Delightfully worried to death by dogs

Today’s post comes from guest blogger Simon Leake, who explores the curious and often over-looked early modern bloodsport of Horse Baiting.

There are many surviving eyewitness reports of bull and bear-baiting throughout England from the Middle Ages to the early 19th Century. The baiting of horses however seems to have been much less frequent, or less frequently described. Joseph Strutt, in The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England from the Earliest Period (1801) reproduces this image of “the cruel diversion of baiting a horse with dogs, from a fourteenth century manuscript.”

Strutt’s claim is repeated in several subsequent books on the subject, and even finds its way into Chamber’s The Medieval Stage (1903). In more than one of these later books, the baited animal in the image is given a mane

but closer examination of the manuscript upon which Strutt bases his claim, ‘The Queen Mary Psalter’ (MS Royal 2.VII), reveals that the animal in question is clearly a horned bull (see title image) and not a horse.

When horses appear in the Bear Gardens of 16th Century London, they are usually at the end of the bill, sent into the ring with apes tied to their backs. A report from an attendant to the Duke of Nájera, visiting London in 1544, shows that this entertainment was not without violence:

Into the same place they brought a pony with an ape fastened on its back, and to see the animal kicking amongst the dogs, with the screams of the ape, beholding the curs hanging from the ears and neck of the pony, is very laughable.

On the 23rd of August 1584 the German traveller Lupold von Wedel crossed the river to Southwark to see a bear baiting. After watching three bears fight with dogs, but before the baiting of a bull, “a horse was brought in and chased by the dogs.” The performance ended with dancing, fighting, a shower of bread and apples, and a fireworks display.

During the first half of the 17th Century horses continued to have a secondary role in the bloody business of the bear-garden. In his ‘Bull, Beare, and Horse, Cut, Curtail and Longtail’ (1638) John Taylor, the Water Poet, describes the appearance of the mounted ape on his Bear Garden palfrey:

Where Iack-an-Apes his horse doth swiftly run
His circuit, like the horses of the Sun.
And quicke as lightning, his will trace and track,
Making that endlesse round his Zodiacke,
Which Iacke (his Rider) bravely rides a straddle,
And in his hot Careere perfumes the saddle

It is in Restoration London that we find specific references to the baiting of horses, and these events seem to have caused a degree of anxiety that was absent from the baiting of bears and bulls. In both of the following examples the promoters of the event take pains to emphasise the unnatural viciousness of the animal, perhaps attempting to justify the baiting as a form of execution as much as a sport. On the 17th of August 1667 John Evelyn wrote in his diary:

There was now a very gallant horse to be baited to death with doggs; but he fought them all, so as the fiercest of them could not fasten on him, till they run him through with their swords. This wicked and barbarous sport deserv’d to have ben punish’d in the cruel contrivers to get mony, under pretence that the horse had kill’d a man, which was false. I would not be persuaded to be a spectator.

On the 7th of April 1682 the following advertisement ran in Nathaniel Thomson’s newspaper, The Loyal Protestant and True Domestick Intelligence:

London, April 7. At the house on the Bankside, being his Majesties Bear-garden, on Wednesday the 12th day of this instant April, at one of the clock in the afternoon, will be a Horse baited to death, of a most vast strength and greatness, being between 18 and 19 hands high, formerly belonging to the Earl of Rochester, and for his prodigious qualities in killing and destroying several horses, and other cattel, he was transmitted to the Marquiss of Dorchester; where doing the like mischiefs, and also hurting his keeper, he was sold to a brewer; but is now grown so headstrong they dare not work him; for he hath bitten and wounded so many persons (some having died of their wounds) that there is hardly any can pass the streets for him, though he be fast tied; for he breaks his halter to run after them (though loaden with eight barrels of beer), either biting or treading them down, monstrously tearing their flesh, and eating it, the like whereof hath hardly been seen. And ’tis certain the horse will answer the expectation of all spectators. It is intended for the divertisement of his Excellency the Embassadour from the Emperour of Fez and Morocco; many of the nobility and gentry that knew the horse, and several mischiefs done by him, designing to be present.

The venue for this event was Philip Henslowe and Jacob Meade’s Hope Theatre, which had opened in 1614 on the site of the earlier Bear Garden as a dual-purpose venue. By 1682 the Hope was used exclusively for bloodsports, but this event did not go exactly according to plan and the monstrous, murderous horse almost won a reprieve:

London, April 15. This day, the great Horse mentioned in our last being brought to the Bear-garden, several dogs were set upon him, all which he overcame, to the great satisfaction of all the spectators. But, after a little time, a person resolving to save his life, and preserve him for another time, led him away; and being come almost as far as London bridge, the Mobile then in the house cryed out it was a cheat, and thereupon began to untyle the house, and threatened to pull it quite down, if the Horse were not brought again and baited to death. Whereupon the Horse was again brought to the place, and the dogs once more set upon him; but they not being able to overcome him, he was run through with a sword, and dyed. It was designed principally for the entertainment of his Excellency the Embassadour from the Emperour of Fez and Morocco; but, by reason of bad weather, he was not there.

Soon after the baiting of the Earl of Rochester’s horse the Hope appears to have been abandoned as a venue for bloodsports. A new Bear Garden opened at Hockley-in-the-Hole, Clerkenwell, where animals were baited and men fought until the 1730s:

At the Bear-garden in Hockley in the Hole, near Clerkenwell Green, 1710. This is to give notice to all gentlemen, gamesters, and others, that on this present Monday is a match to be fought by two dogs, one from Newgate-market, against one from Honey-lane market, at a bull, for a guinea to be spent, five let-goes out of hand, which goes fairest and fastest in, wins all. Likewise, a green bull to be baited, which was never baited before; and a bull to be turned loose with fireworks all over him. Also a mad ass to be baited. With a variety of bull-baiting and bear-baiting, and a dog to be drawn up with fireworks. To begin exactly at three of the clock.

A much later reference to horse-baiting, from the notes to Alexander Chalmers 1822 edition of The Tatler shows how attitudes to some bloodsports began to change as the 18th century drew to a close:

…it was advertised in 1785, that a fine horse, brought at great expense from Arabia, would be delightfully worried to death by dogs, in an inclosure near the Adam and Eve, in Tottenham-court-road; and to exclude low company, every admission-ticket was to cost half-a-guinea. But the interposition of the magistrates, who doubted of the innocence, or of the wisdom of training dogs and horses to mutual enmity, put a stop for once to that superfine exhibition.

Simon Leake lives in Seattle with his wife and daughter. He tries to be kind to his cat. You can follow him on Twitter here

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One comment

  • Anonymous
    December 12, 2011 - 7:06 pm | Permalink

    I found this quite upsetting!

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