17.02.10 , Forgeng, trans., The Book of Horsemanship by Duarte I of Portugal

Main Article Content

Pia Cuneo

The Medieval Review 17.02.10

Forgeng, Jeffrey L., ed. The Book of Horsemanship by Duarte I of Portugal. Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK: Boydell Press, 2016. pp. vii, 172. ISBN: 978-1-78327-103-0 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Pia Cuneo
University of Arizona

Jeffrey L. Forgeng's engaging translation of The Book of Horsemanship (Livro do Cavalgar) by Eduarte I, king of Portugal (1391-1438), makes a particularly significant historical source available to those of us in the Anglophone scholarly community who do not read Portuguese. While the first English translation of the king's book was published in 2005, undertaken by Antonio Fanco Preto and Luis Preto, Forgeng's positions as Curator of Arms and Armor, and of Medieval Art at the Worcester Art Museum, combined with his role as adjunct professor of history at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, allow his work to be informed by a deep familiarity with the historical, cultural, and material artefacts and contexts involved in the subject and production of Duarte's text. This familiarity is on display in Forgeng's highly informative introduction (1-43). Here he covers topics such as the life of King Duarte as well as the history and provenance of the manuscript containing The Book of Horsemanship. He explains the text's probable genesis, readership, and its structure. Furthermore, he considers it within the contexts of equestrian and other kinds of technical literature, and of the practices and implements involved in medieval equestrianism. The introduction includes contemporaneous illustrations of some of the tack and equipment used by medieval horsemen. These illustrations, along with Forgeng's clear descriptions and explanations of various paraphernalia, are extremely useful in helping the reader navigate some densely technical passages of Duarte's text.

But The Book of Horsemanship is much more than merely a technical treatise. As Forgeng clarifies in his introduction, Duarte goes well beyond the usual practical and mechanical topics covered in such works by including discussions of specific physical and emotional states to be achieved or eschewed; by remarking on pedagogical issues involved in teaching boys and men to ride well; and by inserting information about horsemanship into larger cultural and intellectual contexts. It may come as a surprise to some twenty-first-century historians that thinking about horsemanship could effortlessly lead Duarte into the contemplation of Aristotelian philosophy, for example. For these reasons, The Book of Horsemanship is truly a pioneer of post-Classical hippological literature. Although Federico Grisone's Gli ordini di cavalcare (Naples, 1550) ushers in a phase of early modern discourse on equestrianism, we do not find a nuanced discussion touching on emotional, psychological, and philosophical issues similar to Duarte's until the seventeenth century, in the works of such authors as Christoph Jacob Lieb and William Cavendish.

Duarte's text is such an important source for historians because, while elucidating attitudes and practices that are primarily interwoven with horsemanship, the insights it provides can illuminate many other facets of late medieval/early modern culture and history. For example, throughout his text, Duarte refers to horsemanship as an art, and even a few times as a science. The application of such nomenclature indicates that attitudes about horsemanship were quite complex and extended well beyond regarding it as simply a means to win battles, score points at tournaments, and enjoy blood sports. In discussing the advantages a man gains by good horsemanship, Duarte certainly includes success in warfare, games and hunting. In an adamant claim in which he includes his readers, Duarte states: "our role in society is that of defenders, and so the principal arts we should learn and possess are the ones most suitable to the needs of battle" (138), thus justifying the effort, time, and expense required to learn the art of horsemanship. Such justifications become standard fare in subsequent hippological literature of the early modern period. Duarte is also uniquely forthright and plain-spoken in his insistence that the demonstration of riding well is what identifies a man as belonging to a noble estate. Learning the art of horsemanship "involves doing as others of our estate do...and understanding that it is enough to ride well and to do everything on horseback like our peers" (99-100). However, Duarte moves beyond this well-worn rationale of social identity to consider for example the emotional rewards derived from the exercise of skilled horsemanship. Chapter 4 Part I of his text is titled: "The enjoyment that arises from this art" (53). In enumerating the benefits accrued by the accomplished horseman, Duarte states: "a man who has good mounts and knows how to ride them, receives these advantages:...Second, to enjoy riding...Sixth, to be cheerful" (54). In an age when men such as Leonbattista Alberti are in essence reconsidering the ontological status of art and/as science, and when non-theological discussions of human emotions are relatively rare, Duarte's text contributes to these topics in original and meaningful ways. In other words, conceptualizing horsemanship as an art and as science has consequences for our twenty-first-century understanding of how late medieval/early modern people thought not only about horsemanship but also about art and science.

In order to learn the art of horsemanship and thus to reap all of its social and emotional rewards, Duarte insists that the student must understand the role of three phenomena: the will, one's individual ability, and knowledge. As Forgeng remarks, Duarte's treatment of these three phenomena in fact provides the very structure of The Book of Horsemanship. Discussing will, ability, and knowledge leads Duarte into considerations of philosophy, theology/spirituality, and pedagogy, subjects that not only pertain to horsemanship but are also therein interconnected. For example, engaging one's will, ability, and knowledge allows the rider to develop the strength necessary to hold himself upright, firm and fluid in the saddle. But for Duarte this upright position is important not only in riding but in every aspect of life. In chapter 11 section 1 part 3, Duarte discusses "The analogies that we can derive from this riding upright" (chapter title, 66). In thinking about how best to deal with the vicissitudes of life, Duarte argues for the necessity of retaining a firm sense of what is right, and of maintaining a sense of emotional equilibrium. In other sections of the book, and--as Forgeng notes--in other works written by the king, Duarte seems to be drawing from Aristotle, especially his ethics, and the passage referred to above may well too. But theology--or at least a grounding in basic Christian tenets--equally informs this and other discussions of analogies between life and riding. "If we have the will and ability to do this well [i.e. to do right and maintain balance] with the grace of our Lord God, soon with His help we will know how to ride very upright in most of our deeds" (66). Duarte's discussion of the four different wills is, according to Forgeng's footnote, derived from works by St. John Cassian (114). And in exploring the need to curb these different wills, Duarte thinks about the various forms of control as bits. "To write as befits a treatise on riding, there are three bits that restrain us from following the first three wills and allow us to be guided by the fourth" (117). The most effective bit, according to Duarte, is the third, which is "love of our Lord God and affection for virtues" (117).

The skills necessary to the interwoven practices of riding well and living virtuously must all be learned, and Duarte frequently returns to the topic of pedagogy in his text. In chapter 15 section 5 part 3 titled "In praise of the arts" (137-140), Duarte outlines the kinds of books that children and others should read. These include not only "books teaching about warfare, such as the venerable chronicles" but also "good books in Latin and the vernacular about good conduct in a virtuous life...[and] books of moral philosophy which are of many kinds for teaching good customs and pursuit of virtues" (139). But reading alone is not enough. The virtues described in the texts must be actively practiced by their readers. And the physical arts, including horsemanship, should also be learned and practiced. According to Duarte, knowledge, one of "the three main things through which one acquires any art" (48), is obtained by various means: from reading books such as the one he is writing; through hearing counsel of those with great knowledge (including being taught by a riding master); and also through personal experience and practice. In writing about the role of his book in the acquisition of knowledge, Duarte is mindful of both the advantages and limitations offered by reading as a pedagogical modality: "You should know first of all that you will attain this art [i.e. horsemanship] more by native talent, by acquiring and maintaining good mounts and having the opportunity to ride them regularly, and by living in a household and country that breeds and values good horseman, than by knowing anything I will write here...But I am writing this book to teach those who do not know about such things, and for those who know more, to consolidate in the memory those things that seem good to them, and so that they can teach others" (47-48). Duarte even offers instructions about how his book should be read: slowly, repeatedly, section by section: "For if they [his book's readers] read it straight through without interruption, as if it were a book of stories, it will soon frustrate them and make them impatient" (50). In these and other passages, Duarte offers us rare insight into how such technical treatises not only functioned but also how they might have actually been read.

Emphases on virtue and piety notwithstanding, Duarte also recognizes that one of the advantages of skillful horsemanship is quite simply looking good. Appearance matters. If a rider looks good on horseback, Duarte explains, than lords will think he is also good at important horse-related activities such as battle and hunting, and will want to engage him in their households. If a rider's technique has flaws that he is unable to correct, he should hide them and appear as elegant, capable, and confident as possible, even if he has to fake it. Eleventh on Duarte's list of properties a good horseman must have is: "you should be elegant in every kind of saddle and style of riding...and you should know to configure yourself and your mount to look good and show well, and to conceal shortcomings in yourself and the mount" (58). Later in the text, Duarte even teaches the reader/rider a few tricks to make him appear more confident than he really feels when his mount starts to act up; the king also describes how to make the horse appear to be more of a challenge to ride than the animal actually is. The point of these tricks is to maintain appearances: "The key to all of this is knowing how to do everything so that you always make it appear to be done with real rather than fake confidence" (94). This preoccupation with confidence, ease, elegance and what Forgeng translates as 'fluidity' brings to mind Castiglione's notion of sprezzatura, as Forgeng notes. The Portuguese king discusses these topics almost a full century before the Italian courtier does. The emphasis on cutting a fine figure on horseback, and also Duarte's careful explanations of how to do things on horseback while retaining that elegance, may well prove relevant for the interpretation of contemporaneous equestrian imagery.

Not entirely surprisingly, Duarte neglects two topics: women as riders; and the horse. We know from other sources that noble women actually did participate in activities such as hunting on horseback, but Duarte--like many of the authors who succeed him--does not mention their instruction. Women are entirely absent from his discussion on horsemanship except at the very end where he makes them responsible for a diminution in the interest in and practice of horsemanship. Men nowadays, Duarte laments, "prefer chatting with women, and their desire is entirely focused on wearing fine clothing and shoes, playing tennis, singing, and dancing, conforming to the wills of women, who are mainly interested in these arts" (137). Forgeng notes the lack of information about the rider's partner, the horse, but plausibly surmises that this may be the case because Duarte did not finish his treatise. From remarks he makes about topics he wanted to cover, it seems that Duarte may have well intended to discuss matters related to the horse, but those plans remained unfulfilled. Such information would have been very valuable for scholars of animal studies.

Thanks to Jeffrey L. Forgeng, Duarte's text is now available to a wider scholarly audience. The Book of Horsemanship is a reminder that hippological treatises such as Duarte's are indeed the very opposite of the esoteric and limited sources some scholars may take them to be (note that Duarte's text had to wait almost six hundred years before being translated into English). The king's text and others that follow in the early modern period, indicate that, for some it its practitioners, horsemanship could be a richly complex phenomenon embracing a rather dazzling array of social, political, cultural, intellectual and even theological/spiritual issues, attitudes, and practices.

Article Details