This past weekend saw the Royal marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.  In the procession following the ceremony, the happy couple rode through throngs of well-wishers in an Ascot Landau carriage drawn by a team of four Windsor Grey horses, including a father and son team named Storm and Tyrone.

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Prince Harry’s and Meghan’s carriage.

This mode of transportation added to the pageantry and glamour of the event.  Its slow pace gave spectators a good view of the newlyweds, and allowed time for them to wave and cheer the couple along.  The carriages, horses, and coachmen involved in this and other Royal state events are supplied by the royal stables, known as The Royal Mews.

The term “mews” originates in falconry.  It refers to the mewing, or molting, of the birds’ feathers.  During this process the birds were not used to hunt and were kept in a building called a mews.  The King’s Mews was at Charing Cross in London, where the National Gallery now stands, and housed the royal falcons and hawks from Richard II’s reign into Henry VIII’s.  A fire in 1534 destroyed the original building, and when King Henry VIII rebuilt it, he moved the hunting birds out, and instead housed the royal stables there.  The building retained the name “Mews” despite the absence of the hawks.

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The entrance to the Royal Mews.

Over time the buildings at Charing Cross became inadequate and a new mews was built on the grounds of Buckingham Palace.  It was designed by John Nash and completed in 1825.  While the Royal Mews remains in that location today, it has been renovated numerous times in the intervening years.  Today it houses the royal carriages and automobiles, the stables for the horses, an indoor riding arena, and apartments for the staff and their families.

Nearly all of the royal carriage horses are either Windsor Greys or Cleveland Bays.  Windsor Greys are not a breed but rather a type and are named for Windsor, where they were originally stabled.  They are all grey, at least 16.1 hands tall, and must have a calm, placid temperament.

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Windsor Greys.

Cleveland Bays are light draft horses.  The breed originated in the Cleveland District of Yorkshire during the 1600s.  Originally they were a mixture of English draft horses and Spanish Andalusians, bred to be sturdy yet swift pack horses.  Eventually Arabian and Thoroughbred blood was added resulting in the taller carriage horses seen at the Royal Mews today.  Cleveland Bays are now quite rare and the line bred at the Royal Mews is important in preserving the breed.

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Cleveland Bays.

Horses with the correct look and required calm demeanor begin training by being broken to saddle and are gradually introduced to harness work.  The daily routine consists of two exercise and training sessions broken by rest and feedings.  In addition to the typical training of a carriage horse, these horses must also learn to handle the unique challenges faced by royal carriage horses.  They receive intense training to desensitize them to the wide variety of stimuli they will encounter on the job, including loud noises and music, flapping flags, balloons, vehicles, and vast crowds.  Only horses that can remain poised in the face of pandemonium will make the grade and eventually participate in a Royal state event.

The horses reside in loose boxes which are large enough for them to turn around in and lie down.  They are trained and cared for by a team comprised of a head coachman, a deputy coachman, and four other coachmen.  Each coachman is responsible for about eight horses, and is assisted by four liveried helpers, who muck out the stalls, groom, feed, and exercise the horses.

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Windsor Greys in their loose boxes.

The Royal Mews also houses the collection of royal carriages.  This includes a variety of coaches, landaus, phaetons, barouches, broughams and even a sleigh.  The most elaborate is the Gold State Coach.  It was built for King George III and first appeared publicly in 1762.

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The Gold State Coach.  The Royal Mews, Mary Stewart-Wilson (1991), the gift of The Chronicle of the Horse.

Today it is used only for the most prestigious of occasions.  The coach is huge.  It is 12 feet tall, 24 feet long and weighs in at 4 tons.  It is always drawn by eight horses at a walking pace.  To prepare for pulling the coach, the horses are trained using an empty carriage to which sandbags are added over time, gradually increasing its weight until it matches that of the coach.

The operation of the Royal Mews supports the preservation of a number of artisan professions.  The carriages are maintained by restorers who make repairs and refurbish both the exteriors and interiors of the vehicles.

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“Carriage restorer Erik West with his assistant Martin Oates in the Royal Mews Paint Shop.”  The Royal Mews, Mary Stewart-Wilson (1991), the gift of The Chronicle of the Horse.

The leatherwork on the bridles, harnesses, and saddles is cared for by saddlers.  While leather is replaced regularly, most of the brass fittings date to the 19th century.  Parts of the harness are still hand stitched with the traditional 15-18 stitches per inch.

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State Harness Room at the Royal Mews in Buckingham Palace. Mr Peter Stark is depicted cleaning the harnesses (Circa 1950).

The livery for the coachmen is as elaborate as the fittings for the horses, and requires specialized tailoring skills to create and maintain.

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“Full State postilion jackets have over 41 metres of gold lace and tubular braid applied to them.”  The Royal Mews, Mary Stewart-Wilson (1991), the gift of The Chronicle of the Horse.

I hope this brief overview gives you an idea of the amount of work and the range of skills required to stage a Royal carriage procession.  The NSLM Library holds a variety of resources on carriages, coaching, horse breeds, saddlery, and the modern sport of driving.  Most of them are available to the public in the Main Reading Room.  Please consider dropping in to explore this fascinating subject more deeply.


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Erica Libhart has served as the Mars Technical Services Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact Erica by e-mail

 

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“Help! Help! There’s a panther in monsieur’s bedroom!”

The shouts and cries, accompanied by the frenzied barking of dogs, carried across the gardens of Maqbara e Humayun (Humayun’s Mausoleum) where two European gentlemen were staying. The frenzy interrupted the evening reverie of both gentlemen, who had just settled into the peaceful enjoyment of drinks and cigars. The gentlemen were Louis Rousselet (1845-1929) of France and Jules Henri Jean Schaumberg (1839-1886) of Belgium.

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Louis Rousselet (right) with Jules Henri Jean Schaumburg (in Indian attire), 1867. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

Rousselet was renowned for his travels to India from 1864 to 1868. An anthorpologist and archaeologist, Rousselet was an early pioneer of darkroom photography, and his ability to document his extensive travels in central India made him an ideal candidate to project an exotic romance on a country that had come under British dominion in 1858. Writing extensively of his travels and adventures, Rousselet’s 600 photographs of the journey were transferred into engravings to illustrate his accounts for the French travel magazine, Le Tour du Monde. Rousselet’s notes, drawings, and photographs were compiled into a massive, luxurious tome entitled L’Inde des Rajas (1875) which would enjoy wide success and translation into English under the title India and Its Native Princes.

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“The Start of the Hunt, Govindgarii.” Rousselet recounts a tiger hunt from elephant back during his travels. From India and Its Native Princes, (1875) National Sporting Library & Museum, gift of Mimi Abel Smith.

Rousselet met Schaumberg, and artist, in Bombay in 1865 and the two would become fast friends and travelling companions for the next three years. Together, the gentlemen traveled across India and experienced the finest art, culture, and architecture available. They hunted tigers from the backs of elephants, visited historical sites, and learned the history and customs that would all end as fodder for Rousselet’s book.

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“Humayun’s Mausoleum,” from from India and Its Native Princes, (1875) National Sporting Library & Museum, gift of Mimi Abel Smith.

At Humayun’s Masoleum in the plain of Delhi, the travelers were afforded lodging in the form of a makeshift bungalow in one of the garden kiosks. They toured the magnificent structure, commissioned for the Emperor Humayun (1508–1556) by his widow, Empress Bega Begum (1511-1582). Humayun died from a fall in his library, loaded down with books, attempting to kneel in reverence to the Muslim call to prayer. Bega Begum spent years constructing the most impressive mausoleum in the Mughal Empire.

As the European travelers were relaxing following a dinner served by their servants, the crying of distress about a panther in the bungalow roused them, and they rushed to see what the trouble was. The dogs barked madly at the entrance to Rousselet’s bedroom, and the servants held their distance, afraid of the “panther.” Rousselet took cloths dipped in oil on a stick to create a makeshift torch, and threw them into the bedroom, revealing a creature crouching “almost under the bed.”

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“A Tiger Hunt, Rewah”, from India and Its Native Princes, (1875) National Sporting Library & Museum, gift of Mimi Abel Smith.

It turned out to be a hyena. A pistol was retrieved from a nearby table, and was shot by Rousselet before being dispatched by servants bearing spears and clubs. Amused by the juxtaposition of the panther and a timid hyena, the Europeans laughed off the episode as a ludicrous “hunt in the bedroom.” It would prove to be one of many adventures on the trip,  including the “torture” of traveling in the “mail cart,” a horse-drawn chariot that drove a break-neck speeds along roads in the mountainous Indian countryside.

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“The Mail Cart,” from India and Its Native Princes, (1875) National Sporting Library & Museum, gift of Mimi Abel Smith. The European visitors were deeply uncomfortable to hitch a ride on the mail chariot.

In the end, Rousselet and Schaumberg parted in September 1868, when Rousselet returned to France. What had been intended as a six month journey had extended more than four years, and Schaumberg, who would go on to be appointed artist to The Geological Survey of India in Calcutta, stayed behind to attend to his business.


Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail

One of the things I love about working with the NSLM collection is how frequently really interesting things pop up where you don’t expect them. Recently I was cataloging a book and found a large photo stuffed inside the pages. At first glance I thought it was of a horse-drawn carriage but closer inspection revealed the carriage was in fact being pulled by six camels!

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The caption pasted to the back of the photo gives the following information:

Viceroy’s visit to Lahore.

During their recent visit to Lahore Lord and Lady Willingdon attended the races.  This picture shows their Excellencies arriving at the entrance to the grandstand in the picturesque camel carriage of the Governor of the Punjab, Sir Geoffrey de Montmorency, who is seen greeting them on arrival.  The escort of Indian cavalry in the background preceded the state carriage on the journey.

These people are certainly arriving in style!  They are riding in a spacious carriage…

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Drawn by six camels…  The camels and their riders all decked out in the full kit.  Note the leopard pelts decorating each camel’s hump.camels-2

Escorted by a column of impressive Indian cavalry…

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And being greeted by their host as well as a large group of onlookers…

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The thing that strikes me is that despite its exotic qualities, the scene is familiar.  We regularly see celebrities arriving at events in a very similar fashion.  Instead of a coach they emerge from sleek limousines or town cars. Politicians favor travel in convoys of black SUVs with blacked out windows. We are so accustomed to seeing these special modes of transport that when a prominent figure opts for a more normal vehicle it can be big news. Last year the Pope caused a sensation by traveling around cities in the United States in a regular Fiat!

The cavalry escort serves to demonstrate the power and importance of the carriage occupants in addition to providing them with protection. This sort of escort today is largely limited to political figures.  I’m sure the cavalry was just as intimidating in their day as the speeding black SUVs and motorcycle escorts of today. They serve the same function but I think it’s safe to say the Indian cavalry carried out the duty with a bit more panache!

Today the carriage itself is an exotic mode of transportation regardless of who rides in it, what sort of animals pull it, or whether or not it is escorted.  To find out more about carriages join us here at NSLM on Saturday July 23 from 10:00 to 5:00, for Carriage Day, a free community event featuring over 20 historic and refurbished carriages from the Piedmont Driving Club and Colonial Williamsburg.

Sorry, no camels!

As far back as the early 16th Century, horses served an important ceremonial role in the political and social life throughout Europe. In addition to satisfying the basic needs of transportation in civil and military life, the ability to ride became an essential mark of the nobility. So strong was the link, royal displays of horses and carriages in processional pageants became a staple of social life that can still be seen sometimes today.

These pageants were more than symbols of aristocratic power; they were a public spectacle and people of all stations flocked to view them.

Tableau of the Procession at the Coronation of Queen Victoria. Gift of John and Martha Daniels, 1999.
Tableau of the Procession at the Coronation of Queen Victoria. Gift of John and Martha Daniels, 1999.

Today’s highlight is a bound panorama that was printed to commemorate the coronation procession of Queen Victoria in 1838. The panorama was printed and folded into a booklet to give the impression of seeing the great procession.

"Captain General of the Royal Archers," and "Her Majesty's State Carriage."
“Captain General of the Royal Archers,” and “Her Majesty’s State Carriage.”

Panoramas were made popular by the painter Robert Barker, who began producing them in the late 18th Century.

Senior Econ &c," "Yeomen of the Guard," and "Junior Exons."
Senior Econ &c,” “Yeomen of the Guard,” and “Junior Exons.”

Barker eventually constructed a building to view panoramas in Leicester Square in London, and similar exhibitions spread throughout Europe through the 18th Century.

"Deputy Adjutant General &c."
“Deputy Adjutant General &c.”

This volume folds the pages back and forth; the image is continuous from page to page. NSLM has several other similar panoramas in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room, but they are all rolled into a scroll casing.

"Queen's Household."
“Queen’s Household.”

The grandeur of the horses and carriages, as well as the number of servants, guards, and attendants (all in matching livery), publicly showcased the power and grace of the English monarchy. We could only fit a few images here on the blog. Panoramas have been the subject of our weekly Gallery Talks, so if you have a chance please stop by the Library at 2:00 p.m. on Wednesdays to see the rest!

I’m pleased to begin this blog for the NSLM Library. As I’ve settled in at NSLM over the past ten months, I’ve come across some amazing materials that are only rarely seen and appreciated by our guests and researchers. As I continue to work on the many ongoing projects at NSLM, I’m delighted at the prospect of sharing it with our members, donors and admirers through an online platform.

The name, “Drawing Covert,” refers to the practice in foxhunting of putting hounds in a covert (pronounced like “cover”), a thicket or wooded brush area, to find the fox. It’s my hope that I can bring forward many of NSLM’s most intriguing and historical items for your appreciation.

To get things off on a good note, I would like to share something I recently found in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room while exploring for materials I could share with the librarians at Mount Vernon. Entirely by accident, I found a fascinating little ledger book in the manuscripts collection.

The book is titled, "Livre Journal de Depenses des Equipages et des Ecuries." I don't know French, but Google Translate tells me means "Expenditure Logbook of Crews and Stables."
The book is titled, Livre Journal de Depenses des Equipages et des Ecuries. I don’t know French, but Google Translate tells me it means Expenditure Logbook of Crews and Stables.
A small modern note was tipped in with the item. It reads "Manuscript account book of the upkeep of the horses and carriages of a wealthy Paris household. 1752-1766."
The ledger book begins in 1752 and ends in 1766. It was acquired by NSLM from Justin Croft in 2009 via the Library’s Book Acquisitions Fund.
Again, with more help from Google: "paille" means "straw." The word "auoinne" is likely the modern "avoine," meaning "oats."
Again, with more help from Google: paille means “straw.” The word auoinne is likely the modern avoine, meaning “oats.”
The accounts show annual expenditures ranging from a low of 1,470 livres in 1764 to the enormous sum of 4,646 livres in 1755.
The cover says that the ledger begins in January 1752. It is bound in a brittle leather.
The cover notes the ledger beginning in January 1752. It is bound in now-brittle vellum.
Near the end of the book, a second style of handwriting appears. This second style appears to have more flow and elegance.
Near the end of the book, a second style of handwriting appears. This second style interweaves with entries from the first hand.