The real horse of the Conquistador
The Light Cavalry horse of Medieval Europe and horse of the Conquistadors
The amount of personal opinion often wrongly stated as fact and even fiction that has been written about the light cavalry horse of Europe is astonishing.
The purpose of this article is to separate the fact from the fiction.
Recently real scientific research has been done on the horse in Europe.
This research was carried using science and Osteo-archaeology.
Ireland was chosen as the ideal place for this.
There was several reasons for this,
( 1 ) In Britain and the European Continent the native European wild horse ( Tarpan ) and domestic horse coexisted at the same time which makes trying to distinguish between the wild and domestic horse difficult.
( 2 ) The horse returned to Ireland in a domestic forum in the early Bronze Age. That meant that there was no such problems in trying to distinguish between the wild and domestic ones.
( 3 ) The development of the horse in Ireland paralleled with that of Britain and Europe.
Here is some edited comments from historians and scientists that will give you an idea of the environment and the type of horse used for light cavalry at that time. ....
Quote from Kevin Boylan "This list covers Irish armies in the period after the initial shock of the Anglo-Norman conquests of the late 12th and 13th Centuries had been overcome,
This was a time of recovery for the native (or Gaelic) Irish, as the introduction of new troop types and military institutions (and the general disinterest of the British monarchy) allowed them to gradually regain ground at the expense of the invaders. They were aided by the fact that most Anglo-Normans became thoroughly "gaelicized,"with the natives and adopting all of the trappings of their culture -- including an innate disdain for the remote authority of the British crown. The result was that the region within which English law held sway steadily shrank until, by the end of 15th Century, it encompassed an area barely 50 miles square centered upon Dublin. Within this Dublin 'Pale' was the 'Land of Peace' administered by the King's Justiciar or, later, Lord Lieutenant. "Beyond the Pale" lay the 'Land of War', where Irish and Anglo-Irish lords raided and battled one other in an endless series of petty wars and clan succession struggles characterized by a bewilderingly complex and constantly-shifting tangle of alliances."
Only two major external interventions in Irish affairs occurred during this entire period. The first, and best known, was the invasion of Edward Bruce (brother of Robert the Bruce), who aimed to become King of Ireland. It is unclear whether the invasion, launched in 1315, was intended primarily to rid Robert of a potential rival for the Scottish throne, or to exploit British weakness following his great victory at the Battle of Bannockburn the previous year. Edward (briefly joined by his brother in 1317) roamed at will throughout Ireland for four years and won many battles, but proved unable either to take Dublin or cement his authority over the fractious island. An assemblage of Irish and Anglo-Irish lords acclaimed him as king, but many others were no more willing to swear fealty to a Scottish king than to an English one. Edward's task was also complicated by the effects of the Great European Famine of 1315-1318, and his own foolishness in allowing his army to indiscriminately ravage the countryside. Mass starvation caused by the combination of crop failures and depredations of Edward's troops alienated many of the Gaelic Irish whom he needed to win over. As a consequence, relatively few Irishmen mourned when Edward was defeated and killed at the Battle of Faughart in September 1318(1).
"The other intervention came at the end of the 14th Century, when King Richard II personally led two military expeditions to Ireland. These were prompted by a near total collapse of English governance in the face of rebellious Irish lords, and Anglo-Irish lords whom intervened in the conflicts of their Gaelic neighbors and warred upon each other in total disobedience of the authority of the crown. The most serious threat was posed by Art MacMurrough Kavanagh, self-styled King of Leinster, who grew so bold that he even burnt the city of Carlow, which was then the seat of British administration for all Ireland. In 1394-95, Richard II campaigned at the head of 8,000 to 10,000 troops -- the largest army Ireland would see in all the Middle Ages. Richard induced MacMurrough to submit by surrounding his fastness in the Wicklow Mountains with a chain of fortified garrisons and using small bodies of mounted archers to scour and devastate the area within the encirclement. This victory, and the sheer size of Richard's army, convinced nearly all the other Irish rebels to submit in exchange for full pardon and confirmation of their ownership of lands held since the Norman Conquest."
Richard's success proved to be short-lived, since fighting resumed almost immediately after he departed Ireland, and MacMurrough was soon in open rebellion once again. In 1398, the presumptive royal heir, Roger Mortimer, was killed in battle near Carlow, prompting Richard to return Ireland the next year. However, on this occasion, fiscal difficulties prevented him from fielding an army large enough to repeat his earlier success. Instead, he chased MacMurrough into the heart of the Wicklow Mountains, but the canny Irishman avoided battle and harassed the British with constant ambushes, night raids, and attacks on stragglers. Worse yet, while Richard was campaigning futilely in Ireland, his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke (afterwards King Henry IV), returned from exile and rose in rebellion. Richard hastened back to England in July 1399, but was almost immediately taken prisoner and deposed. The death of Mortimer and Richard II's distraction in Ireland thereby contributed directly to the rise of the Lancastrian monarchy -- and thus, to the Wars of the Roses that would wrack England for many years to come. This ensured that Ireland would be left to its own devices throughout most of the 15th Century.
The Irish Way of War
Throughout this period, the tactics employed by the Gaelic Irish generally resembled those used by Art MacMurrough in opposing Richard II's second expedition. That is, when confronted by a superior force they would refuse to fight in the open, and instead try to ambush the enemy force while it was crossing through a forest or mountain pass. When time allowed, a ditch-and-bank fortification surmounted by a palisade would be built across the narrows of the pass, and the trees on either side would be 'plashed' (interwoven) to prevent the obstacle from being flanked. These tactics were most often used against the far better armed British and Anglo-Irish; set-piece battles between Gaelic Irish armies were much more frequent.
However, seeking and winning battles was not the principal goal of strategy in medieval Irish warfare. Rather, the most common objective was to capture and carry off the enemy's cattle. In the semi-nomadic, pastoral culture of Gaelic Ireland, cattle were the virtually the only movable commodity of value, and a lord's wealth and influence were judged by the size and quality of his herds. Cattle raiding therefore played a central role in strategies to achieve local or regional predominance. A lord whose cattle had been stolen could have most of them restored if he submitted to his rival's overlordship -- and provided hostages as surety for his new allegiance. However, cattle raiding could also be a simple exercise in grand larceny, particularly when the enemy was too powerful to be forced to submit.
If the region that was the target of a raid had sufficient warning, its people would flee, driving their cattle to a safe refuge in the mountains or forest, burning their crops, and concealing their stored grain in underground granaries. The raiders, denied both plunder and any means of sustenance, would soon be forced to retreat empty-handed. They could destroy the inhabitants' dwellings, but these were typically nothing more than thatched stone or wattle-and-daub huts that were easily rebuilt. Needless to say, these Fabian tactics were even more effective against ponderous British and Anglo-Irish armies than they were against swift-moving Irish raiders. One Anglo-Irish squire who had participated in Richard II's first expedition described the frustrations of Irish warfare to the French chronicler Jean Froissart as follows:
"...Ireland is one of the worst countries to make war in, or to conquer; for there are such impenetrable and extensive forests, lakes, and bogs, there is no knowing how to pass them, and carry on war advantageously. It is so thinly inhabited that, whenever the Irish please, they desert the towns and take refuge in the forests, and live in huts made of boughs, like wild beasts; and whenever they perceive any parties advancing with hostile dispositions, and about to enter their country, they fly to such narrow passes, it is impossible to follow them. When they find a favorable opportunity to attack their enemies to advantage, which frequently happens, from their knowledge of the country, they fail not to seize it."
Because of the prominence of cattle raiding in Irish warfare, battles most often occurred either when a raiding force was intercepted before it could escape with the plundered herds, or a fleeing populace was caught short of its mountain and forest hideaways. Yet, even in these circumstances, conventional battles rarely resulted. Instead, the retreating party would make a fighting withdrawal in order to cover the escape of its herds, so that the 'battle' would effectively consist of periods of movement punctuated by a series of ambushes and skirmishes. The centrality of these tactics in Irish warfare is revealed in the epic poem The Bruce, which was penned by John Barbour, Archdeacon of Aberdeen, around 1375. Barbour describes how, on the eve of the Battle of Faughart, Edward Bruce's Irish allies tried to dissuade him from fighting until nearby reinforcements had arrived. When Edward rejected their advice, the Irish 'kings' warned him that they were not willing to participate "...for our tactics are those of this land, to pursue and fight, and to fight while retreating, and not to stand in open battle until one side is defeated."
The Irish were not alone in avoiding battle, since battle-seeking strategies were relatively rare in the medieval era. The only treatise on military strategy that was available at the time, the 4th Century De Re Militari of Vegetius, stressed the avoidance of pitched battle, with its attendant risks, at all costs. For most of the 100 Years' War, British strategy on the Continent relied primarily upon a combination of sieges and chevauchees (devastating mounted raids) to defeat the French. All three of their great battlefield triumphs at Crecy, Poitiers and Agincourt occurred when retreating British forces were forced to turn at bay by closely pursuing French armies. (5)
All this being said, the Gaelic Irish sometimes did fight set-piece battles -- both against each other and their 'foreign' enemies -- even though it was not their standard mode of warfare. Indeed, during the period in question, their ability to succeed in open battle increased considerably as a consequence of the introduction of better-armed troops and the development of new military institutions."
Gaelic Irish Troops
Irish armies of the later Middle Ages were composed of three distinct types of Gaelic troops: horsemen, galloglass and kern. These were sometimes augmented by Anglo-Norman men-at-arms and footmen, but the practice was a risky one because these mercenaries often used the opportunity to seize disputed lands, and were even known to turn on their erstwhile allies. Irish lords understandably came to prefer the more loyal and trustworthy Gaelic mercenaries.
The horsemen were generally nobles serving in the personal retinues of Irish lords, and would often have been drawn from their master's immediate and extended family. In other cases, personal service in these military 'households' (teaghlach or lught tighe) may have been linked to occupancy of estates granted by the overlord. In any event, nobles who owed service due to ties of blood or vassalage could be supplemented by mercenary cavalrymen and, in the event of a hosting, by the wealthier members of the Rising Out. The mercenaries may have been either the landless, junior sons of aristocratic families, or noblemen dispossessed by Anglo-Norman invaders or rivals in clan succession struggles.
Regardless of their origins, the horsemen usually wore iron helmets and chainmail, and were armed with javelins and spears wielded overarm -- instead of couched underarm like lances. They rode light, unbarded Irish horses rather than knightly destriers, and, lacking both saddles and stirrups, instead balanced themselves precariously on pillows tied across their mounts' backs. Each such cavalryman was customarily accompanied by one or more unarmored 'horseboys' (servants or squires) who rode into battle on his spare horses. Irish cavalry was consequently incapable either of charging or standing against formed foot or heavier horse, and therefore employed skirmishing tactics. However, there are several indications in contemporary sources that Irish nobles sometimes dismounted to fight on foot. On such occasions, the well-armed nobles would have made a significant addition to the unarmored footmen that formed the bulk of medieval Irish armies.
Nobles: If mounted, these should be armed with spears and javelins, wearing helmets and mail, and possibly carrying small round shields, riding ponies with neither saddles nor stirrups.
Anglo-Irish Men-at-Arms: At the beginning of the period, 'degenerate' or gaelicized Anglo-Irish men-at-arms would look a great deal like late Norman knights without the kite shields (though they might be carrying smaller round or heater shields). By the late 14th Century, they would look more like their Gaelic Irish counterparts, riding without stirrups on small horses, although they would be better armored. Yet, even at the end of the period, plate armor was still quite rare in Ireland, and virtually all of the Anglo-Irish would still have been wearing mail."
More on Art Mac Murrough .... "King Richard could make little head against the harassing irregular warfare carried on by MacMurrough, and at length expressed willingness to come to terms with him, and make grants of lands in exchange for those of which he had been deprived."
"February 1395, MacMurrough, mounted on a black steed, and accompanied by his tributary chiefs, met the King's commissioners at Ballygorry, near Carlow."
"On Richard's return to England, he took with him as hostages sons of MacMurrough, and other young chiefs. It was not long, however, before MacMurrough was again engaged in hostilities. In 1397 he took Carlow; and on the 20th July, next year, at the head of a large force, defeated the Anglo-Irish army on the banks of the Nore. The Viceroy, Roger Mortimer, fell in this engagement. King Richard was again obliged to visit Ireland to assert his supremacy, and on the 23rd June 1399, with a fresh army, marched against MacMurrough, who said he "would neither submit nor obey Richard in any way, but affirmed he was the rightful king of Ireland, and that he would never cease from war and the defence of his country till his death, declaring that the wish to deprive him of his land by conquest was unlawful." With but 3,000 men he harassed Richard's large forces, and retreating before them into the fastnesses of Wicklow, reduced them to the greatest straits for provisions. Indeed the King's army would have been almost annihilated but for his timely meeting with some of the fleet at Arklow. Eventually MacMurrough consented to a parley with the Earl of Gloucester.
His appearance on the occasion is thus described by Froissart: "From a mountain between two woods, not far from the sea, I saw MacMurrough descend, accompanied by multitudes of the Irish, and mounted on a horse without saddle or saddle-bow, which cost him, it was reported, four hundred cows, so good and handsome an animal it was. This horse was fair, and in his descent from the hill to us, ran as swift as any stag, hare, or the swiftest beast I have ever seen. In his right hand he bore a long spear, which, when near the spot where he was to meet the Earl, he cast from him with much dexterity. The crowd that followed him then remained behind, while he advanced to meet the Earl near the brook. He was of large stature, wonderfully active, very fell and ferocious to the eye-a man of deed." We are told that "Gloucester and MacMurrough, meeting at a little brook, exchanged much discourse. MacMurrough declared he would have no terms but peace without reservation, free from molestation of any kind, and asserted that otherwise he would never come to a compact so long as he lived."