The Prince and the Plunder

A book on how Britain took one boy and piles of treasures from Ethiopia

Martingale with silver gilt discs *

Published / by Andrew Heavens / Leave a Comment

What: Martingale given by Secretary of State for India, Sir Stafford Henry Northcote

Where: The British Museum, Great Russell St, Bloomsbury, London WC1B 3DG

The catalogue entry reads:

“Martingale made of leather with silver-gilt ornaments. Made of pale coloured leather, it is decorated with linear designs in dark brown leather stitching. The lower strap which passes through the horses legs, is looped at both ends. It is attached at the top to two throat straps by a leather ring which passes through the ends of all three leather straps. The two throat straps lay across the horse’s throat, passing over the shoulders of the front legs and are secured with a buckle to a plain leather strap which passes over the back of the neck. The martingale is decorated with five large cast, convex discs made of silver gilt.. Each is decorated with a floral pattern of a six petal flower interspersed with further floral motifs resembling lotus flowers. The discs are further ornamented with six fluted studs around the edge and another centrally placed. These are secured by a pin through the disc and are soldered at the back, one is missing.”

Curator’s comments: “Mules and horses were invaluable mounts and pack animals in Highland Ethiopia and consequently were considered a man’s most prized possession. Tack for horses and mules was often richly decorated with silver and silver gilt ornaments which acted as symbols of status and wealth, as well as having amuletic properties. Elaborate harnesses and bridles were often given by the Emperor as rewards for loyalty and bravery. The use of silver-gilt on this martigale would suggest that it was a gift from the Emperor, as the use of gold was restricted to the imperial family.”

Museum number: Af1868,1230.14
Date: 19thC (mid)
Acquisition name: Sir Stafford Henry Northcote, 1st Earl of Iddesleigh
Acquisition date: 1868

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