One of our most popular blogs last month was The Hazards of Traveling by Chaise, which included a letter by Hester Pitt, Countess of Chatham, recounting the trials and setbacks that she, her daughters, and the rest of their party encountered on their journey to Hayes Place in Kent from their home at Burton Pynsent.
While most of the letter described rutted roads, broken traces, and other travelers' mishaps, there was one passage that puzzled me, and many of you readers as well.
"...William [went] forward to fetch a fresh chaise from Amesbury to meet Bradshaw, who was to march on foot till they came to him with his grippine."
What could "his grippine" be? Reader suggestions included overshoes, a saddle, and a small suitcase, as well as another horse, but the correct answer was tantalizingly unknown.
But we Nerdy History Girls hate to leave a history-question unanswered, and fortunately for us, historian Jacqui Reiter (who provided us with the original quotation) is just as persistent. Since the version of the letter we were discussing had been transcribed and printed in a 20th c. biography (William Pitt, Earl of Chatham by Brian Tunstall), Jacqui decided to seek out the original letter to see what could be learned from the complete text, and made a journey of her own to the UK National Archives in Kew, where the Chatham papers are housed. The letter is several pages long, written in Lady Chatham's brisk hand, and the page with the "grippine" passage is above.
But as often the case with transcriptions, the one in the Tunstall book was not quite correct, nor was it complete. The actual words - underlined for emphasis by Lady Chatham - in the letter are "with his favorite Gippine." The capital G makes it seem as if Gippine is a proper name, and a further passage in the letter leaves little doubt that Gippine is a horse, referring to Gippine as Bradshaw's "faithful attendant":
"The Fresh Chaise found Bradshaw got forward with his faithful attendant about a mile and a half, so he was quit for only a Comfortable perspiration."
Jacqui also found another letter that humorously refers to Bradshaw as "Gippine's travelling Friend." As she notes, "The way Lady Chatham refers to Gippine as nearly human is quite typical of the Pitts' attitude towards their horses. In fact I am still somewhat confused about which names in the correspondence refer to horses, and which to servants...not sure whether this reflects better on their attitude towards their animals, or worse on their attitude towards their staff!"
Incidentally, Bradshaw was a trusted upper servant in the Pitt household. As Jacqui notes, he was sufficiently literate and valued to witness Lord Chatham's will. And yet in the letters, he does indeed seem to take second place to the noble Gippine.
One final note: once we had the horse's name identified as Gippine, I wondered what, if anything, the name might mean. The "ine" ending seemed more French than English to me, and given the 18th c. penchant for phonetical spelling with foreign words, I tried searching for Jippine - and had success. While the name doesn't appear to have a translatable meaning (and if any of you know it, please share!), I did discover that today it's still a name used for French horses, as seen in this performance record for a pony called Jippine du Rietz.
Another history mystery solved!
Many thanks once again to Jacqui Reiter for tracking down this information for us. Above: Excerpt from Letter from Lady Chatham to Lord Chatham, UK National Archives, Chatham MSS, PRO 30/8/9f 100, dated 9 April [probably 1772]. Below: A Saddled Bay Hunter, by George Stubbs, 1786. Private collection.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.