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

Which reformation must be sudden too,
My noble lords; for those that tame wild horses
Pace ’em not in their hands to make ’em gentle,
But stop their mouths with stubborn bits, and spur ’em.
Till they obey the manege.
   — William Shakespeare, Henry VIII, Act 5, Scene 2

In many ways, Europe’s equestrian literary tradition began in 1550 with the publication of Gli Ordini di Cavalcare (The Rules of Riding) by Federico Grisone. Grisone was a famed Neapolitan riding master, and his was the first new book on riding in Europe since Xenophon. Grisone’s work was a huge success, and spread throughout Europe quickly. It was also a product of its age, and is noteworthy for its cruelty in the curbing of horses. Grisone’s treatments were grisly, and included such shocking practices as tying a cat to a horse’s belly to “cure” the horse of refusal to cross a river. Later editions of the work included detailed diagrams of harsh bits designed by Grisone to force the horse to obey instructions.

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An illustration of a bit, from Gli Ordini Di Cavalcare, Federico Grisone, 1561. Grisone reputedly designed these harsh bits, intended to force the horse to submit and obey commands. Grisone was famous for his ability to break recalcitrant horses.

Bits during this period broke down into two main categories: snaffles, which exerted direct pressure on the lips, bars and tongue, and the harsher curb bits, that pinched and cut the horse’s chin. To save the mouth from permanent damage, some trainers turned to cavessans which acted on the nose and muzzle instead.

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Frontispiece of The Art of Riding, a 1609 edition of the translation by Thomas Blundeville of Grisone’s Gli Ordini di Cavalcare. Although Blundeville revered Grisone, he was also among the moderate voices on the use of harsh bits, especially for young horses who were still being trained.

The tenor of these methods is rather unsurprising in the broader cultural context. The middle of the 16th Century was steeped in a philosophical tradition that viewed humans as the only thinking, feeling creatures in nature. The dominance over the horse became an analogue for man’s mastery over nature itself. But as equestrian literary offerings became more robust, varying schools of thought emerged on the practical matter of treatment of horses.

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Image from A General System of Horsemanship, by the Duke of Newcastle. Writing in the 1650s, Newcastle was blunt about using physical punishment to curb recalcitrant horses, but also combined positive reinforcement as a most effective balance.

Through the late 1500s and into the 1600s, more and more voices advocated against the harsh methods. The moderate school included writers like Thomas Blundeville (who translated Grisone’s writings into English), Gervase Markham, and the Duke of Newcastle. All these writers struck a balance that required physical punishment for horses as a necessary part of training, but considered this a last resort, not a first treatment (for example, Markham advocated burning straw around a horse’s head as a treatment for obstinate refusal to carry burdens). In this light, most authors of the age took their cues from Xenophon. Of course, these perspectives were largely explored exclusively among the literate population of Europe. Servants, who were typically tasked with daily care but did not read, often mistreated the horses in their care.

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Portrait of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, from the frontispiece to her Poems and Fancies, 1653. Lady Newcastle was an early writer advocating better treatment of animals and a rejection of the anthropocentric tradition.

Unsurprisingly, the advocates for gentler treatment often had more experience working directly with horses, and maintained that horses were intelligent and possessed memory, senses and feelings. By the middle of the 1600s, more thinkers began to admit the intelligence of animals, beginning with the horse. The Duchess of Newcastle, in her oft-criticized works, decried the anthropocentric view of her day, asserting that

…Man doth think himselfe so gentle, mild,
When he of Creatures is most cruell wild.
   — Margaret Cavendish, Lady Newcastle, Poems

Lady Margaret’s views, which included criticism of meat eating and hunting, were radical in her day. The growing sentiment toward gentle treatment, however, likely had more to do with practical considerations than abstract philosophies. As the quality of horses grew, they became valuable as commodities and as status symbols. Consequently, owners of good horses wanted to keep them in good condition. John Astley, in his book The Art of Riding, claims that harsh bits ruined horses, having “so dulled and deaded the senses and feeling, as he feeleth little of paine, of pleasure nothing at all, and of a sensible creature is made a senseless blocke.”

The shift in perspective was slowly reflected in the wave of equestrian literature from 1550 to 1650. Authors looked to underscore proper care and training of horses, as a worthy way to perfect human riders, but also to protect costly investments in horseflesh. From our current perspective, it’s also possible to trace the first stirring of a notion of animal rights and the deeper ethical considerations that govern the treatment of horses today.


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

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

One of the very best things about old books is the history each individual volume contains. After years of working with the NSLM collection, we haven’t even really scratched the surface. Just a few weeks ago, we were going over some copies of Markham’s Masterpiece and the Citizen and Countryman’s Experienced Farrier. We were surprised to find notes all over the end-papers.

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Notes on the end-papers of Markham’s Masterpiece by Gervase Markham, eighth edition, 1656. Can you make out the words?

Though they are written in English, some of the notes are difficult to decipher. The end-papers on Markham’s Masterpiece are covered with medical recipes similar to those printed in the book. We’re reviewing the volume to see if these are copied from the text (making the end-papers a sort of early “favorites” selection) or if they are new recipes not included in print (implying that they are addenda or improvements on Markham’s work).

The dramatic notes, however, can be found in the Citizen and Countryman’s Experienced Farrier, a similar veterinary compendium printed in the American colonies. It drew heavily on Markham but included many new recipes and cures.

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End-paper signature: “Henry Willy, Richmond, Virginia, 21st Sept. 1784” Citizen and Countryman’s Experienced Farrier, 1764

This copy of the Experienced Farrier was printed by James Adams of Wilmington, Delaware in 1764. Adams was reputedly the first to open a printing shop in Delaware. Henry Willy owned this copy. What’s truly extraordinary, though, is the facing page:

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“Memorandum for Mr. James Rowan.”

The water damage to the page makes it a difficult read online. Here is a transcript of the message:

Memorandum for Mr. James Rowan — to enquire in Chamerstown of Mr. J. Campbell — where Michael Fallon Lives — & to inform him that Mr. Willy — took the liberty of opening a letter directed to Michl. Fallon directed to Mr. Willys care & it asserts that Mr. F’s Father wishes his return to Ireland — & also, since which Mr. Willy has heard that M. Fallon’s father was dead.

The limitations of 18th Century communications are on full display. The memo is instructions for James Rowan, and the receipt of weeks-old news from across the ocean appears to have prompted the revision of the message struck through. As a modern reader, it’s a bit painful to know how long it took to relay the message to Fallon; the limitations on speed of travel ensured little chance of a return to Ireland before the death of his father.

It appears that this book was used to carry the message with Mr. Rowan from Richmond to Chamberstown (later re-named Chambersburg) a journey of 200 miles. How long the book was away from Mr. Willy is unknown, but he re-wrote his name on the back end-papers three years later:

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“Henry Willy, his book, March 24, 1787.”

Let us know if you have found something written in old books, either in the margins or on the end-papers! If you have an eagle eye for 17th-Century handwriting, leave a comment below if you’d like to try transcribing the notes from the 1656 Markham’s Masterpiece.


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