For the final post on medieval horses we’re looking at the crème de la crème: the war horse.
I’ve mentioned before that they were eye-wateringly expensive to buy, but they could also be a short-lived investment. Anything could happen to them while on campaign. Engaging with the enemy wasn’t just dangerous for a knight; it was dangerous for his horses as well.
Replacing a horse that was killed in a battle or a skirmish was expensive, but fortunately, during the reigns of Edward I, Edward II and Edward III, a knight didn’t have to bear all the cost himself. He had to provide his own horses, but the royal treasury compensated him if a horse was killed in the service of the king.
At the beginning of a campaign the values of the horses would be agreed with and recorded by royal clerks. There were probably many arguments about this, with the owner wanting a high value recorded and the clerk wanting to keep it as low as possible. There was another problem, in that the value recorded would not necessarily reflect what it would cost to purchase a replacement, nor what it might cost to train the new horse. It was, however, better than losing the horse and receiving no compensation at all.
In the 1338-9 campaign in the Low Countries, the earl of Salisbury’s retinue lost 65 horses and were compensated on average a little under £20 for each one. A different retinue, however, lost 13 horses, which were valued on average at just over £30 each.
Destriers could cost up to £40, sometimes £80, to buy, but most of the horses for which Edward III paid compensation in 1338-40 were worth between £10 and £20. Both our example retinues were recompensed at the higher end of the scale.
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
Armies and Warfare in the Middle Ages by Michael Prestwich