Elizabethan Horsemanship

(Astley, John). The Art of Riding, set foorth in a breefe Treatise, with a due interpretation out of certeine places alledged out of Xenophon, and Gryson, verie expert and excellent Horssemen: wherein also the true use of the hand by the said Grysons rules and precepts is speciallie touched: and how the Author of this present worke hath put the same in practice, also what profit men may reape thereby [...] Lastlie, is added a short discourse of the Chaine or Cavezzan, the Trench, and the Martingale: written by a Gentleman of great skill and long experience in the said Art.

London, Henry Denham, 1584.

4to. (8), 79, (1) pp. With woodcut headpiece on t. p. and initials. 19th century orange-red crushed morocco by Riviere with leading edges gilt and elaborate gilt inner dentelle, rebacked. All edges gilt.


The exceedingly rare first edition of one of the earliest English treatises on horsemanship, derived in part from Xenophon, Federico Grisone's "Ordini di cavalcare", and other authors, and in part from Astley's own experience. This is, in fact, the first translation into English of Xenophon's treatise "Peri hippikes" ("On horsemanship").

The publication of Astley's "Art of Riding", perhaps his single most lasting achievement, came late in his life as an Elizabethan courtier. Here, he relays the doctrine of the Italian riding schools as he and other Gentleman Pensioners understood it, particularly on training the horse to respond to the hand. Astley was on friendly terms with Thomas Blundeville, whose Grisone translation two decades earlier counts as the first treatise on horsemanship to be published in English.

First three leaves slightly browned, with the upper right corner of each leaf imperceptibly restored from another copy; a closed tear to f. A4. Altogether a remarkable clean and crisp copy in an English master binding. The Fitzwilliam-Gloucester copy, bound with a common companion piece, Claudio Corte's "Art of Riding" (also published by Denham in the same year) commanded £14,400 at Christie's in 2006. The catalogue notes that the scarcity of these two work "at auction varies markedly; ABPC records some 5 copies of Corte's work at auction since 1975, but none of Astley's".


Huth p. 11. STC 884. Mellon/Podeschi 12. Hoffmann III, 609 (s. v. Xenophon).

Stock Code: BN#37249 Tags: , ,