship between specific exclusionary practices embodied as specific material configurations of the world (i.e., discursive practices/(con)figurations rather than ‘words’) and specific material phenomena (i.e., relations rather than ‘things’).” In other words, there needs to be a shift away from preexisting “things” and discursive practices, those binaries so frequently at the heart of literary studies that uphold ideas of “nature” and “culture,” “human” and “animal,” “singular” and “plural,” and toward a view of the universe that focuses on the “causal relationship between the apparatuses of bodily production and the phenomena produced.” Within this framework, there are no preexisting concepts or things; there are no horses, men, societies, or genders; there are only variously intra-acting material-discursive apparatuses that continually create, alter, and bring into being those ideas or “phenomena.” Barad continues, “It is through specific agential intra-actions that the boundaries and properties of the ‘components’ of phenomena become determinate and that particular embodied concepts become meaningful. . . . Relata do not preexist relations; rather, relata within-phenomena emerge through specific intra-actions.” In turn, these phenomena come to matter (both figuratively and literally) in an ongoing process that reconfigures definitions, “boundaries, properties, meanings, and patterns of marks on bodies.” In other words, the category and label “man” or “masculinity,” for example, represents a continuously becoming state of being because of ongoing and iterative intra-actions with the equally changeable notions of “horse” and “animal.” Neither man nor horse preexists the other but performatively comes to create both. As human gender and subjectivity are formulated and negotiated through performance (performance being “the repeated stylization of the body, a set of repeated acts within a highly regulatory frame that congeal over time” and that literally embody our existence in the world), so too are animal gender, subjectivity, and being in the world, according to Lynda Birke, Mette Bryld, and Nina Lykke. However, “non-human otherness” is “a doing or becoming, produced and reproduced in specific contexts of human/non-human interaction.” As Keri Brandt has found for horse-human relationships today, for example, “humans and horses co-create a language system by way of the body to facilitate the creation of shared meaning.” This kinesthetic and visually hybrid language “challenges the privileged status of verbal language” while opening the stable door, as it were, to alternative ways of understanding and of being in the world. As this book will demonstrate, through the performance of riding, the rider and horse become something more than either; they make visible the human-animal as hybrid, more-than-singular, transspecies being.

This messy co-becoming is traced through four central models of horsemanship and masculine performance. The first model, the subject of chapter 1, reveals multiple horsemanship communities defined by honor and spectacular horsemanship skill. William Cavendish, first Duke of Newcastle, purposefully displayed himself as partially embodying the animal through skilled, artistic, kinesthetic relationships with his horses in an attempt to become a leading figure in the manège community. He understood himself, and knowledgeable spectators understood him, as inhabiting the body of his horse, and he (and they) understood his horse as embracing his mind to create a hybrid, dual-natured creature: a centaur. This centaur, inherently honorable and performative, opens up fresh perspectives on how the human body and behavior, when interacting with a horse (such as Cavendish’s favorite, Le Superbe), were immediately politicized. Cavendish’s ability to rein (and therefore reign) rightly was an intrinsic component of centaur status. For Cavendish, to embody the centaur was to embody and perform the political theories of his close friend, Thomas Hobbes, in a way that saw the horse and human become a living example of ideal governance within the body politic. To become a centaur was to perform the ways in which sovereign and subject, through a horse-human covenant, could ensure the continued stability of a nation recovering from the ravages of civil war.

The second model, examined in chapter 2, follows Cavendish’s legacy from the country estate into London—increasingly the new home of equestrian practice and changing horsemanship communities. The early eighteenth century saw a separation within horsemanship practice and community belonging that eventually resulted in the creation of two distinct but interconnected schools of horsemanship: the “modern school,” interested in mechanistic, noncentauric riding for pleasure, industry, and the performance of polite and commercial virtues, usually performed on Thoroughbred horses—and the “old school,” which continued to look at horsemanship as an art form to be learned on “traditionally” built horses for the conspicuous self-display of skill, nobility, and gentlemanly greatness in the Cavendish vein. The riding houses of Mr. Carter, Sidney Meadows, and Domenico Angelo, sites of often vitriolic attacks against men from competing horsemanship communities, saw men of all classes and political allegiances ride together, while criticizing their rivals’ ideas and gendered display. Complicating the picture with the new inclusion of women in a traditionally male social space also allows for an examination of horse-woman communication and performed femininities. These urban riding houses revise our conception of London’s politico-social spaces, the civilizing role of women therein, and the current understanding of politeness as hegemonic. Politeness, while important for the men of the riding houses in their interactions with women, was certainly not the dominant form of masculinity expected of the communities’ members. Instead, men of the new horsemanship communities joined politeness to a discourse of political and personal liberty, a belief in useful commercial endeavor, free and forward riding, and equine independence, to create a notion of masculinity surprisingly martial and republican in form. For men of the more traditional communities, politeness was subordinated to the continuing discourse of refinement, honor, strength, and spectacular personal display of the centaur.

The third model, the subject of chapter 3, traces the career of one of Domenico Angelo’s most famous, controversial, and ultimately influential pupils, Philip Astley, and other riders at Astley’s Amphitheatre. At this illegitimate theater, Philip and his son, John, joined the comparatively normative practices of all of the horsemanship communities (the modern and old schools of equestrian practice) with performance traditions from the nation’s itinerant fairs, and proceeded to (literally) turn them on their heads. With a general focus on the 1788 and 1789 seasons, at a time in which one of the Amphitheatre’s most famous horses, the Gibraltar Charger, captured the public’s imagination, chapter 3 investigates the theatrical staging of political centaurism at a particularly unstable point in British history. In the Amphitheatre, Philip deviated from previous horse-human performances through the creation of horses who were actors capable of performing identities and genders for themselves and their riders. In an attempt to offset the perceived failure of martial masculinity during the American war, with the help of the Charger, Philip embraced a militaristic chivalry that nostalgically recalled a fictitious glorious past when men were “truly” masculine. John, on the other hand, while dancing on horseback, glorified an identity onstage that was an unstable mixture of the masculine and feminine. With an androgynous emphasis on politeness, refinement, grace, and physical strength, John performed a masculinity and a heroism that were radically different from his father’s. However, both the ultramilitarism of Philip and the refined physicality of John were necessary if the Amphitheatre was to succeed in its reformation of the nation’s men. With the help of horses, frequently perceived as uncanny for their amazing feats and acting abilities, the horsemanship and manly qualities of the nation’s heroes—past and present—were re-performed theatrically in the Amphitheatre in an attempt to promote gender stability, patriotism, and social stability.

The final model of Becoming Centaur, the subject of chapter 4, focuses on one of the Amphitheatre’s most vocal critics and the eighteenth century’s greatest equestrian satirist, Henry William Bunbury. A social elitist and a purist when it came to his understanding of theater, Bunbury took aim at the illegitimacy of Astley’s and the very social and gender changes that had allowed the Amphitheatre and some of the earlier London riding houses to function in the first place. He argued that new equestrian practices, both the horse-human relationships and the masculinities formed by these “modern” horsemanship communities (regardless of how polite, chivalrous, manly, or honorable the riders made themselves and their riding styles out to be), were thoroughly effeminate. Like Cavendish, and, ironically, like Astley before him, Bunbury worked to (re)establish a community of horsemen that looked to older, seventeenth-century traditions of horsemanship and masculinity for the benefit of the nation. Through the elite manège, horsemen would fulfill their civic-humanist duties and become versed in military duty and service to the state. In Bunbury’s formulation, to be considered a gentleman, a man had to be elite, independent, a supporter of the king, and against popular Wilkesite liberty. He also, however, had to display appropriate masculine behavior that was expressly anticommerce and traditionally aristocratic, in which sensitivity, social refinement, and politeness in deportment and speech were the norm. For a horseman to be a masculine man who could fulfill his civic duty to the nation, he was also required to “speak” the “languages” of horsemanship with perfection and grace. Men needed to be brave and ready to serve their nation, but they had also to be gentle, sensitive, and expert at interspecies communication. For Bunbury, horsemen were to become socially refined men who embodied both the model of public, properly genteel civic virtue and a sensitivity to social benevolence and fellow feeling, as sentimental masculinity dictated.

These four interlinked models do not provide a comprehensive examination of gender or masculine display over the long eighteenth century, but they do begin the process of thinking through the complexity of experience and representation of equestrianism in the lives of humans in England. By following these men and their changing understandings of “shared trans-species being-in-the-world,” this book reveals that for many men, performances of gender were no longer individually determined—or even determined by a human subject. Instead, with a focus “on the performance of human-plus-nonhuman—where the constituting discursive practices must be understood to include the material, participating nonhuman”—masculine performance becomes a process of two interconnecting bodies working together (intentionally or not) in a “relationship” to display masculinities that, although seemingly of different species, were at times remarkably similar. Taken together, the horses and horsemen of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries developed relationships that often mirrored wider changes in normative codes and discourses of gender, class, and human-animal understanding. However, they also developed relationships that were gloriously alternative. It was through the mediating presence of horses that the very humanity (or monstrous inhumanity), masculinity (or its lack), and honorable (or dishonorable) status of horsemen were created and secured. Through horses, men came to know a multispecies identity complete with its own communication systems, modes of sociality, performances, and epistemologies. Horsemen could not be men, successful, or respected, without embodied and communicative interactions with their other half—the horse.

The Art: A Pony-Sized History

All four models of horsemanship and the many understandings of transspecies being discussed in this book can trace their methodologies, and often their ideologies, to a much longer equestrian tradition. As the discussion above suggests, both today and in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, horsemen were not confined to one single practice of horsemanship. The term itself encompasses a diversity of epistemologies, approaches, and applications that differ not only over time but frequently between manuals of the same era. The practice of horsemanship in general includes the participation in and understanding of riding (whether in the manège, trick riding, vaulting, ambling, or haute école), along with knowledge and practical abilities in all other aspects of equine care: dressing, farriery, stabling, etc. However, the term horseman does not, interestingly enough, encompass the activities of hunting or racing, although both activities frequently were included in the manuals. As for what constituted a horseman in the period, the treatises differ considerably in their definition and will be traced throughout this book. The differences are found between manuals that cover horsemanship alone and those that cover it in conjunction with sporting or racing materials, and they are frequently found between manuals published in the seventeenth century and those published in the eighteenth. In general, however, a horseman was a man who practiced the manège, to some extent, and someone who possessed skill, again to various degrees, in unmounted horsemanship.

The act of educating a horse in the manège is a practice that allows for insight into changing human-animal interactions, definitions, and changing discourses and performances of masculine subjectivities. To work in the manège, or to school a horse, was to practice systematic improvement of both horse and rider, and the manuals incorporate the walk, trot, gallop, stop, and, in the early years of the period under study, tournament activities such as running at the tilt or the cariere (running at the ring). Frequently, ambling and pacing are included in this category as well. John Brindley defined manège as “a word that signifies a place, not only set a-part for the exercise of riding the great horse, but likewise the exercise itself.” For Brindley and others, the manège also included the haute école; however, this usage was not universal, and varying meanings are attached to the term throughout our period. Furthermore, the term itself was not coined until the 1850s, as Elaine Walker has pointed out, but I use it here, along with manège, to aid in the ease of separation between the various horsemanship practices and to allow for further understanding of changes in discourses over our period. As for the haute école (French for high school), the term is used here to refer to the manège movements defined as airs above the ground and those categorized as useful to the parade ground. These included the capriole, terra a terra, balotade, curvet, groupade (croupade), passage, piaffeur (piaffe), and general leaps and yerks earlier in the seventeenth century.

Both the manège and the haute école, along with their many derivatives, can in turn be traced back to a much longer tradition of horsemanship practice that saw the inclusion of classical riding methodologies alongside increasingly evident Eastern traditions. In general, however, English horsemanship had its origins in the fourth-century B.C.E. writings of Xenophon. His Hippike, or The Art of Horsemanship, is the earliest surviving Western text on horsemanship, and it created the mold for all subsequent treatises on the subject. His text, itself based on the now lost manual by Simon of Athens, was reprinted, studied, debated, and followed (often to the letter) throughout the eighteenth century, while his ideologies, grounded on “patience and gentleness,” and his methodological “observations,” which were “true and just,” formed the backbone of horsemanship in the early modern and modern periods—as they continue to do to this day. However, Xenophon’s teachings were not known to Western horsemen for nearly two thousand years after their initial publication. In the meantime, texts on husbandry, the history of animals, and agriculture by Greek and Roman authors became the key references for Renaissance and early modern authors of horsemanship manuals. These sources included Aristotle’s Historia animalium (350 B.C.E.), for breeding and raising horses; Varo’s Res rusticae (37 B.C.E.), for equine conformation; Virgil’s Georgics (29 B.C.E.), one of the more popular sources for riding and training horses for parade and warfare; Pliny the Elder’s Historia naturalis (77 C.E.), which included descriptions of heroic horses and horsemen such as Alexander’s Bucephalus and the Scythian cavalry; and Oppian’s Cynegetica (early third century C.E.), which was the first text to discuss horses in the context of hunting.

The classical tradition in turn fed into European cultures and combined with vernacular customs to create a thriving equestrian and print culture that, as Hilda Nelson points out, saw the publication of equestrian-related texts such as Les livres des tournois du Roi René (1460), The Book of Saint Albans (1486), and Le livre de la chasse (1387–39), prior to Xenophon’s reprinting. However, these texts were dominated by vernacular equestrian traditions, despite the large influence of classical sources, and it was not until Xenophon’s manual was republished that this changed. His text was retrieved from Constantinople by Giovanni Aurispa, a Sicilian, in 1423, and may have first been republished in Naples in 1516. Naples was also home to one of the most influential horsemen active during the art’s formative years in the early modern period. Federico Grisone erected the first riding academy in 1532, and was one of the first to publish a manual of horsemanship partially based on Xenophon’s teachings. His transitional 1550 Gli ordini di cavalcare (The Rules of Horsemanship) was immediately successful and was quickly translated. His teachings, very much indebted to classical and Ottoman sources while firmly grounded in the more familiar vernacular methods, were taught in turn to some of the most renowned horsemen of his time. His pupil Giovanni Battista Pignatelli was riding master to “the three key French horsemen” (the Chevalier de Saint Antoine, Salomon de La Broue, and Antoine de Pluvinel) who would shift the focus of horsemanship education from the Neapolitan school to France in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, and who would come to play a significant role in English manège horsemanship under some of the most influential horsemen of the era.

Pluvinel was chief equerry to Louis XIII, master of his own riding academy in Paris, founded in 1594, and the author of two manuals of horsemanship: Le maneige royal (1623), republished with the original text as L’instruction du roy en l’exercice de monter à cheval in 1625. These treatises, two of the most revolutionary texts of the time (and clear precursors to William Cavendish’s manuals of horsemanship), incorporated the more gentle teachings of Xenophon alongside those derived from other classical sources handed down through Grisone. As for de La Broue, he penned the 1593 Preceptes principaux que les bons cavelerises doivent exactement observer en leur escoles, which became a standard reference text for many English authors on horsemanship in the early seventeenth century, such as Gervase Markham for his 1607 Cavelarice. Saint Antoine, in turn, was transferred to England as part of a coronation gift of horses from Henri IV to James I in 1603. He was to become a central component in the Frenchification of the English manège community, and played an active role in educating a select group of English elite—including Prince Henry, Charles I, and Cavendish.

It was much earlier, however, that the manège first made inroads into England. Before Grisone’s manual was translated into English, the practice was already influencing English courtly equestrian culture. Gentlemen traveled to the Italian courts, where they learned the art; they in turn introduced their teachings into England while purposely breeding their own horses to suit their newly acquired horsemanship methodologies and to mirror the horses desired by many European courts. Henry VIII, as Giles Worsley explains, first received horses trained “in the Spanish fashion” by Giovanni Ratto, envoy to their sender, the Marquis of Mantua. Henry quickly became a convert and frequently performed the movements of the manège, including those of the haute école, at court tournaments. This art quickly spread among English courtiers, so that when Nicolo Sagudino viewed a tourney in 1517 he could record that “between the course, the King and the pages, and other cavaliers, performed marvellous feats, mounted on magnificent horses, which they made jump and execute other acts of horsemanship, under the windows where the most serene Queens of England and Dowager of France were, with all the rest of the beauteous and lovely and sumptuously apparelled damsels. . . . The King performed supernatural feats, changing his horses, and making them fly rather than leap, to the delight and ecstasy of everybody.” By the end of Henry’s reign, such performances and an increasing interest in the art, helped along by the repeated importation of Italian riding masters by the king and the titled aristocracy, led to manège and haute école horsemanship’s becoming the dominant equestrian practice among the English ruling elite.

Indeed, by the time of Elizabeth I’s reign, not only had the manège become an actively promoted component of a young courtier’s education, but the art had entered into a veritable golden age exemplified by widespread practice and a marked increase in horsemanship manuals. The first of these manuals, not so much a translation as a rewriting of Grisone’s earlier treatise, was Thomas Blundeville’s A New Booke Containing the Arte of Ryding, and Breaking Grete Horses of around 1560. Others soon followed, drawing on Grisone’s and Xenophon’s treatises: Thomas Bedingfield’s The Art of Riding by Claudio Corte (1584) (a translation of Claudio Corte’s Il Cavalerizzo), John Astley’s The Art of Riding (1584), Christopher Clifford’s The School of Horsemanship (1585), and Gervase Markham’s Discourse of Horsemanshippe (1593) and How to Chuse, Ride, Trayne, and Diet, Both Hunting-Horses and Running Horses (1596), the first of many Markham titles to come. These authors and others, much like subsequent generations of horsemen, operated in a “closely knit circle,” “exchanging and training each other’s horses, while dedicating books to each other.”

The erection of riding houses for academies, such as Master Thomas Story’s Greenwich school, Sir Humphrey Gilbert’s in London, and Sir James Scudamore’s in Holme Lacy, Herefordshire, also began during Elizabeth’s reign and continued until the Civil Wars. At these schools, horsemen increasingly gathered to learn from the newest imported Italian master in a wholehearted following of the latest fashion in equestrian practice. However, with the reign of James I, the Italian dominance in English horsemanship began to wane. While Italian influences did not disappear, and while young men of elite status both continued to travel to Italy for instruction and sought out the few Italian riding masters working in England, France and French horsemanship gradually came to dominate English and European horsemanship circles. In England, for example, Saint Antoine recruited fellow Frenchmen as esquires in the royal mews, while at the same time the growing fame and influence of Pluvinel and de La Broue shifted the heart of the manège to the French court.

During the reigns of James I and Charles I, the Elizabethan golden age of horsemanship showed few signs of diminishing. It was here that some of the most influential texts on the subject were written, among them Michael Baret’s Hipponomie (1618), Nicholas Morgan of Crolane’s Perfection of Horse-manship (1609) and The Horse-mans Honour (1620), and Thomas de Grey’s Compleat Horseman (1639). Charles I also continued the practice of the manège and haute école, not only through patronage of the art but, like his predecessors, through personal performance. As a Venetian ambassador to Charles’s court recorded, “He [Charles] excels at tilting and indulges in every other kind of horsemanship, and even if he were not prince one would have to confess that he surpassed others.” Similarly, while James I by all accounts was not a devoted manège participant, his son Henry and his followers carried on the Pignatelli style of horsemanship—through Saint Antoine’s teachings—and formed one of the strongest and most accomplished circles of horsemen of the time.

However, even with the manège’s continued popularity, manège horsemanship was never welcomed or adopted in England with open arms, owing to doubts about the art’s usefulness for military men and horses and an apparent distrust of foreign methods of riding. In Baret’s 1618 Hipponomie, for example, the still relatively new art of horsemanship in the manège was struggling to take hold, thanks to the continuing influence of local English custom. As a result, Baret’s “earnest desire” was “to haue this now withered and dead Art of Horsemanship (being such a famous Art [in Europe]) the more to flourish in this Kingdome, which hath been so long frost-bitten with the congealing rygne of ancient traditions; whereby Custome hath taxed such false impositions upon these noble Creatures, as now they are become most ignoble and base.” The threat to the manège continued throughout the seventeenth century, and in 1639 Thomas de Grey, in his Compleat Horseman and Expert Ferrier, complained that in addition to a paucity of horses serviceable for the manège, there was a worrying trend of “laying aside of the great Saddle and Cannon, and neglect of the Horse of Menage” in the face of changing equestrian pursuits. For de Grey, the growing interest in sporting riding and racing had made “the most ancient honour of Horseman-ship peculiar to this our Kingdome” “almost vanished and lost.” That said, however, there were still champions of the art.

For William Cavendish (1592–1676), first Duke of Newcastle, and many other writers on the subject, horsemanship was a sure method of developing and maintaining physical strength, living a long and healthy life, and, above all, achieving an elite bearing and confidence in addition to skill at arms and warfare. However, the inclusion of sporting pastimes alongside the manège and haute école in the new manuals, and the authors’ continual and repeated insistence on the importance of the haute école, suggests a considerable and growing backlash against the use, keeping, and training of horses for such “frivolous” pursuits as the haute école was thought to be. Cavendish wondered what “makes these Men speak against it” in his New Method, and Extraordinary Invention, to Dress Horses, and Work Them According to Nature, in which he concluded that their opposition was primarily due to their ignorance of the art and their disinclination to “take Paines” to become masters of horsemanship. Those who “think it a Disgrace for a Gentleman to do any thing Well,” like riding, were acting on the changing perceptions of the horse as useful in warfare and the protection of the commonwealth, and were arguing that when a gentleman like Cavendish spent vast amounts of his wealth, time, and energy working with horses, he was not producing anything useful to the nation. Likewise, Karen Raber interprets Cavendish’s defense of the haute école as a sign of his disconnection from prevailing trends that dictated the uselessness of the practice, even dismissing it as an “obsolete” exercise, and Anthony Dent argues that the haute école was “an elaborate pretense” for any military training. However, for Cavendish, “both Use and Pleasure” could be found in all aspects of the manège, including the haute école. “It is True,” he argued, “that if there was nothing Commendable but what is Useful, strictly Examined; we must have nothing but Hollow Trees for our Houses, Figg-leaf-Breeches for our Clothes, Acorns for our Meat, and Water for our Drink; for certainly, most things else are but Superfluities and Curiosities.” In his view, not only was the manège of use to the kingdom, but it was also necessary for pleasure, the absence of which reduced man to a state of simple necessity, incivility, and savagery at the expense of the civilized and refining arts. The manège, beautiful horsemanship, was far from a useless pastime, as far as Cavendish was concerned. It remained central to his notion of militaristic and honorable masculinity and continued to define his ideal political animal, as we shall see more fully in the following chapter.

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