King Billy’s horse

Published in Early Modern History (1500–1700), Issue 3 (Autumn 2004), Letters, Letters, Volume 12, Williamite Wars



—In his article on King Billy (HI 12.1, Spring 2004) Padraig Lenihan points out that William ‘rode a dark horse’ at the battle of the Boyne. However, in 1696/97 he did acquire a horse, White Sorrel (sometimes Sorel), that became his favourite mount. The horse was bred at Wallington Hall, here in Northumberland, and had been owned by Sir John Fenwick, who as early as 1689 was implicated in plots against King William. Arrested and arraigned, he was imprisoned in Newgate and, refusing to name other conspirators, was subjected to bills of attainder. The law that demanded the evidence of two witnesses in cases of treason was set aside so no jury was assembled and the estates and possessions of the accused were forfeit to the Crown. ‘The Whigs, the great forensic defenders of liberty and of the purity of justice, condemned this man by a law made on purpose to stain the scaffold with his blood’ (Burnet’s History of Reform). Sir John was executed on Tower Hill on 28 January 1697. His horse became the property of the king . . . and posthumously avenged his first owner. Roger Coke mentions ‘the abominable Jacobite poem upon Sorel, beginning “Illustrious sonipes & c” by which they meant the horse that threw his Majesty at Hampton Court: and their ridiculous health “To the little gentleman in the black velvet coat” by which they meant the mole that made the hole into which Sorel’s foot slipt’. Wallington Hall, incidentally, casts its shadow over Irish affairs later on. It was the family home of Sir Charles Trevelyan, Famine overseer.

—Yours etc.,


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