Gervase Markham by Burnet Reading, published by  Thomas Rodd the Elder, after  Thomas Cross
Gervase Markham, by Burnet Reading, published by Thomas Rodd the Elder, after Thomas Cross, line engraving, early 19th Century. Accessed via Wikipedia.

Whenever I browse the antiquarian titles in the NSLM’s F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room, the name “Markham” comes up again and again. It’s not a surprise. Gervase Markham (1568-1637) was, in many ways, the typification of the Renaissance man: soldier, poet, and author of a great number of titles.

Markham spent his early years as a soldier of fortune in the Low Countries and in Ireland. Upon his return to England, he took up writing and benefited from the patronage of the Earl of Essex. Markham’s early works were poetic, but his career focused in many ways on the pragmatic topics touching on country life in England. For Markham, country life was closely tied to national identity.

Markham was a contemporary of William Shakespeare, and it’s likely that Shakespeare was acquainted with Markham’s work. In his 1960 book, Sir Robert Gittings argued that Markham is the subject of satire in the form of the character Don Armando in later drafts of Love’s Labour’s Lost.

The Problem is to find an English Arcadian whom Shaekspeare could have parodied in the same terms as [Antonio] Perez. It can hardly be doubted that the most prolific and persistent author of Arcadian conceits during the years 1594-97, and one moreover particularly associated with the Essex group, was Gervase Markham.
— Robert Gittings, Shakespeare’s Rival, 1960

By the time Shakespeare brought Love’s Labour’s Lost to publication, Markham had established himself as an authority on horsemanship and country life through a discourse on the subject published in 1593. In 1595, he translated and edited The Book of Saint Albans, the landmark title on “Hawking, Hunting, and the Blasting of Arms.” His farriery book Markham’s Masterpiece would go through many editions and reprintings.

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Plan for the design of a fish pond, Gervase Markham, from Cheape and Good Husbandry, Eighth Edition, 1653. National Sporting Library & Museum, gift of Jacqueline B. Mars.

In 1601, Markham’s career hit a significant setback with the downfall of his noble patron, the Earl of Essex. Markham was forced to reinvent himself as an author, focusing less on poetic works and instead expanding his reach into practical guidebooks. He wrote on riding, farriery, animal husbandry, and even a complete manual for housewives. Of note was Markham’s willingness to gear his works toward an audience outside the wealthy classes, often advertising this fact with titles such as Cheap and Goode Husbandry.

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Gervase Markham, Cheape and Good Husbandry, Eighth Edition, 1653. National Sporting Library & Museum, gift of Jacqueline B. Mars.

Markham was masterful at realizing as much revenue as possible from his publications. He often recycled material or issued a book under a new title. Printing in multiple editions allowed for multiple dedications to noble lords, who might be disposed to become patrons for future works.

In fact, Markham was so successful that by 1617 English book printers were imploring him not to write again on animal medicine, as his influence was preventing others from being able to publish on the topic. Although he isn’t widely known today, Markham’s books continue to be a valuable source of information on the daily lives of the people and animals of early 17th Century England.


Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. 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

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In preparation for a new school program debuting this fall, I have had the opportunity to get to know two fascinating sources from the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room. Markham’s Masterpiece (1656), and Citizen and Countryman’s Experienced Farrier (1764). Both contain 17th and 18th century medical treatments for horses at a time when horses were necessary for farming, trading, traveling, and going to war.

Markham’s Masterpiece was published in London in 1610, a time during which England was just beginning to emerge from centuries of medieval feudalism and the supreme monarchy of the Tudors and to a lesser extent, the Stuarts. This copy is the eighth edition, printed in 1656. Playwrights, musicians, and authors often depended on wealthy superiors to finance their publications and performances. Gervaise Markham (c. 1568 – 1637), author of Markham’s Masterpiece, likely depended on the patronage of Sir Robert Dormer to publish the volume. He introduces the book with a long, flowery letter dedicating his work to Dormer, making it clear the social difference between them. He also lists a ‘who’s who’ of great minds that the book’s contents are pulled from, including ancient greats like Xenophon and contemporary medical minds such as Camerarius.

Markham dedicates the book to his patrom, Sir Robert Dormer and also insists "what I am, Art, Soule and affectionis onely Yours; and desire to be so esteemed in all my actions". He signs the dedication "Your Honours humble devoted servant, Gervase Markham".

Markham dedicates the book to his noble patron, Sir Robert Dormer, and also insists

“This Booke is but the externall pledge which doth demonstrate the inward obligation of my heart, since what I am, Art, Soule and affection is onely Yours; and desire to be so esteemed in all my actions”.

He signs the dedication “Your Honours humble devoted servant, Gervase Markham”.

One hundred and eight years later in 1764 a new edition, Citizen and Countryman’s Experienced Farrier, was published in the now thriving American colonies. While the treatments for equine ailments remain almost the same, the introduction and forwarding information are markedly different. The first thing I noticed is that they attribute the book to “ J. Markham, G. Jefferies, and Discreet Indians”. Britain and France had just ended a North American turf war, known as the French and Indian War, in which Native Americans played an important part. It’s likely that British colonial troops picked up some medical and veterinary treatments from their native allies, which then made their way into Experienced Farrier.

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Not only that, but instead of depending on a Lord’s endorsement or the famous names of horse experts living and dead, Experienced Farrier leans on the opinions of four local men of principle. These gentlemen met in Kennet Township, Pennsylvania and unanimously declared the book to be “of great Service to the Publick in general”- meaning the every day colonial horse owner. The introduction also asserts that the medical treatments within are prescribed out of  . .”a sincere opinion to truth and justice”.

Many scholars agree that heady Enlightenment ideals of justice and the value of common man emerged after the French and Indian War when colonists were beset with unfair taxes and increasing pressure from the English Crown. I was surprised to find how pervasive these attitudes were so early on. Certainly this was not meant to be a rebellious book, yet we see even the title, Citizen and Countryman’s Experienced Farrier, hints towards an understanding that colonists were worthy of education, representation, and respect. It also incorporates remedies and ingredients that are specific to the Western hemisphere, demonstrating that these colonists as not only valuable people, but valuable people who are uniquely American. The American spirit was steadily growing, manifesting itself only 12 years later in the Declaration of Independence.


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Anne Marie Barnes is the Educational Programs Manager and Fellowship Advisor at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM). Her passion for museum work began shortly after graduation with a Bachelor’s degree in History from James Madison University. Between her expeience working at the Fredericksburg Area Museum & Cultural Center and the Washington Heritage Museums, she has done everything from designing summer camps to formulating major fundraisers. Have a question? Contact Anne Marie by e-mail