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Destrier

Destrier

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The destrier is the best-known war horse
Horses in warfare
The first use of horses in warfare occurred over 5,000 years ago. The earliest evidence of horses ridden in warfare dates from Eurasia between 4000 and 3000 BC. A Sumerian illustration of warfare from 2500 BC depicts some type of equine pulling wagons...

 of the medieval era
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

. It carried knight
Knight
A knight was a member of a class of lower nobility in the High Middle Ages.By the Late Middle Ages, the rank had become associated with the ideals of chivalry, a code of conduct for the perfect courtly Christian warrior....

s in battles, tournaments
Tournament (medieval)
A tournament, or tourney is the name popularly given to chivalrous competitions or mock fights of the Middle Ages and Renaissance . It is one of various types of hastiludes....

, and jousts
Jousting
Jousting is a martial game or hastilude between two knights mounted on horses and using lances, often as part of a tournament.Jousting emerged in the High Middle Ages based on the military use of the lance by heavy cavalry. The first camels tournament was staged in 1066, but jousting itself did not...

. It was described by contemporary sources as the Great Horse, due to its size and reputation.

The term destrier is derived from the Vulgar Latin
Vulgar Latin
Vulgar Latin is any of the nonstandard forms of Latin from which the Romance languages developed. Because of its nonstandard nature, it had no official orthography. All written works used Classical Latin, with very few exceptions...

 dextarius, meaning "right-sided" (the same root as our modern dexterous and dexterity). This may refer to the fact that it was led by the squire
Squire
The English word squire is a shortened version of the word Esquire, from the Old French , itself derived from the Late Latin , in medieval or Old English a scutifer. The Classical Latin equivalent was , "arms bearer"...

 at the knight's right side (or led by the right hand) or to the horse's gait
Horse gait
Horse gaits are the various ways in which a horse can move, either naturally or as a result of specialized training by humans.-Classification:...

, (possibly leading with the right).

While highly prized by knights and men-at-arms, the destrier was actually not very common. Most knights and mounted men-at-arms rode other war horses, such as coursers
Courser (horse)
A courser is a swift and strong horse, frequently used during the Middle Ages as a warhorse. It was ridden by knights and men-at-arms.Coursers are commonly believed to be named for their running gait,...

 and rouncey
Rouncey
The term rouncey was used during the Middle Ages to refer to an ordinary, all-purpose horse. They were used for riding, but could also be trained for war...

s. These three types of horse were often referred to generically as chargers.

Characteristics of the destrier


The word destrier does not refer to a breed, but to a type of horse: the finest and strongest warhorse. These horses were usually stallion
Stallion
A Stallion is a male horse.Stallion may also refer to:* Stallion , an American pop rock group* Stallion , a figure in the Gobot toyline* Stallion , a character in the console role-playing game series...

s, bred and raised from foalhood specifically for the needs of war. The destrier was perhaps more suited to the joust; coursers seem to have been preferred for other types of warfare
Horses in warfare
The first use of horses in warfare occurred over 5,000 years ago. The earliest evidence of horses ridden in warfare dates from Eurasia between 4000 and 3000 BC. A Sumerian illustration of warfare from 2500 BC depicts some type of equine pulling wagons...

. They had powerful hindquarters, able to easily coil and spring to stop, spin, turn or sprint forward. They also had a short back and well-muscled loin, strong bone, and a well-arched neck. From medieval art, the head of the destrier appears to have had a straight or slightly convex profile, strong, wide jaw, and good width between the eyes.

The destrier was specifically for use in battle
Medieval warfare
Medieval warfare is the warfare of the Middle Ages. In Europe, technological, cultural, and social developments had forced a dramatic transformation in the character of warfare from antiquity, changing military tactics and the role of cavalry and artillery...

 or tournament
Tournament (medieval)
A tournament, or tourney is the name popularly given to chivalrous competitions or mock fights of the Middle Ages and Renaissance . It is one of various types of hastiludes....

; for everyday riding, a knight would use a palfrey
Palfrey
A palfrey is a type of horse highly valued as a riding horse in the Middle Ages. It is not a breed.The word "palfrey" is cognate with the German word for horse , "Pferd". Both descend from Latin "paraveredus", meaning a post horse or courier horse...

, and his baggage would be carried on a sumpter horse (or packhorse
Packhorse
.A packhorse or pack horse refers generally to an equid such as a horse, mule, donkey or pony used for carrying goods on their backs, usually carried in sidebags or panniers. Typically packhorses are used to cross difficult terrain, where the absence of roads prevents the use of wheeled vehicles. ...

), or possibly in wagons.

Breeding and size of the destrier



There are many theories as to what type and size destriers attained, but they apparently were not enormous draft
Draft horse
A draft horse , draught horse or dray horse , less often called a work horse or heavy horse, is a large horse bred for hard, heavy tasks such as ploughing and farm labour...

 types. Recent research undertaken at the Museum of London
Museum of London
The Museum of London documents the history of London from the Prehistoric to the present day. The museum is located close to the Barbican Centre, as part of the striking Barbican complex of buildings created in the 1960s and 70s as an innovative approach to re-development within a bomb damaged...

, using literary, pictorial and archeological sources, suggests war horses (including destriers) averaged 14–15 hands
Hand (unit)
The hand is a non-SI unit of measurement of length, now used only for the measurement of the height of horses in some English-speaking countries, including Australia, Canada, the UK and the USA. With origins in ancient Egypt, it was originally based on the breadth of a human hand...

, and were distinguished from a riding horse by their strength, musculature and training, rather than their size. This estimate is supported by an analysis of medieval horse armour
Barding
Barding is armour for horses. During the late Middle Ages as armour protection for knights became more effective, their mounts became targets...

 located in the Royal Armouries
Royal Armouries
The Royal Armouries is the United Kingdom's National Museum of Arms and Armour. It is the United Kingdom's oldest museum, and one of the oldest museums in the world. It is also one of the largest collections of arms and armour in the world, comprising the UK's National Collection of Arms and...

, which indicates the equipment was originally worn by horses of 15 to 16 hands, about the size and build of a modern field hunter
Field hunter
A field hunter, or a fox hunter, is a type of horse used in the hunt field for fox hunting. It may be of any breed, but should possess stamina, a level head, and bravery. The horse should have a safe jump, so as not to get caught on any of the solid obstacles found in the hunt field...

 or ordinary riding horse.

It is probable that the modern Percheron
Percheron
The Percheron is a breed of draft horse that originated in the Perche valley in northern France. Percherons are usually gray or black in color. They are well-muscled, and known for their intelligence and willingness to work. Although their exact origins are unknown, the ancestors of the breed were...

 draft breed may be a descendant in part from the Destrier, though it is probably taller and heavier than the medieval horse. Other draft breeds such as the Shire
Shire horse
The Shire horse is a breed of draught horse or draft horse . The breed comes in many colours, including black, bay and grey. They are a tall breed, with mares standing and over and stallions standing and over. The breed has an enormous capacity for weight pulling, and Shires have held the world...

 claim destrier ancestry, though proof is less certain.

Equestrian statues
Equestrian sculpture
An equestrian statue is a statue of a rider mounted on a horse, from the Latin "eques", meaning "knight", deriving from "equus", meaning "horse". A statue of a riderless horse is strictly an "equine statue"...

 in Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

 suggest a "Spanish" style of horse that today would be referred to as a Baroque horse
Baroque horse
The Baroque horse is a term used to generally describe the type of agile but strong-bodied descendants of horses in the Middle Ages such as the destrier. Specific ancestors of this type include the Neapolitan horse, and the Iberian horse of Barb ancestry known in the Middle Ages as the Spanish...

, such as the Andalusian horse
Andalusian horse
The Andalusian, also known as the Pure Spanish Horse or PRE , is a horse breed developed in the Iberian Peninsula. Its ancestors have been present on the Iberian Peninsula for thousands of years. The Andalusian has been recognized as an individual breed since the 15th century, and its conformation...

, Friesian horse
Friesian horse
The Friesian is a horse breed originating in Friesland, Netherlands. Although the breed's conformation resembles that of a light draft horse, Friesians are graceful and nimble for their size. During the Middle Ages, it is believed that the ancestors of Friesian horses were in great demand as war...

, or even a heavy but agile warmblood
Warmblood
Warmbloods are a group of middle-weight horse types and breeds, primarily originating in Europe, registered with organizations that are characterized by open studbook policy, studbook selection, and the aim of breeding for equestrian sport...

 breed such as the Irish Draught
Irish Draught
The Irish Draught horse is the national horse breed of Ireland which developed primarily for farm use. Today, they are especially popular for crossing with Thoroughbreds and warmbloods, producing the popular Irish Sport Horses which excel at the highest levels of eventing and show jumping.-...

. Modern estimates put the height of a destrier at no more than 16 hands
Hand (unit)
The hand is a non-SI unit of measurement of length, now used only for the measurement of the height of horses in some English-speaking countries, including Australia, Canada, the UK and the USA. With origins in ancient Egypt, it was originally based on the breadth of a human hand...

, though with a strong and heavy physique.

Modern attempts to reproduce the destrier type usually involve crossing an athletic riding horse with a light draft type. These includes crossbreds such as the "Spanish Norman", a cross between the Percheron
Percheron
The Percheron is a breed of draft horse that originated in the Perche valley in northern France. Percherons are usually gray or black in color. They are well-muscled, and known for their intelligence and willingness to work. Although their exact origins are unknown, the ancestors of the breed were...

 and the Andalusian
Andalusian horse
The Andalusian, also known as the Pure Spanish Horse or PRE , is a horse breed developed in the Iberian Peninsula. Its ancestors have been present on the Iberian Peninsula for thousands of years. The Andalusian has been recognized as an individual breed since the 15th century, and its conformation...

  and the Warlander
Warlander
The Warlander is a horse of Baroque type, produced by crossing Andalusian and Friesian breeds. The ideal Warlander combines the Andalusian's intelligence, facility for collection, flexibility, and powerful hindquarters, with the Friesian's tractability, dramatic leg action, "bone", and strong...

 a cross between the Andalusian and the Friesian horse
Friesian horse
The Friesian is a horse breed originating in Friesland, Netherlands. Although the breed's conformation resembles that of a light draft horse, Friesians are graceful and nimble for their size. During the Middle Ages, it is believed that the ancestors of Friesian horses were in great demand as war...

.

Value of quality war horses


A good destrier was expensive. 7th century Salic law
Salic law
Salic law was a body of traditional law codified for governing the Salian Franks in the early Middle Ages during the reign of King Clovis I in the 6th century...

 gives a price of 12 solidi
Solidus (coin)
The solidus was originally a gold coin issued by the Romans, and a weight measure for gold more generally, corresponding to 4.5 grams.-Roman and Byzantine coinage:...

 as weregild
Weregild
Weregild was a value placed on every human being and every piece of property in the Salic Code...

, or reparational payment, for a war horse, compared to 3 solidi for a sound mare or 1 solidus for a cow. In later centuries destriers became even more expensive: the average value of each of the horses in a company of 22 knights and squires in the county of Flanders in 1297 compares to the price of seven normal coursers. The price of these destriers varied between 20 and 300 livres parisis (parisian pounds), compared to 5 to 12 livres for a normal courser.

See also

  • Horses in the Middle Ages
    Horses in the Middle Ages
    Horses in the Middle Ages differed in size, build and breed from the modern horse, and were, on average, smaller. They were also more central to society than their modern counterparts, being essential for war, agriculture, and transport....

  • Horses in Warfare
    Horses in warfare
    The first use of horses in warfare occurred over 5,000 years ago. The earliest evidence of horses ridden in warfare dates from Eurasia between 4000 and 3000 BC. A Sumerian illustration of warfare from 2500 BC depicts some type of equine pulling wagons...

  • Andalusian horse
    Andalusian horse
    The Andalusian, also known as the Pure Spanish Horse or PRE , is a horse breed developed in the Iberian Peninsula. Its ancestors have been present on the Iberian Peninsula for thousands of years. The Andalusian has been recognized as an individual breed since the 15th century, and its conformation...

  • Baroque horse
    Baroque horse
    The Baroque horse is a term used to generally describe the type of agile but strong-bodied descendants of horses in the Middle Ages such as the destrier. Specific ancestors of this type include the Neapolitan horse, and the Iberian horse of Barb ancestry known in the Middle Ages as the Spanish...

  • Friesian horse
    Friesian horse
    The Friesian is a horse breed originating in Friesland, Netherlands. Although the breed's conformation resembles that of a light draft horse, Friesians are graceful and nimble for their size. During the Middle Ages, it is believed that the ancestors of Friesian horses were in great demand as war...

  • Percheron
    Percheron
    The Percheron is a breed of draft horse that originated in the Perche valley in northern France. Percherons are usually gray or black in color. They are well-muscled, and known for their intelligence and willingness to work. Although their exact origins are unknown, the ancestors of the breed were...