Markham’s Masterpiece,1683

Gervase Markham (1568-1637) was a prolific writer on a wide variety of topics. NSLM has quite a few editions of his works, including an early edition of Cavalarice; or, The English Horseman. Today we’ll take a brief look at his most famous horse book, Markham’s Masterpiece.

Markham's Masterpiece, the edition used for this post was printed in 1683 and was donated to NSLM by the Estate of Eve Prime Fout in 2008.
Markham’s Masterpiece, the edition used for this post was printed in 1683 and was donated to NSLM by the Estate of Eve Prime Fout in 2008.

Originally printed in 1610, Markham’s Masterpiece was spectacularly popular and ran through dozens of editions and reprints over the next two centuries. It was reprinted in the American colonies under the title The Citizen and Countryman’s Experienced Farrier. The book serves as a veterinary compendium for cures of common (and uncommon) equine ailments, and the book was often printed with other works included. The copy we’re looking at today includes The Countryman’s Care for Curing Diseases in Smaller Cattle.

"Of the Veins belonging to the Horse, and how many there be."
“Of the Veins belonging to the Horse, and how many there be.”

Markham’s intent in producing the book is clear. He wishes to inform the reader and include all the latest treatments and cures to dispel the use of backwards ones. In his historical context, this was a worthy goal. From our privileged vantage-point, however, the unfortunate fact is that much of the treatments for illness in horses during this time were as helpful as the treatments for humans. For example, Markham treats most illness as imbalance of the bodily humours, and prescribes treatments such as blood-letting and concoctions of various roots to bring the humours back into balance.

Markham's directions, under "Cures Chirurgical," for creating a white star of a horse's forehead. The process calls for surgery to kill the skin on the head, bleaching white the hair.
Markham’s directions, under “Cures Chirurgical,” for creating a white star of a horse’s forehead. The process calls for surgery to kill the skin on the head, bleaching the hair white.

Despite the lack of medical accuracy, Markham’s Masterpiece is an invaluable window into the practices of farriery from the 17th to the 19th Centuries. As subsequent editions were produced, revisions, edits, and additions were made. The abiding popularity of the book gives insight into overall horse management from the period.

"The Farrier's Chief Instruments."
“The Farrier’s chief Instruments.”

Our John H. Daniels Fellows have used books like Markham’s Masterpiece to look at historical horse care practices. Kathleen Crandell, a Fellow at NSLM from 2013-2014, will present some of her research on historical equine feeding management at NSLM on November 21. If you would like to attend, or have questions about the event, please contact us.

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