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Godolphin Arabian


Courtesy of Fores Gallery, United Kingdom

Sire Line

Godolphin Arabian br c 1724. Sire Line Godolphin Arabian.

The romantic story of the discovery of the Godolphin Arabian pulling a cart in France was based on a fictitious account written by Eugene Sue and published in La Presse in 1838. The Coke Barb was one of nine horses sent as a gift to King Louis XV of France from the Bey of Tunis, and imported in 1730 by Mr. Coke.

Edward Coke, who had attended Luneville Academy with Francis, the Duke of Lorraine, inherited his stud at Longford Hall, in Derbyshire, in 1727. Coke's brother-in-law, Sir Marmaduke Wyvill had acquired his Belgrade Turk from the Duke of Lorraine. Prior notes that Coke, who was also familiar with Mr. Curwen's imported French Barbs, could well afford any horse he fancied, and "not one accustomed to the drudgery of drawing a cart." [Royal Studs:132]

At Coke's death on 1733, his racehorses and broodmares were bequeathed to Lord Godolphin, and his stallions to Mr. Roger Williams [Royal Studs:133]. Later acquired by Lord Godolphin, the Arabian entered stud near Newmarket.

Francis Leonard (1678-1766), 2nd Earl of Godolphin, Gogmagog, Cambridgeshire, was the second English owner of the Godolphin Arabian. Apparently an accomplished horseman the image on the right illustrates his expertise in the mange. Francis married Henrietta Churchill (later Duchess of Marlborough), the daughter of his father's good friend John Churchill (1650-1722), 1st Duke of Marlborough.

Much controversy exists over his breeding, and the General Stud Book notes, in 1827, that his portrait suggests he was a Barb, although no mention of this was made in 1791. As Prior points out, the three people who knew the horse best, his two owners, Mr. Coke and Lord Godolphin, along with the veterinary surgeon William Osmer, always called him an Arabian [Early Records:132]. Lord Godolphin also owned the Brown Western Barb and a Grey Barb, wherein some confusion may have taken root.

The General Stud Book also says that "There is an original Portrait of this horse in Lord Cholmondeley's collection at Houghton; on comparing which with Mr Stubbs's print of him, it will be seen that the disproportionately small limbs, as represented in the latter, do not accord with the painting." [GSB1:392] It will be noticed that the Stubbs versions are the only ones in which the horse is presented with the unattractive, and to some, overly large, crest which was also the subject of much criticism and controversy.

This original portrait, by David Morier, is the only one known to have been done from life and is in the collection of the Marquis of Cholmondeley, Houghton Hall, Norfolk. At the bottom of the portrait is written: "The Original Picture taken at the Hills by D. Murrier. Painter to H:R:H. the Duke of Cumberland".

The George Stubbs portrait, an original painting in the William Woodward Collection, was probably copied from the Morier.

Standing 14 hands, one and a half inches, without his shoes, he was a brown bay, with a white off hind foot and with a little white on the inside corner of his near hind foot. [Royal Studs, 163]

William Osmer, who had met the horse, said of him, "Whoever has seen him must remember that his shoulders were deeper and lay farther into his back than any horse yet seen; behind his shoulders there was but a small space; before the muscles of his loin rose excessively high, broad, and expanded, which were inserted into his quarters with greater strength and power than any horse ever yet seen of his dimensions. It is not to be wondered at that the excellence of this horse's shape was not in early times manifest to some men, considering the plainness of his head and ears, the position of his fore-legs, and his stunted growth, occasioned by want of food in the country where he was bred." Since Mr. Osmer was acquainted with the horse it is worth noting that he never referred to him as a Barb.

Richard Berenger, Gentleman of the Horse to King George III, described him as plain-headed, with the roots of ears being wide apart and the ears themselves having a noticeable outward droop. His crest was high, his shoulders heavy and he was slightly over at the knees. His plain head and large ears are well illustrated by Morier, though perhaps his lop ears are best presented in the Marshall portrait. It would seem that his descendant, Melbourne (br c 1834), twice a Champion Sire, came by his lop ears honestly.

In a dissertation on horses, published as part of the Supplement to the General Stud Book in 1800, Colonel Gilbert Ironside, who must have been thought an authority on the subject, observes: "There was somewhat of wonderful virtue and efficacy in the blood of a horse existing in England between forty and fifty years ago, called the Godolphin Arabian although it not be perfectly ascertained that he was of Arabian extraction, but from whatever source it issued, it was his high-mettled blood which communicated to the English horses that vigour and energy of spirits which distinguishes their intrinsic goodness, and renders them, next to the Arabs, far superior to any race. For the English, constantly crossing their own with the breed of every other country, produce a kind, though by no means as beautiful as the Arab, yet always surpassing him in strength, and generally in swiftness. The Godolphin blood, crossed with the offspring of the Barbs, are said to produce the best English racers and hunters." [History of the Racing Calendar and Stud-Book, 20]

He is eulogised on the frame of the Morier portrait: "Esteem'd one of the best Foreign Horses ever brought into England. Appearing so both from the Country he came from & from the Performance of his Posterity. They being Excellent both as Racers and Stallions & Hitting with most other Pedigrees, and mending ye Imperfections of their shape. And is allowed to have refresh'd the English Blood more than any Foreign Horse yet imported." His overwhelming success as a sire is also noted in the General Stud Book, which says: "It is remarkable that there is not a superior horse now on the turf, without a cross of the Godolphin Arabian, neither has there been for many years past." [GSB1:392]

From the mare Roxana he got Lath (b c 1732), thought to be the best racehorse since Flying Childers. His son Regulus was broodmare sire of Eclipse. However, his most important contribution was his son Cade, full brother of Lath, who sired Matchem, progenitor of the Matchem sire line.

He was Champion Sire in 1738, 1745 and 1747. In turn, he sired three Champion Sires, Blank (b c 1740), Cade (b c 1724), and Regulus (b c 1739). He also sired Matchless* (b c 1754) and Selima* (b f 1745).

Whyte observed that "the great proportion of both colts and fillies, produced by this celebrated horse were of a bay colour like himself" [History of the British Turf 1:88], and Robertson later stated that he "never sired a chestnut, but had dun and grey offspring out of dun and grey mares" [Lonsdale Libraryxxvii:86]. We found three offspring supposed to be chestnut, however these could have been errors in pedigree or record keeping. The Godolphin Arabian appears to have been a pure bay.

He was in the stud for about twenty years and died on Christmas Day in 1753, at Gogmagog in Cambridgeshire. According to the General Stud Book, "he is buried in a covered passage, leading to the stable, with a flat stone over him, without any inscription."

After a portrait by Ben Marshall, who was said to have had some sketches of the Godolphin Arabian that had been done from life. Marshall is credited with a "Portrait of an Arabian, 1796" [British Sporting Artists:176].

The Faber Print, 1753, after Morier, a copy of which made its way to Tulip Hill, Westriver, Maryland, the home of Samuel Galloway.

The Henry Roberts portrait, reproduced in the Sportsman's Pocket Companion, 1750c, after a drawing by James Roberts. This portrait was chosen by Theodore Andrea Cook to illustrate his book A History of the English Turf and is said to be from the engraving by Roberts at Cumberland Lodge.

The J. N. Sartorius portrait in the collection of Lord Rosebery at The Durdans.

The George Stubbs portrait, an original painting, formerly at Studley Royal, Yorkshire, in the Robert L. Gerry collection.

The Gogmagog "Library" portrait, by John Wootton, 1731, in the collection of Ernest E. Hutton. It's not clear if this portrait has been positively identified as the Godolphin Arabian. Early references to the portrait in the library at Gog Magog indicate the presence of a cat.

Notable Offspring
Babraham b c 1738 (Godolphin Arabian - Sachrissa, by Hartley's Blind Horse). Sire Line Godolphin Arabian. Family 15.
Bajazet [Old, Dutton's, March's] b c 1740 (Godolphin Arabian - Sister to Bandy, by Godolphin Whitefoot). Sire Line Godolphin Arabian. Family 21.
Blank b c 1740 (Godolphin Arabian - Amorett, by Bartlet's Childers). Sire Line Godolphin Arabian. Family 15.
Cade b c 1734 (Godolphin Arabian - Roxana, by Bald Galloway). Sire Line Godolphin Arabian. Family 6-a.
Dormouse br c 1738 (Godolphin Arabian - Sister 1 to Miss Partner, by Crofts's Partner). Sire Line Godolphin Arabian. Family 4.
Lath b c 1732 (Godolphin Arabian - Roxana, by Bald Galloway). Sire Line Godolphin Arabian. Family 6-a.
Regulus b c 1739 (Godolphin Arabian - Grey Robinson, by Bald Galloway). Sire Line Godolphin Arabian. Family 11.
Whitenose b c 1742 (Godolphin Arabian - Sister to Blaze, by Childers). Sire Line Godolphin Arabian. Family 61.

 

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