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"The noblest act of vertue" : horsemanship and honour in seventeenth-century England Mattfeld, Monica

Abstract

The competent use of horses was essential to the seventeenth century English gentleman; however, scholarly analysis of human-horse interactions for this time period has been relatively slim. While historians of honour and masculinity have examined various aspects of gentlemanly honour, such as politics, religion, and gender division, horses and horsemanship have remained unexplored. This study, through the reading of seventeenth-century horsemanship manuals, will place horses and the art of horsemanship into the historians' perception of how gentlemen created, maintained, or lost honour for themselves, for their families, and for the English commonwealth. Horses and horsemanship, other than being pleasant pastimes or symbols of man's domination over nature, were central to gentlemanly honour. The breeding and importing of "great horses" was undertaken according to specific aesthetic and practical criteria which, if the requirements were followed, improved individual and commonwealth honour. While mounted on a "great horse" a gentleman, along with displaying perfected riding skills, needed to showcase emotional and bodily action bridling to avoid charges of ignorance, ineptness, bestiality, or effeminacy. Horses were a central means of creating gentlemanly honour both for individual advancement and for England's honourable reputation as a strong and defended kingdom.

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