The destrier is the best-known of the . It carried in battles, , and . It was described by contemporary sources as the Great Horse, due to its significance.
While highly prized by knights and , the destrier was not very common. Most knights and mounted men-at-arms rode other war horses, such as and . These three types of horse were often referred to generically as chargers.
The word is first attested in around 1330, as destrer. It was borrowed into Middle English from destrer, whose counterpart was destrier (from which the Modern English spelling derives). The word is also found in medieval (as destrier) and Italian (as destriere, destriero). These forms themselves derived from the equus dextarius, meaning « right-sided horse » (from dextra, « right hand », the same root as dexterous and dexterity). This may refer to it being led by the at the knight’s right side (or led by the right hand) or to the horse’s , (possibly leading with the right).
The word destrier does not refer to a , but to a type of horse: the finest and strongest warhorse. These horses were usually , bred and raised from foalhood specifically for the needs of war. The destrier was also considered the most suited to the ; coursers seem to have been preferred for other forms of . They had powerful hindquarters, able to easily coil and spring to stop, spin, turn or sprint forward. They also had a short back and well-muscled loin, strong bone, and a well-arched neck. From medieval art, the head of the destrier appears to have had a straight or slightly profile, strong, wide jaw, and good width between the eyes.
The destrier was specifically for use in or ; for everyday riding, a knight would use a , and his baggage would be carried on a (or ), or possibly in wagons.
Breeding and size
Much speculation has taken place about the nature of destriers and about the size they attained. They apparently were not enormous types. Recent research undertaken at the , using literary, pictorial and archeological sources, suggests war horses (including destriers) averaged from 14 to 15 (56 to 60 inches, 142 to 152 cm), and differed from a riding horse in their strength, musculature and training, rather than in their size. An analysis of medieval located in the indicates the equipment was originally worn by horses of 15 to 16 hands (60 to 64 inches, 152 to 163 cm), about the size and build of a modern or ordinary riding horse.
It is probable that the modern draft breed may in part descend from destriers, though it is probably taller and heavier than the average destrier. Other draft breeds such as the claim destrier ancestry, though proof is less certain.
in suggest a « Spanish » style of horse that today would be referred to as a , such as the , , or even a heavy but agile breed such as the . Modern estimates put the height of a destrier at no more than 16 hands (64 inches, 163 cm), but with a strong and heavy physique. Though the term « Great Horse » was used to describe the destrier, leading some historians to speculate that such animals were the forerunners of modern breeds, the historical record does not support the image of the destrier as a draft horse.
Modern attempts to reproduce the destrier type usually involve crossing an athletic riding horse with a light draft type. Outcomes of such attempts include such as the « », a cross between the and the ; and the , a cross between the Andalusian and the .
Value of quality war horses
A good destrier was expensive. Seventh-century gives a price of 12 as , or reparational payment, for a war horse, compared to 3 solidi for a sound mare or 1 solidus for a cow. In later centuries destriers became even more expensive: the average value of each of the horses in a company of 22 knights and squires in the county of Flanders in 1297 compares to the price of seven normal coursers. The price of these destriers varied between 20 and 300 livres parisis (parisian pounds), compared to 5 to 12 livres for a normal courser.
Notes and references
- . Armies and Warfare in the Middle Ages: The English Experience, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996, p 30
- . A Knight and his Horse, Rev. 2nd Ed. USA:Dufour Editions, 1998, pp 11-12
- Middle English Dictionary (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1952–2001), s.v. . Cf. « destrer | destrier, n. » OED Online, Oxford University Press, July 2018, . Accessed 12 September 2018.
- « destrer | destrier, n. » OED Online, Oxford University Press, July 2018, . Accessed 12 September 2018.
- . English Medieval Knight 1300-1400, Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2002, p 59
- . A Knight and his Horse, Rev. 2nd Ed. USA:Dufour Editions, 1998, p 11
- See e.g.: Clark, John (Ed). The Medieval Horse and its Equipment: c.1150-c.1450, Rev. 2nd Ed, UK: The Boydell Press, 2004, p 23; Prestwich, Michael. Armies and Warfare in the Middle Ages: The English Experience, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996, p 30
- Clark, John (Ed). The Medieval Horse and its Equipment: c.1150-c.1450, Rev. 2nd Ed, UK: The Boydell Press, 2004, p. 25
- study by , quoted in: Clark, John (Ed). The Medieval Horse and its Equipment: c.1150-c.1450, Rev. 2nd Ed, UK: The Boydell Press, 2004, p 23
- Gravett, Christopher. English Medieval Knight 1300-1400, Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2002, p 59
- (1996) Armies and Warfare in the Middle Ages: The English Experience. New Haven: Yale University Press, p. 30
- (2005) Daily Life in Medieval Times. UK: Grange Books (originally published by Harper Collins in three volumes, 1969, 1974, 1990) , p. 88
- Clark, John (Ed) (2004) The Medieval Horse and its Equipment: c.1150-c.1450. Rev. 2nd Ed, UK: The Boydell Press , pp. 25, 29
- , Spanish-Norman Horse Registry, Referenced August 12, 2008.
- J. de St. Genois, Inventoire analytique des chartes de comtes de Flandres, Ghent, 1843-1846