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No Flatterer: Equine Complicity and Human Veracity in Stuart England

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Abstract:

Ben Jonson famously claimed, "They say Princes learn no art truly, but the art of horsemanship. The reason is, the brave beast is no flatterer. He will throw a prince as soon as his groom." His quip distilled the value of horsemanship in early-modern England to its fundamental physicality and praised the brave beast's autonomy in reacting to who a man was rather than who the man purported to be.

This presentation argues that early-modern horses could and would challenge the human social order when they reacted to the ways they were handled. Furthermore, it argues that early-modern Englishmen recognized this ability and relied upon their horses' insights as they sought to navigate the fraught personal politics of the English Stuart courts. While much of the scholarship on animal agency has focused on the notion of misbehavior, this oversimplifies the case of horsemanship. Jonson's comment did not praise disobedience in a horse; it praised the horse for reacting honestly to bad riding. While vicious and aggressive horses were not tolerated, men trusted well-trained and obedient horses whose reactions showed observers that a man lacked the equestrian skill expected of his station. In the narrow view of the thrown prince, the horse may have misbehaved but even reaching that conclusion would have betrayed the prince's lack of horsemanship. From the broader perspective of true horsemen, Jonson suggests, the horse was collaborating with human interests and could be relied upon to reveal and to build the prince's character. Through an examination of similar comments, this paper finds that Stuart-era Englishmen recognized and valued their horses' capacity for autonomous action. Ultimately, the complex and extensive systems of early-modern equestrian education taught men to accommodate equine agency and use it to further their own social and political goals.
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Name: ASEH Annual Conference
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http://aseh.net


Citation:
URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p1170474_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Roberts Graham, Amber. "No Flatterer: Equine Complicity and Human Veracity in Stuart England" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the ASEH Annual Conference, Drake Hotel, Chicago, IL, <Not Available>. 2018-01-10 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p1170474_index.html>

APA Citation:

Roberts Graham, A. "No Flatterer: Equine Complicity and Human Veracity in Stuart England" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the ASEH Annual Conference, Drake Hotel, Chicago, IL <Not Available>. 2018-01-10 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p1170474_index.html

Publication Type: Panel Paper
Abstract: Ben Jonson famously claimed, "They say Princes learn no art truly, but the art of horsemanship. The reason is, the brave beast is no flatterer. He will throw a prince as soon as his groom." His quip distilled the value of horsemanship in early-modern England to its fundamental physicality and praised the brave beast's autonomy in reacting to who a man was rather than who the man purported to be.

This presentation argues that early-modern horses could and would challenge the human social order when they reacted to the ways they were handled. Furthermore, it argues that early-modern Englishmen recognized this ability and relied upon their horses' insights as they sought to navigate the fraught personal politics of the English Stuart courts. While much of the scholarship on animal agency has focused on the notion of misbehavior, this oversimplifies the case of horsemanship. Jonson's comment did not praise disobedience in a horse; it praised the horse for reacting honestly to bad riding. While vicious and aggressive horses were not tolerated, men trusted well-trained and obedient horses whose reactions showed observers that a man lacked the equestrian skill expected of his station. In the narrow view of the thrown prince, the horse may have misbehaved but even reaching that conclusion would have betrayed the prince's lack of horsemanship. From the broader perspective of true horsemen, Jonson suggests, the horse was collaborating with human interests and could be relied upon to reveal and to build the prince's character. Through an examination of similar comments, this paper finds that Stuart-era Englishmen recognized and valued their horses' capacity for autonomous action. Ultimately, the complex and extensive systems of early-modern equestrian education taught men to accommodate equine agency and use it to further their own social and political goals.


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