Pictures of horses on medieval manuscripts show them decorated with many small horse harness pendants. These were made of copper alloy and hung from leather straps and would have been brightly coloured with enamels and often decorated with gold or silver. Many examples have been found in Norfolk. They come in many shapes and sizes but can be broadly classified as shield-shaped, lozenge (or diamond) shaped, circular, square or rectangular or quatrefoil (with four lobes).
Decorated medieval horse furniture held in Norwich Castle Museum. (© NCC)
Shield-shaped pendants are often decorated with coats of arms. Some of the examples from Norfolk can be identified. A shield-shaped pendant from Beeston Regis (NHER 31161
) is decorated with the coat of arms of the Morley family and one example from Hevingham belonged to the Bishopric of Norwich (NHER 7656
A medieval horse harness pendant from Beeston Regis bearing the arms of Morley, of Norfolk. (© NCC)
The pendants vary in size and some of the smaller ones may have been used as fringing between larger examples. Bells were commonly attached to reins and other pieces of horse harness. Chaucer describes the monk's bridle in the Canterbury Tales as "ginglen in the whistling wind" - he must have had bells attached to his horse. All in all the effect must have been rather dazzling - a whirl of colour, light and noise.
Make your own medieval horse harness pendant
A shield-shaped horse harness pendant made by Megan Dennis (NLA). (© NCC)You will need:
Horse harness template
Silver or gold foil
1. Cut out the template. You can chose from a shield, lozenge, circle, square or quatrefoil shape.
2. Draw your design on the template. You could design a coat or arms, an imaginary mythical creature or use simple patterns.
3. Using bright colours colour in the design. You may like to stick pieces of silver or gold foil onto the template.
4. Cut around the template and stick it carefully onto a piece of card.
5. Once the glue has dried cut carefully around the card. Ask an adult to cut a hole in the top of the pendant. You can now hang it from a string. If you work in a group you could hang all of your pendants on the same string and use it to decorate a paper horse on the wall.
Horse harness templates. (© NCC)
M. Dennis (NLA), 25 January 2006.