We touched earlier on some of the costs involved in keeping a horse in the Middle Ages. In the fourteenth century, as now, farrier’s bills made up quite a bit of that cost.
Farriers did many things that were necessary for horses. Their activities included making horseshoes and nails (although blacksmiths could also do this); giving advice to customers about buying and caring for horses; looking after sick horses and shoeing horses. If they had a seal, it usually showed horseshoes, hammers or nails, or various combinations of these items.
The fourteenth-century farrier was known as a marshal. You might have come across the word in the context of the Earl Marshal, who was the king’s leading military man, or you might have heard of William (the) Marshal, the right-hand man to three successive kings of England. The Earl Marshal was originally the keeper of the king’s horses, but the position evolved over time.
Marshals knew how to care for sick horses. In London, at least, they were distinct from blacksmiths and had their own guild, although there was tension between the two trades, as blacksmiths were also able to make shoes and to shoe horses.
Farriers sometimes had their anvils in the street, in the hope of catching passing trade, which made them a bit of a nuisance. They often used a travis to restrain horses while they were being shoed or cared for when sick. This was an open wooden frame with bars to which the horse’s leg could be secured while the farrier was working on it. There’s a small picture of one in a manuscript illustration here. It’s on the bottom left.
The Medieval Horse and its Equipment by John Clark
A Dictionary of Medieval Terms and Phrases by Christopher Corèdon and Ann Williams
Power and Profit: The Merchant in Medieval Europe by Peter Spufford
A Social History of England ed. Rosemary Horrox and W. Mark Ormrod
The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer