FROM SWORDS TO PLOW-SHARERS: NEW USES FOR AN OLD FRIEND
The Horse on the Feudal Farm
Prior to the Middle Ages, horses were mainly utilized in transportation and warfare. Moreover, horses were both expensive to buy and, compared to oxen and donkeys who were foragers, were expensive to keep. Horses required specialized feed, constant care, and good shelter. The feudal system of the Middle Ages placed the farmer on his land under the control of a lord, but the lord, in turn, had the means of supplying the farmer with horses to use in the manor’s fields. Therefore, the Middle Ages saw the horse slowly begin to replace the ox in agriculture. This transformation would not be completed until the 19th century.
From Racing Chariots to Reluctant Carts
The Middle Ages in Europe witnessed the loss of the cultural life and technological innovations achieved by Romans. European roads fell into disrepair because, after Rome’s disintegration, no one had either the ability or evidently the desire to maintain them. Chariots were no longer used after the fall of Rome, and decent transportation in all forms vanished. Thereafter, only sluggish carts and wagons moved between farms and villages.
Carriage Development Awaited Improved Roads
It is estimated that between 1350 and 1600 the number of vehicles in England remained roughly the same. One of the few improvements in transportation in England occurred when Anne of Bohemia married England?s Richard II in 1382. When Anne came to England, she brought a carriage with her, which was probably made in Kocs, Hungary. Kocs was renowned for its excellence in carriage making and it is from this town’s name that we derive our word “coach.” Because of the deplorable condition of England?s roads, Anne’s carriage remained somewhat of a novelty. Carriages and coaches did not see widespread usage in London until the early 17th century.
Anne of Bohemia Helps Popularize the Sidesaddle
Many variations of the sidesaddle have taken place throughout the ages. The original sidesaddle, probably invented in the Middle East during the 12th century, and early examples are shown in paintings on Greek vases and on Celtic sculptured stones. The early sidesaddle was more or less a padded seat in which the women sat completely sideways. The horses appeared to be small, and were often led by a servant. By the 9th century AD, a “planchette’” was added which was a little board for the rider’s feet to rest upon.
Anne of Bohemia, an elegant European princess, arrived in England in 1381 to become the bride of Richard II. She is credited with having popularized the sidesaddle in England. Until the sidesaddle was created, women were obliged to ride astride as men did. This would have been very uncomfortable given the elaborate dress of the time. If they chose not to ride astride, women were packed into rough carts called “litters” which consisted of little more than a few boards and wheels and haphazardly assembled.
Anne remained a beloved queen until she died of the plague at the young age of 28. Her husband, Richard II, was so grieved that he ordered the destruction of Sheen castle in which she died.