King Billy’s (other) horse

Published in Early Modern History (1500–1700), Issue 4 (Winter 2004), Letters, Letters, Volume 12, Williamite Wars

Sir,

 

—The Autumn issue of History Ireland has just come through the letterbox and I happen to have opened it on Áine Maire Chadwick’s letter on White Sorrel, the white horse so famously associated with King Billy. As your correspondent points out, this was not the horse ridden by William at the Battle of the Boyne. That horse, as Padraig Lenihan notes in his article ‘King Billy—a military assessment’ (HI 12.1, Spring 2004), was indeed a ‘dark horse’ and not white. It may interest you and your readers to know that animal’s fate.
After the horse sank to its haunches in the mud of the battlefield, it was recovered and came into the possession of Henry, third earl of Drogheda, who was appointed governor and commissioner in Ireland by William. He had the animal professionally stuffed by a taxidermist, and to mark its importance he draped it in cloth of gold!
Geraldine Carville refers to this story in her book Monasterevin: a parish and its people. She also relates the further adventures of this unfortunate animal. When Edward, fifth earl of Drogheda, was forced to settle his brother Henry’s (fourth earl) debts, he sold the family home and lands around Mellifont near Drogheda and moved to Moore Abbey in Monasterevin, Co. Kildare. The horse in its golden caparison took up residence in the basement of Moore Abbey and no doubt became an unusual attraction for visiting members of the Orange Order, an organisation with whom the Droghedas became associated. Indeed, Monasterevin had one of the leading Orange lodges in Kildare during the 1790s.
In the mid-nineteenth century a land steward of the Drogheda estate, who was emigrating to Australia, took a piece of the caparison with him. Arriving in Australia, he had it valued and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was real cloth of gold and he was now a wealthy man.
That is where this horse’s tale ends, for I can find no trace of the horse during the later periods of Moore Abbey’s occupation by Count John McCormack or the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary. The Droghedas may have taken it with them when they left Ireland, or it may have mouldered and been forgotten beneath Moore Abbey.

 

—Yours etc.,
BARRY C. WALSH
Monasterevin Historical Society

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