The breeds of the Kingdom. An unpublished manuscript by Federico Grisone (Part 1)

by Giovanni Battista Tomassini

Anonimo fiorentino, Cavallo impennato, XVI sec. © Metropolitan Museum - New York
Florentine Anonymous, Rearing Horse,
16th century – © Metropolitan Museum
New York

Mariano Téllez-Girón y Beaufort Spontin’s standard of living became a legend. Within a few decades, the twelfth Duke of Osuna (1814-1882) was able to squander the immense patrimony of the most important and wealthy family in Spain. As Ambassador in Russia, he traveled across Europe on his private train, indulging in every extravagance. It is said that his horses were shod with silver alloy horseshoes. When his years came to an end, he had already accumulated a colossal debt and, therefore, a committee was formed of his creditors that put together an inventory and handled the sale of his assets. In three centuries, the Dukes of Osuna, in addition to having amassed an impressive number of titles of nobility, had put together a wonderful library of about twenty thousand volumes of printed books and manuscripts. In order not to disperse this important cultural heritage, in 1884, the collection was bought by the State and it was decided to distribute it among the libraries of the kingdom. Most of the books were incorporated to the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid, while the rest went to the library of the Senate and to some of the leading universities in Spain.

Mariano Téllez-Girón y Beaufort Spontin 12th Duke of Osuna
Mariano Téllez-Girón y Beaufort Spontin
12th Duke of Osuna

The Osuna Fund is still one of the finest collections of the Biblioteca Nacional de España, in particular with regard to the manuscripts. The collection of volumes of the Dukes of Osuna was formed based on the personal tastes of each duke and also by their individual political and military obligations.  It is therefore not surprising that in the property of a family that included two Viceroys of the Kingdom of Naples (the first and the third Duke of Osuna were appointed to this position, respectively from 1582 to1586 and from 1616 to 1620), we find many texts and manuscripts of Italian origin. Among them, several relate to the practice of horsemanship and to the care and breeding of horses and are a real treasure trove for the history of equestrian disciplines. These are works hitherto unpublished and largely unknown to the main equestrian bibliographies, such as those of Menessier de la Lance and Frederick H. Hutt. I owe this discovery to Sabina De Cavi, brilliant Italian researcher who works at the University of Córdoba and that, although she only partially covers matters concerning the equestrian culture, pointed me to the richness and importance of this heritage.

The most valuable and curious piece for historians and equestrian literature enthusiasts is a pergameneous manuscript of the sixteenth century, marked with the number 9246. On the recto of the first card it contains the following header:

Breeds of the Kingdom / collected in this volume / shortly by Federigo Grisone Neapolitan gentleman / Where below gives many beautiful / advices suitable to the knowledge of foals and the care and ownership / of each horse.

Federico Grisone, Razze del Regno (Brreds of the Kingdom), manuscript 9246 Biblioteca Nacional de España - Madrid
Federico Grisone, Razze del Regno (Breeds of the Kingdom), manuscript 9246 – page 1
Biblioteca Nacional de España – Madrid

In short, it would be a work hitherto unknown from the famous Neapolitan gentleman who in 1550 published his treatise, Gli ordini del cavalcare (The Orders of Riding), the first book devoted to horseback riding in print. The Orders had an immediate and extraordinary success, becoming the true founding act of the new literary genre of the equestrian treatise and earning Federico Grisone the title of “father of the equestrian art” (Podhajasky, 1967, p. 18). Suffice it to say that, between 1550 and 1623, there were twenty-one printed editions in Italian, fifteen French translations, six in English, seven in German and one in Spanish. Not to mention the numerous manuscript versions, one of which is in Portuguese.

The work contained in the manuscript of the Biblioteca Nacional is a sort of catalog of the best breeding farms (called razze, i.e. “breeds”) in the Kingdom of Naples, which are listed, showing illustrations of their brands and detailing some essential information on the property and, when possible, on the quality of the horses produced. The work is supplemented by a list of names of horses and by some guidelines for choosing the foals, the management of the stables and the feeding of horses. From the linguistic point of view, even if it is simpler and more basic, the text is written in the same style of the Orders of Riding, which is explicitly mentioned. From these aspects, it seems quite possible to attribute the work to Grisone.

Neapolitan Horse, in baron D'Eisenberg, Description du Manege Moderne dans sa perfection, Paris, 1727, tav. IV
Neapolitan Horse, in baron D’Eisenberg, Description du Manege Moderne dans sa perfection, Paris, 1727, plate IV

Since this is a work hitherto unpublished and entirely unknown to the historians and lovers of horseback riding, I decided to dedicate to it a detailed discussion. For this I have divided this article into two parts, so as not to exceed the size of the normal posts of this blog. In this first part, then, we will focus on the catalog of the breeding farms, while in a subsequent article I will cover the information on the evaluation criteria for the foals and the precepts concerning the stables and the feeding of the horses.

The publication of directories of brands similar to the one presented in this manuscript is well known. Works such as the Libro de marchi de cavalli (The Book of the horses’ brands), published anonymously in Venice in 1569 and then reissued in 1588 and, above all, the remarkable La perfettione del Cavallo (The Perfection of Horse) by Francesco Liberati, published in Rome in 1639. Grisone’s manuscript is more like the first one, as the one by Liberati is far more wide-ranging. At the beginning of text, the author makes his eminently pragmatic purpose immediately clear: he wants to provide to anyone looking for good horses a clear picture of the best breeding farms where it is possible to obtain them.

The Kingdom of Naples is located in the most abundant, fertile and enjoyable part of Italy in which there are fifteen hundred cities, lands and castles surrounded by walls, and endless other villas and inhabited farmhouses. […] And having so many pastures, Plains, Mountains, Valleys and waters there are many breeding farms for which the country is so suitable that there born are horses who are very vigorous, robust, and of long life, and with admirable disposition and attitude. Therefore, as I want to give you knowledge of some of them to help all private riders and Princes looking to have good horses, I will write the name of their  owners, and with the drawing of the brand. (1r)

Regno di Napoli Abraham Ortelius, Theatrum orbis terrarum, Antverpiae, apud C. Plantinum, 1579 Fonte: / Bibliotèque nationale de France
Kingdom of Naples
Abraham Ortelius, Theatrum orbis terrarum, Antverpiae, apud C. Plantinum, 1579
Fonte: / Bibliotèque nationale de France

The description of the breeding farms begins from the royal breed, the so-called Breed of the King, which was the largest and was divided between two provinces: Apulia and Calabria. The horses of the breeding farms in Apulia were branded on the right thigh, while those coming from Calabria were branded on the left. The breeding farms of Apulia produced eight different varieties, or “partite” (parcels), of horses: the Great; the Imperial, the Royal, the Gentle, the Favorite, the Elected, the Small and the one of the Jennets. These were identified by an additional mark stamped on the right cheek of the animal. In the farms of Calabria, five “parcels” were instead distinguished as: the Great, the Medium, the Common, the Small, and that of the Jennets. These were identified by a brand on the left cheek.

The author then explains the intention to list the main breeding farms in the Kingdom. For each he says he will indicate the owner’s name and location. He will then add some notes about those of which he has been able to “have some good cognition” (3r). However, he warns the readers that “generous horses” may also come from the breeding farms of which he cannot provide more information. In the same way, he cautions the readers saying that:

The perfect breeding farms may end, or deteriorate, for lack of stallions. And, by means of the help of excellent horses, the bad ones can likewise improve and get to be very esteemed. As well as new one of a greater value could be made day by day, but I will leave the task to think and remind these latter to those who will come after me. (3r)

Federico Grisone, Razze del Regno, manoscritto 9246, carta 5v Biblioteca Nacional de España – Madrid
Federico Grisone, Razze del Regno (Breeds of the Kingdom), manuscript 9246, page 5v
Biblioteca Nacional de España – Madrid

The drawings of the brands of 136 breeding farms follow. The enclosed annotations are, for the most part, very concise. In most cases, the notes specify any variation in the branding of the different “parcels” of the breeding farm, or summarize brief judgments, such as “Brand of the Breed of the Queen of Poland in the territory of Bari (*), which breed is good and perfect” (5v), or “Brand of the Breed of the Prince of Salerno. In Basilicata, which Breed generally gives birth to Jennets of good size and of admirable virtue” (7r). There are, however, also critical remarks, such as, for example, in the case of the breeding farm of the Duke of Santo Pietro, in the Territory of Otranto: “the horses of this breed are good runners and dexterous but are of little strength”(12r). Or, as in the case of the Breed of the Marquis of Lucito, in Apulia, “from which come excellent horses although in general before it had more value” (14v).

Secondo Grisone questo era il marchio del cavallo montato da Francesco I nella battaglia di Marignano Federico Grisone, Razze del Regno, manoscritto 9246, carta 51v Biblioteca Nacional de España – Madrid
According to Grisone this was the brand of the horse ridden by Francis I during the battle of Marignano
Federico Grisone, Razze del Regno, manoscritto 9246, page 51v
Biblioteca Nacional de España – Madrid

A note that is more interesting from an historical point, is the one about a breeding farm in Basilicata. To this herd would belong the horse ridden by Francis I (1494-1547), King of France, in the fateful Battle of Marignano (13-14 September 1515), with which the French took possession of the Duchy of Milan.

Brand of the Breed of Angeluzzo dello Tito. In Basilicata. Sent to him by the king Francis from France, due to the fact that in the day of Marignano he found himself on a horse of this breeding farm that served him so well as to bring him to victory. For this reason every year he sent someone to buy foals of this herd. Though now, after the death of Angeluccio, is no longer with such perfection. (51v)

Secondo Grisone, il re di francia, francesco I, nella battaglia di Marignano (1515) avrebbe montato un cavallo allevato in Basilicata Anonimo, Francesco I, XVI sec., miniatura, Musée de Versailles
Grisone says that, the King of France, Francis I, rode a horse raised in Basilicata during the battle of Marignano
Anonimous, Francis I, 16th century, miniature, Musée de Versailles

After presenting the brands of the main breeding farms, Grisone reaffirms that the herds of the Kingdom of Naples which give birth “to perfect and marvelous horses” (71r) are many more of those than he mentioned, but that he decided not to talk about some of them because they often change their brand, or because they have a few mares.

…to be continued

to read the second  part of this article  click here -> second part

(*) Bona Sforza was consort queen of Poland, consort Grand Duchess of Lithuania from
     1518, and sovereign Duchess of Bari from 1524.


ANONIMO, Libro de’ marchi de’ caualli, con li nomi de tutti li principi et priuati signori che hanno razza di caualli, In Venetia, appresso Nicolò Nelli, 1569.

DE CAVI, Sabina, Emblematica cittadina: il cavallo e i Seggi di Napoli in epoca spagnuola (XVI-XVII sec.), in AA. VV. Dal cavallo alle scuderie. Visioni iconografiche e rilevamenti architettonici, atti del convegno internazionale (Frascati, 12 aprile 2013), a cura di M. Fratarcangeli, Roma, Campisano Editore, 2014, pp. 43-53.

HUTT, Frederick Henry, Works on horses and equitation. A bibliographical record of hippology, London, Bernard Quaritch, 1887.

LIBERATI, Francesco, La Perfettione del cavallo, Roma, per Michele Hercole, 1639.

MENNESSIER DE LA LANCE, Gabriel-René, Essai de Bibliographie Hippique donnant la description détaillée des ouvrages publiés ou traduits en latin et en français sur le Cheval et la Cavalerie avec de nombreuses biographies d’auteurs hippiques, Paris, Lucien Dorbon, 1915-21.

PODHAJASKY, Alois, The complete training of Horse and Rider. In the principles of classical Horsemanship, Chatsworth, Wilshire books Company, 1967.

TOBAR, María Luisa, Fondo Osuna en la Biblioteca nacional de Madrid, in AA.VV., Cultura della guerra e arti della pace: il 3° Duca di Osuna in Sicilia e a Napoli, (1611-1620), diretto da Encarnacion Sanchez Garcia; a cura di Encarnacion Sanchez Garcia e Caterina Ruta, Napoli,  Pironti, 2012, pp. 97-122.

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