Galloping through the Middle Ages: Horse in Medieval Life and Middle English Literature



Medieval horse, Middle English Literature, Gender Roles, status, horse in literature


The horse was an undisputed part and parcel of medieval life. It was an indispensable component of feudal chivalry and warfare, equally important as a means of transportation both for people and goods, for travel, agriculture and entertainment in forms such as hunting and tournaments as the only vehicle for mobility. All classes and genders made extensive use of it.  Chivalry which was the most important institution of the Middle Ages, and the political and administrative system of feudalism was possible only with the mounted knight. Knighthood, the vestiges of which extend to the present day was one of the defining force of the Middle Ages. The knight and the horse hence become one. Just as the knight was protected by his armour, the horse was also protected by various forms of armour. Similarly, the coat of arms that the knight’s outfit displayed for identification and decoration would also be  used on the covers  for the horse. The literal and idealistic depiction of the knight and  his horse found its depiction in the literature of the Middle Ages. The horses acquired individualising names and symbolic significances in addition to fighting and other skills. In romances such as  Sir Gawain and the Green Knight the horses were depicted so as to shed light and bestow extra significance to the qualities of their noble riders. The horse was the extension of the knight. In other works such as Chaucer’s  General Prologue to  The Canterbury Tales, following the symbolism established in Phaedrus employing the body and reason dicothomy, the horse and rider figure gained  significance in addition to reflecting the social, economic qualities and aspirations of its rider.  The Ellesmere Manuscript of the Canterbury Tales depicts 23 of the pilgrims providing more information about the horse and rider relationship extending the desctiptions in the written text. Furthermore, the horse was accepted to symbolise woman, and hence it pointed to the necessity of males bridling and controlling the weaker sex. The reversal of this power relation found its expression in the woman becoming the rider controlling /riding the male as implied in the portrait of the Wife of Bath in the Canterbury Tales.



Barber, R. (Trans.)(1999) Bestiary (MS Bodley 764) . Woodbridge: Boydell Press.

Bishop, M. (1978) The Penguin book of the Middle Ages. Harmondsworth; Penguin.

Chaucer, G. (1988) The Canterbury Tales. In The Riverside Chaucer. (Ed.)L.D. Benson.

(pp. 23-328) Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Chaucer, G. (1988) Troilus and Criseyde. In The Riverside Chaucer. (Ed.)L.D. Benson.

(pp. 473-585) Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Clark, J. (2004)(Ed.) The medieval horse and its equipment. London; Boydell Press.

Comte, S. (1978) Everyday life in the Middle Ages. (Trans) D. Macrae. Geneve; Minerva.

Crane, S. (2013) Animal encounters: contacts and concepts in medieval Britain. Philadelphia;

University of Pennsylvania Press.

Cummins, J. (1988, 2003) The art of medieval hunting: the hound and the hawk. Edison NJ:

Castle Books.

Delasanta, R. (1968) The horsemen of the ‘Canterbury Tales’. Chaucer Review 3 (1), 29-

Dent, A.A.(1959-62) Chaucer and the horse. Proceedings of the Leeds Philosophical and

Literary Society 9, 1-12.

Desmond, M. (2006) Ovid’s art and the Wife of Bath: the ethics of erotic violence. Ithaca and

London: Cornell University Press.

Ellis, B. M. A, (1995-2004) “Spurs and spur fittings.” In The medieval horse and its

equipment. (Ed.) J. Clark. London; Museum of London Publications & Boydell.

Gautier, L. Chivalry. (1965) (Ed) J. Levron. (Trans). D.C. Dunning. London: Dent.

Gies, F. (1984,2011) The knight in history. New York; Harper Perrenial.

Gies, F. and J. Gies. (1991) Life in a medieval village. New York: New York; Harper


Herzman, R.B., G. Drake and E. Salisbury (Eds.).(1999) Bevis of Hampton. In Four

romances of England. (pp.187-340). Kalamazoo, Michigan: Medieval Institute


Herbert-Davies,E. (2018) The cultural representation of the horse in late medieval England:

status and gender. School of History; University of Leeds.

Hyland, A. (1999) The horse in the Middle Ages. Redwood, Towbridge: Sutton.

Langland, W. (1978) The vision of Piers Plowman. (Ed.)A.V.C Schmidt . London; Dent.

Lydgate, J. (1900) Horse, goose and sheep. (Eds.) H. Breymann and J.Shick. Erlangen and

Leipzig: A. Deicher’sche Verlagsbuch.

“The Medieval Bestiary: Unicorn” web

Megged, Matti. The animal that never was. New York: Lumen Books,1992.

Miller, A. G. (Oct. 2013) ‘Tails’ of masculinty: knights, clerics, and the mutilation of horses

in medieval England. Speculum 88(4), 958-995.

Montanari, M. (1999). Peasants, warriors, priests: images of society and style of diet. In (Ed.)

A. Sonnenfeld. (Trans. et al.) C. Botsford Food: a culinary history from antiquity to

the present. New York and Chichester West Sussex: Columbia University Press. pp.178-185.

Montanari, M. (1994) The culture of food. Oxford and Cambridge Massachusets; Blackwell.

Oakeshott, E. (1998) A knight and his horse. 2nd Rev ed. Pennsylvania; Dufour Editions.

Pascua, E. (2007,2011) From Forest to Farm and Town: Domestic Animals from ca. 1000 to

ca. 1450. In (Ed.) B. Resl. A cultural history of animals in the Middle Ages. Vol 2.

Oxford, New York; Berg, pp.81-102.

Plato. (1914) Phaedrus (Trans.) H.N. Fowler Cambridge, Massachusetts; London: Harvard

University Press pp.475-579.

Prudentius. (1949) Psychomachia (Trans.) H.J. Thomson London; Heinemann, Cambridge,

Massachusetts; Harvard Loeb Classical Library pp.274-243.

Rosenblum, J. and W. K. Finley. (2003) Chaucer gentrified: the nexus of art and politics in

the Ellesmere miniatures. Chaucer Review 38 (2), 140-57.

Reiss, E. (1968) The symbolic surface of the Canterbury Tales: the Monk’s portrait. Chaucer

Review 2, 254-72.

Ross, J. B. and M. M. McLaughlin (Eds.) (1949, 1977) The Portable Medieval Reader.

Harmondsworth; Penguin.

Ross,T. W. (1972) Chaucer’s bawdy. New York: Dutton.

Rowland, B. (1966) The horse and rider figure in Chaucer’s works. UTQ (35), 246-59.

Rowland, B. (1971) Blind beasts: Chaucer’s animal world. Kent Ohio; Kent State University


Salisbury, Joyce E. (2011) The beast within: animals in the Middle Ages. 2nd ed. London and

New York; Routledge.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. (2000) (Trans.) Marie Barroff. In The Norton Anthology of

English Literature (Ed.) M.H.Abrams. Vol I. 7th ed. New York and London; Norton

pp. 158-210.

Sir Orfeo (1986)(Ed.) Sands, Donald B. In Middle English verse romances.University of


White,T.H. (1954) (Trans and Ed.) The book of beasts. New York: Dover.

Withers, Jeremy. (Winter 2011) The ecology of late medieval warfare in Lydgate’s Debate of

the Horse, Goose, and Sheep. ISLE 18.(1),104-122.




How to Cite

Erol, B. (2022). Galloping through the Middle Ages: Horse in Medieval Life and Middle English Literature. Journal of Narrative and Language Studies, 10(19), 1–13. Retrieved from