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Richard III and White Surrey….


Once again, while rooting around for information that might be of use in a book I intend to write about figures in the court of Richard II, I have found an interesting snippet. This time my thoughts are jolted with regard to the name of Richard III’s horse, White Surrey.

I have never particularly liked the name, and know that there is some doubt about its veracity, but even so, it is what we all call the great white courser he rode at Bosworth.

Anyway, my interest in Richard II centres on his Holland half-brothers . . . and so I have been going through “The Hollands, Dukes of Exeter, Earls of Kent and Huntingdon, 1352-1475” by Michael M.N. Stansfield, which is the most detailed work about this family that I have found so far.

In 1399, Richard II made a very ill-judged expedition to Ireland, and while his foolish back was turned, the exiled Henry of Bolingbroke, Duke of Lancaster, soon to be Henry IV, invaded England and took over. Among the lords who were with Richard in Ireland was his half-nephew, Thomas Holland III (viscountessw note: his father and grandfather were also called Thomas), Earl of Kent, who had taken his wife and a lot of property with him. When news of Bolingbroke’s invasion reached Ireland, a very hasty return to England was soon underway. This return was bungled, and Richard’s party was soon in Henry’s hands. The unfortunate king would be deposed and executed, the Epiphany Rising of his remaining supporters would be betrayed, and they too would met unpleasant ends.

Meanwhile, the Countess of Kent had been left behind in Ireland, in charge of her husband’s property. When she too returned to England, bringing his goods and belongings with her, she was apprehended and the property seized.

What has this to do with White Surrey, I hear you ask? Well, simply that in a passage about the nature of these goods, I came upon the following:-

“Some idea of a lord’s travelling accoutrements can be gleaned from the inventory of possessions seized with Thomas III’s  widow Joan when she landed at Liverpool, back from Ireland, on 13 January 1400. She brought very little in gold, but a fair amount of silver tableware, 205 lbs 12oz in weight. This went to the royal exchequer and was used to pay some of Thomas III’s debts to Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Lincoln. Equipment for a travelling chapel was also seized, valued in total, books, frontals and all, at £43 8s 4d. Also taken were six horses, three of them coursers and three trotters, with names of aristocratic association such as Bayard March, Lyard Exeter and Bayard Perrers. Their harness and gear, for war and the hastilude, stabling equipment, tents for living in the field, armour for the earl, or perhaps his brother, a chest of arrows and the necessary impedimenta to carry it all completed the possessions brought back from Ireland by the countess.”

Bayard March, Lyard Exeter and Bayard Perrers were (I imagine, but cannot be certain) the three coursers, and in the notes to this passage, Stansfield clarifies that Bayard meant bay-coloured, and Lyard referred to being dappled with white or silver-grey. March, Exeter and Perrers are clearly  references to noble titles or families. Exeter, for example, refers to Thomas III’s uncle, John Holland, Earl of Huntingdon and Duke of Exeter.

As for White Surrey, in 1483 the title of Earl of Surrey was held by John Howard’s (Duke of Norfolk) son and heir, Thomas. I almost wonder if the horse could have been a gift to Richard from one or other of the Howards.

It seems possible that by naming their horses in such a fashion, aristocrats were following an accepted norm, and suddenly I feel I understand Richard III’s choice of White Surrey for his great courser.

Perhaps someone knows much more on this subject. If so, I will be delighted to learn.

(The above illustration is from Black Rose Studios)

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13 thoughts on “Richard III and White Surrey….

  1. The Look of Eagles on that bronze horse suggests that the revised modern dressage saddle he’s wearing (one presumes it’s a he) was naught but a launching pad for whoever dared to ride him, outside his true owner, of course.

    Your find, Viscountess, is invaluable and your conclusions likely. There’s a list of horses Richard of Gloucester had out to grass during the time he was living at Middleham. Some on the list seem to follow the same naming pattern.

    These were found in Harleian Vol 1 pages 4 and 5
    Horses to Grass in various places around the country.
    The brackets are the type of horse such as ambling and trotting which were used for different sorts of riding and journeys.

    First Liard
    Lyard Danby
    Liard Hoton
    The Gret Gray from Gervaux.
    Trotting Moungomery.
    Biard Culton ( Trotting )
    Blak Morelle
    The Whit of Gervaux( trotting for My Lady )
    Morel of Cristalle ( Trotting )
    The Walssh ( Hoby )
    Liard bradshare
    The Gret Bay Gelding of Gervaux
    Biard Verney
    The Blak of Holdernesse.
    The Hoby of Griffithe
    The Hoby of Kildare
    Lyard Say
    Beyard Lanthony

    Beyard Chambreleyne
    Liard Bowes
    The Dover Hoby
    Liard Hartre
    Grey gelding of Savelles
    The Holy Whiche Maister
    The White Whiche
    Liard Clervax of Croft ( ambling )
    Biard Babingstone
    Liard Strangwisshe
    Liard Cultone ( trotting )
    The Little Whit of Knaresburghe
    Liard Carlisle ( Trotting )
    Liard Norfolk ( Ambling )
    Biard Rither

    Horses at Holdernesse
    Liard Mountfort
    A Hoby
    A mare and foul

    Liked by 1 person

  2. viscountessw on said:

    Thank you, Merlyn. A fascinating comment. One wonders how many of them he might have ridden. The only one with what appears to be a ‘personal’ name is Jack. The others seem formal. No doubt they had pet names. I hope so.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. mairemartello on said:

    I believe the horse was called White Syrie – which leads me to believe perhaps it was an Arabian. Of course, the horse may be totally fictional.

    Louis XI gave Richard horses as well.
    We know when leaving Nottingham, he was riding a white stallion.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Rachel Walker on said:

      Interesting, but I am unsure whether an Arabian horse (unless it was not an Arab as such but a heavier horse that just happened to be bred in the area) would not work as a good destrier. I have seen some huge Arabs and they are quite leggy and slim. Some Polish Arabs are a touch smaller and slightly heavier but I am not sure they would still be of the build to carry someone in battle.
      I suppose the horse that Richard would use for riding out would likely be different from the one on the field due to all the different specialisations apparent in the above comment and other sources.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Officially, Arabians didn’t make it to England until hundreds of years later (through a noblewoman whose name I forget, and I’m too lazy at the moment to look it up).

      That doesn’t mean, however, that knights serving in the Crusades didn’t bring Arabians back to England (or Ireland), and that they’d be crossbred with the horses in Richard’s time. It’s just that as a breed Arabians weren’t recognized until…I think it was the 1800s…in England.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Fascinating !

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Sara Nur on said:

    According to what I’ve found, the first Arabians were brought to England by Wilfrid Scawen Blunt and Lady Anne Blunt. They arrived at Crabbet Park on July 2cd, 1878, the Blunt’s estate in Sussex.

    (I stumbled onto this as I searched…As early as 1616, King James I/VI of England is said to have brought a stallion called The Markham Arabian, but I found out this about him:


    James the First bought an Arabian of Mr. Markham, a merchant, for 500 gs., said (but with little probability) to have been the first of that breed ever seen in England.

    The Duke of Newcastle says, in his Treatises on Horsemanship, that he had seen the above Arabian, and describes him as a small Bay horse, and not of very excellent shape; also that he was bought for 150 gs., and to run, and ran so badly that he brought Arabians into disrepute. –“)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Recusant on said:

    what type of horse is a hoby?


    • viscountessw on said:

      According to Merriam Webster:- “…hobby horse archaic : a small or medium-sized light horse especially of Irish origin having a gentle ambling pace…” I think spelling it ‘hoby’ is simply an example of the variations of Mediaeval English. I must say, though, that Merriam Webster gives 1816 as the date for this meaning. I tend to think a hoby was the small swift horse that was used for travelling long distances. They could keep up a fast trot for miles. Their size and usefulness made them preferable for journeys, and that is why so many mediaeval illustrations show riders who seem (to us) to be too large for their mounts. Someone will correct me if I’m wrong, I’m sure.


    • A hoby is a comfy horse to ride, also known as an ambler.


  7. giaconda on said:

    From John Ashdown Hill’s book on Richard III, I understood it to be a two part name – the first part denoting colour and the second, the breeding stock – Syrie – or of Syrian origin. I know little about horses though.


    • viscountessw on said:

      This would certainly explain how ‘family names’ came into it. These families were known for breeding horses. So, for instance, Byard Perrers would be a bay horse from the Perrers stud/stables.


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