Saturday, 26 May 2007


Because Joanna piqued my curiosity....

What do images show of 12th C women riding? I think I remember only sidesaddles, but can I actually provide some proof so I can say this with confidence.

Before you do, check out this fantastic article on the construction of a replica from pictures and guesswork. Someone on the 12th C mailing list pointed out that I may be using the wrong terminology. Side chair might be the better term for what I am referring to.

A quick skim of the Museum of London Book "the medieval Horse and it's equipage" reveals nothing about riding on the side, although I could have missed something in the fine text. Holmes's "Daily living in the 12th C" names a sidesaddle as a sambue in 12thC french and says that Enide rides one through out her adventures in the medieval romance Erec und Enid. The sambue is also mentioned in Aoil and in Chanson de Guilamme, where it is used with stirrups. He also says it's unclear how often they were actually used by women.

from the artwork: (as always, click on pictures for a bigger version)

The flight into Egypt, roof mural Zillis, St Martin c1140-60
Mary rides a donkey (the ears!)

The flight into Egypt, Wall painting, Church of St Aignan, Brinay, mid 12th C.
It's hard to see in black and white, but Joseph is leading the donkey.

The flight into Egypt, Bib. Nat. Ms lat. 12117, fol 108, c1050
A smidge earlier - just to prove this wasn't a new phenomenon.

The whore of Babylon, horus delectarum f258, Hohenbourg, Alsace 1170-1200
(This is a 19th C copy, but unlikely to get these big details so wrong)
Look at the lovely demon horse monster! Obviously riding on the side is not limited to sedate ladies like Mother Mary, but is also practiced by scandalous women.

Superbia (allergorical figure) horus delectarum (unknown folio)
(I don't know if this is an original or copied page - if it's a copy it's certainly one of the better ones). Superbia is leading an army to attack here. It seems rather ridiculous for her to be doing so sitting sideways, but she is. Maybe riding sideways was more ingrained than I thought, after all allegorical figures are allowed to do things like throw spears that women can't but the still can't ride astride?
Her feet are at uneven heights, whereas the previous pictures have even feet. Perhaps the others have sidesaddles with footrests, but Superbia has stirrups?

Betrix of Reithel travelling (to wed) and Queen Constance travelling (to wed Henry VI, then to Sicily, then home), Berne Codex of Pietro of Eboli's poem in honour of Henry VI, Late 12/early 13th C?
These are horses, not more donkeys, and you can see two feet below the ladies skirts. Note how they are both travelling to their new home to wed. That seems to have been a very 12th C thing - a noble lady only made one big journey in her life, and that was when she left her father's house to go to her bridegroom's house. (Or at least according to my memories of what Holmes says in "Daily living in the 12th C").

Although Constance makes 2 big trips - From home (Sicily) to the Holy Roman Empire (Germany) then back to Sicily so Henry could claim Sicily through right of marriage to her, the only daughter of the last Sicilian King (with the help of an army and a kidnapped pope). Constance was so essential to this claim that she was dragged along even though she was pregnant with Henry's heir.

The last picture is the only one you can see clearly, (sorry,I'd love a better copy of this fascinating manuscript) and Constance is clearly riding a stallion. No sedate donkeys for the wife of the richest man in Europe.

Copenhagen psalter, England, 1175-1200
f10v 3 Magi/Kings, f12r the flight into Egypt, f13r
The entry into Jerusalem

Three images of different types of riding. The three Kings show men riding horses in saddles which are high at front and back. Mother Mary sits sidesaddle on a donkey (or mule?) led by Joseph. Finally Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey sitting sidesaddle but holding the reins himself. It's interesting that they portray Jesus doing this - I guess they extend the humbleness of riding a donkey one step further to riding a donkey like a woman does. I can't recall other depictions of this scene shown this way, but maybe I wasn't paying much attention. At any rate What Jesus is depicted as doing will have little relevance to ordinary men.

Picture bible, North-western France (Monastery St. Bertin ?); c. 1200, (The Hague, KB, 76 F 5)
Ah, here's a more conventional picture (I've found a few others the same now too) of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. Humble on a donkey, but astride. Notice the apparent lack of saddles on donkeys, just a blanket. Interesting, although maybe the fabric is hiding the saddle. I guess maybe they didn't need a saddle if the donkey had a gentler gait and never went fast.

I'm not going to say that all women rode on the side, just that the illustrations give some good evidence that quite a few did - they weren't all riding astride. (No I haven't left out any illustrations of women astride, I didn't find any).


Wencenedl said...

About Jesus entering Jerusalem - Luke records that Jesus sent his disciples to fetch a donkey colt that no one had ever ridden. When they did, they threw their cloaks over the colt's back and Jesus rode into Jerusalem on it. That explains why the manuscript picture shows no saddle - the story being illustrated specifically says there was none (presumably since the colt had not yet been broken to the saddle).

Teffania said...

Thanks, that makes sense. (although I still don't know why I can't see a sadle under Mary.

Jac said...

Donkeys don't hold a saddle well. they lack the prominent shoulders (withers) that hold a saddle from slipping forward on horses. Googling for images of saddled donkeys shows that most have straps going around the rump, holding the saddle back. Some have straps to the front, holding the saddle forward. Without such straps, donkeys can soon learn that all they have to do to divest themselves of both saddle and rider is to stop sharply with head lowered.

I can attest to the difficulty of attempting to ride side saddle without a saddle - on some horses, the withers provide a bump over which to rest a knee, as you would use a knee horn in a modern side saddle, but on many horses and every donkey and mule I've known, the withers are not prominent enough for that.

I found this snippet, but can't vouch for the veracity: "in medieval times, women had ridden behind their menfolk on pillion pads; when they rode independently, their saddles were little more than stuffed platforms, sometimes with a hand hold. Those with a foot rest (planchette), were reputedly introduced into England by Anne of Bohemia in the fourteenth century."

I suppose it's possible that Mary has been depicted either not using a saddle, or perhaps with a humble saddle-pad implied?

Teffania said...

Cool info, thanks Jac!
I'd guess Mary is using a saddle pad then. The modern style of riding sidesaddle with a knee over the pommel sounds difficult without a pommel, but what if you try and sit perpendicular to the animal instead of face fowards?

The site you quote sounds like so much heresay. One of the carvings, labelled only light into egypt, on the site I linked to (
clearly shows a planchet. The style of the carving looks anglosaxon to me (maybe 10-11th C).
Many of my images have feet splayed in the same way. I know this isn't good evidence without a firm dating for the carving, but I suspect I'll find a 12th C example this year now that I'll be looking at every woman riding picture I see, instead of glossing over them.

Anonymous said...

Anything in the literature of the time - Chretien de Trois, Marie de France etc wrt to the courtly love traditions? More likely to have descriptions of what the high class ladies (more likely to ride) thought fashionable at least, though still hamstrung by your translator and a certain degree of fantasticalness and impracticality. Also, any commentaries on Eleanor of Aquetaine's pilgrimage to Jerusalem - rants from offended clergy giving a baseline etc?


Teffania said...

Searching the internet more, and info is quite rare and patchy. This blog comes up in the first page!
is annother typical one. Everyone seems to know the myth about anne of Bohemia and Catherine of Aragon, but both seem silly to me. This article for example says:"Some women probably rode ponies (under 14 hands), even when sitting sideways, they would have had adequate control, but often a servant led them." But MOL horse acessories book says the average HORSE height of the period was 13 hands. The pictorial evidence certainly backs this up. (those stirrups practically dragging on the ground). They just didn't think about it at all. There's a lot of other crap too - like spilt skirts in the 14th C.

wikipedia's article on medieval horses is actually much better:
There's obviously someone with an interest writing this, eg:

I wonder if amblers made a difference to how well sidesaddles worked? The MOL gives nice quotes about how amblers were preferred for women and people who weren't used to travelling.

Teffania said...

re: stellarmuddle's comments

I don't have easy access to a lot of good translations of romances at th moment, but I don't remember a lot of women riding in them. The girl on a mule in Lancelot sticks out because she gives him a ride behind her. From memory it becomes a farce with a n impossible string of men riding behind her. I interpret that as she rids astride, I think it might even say so.

I noted the couple of examples Holmes gives from romances, but most of the women in romances that I remember sat in castles waiting for the men to visit them. Still, holmes gives the word for a sidesaddle/chair, so even if the translator jsut says riding, I should be able to tell how in the side by side translations I prefer.

I don't have a lot of clergy rants, not knowing any good complete translations of that type of thing.

Rusia_12c said...

About Hortus deliciarium.
It is copy, 19th century.

It is lost.

Teffania said...

Superbia is not from the 19th C copy (by Engelhardt) you linked to - small details (such as the label for the lionskin above the horse rump) are missing. I guess It could be from one of his earlier black and white sketches, or it could be a different copyist.

You can see a few plates made by annother copyist (the one working for Comte Auguste de Bastard) here on this page alongside some of Engelhardt's pencil sketches. Dodwell says these are the most reliable colour copies. Which implies that the whore of bablylon is from this copy.

rusia_12c said...

Well, I've want to tell just "It is not original, and manuscript's name is not "horus delectarum", but "Hortus deliciarium".
Execuse me, please...

What are you thinking about this picture?
Lacing or ribs? :-)
It's from Graz cod. 287

Rusia_12c said...

Teffania said...

Ooh, that is a bad spelling habbit to have, thankyou for correcting me. I'll edit the post. And sory I was tired when answering last night.

About the picture:
*Do you have any special tips for getting that site to show 12th C pictures? I haven't been able to get more than a couple at a time, and then I forget to go back to it. I speak enough German that i'm pretty sure it's not language that's the problem.
*cool picture!
*The black pen was inked in before the red. I think the original black was just a bliaut without the lacing. The red could have been done later as a sideless surcoat, but i don't think so. I suspect it was done by the same artist, he just changed his mind - maybe he started by copying a 30 year old picture, but couldn't resist updating things a bit. I think the way he's coloured in with the red means he had to have done the black first. Then again, I think I see some black on the curved line, so I may be talking nonsense.
*I think most of the ribs I've seen slope the other way slightly. But I'm not sure. now that I search for ribs, I keep finding naturalistic german/austrian sketches of bodies by 1150. This is from Graz 286 (I was trying to see the whole of Graz 287, but it wouldn't let me) and it is stylistically similar, but no ribs.
*you can see a layer under the dress at the sleeves, so it should be there under the arms. And ribs aren't normally shown so prominently through clothing outside of england pre 1150.
*So yes, I think lacing. There is one other picture I've been shown like this, also post 1200, where the dress clearly curves a long way in, and has lacing. It also has that silhoette of the classic bliaut and then the dress that looks like it has been corrected inwards. I don't think it had laces displayed, but it had holes (or decorative lacing hole sized blobs) along the edges of the curve at good intervals for lacing.
*it's not as naturalistic or painstaking work as some pictures from the era. I'm inclined to better trust pictures that look like a cohesive whole. The really good artists are less likely to be copying (sometime badly) from an earlier work, I figure.
*it's nighttime again, I'll sleep on it and see if I change my mind.

rusia_12c said...

Oh, thank you very much!
I am russian, and I know only Russian and English languages.
I think - all your work is a really good deal, thank you a lot :-)
I'm looking and thinking about sleeves of bliaut, somelike 4 years...
And I have seen some (a lot of...) images from Spain, Sweden, England, France, Germany - but I have not classifing them so accuratly.
I think - the blog is the blog, the web-site is web-site, the web-gallery is the web-gallery.
Some is better for something.
Well, I think this project needs the gallery of images (galleries).
Please, look at our gallery of braies (XII - XIII - 1320):
Text is Russian, we have not translate it into English yet.


Teffania said...

first about my blog:
I know I'm stretching the bounds of a blog a bit, and that some of this stuff would be better as a gallery, but there are a couple of reasons (wrong or right) why I'm writing it this way:
*I have some gallery's on my hard disc and no-one else gets to see them. I never get around to posting them because I can't break the job up into manageable bits. (uploading with lots of links is also easier with bigger page limits on blogger)
*I want comments from people reading, correcting my misconceptions, offering differing opinons, asking questions that force me to think more about hte material, etc
*I can comment on the pictures with a very personal voice. When I write class handouts, I'm a bit more conservative, giving only what I think is the facts. Here I feel I can give my opinions on how things are done. Each entry is dated, so when I change my opinion, you can (hopefully) tell that any entries before that date are superceeded in that aspect. I also am happier with my speculations being in a place where people can easily add a comment and discuss them. If I put them in a class handout or webpage doccument, I'm worried someone might accept tham as fact.
*that said, I've got a collection of trimmed photos and words that i can easily cut and past into a class handout or doccumentation when I need to.
*And finally, I do intend to do more posts about how i make garments from these pictures, so there will eventually be more conventional dress diary entries. It's just that for me research is 3/4 of the garment construction process.

now about your webpage:
*the braes gallery is so cool. I know how rare decent images of braes are in the 12th C, and you've found so many.
*a few of the thumnail pictures are broken, mostly ones from the maj bible
*I pickedup a comment from somewhere (wish I could remember where) that 14th C hose had the very pointy fronts at the top while earlier ones were almost flat around the top of the leg. I don't think your images agree with that. Maybe spanish ones are flatter? What do you think?
*I find it facinating how early the short braes appear in spain, although I guess climate is probably important as well as eastern influences.
*lovely stuff, keep it up!

rusia_12c said...

Thank you for answer!

// pickedup a comment from somewhere (wish I could remember where) that 14th C hose had the very pointy fronts at the top while earlier ones were almost flat around the top of the leg. I don't think your images agree with that. Maybe spanish ones are flatter? What do you think?

Well, 13th century hose had the pointy fronts too.,%20ok.%201200.jpg
Spanish picture maybe shows early fashion of "high" or "long" hoses.