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". . . insisted on getting seven hundred white cows with red ears. . ." The Progress of the Wicked Band
Ancient Breed History P.2
- the ancient polled white park (British White) cattle of the British Isles
Ancient Breed History Page 1 & Literary and Historical References & Misc. New References
Work in Progress - Last Update
"In the forest laws of King Canute (A.D. 1014-1035), wild cattle are thus referred to: "There are also a great number of cattle which, although they live within the limits of the forest, and are subject to the charge and care of the middle sort of men, or Regardors, nevertheless cannot at all be reputed beasts of the forest as wild horses, bubali (wild bulls), wild cows, and the like." Wild, White Cattle" (p.36) by James Edmund Harting (c.1880)
The polled British White is not only descended from the original white park cattle, but all the original white park cattle, horned or polled, date back to the Bronze Age and beyond. Most breeds of cattle can't be dated accurately before the 17th century. This breed is an exception. Thanks to the scholarly efforts of old we are able to look into the past and see this uniquely beautiful "hornless and tame variety of the wild white breed" grazing green pastures and filling a pale with abundant milk. Please note that both the polled British White and the horned White Park can have red ears and nose, etc... The black points are predominant in British White and White Park herds, but the occasional perfectly marked red-eared animal is still born and is registered in both the British and the American associations. The oldest references cited below speak of milk white cattle with red ears. Given the rarity of this occurrence now and presuming it to have been equally rare in days of old, it is easily arguable that the very rarity of the red markings made them special and thus worthy of inclusion in the oral histories that have survived thousands of years.
PLEASE REMEMBER:: Until 1946 in the United Kingdom, all varieties of white park cattle with black or red points were referred to most generally as "park cattle". So references in this work and in others to the "ancient wild, white park cattle" refer to all varieties of the breed until the formal separation in 1946 of the polled Park Cattle breeders into the British White Cattle Society. The White Park Cattle Society in the UK was formed some time later. Keep in mind that that 'wild' is not necessarily indicative of feral, but rather of freedom from human domestication and intervention.
There are various statements as to how the
'park cattle' came to the
British Isles; who
brought them, if anyone; when they arrived; or whether they are indigenous
to the British Isles. Those statements will be explored in the body
of this work. A little time spent with
THE SUNGOD REACHED AMERICA" will enlighten
anyone who is inclined to explore how far back in time man may have
assisted the migrations of breeds of cattle in the world. This
highly interesting work should also be considered in the context of the
Druids that were integral to the
ancient Celtic cultures of Britain, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and France -
and whom some scholars believe are responsible for the building of Britain's Stonehenge
and it is
within ancient Druid tales that survived in remaining Celtic culture and customs that we find much mention of the
milk white cow of ancient days that would be the forebears of the British
White breed of today.
" . . .and when the wild bull saw a man coming towards him he drove his horns into the ground, and put an acre of land over his own back." Myths and Folklore of Ireland Fin MacCumbail and Gilla na Grakin
The earliest recorded mention of white cattle with red points is found in
the Táin Bó Cuailnge
(The Tain), aka
The Cattle Raid of Cooley.
"The Tain is considered the oldest vernacular epic in western
European literature. The earliest versions were written down in the Irish monasteries of Bangor in
County Down and Dromsnat in County Monaghan in the eighth century"
(1), but it had a long oral existence
of Ireland before being committed to paper.
"Historians are increasingly of the view that behind the 'The Tain' are real events, in particular the advance of the Gaelic conquerors from Connaught against the pre-Gaelic rulers of Ulster."(1) Further, it is now believed that the Celts migrated to the British Isles long before 500 BCE, thus this battle could have taken place many centuries prior. If that is the case, then the events being referred to in this story place the "great white bull" and the "white cows with red ears" in existence in the British Isles well more than 2500 hundred years ago.
There are many other references in ancient texts that speak of the "hornless and tame variety of the wild white breed" we now call British White. The earliest mention of them is by the Celtics, as in the Cattle Raid of Cooley mentioned above and other Druidic tales where the milk-white cow and bullocks figure prominently. There were also certain divination rituals of the Druids (Celtic priesthood explored below) that required the sacrifice of white bulls that found their way from oral legend into print. The following is an example and one can easily infer they were domesticated, tame 'milk-white' bulls :
When the new year approached, the Druids beset themselves to discover this plant (mistletoe) upon an oak, on which tree it they marched by night with great solemnity towards the spot, inviting all to join their procession with these words: The New Year is at hand: let us gather the mistletoe.
First marched the Ovades in their green sacrificial robes leading two milk-white bullocks. Next came the bards singing the praises of the Mighty Essence, in raiment blue as the heavens to which their hymn ascended. Then a herald clothed in white with two wings drooping down on each side of his head, and a branch of vervain in his hand encircled by two serpents. He was followed by three Derwydd--one of whom carried the sacrificial bread--another a vase of water-and the third a white wand. Lastly, the Arch-Druid, distinguished by the tuft or tassel to his cap, by the bands hanging from his throat, by the scepter in his hand and by the golden crescent on his breast, surrounded by the whole body of the Derwydd and humbly followed by the noblest warriors of the land.
An altar of rough stones was erected under the oak, and the Arch-Druid, having sacramentally distributed the bread and wine, would climb the tree, cut the mistletoe with a golden knife, wrap it in a pure white cloth, slay and sacrifice the bullocks, and pray to God to remove his curse from barren women, and to permit their medicines to serve as antidotes for poisons and charms from all misfortunes.Mysteries of the Druids (1861) W. Winwood Reade
The origins of druidism have been argued about for
centuries. In Julius Ceasar's writings we find "The
Druidic doctrine is believed to have been found existing in Britain.
De Bellum Gallico, book 6). He
gave us a picture of Celtic life in the last century BC that is dominated
by the Druids. There are statements from some sources that the
Romans "exterminated" the Druids, and the final battle was at
Cerrig Bach, Anglesey Island, Wales
. They weren't completely
exterminated as there is mention of them in 4th century accounts of
Christianizing Ireland. [Some sources state that
the Roman's brought the white 'park cattle' to the British Isles, but
others indicate the only cattle used by the Romans were dark breeds.
From the ancient oral stories of the Druids, we know the white cattle were
present before the arrival of the Romans.]
Most scholars now believe that the
Druids were present before the arrival of the Celts, and that they are the
pre-historic, indigenous inhabitants of Britain. Celts were at one
time a pervasive culture in Western Europe, yet the importance of the
Druids and their sacred white cattle is largely unique to Ireland, Wales,
Britain, and France, which is pertinent to the discussion of whether the
white cattle with red points were indigenous to the British Isles. When the Celts came
to the British Isles they adopted the religious customs and
rites of the native Druids. The
unifying bond between all the Celtic tribes was their common priesthood,
the Druids. Their efforts preserved common culture, religion, history,
laws, scholarship, and science. They were a
separate social class of the highest standing in Celtic society, which no
doubt made them a target of the Romans. With the onset of Christianity, druidism was not acceptable; it was viewed
as pagan. Nonetheless, many aspects of druidism were incorporated
into Christianity to appease the Celtic people, and they remain part of
organized religion today. An example follows:
Below are some interesting excerpts from ancient texts that further
describe the white cattle and establish their existence and their
domestication for millennia:
The cattle referred to in these passages are most likely the ancient ancestors of the domesticated British White herd of today. Obviously, the cows referred to in the above quotes were not ferocious. Also, one can surmise that they were not all horned. The term "milk-white" is found several times in the ancient texts. The best examples of cattle within the British White breed are milk-white. Thus far, I've not found any text that mentions black ears, but also it is only rarely that there is mention of horns, and the horned White Park once had distinctive black-tipped horns, similar to those of the ancient Kerry breed, and one would think them worthy of mention by scholars of old.
Here is one additional
passage from a lovely Welsh fairy tale that makes possible reference to the Dynevwr herd of
white cattle that date back to the 10th century AD.
Hadrian's Wall was built in the 2nd century AD by the Romans to establish a barrier between Roman Britain and the native Picts and Scots who lived in the northern highland areas of Britain. This wall established the southern boundary of what is known as the Caledonian Forest , from which many of the surviving herds of wild, white cattle originated. Hadrian's Wall served to protect the Celtic culture and the native wildlife in northern Britain from the Romans, the Anglo-Saxon invaders, and later from the Norman's. Rome abandoned Britain in the 5th century, and life in the British Isles was forever changed. The breakdown of Roman law and civilization was fairly swift after the Roman army departed in 410 AD. To counter the raids from continental pirates, Picts and Scots towns would bring in mercenaries from Europe to defend them from attack. These mercenary soldiers were Angles and Saxons from northern Germany, who apparently rather liked Britain, and they slowly colonized northwards and westwards, pushing the native Celts to the fringes of Britain. Roman Britain was thus replaced by Anglo Saxon Britain, with the Celtic peoples remaining in Cornwall, Wales and Scotland. (Anglo-Saxon Era Reference )Ireland was never conquered by the Romans and the evolution of this region's Celtic culture was not significantly influenced by other peoples until the onset of Viking raids in the 9th century AD.
"In the forest laws of King Canute (A.D. 1014-1035), wild cattle are thus referred to: "There are also a great number of cattle which, although they live within the limits of the forest, and are subject to the charge and care of the middle sort of men, or Regardors, nevertheless cannot at all be reputed beasts of the forest as wild horses, bubali (wild bulls), wild cows, and the like." " Wild, White Cattle" (p.36)by James Edmund Harting (c.1880)
[Some British White histories speculate that the breed was introduced to the British Isles by the Vikings in the 8th or 9th century. Vikings from Denmark and Sweden came to the British Isles in overlapping time-frames between the 8th and 12th centuries. They came first as raiders and slavers, later as settlers and farmers, and lastly as traders. By the beginning of the 10th century there were established Viking settlements in Wales and other regions of the British Isles. Considering the previously explored ancient Druid descriptions of milk-white cows with red ears that mirror the early 13th century description of the Dynevwr herd, and the fact that the ancient Druid legends of Ireland were written down in the 8th century, prior to the onset of the Viking raids in Ireland, it is my opinion that this is incorrect.]
In 1066 AD the Normans invaded Britain and William the Conqueror was
declared King. This event marks the beginning of the period referred
to as the Middle Ages. The existing Anglo-Saxon nobility were stripped of their
land and their rank and the new king granted land to new nobles,
including higher churchmen such as bishops and abbots. "
William "afforested" the area (brought it under Forest Law). In
common with other large areas within the country, Forest Law imposed a
kingdom within a kingdom, where the few inhabitants were subjected to
draconian laws to preserve, increase and protect game of all species.
Twenty-one Forests were established by William." He justified his actions
by claiming it was a continuation of Anglo Saxon tradition that the
forests were for the pleasure of the King. The Anglo Saxon King Canute
did claim some forest as the crown's, but nothing so vast as that clamed
by William. Some historians tell us that many entire villages were
wiped out by William in the establishment of Forest Law.
But at the
same time other sources indicate 'common inhabitants' of this forest were allowed to turn
their livestock out into the 'waste' as they were not allowed to build
walls that might obstruct the free roam of the King's game. The
culture, the people, and the
of Wales and modern-day Scotland were again
largely protected from the Norman pillage thanks to
Hadrian's Wall (122
AD) to the
north that continued to establish a protective boundary for modern-day
(est. 9th century)
to the west that separated Wales from Southern England.
These forests abounded with wildlife, and it is said the new Norman nobility secured the boundaries of their land "within a pale, haye, or wall", with the game and wild animals they contained, or with others driven in, and these enclosures became parks. Within the native mix of wildlife in these parks were herds of cattle so wild they were hunted as game. By the early 16th century we learn from Boece's (1516) observations that were "wild, white" cattle in the forests as well. It is from these "ferocious" wild, white park cattle that were the object of the hunt that the best examples of the wild and horned Ancient White Park of today has most likely descended. The Chillingham herd remains in it's native habitat today, though it's lost much of the distinctive red points that are so desirable in the breed, based upon the photos displayed on the White Park Cattle Society web site -- no doubt to excessive inter-breeding. In the USA, the BBar Ranch has a herd of Ancient White Park with black points. If you look closely at photos of both herds and open your mind, you will see the that they are of a distinctly different character than the polled British White, and they are said to have a wild nature and a lengthy flight zone. Obviously, these were not the white cows with red points that ancient literature holds in such high regard, or the white cows with red ears of the 10th to13th century discussed above. These wild, white cattle most certainly could not be yoked to a plow or milked, or easily herded to a new owner in payment of tribute or debt. In no way do they reflect a character of ancient domestication.
As to why the different varieties of white 'park cattle' roamed wild in the forests of Britain in the late Middle Ages we can only speculate. Many events in history could provide explanation -- the extermination of the Druids who raised and revered them; the quashing of the Celtic culture in much of Britain; or perhaps there is some old kernel of truth in this Welsh fairy tale about a magical milk-white cow and the disappearance of her and her "particoloured" offspring into the dark waters of a lake. It's apparent in recorded history that the wild, white cattle were never present in large numbers as compared to the wild aurochs until the early 16th when we find the first clear reference to their presence in the old forests of Britain by Boece.
It is of the greatest reasonableness to assume that ancient domesticated
polled white cattle with black and red points were bred in the wild of
the large emparked areas of the 11th century and onwards by the wild
bulls of the forest, which may or may not have been the true aurochs.
Aurochs disappeared from Europe by the the 17th century. The
emparking in the Middle Ages of the acreage of several thousand
Anglo-Saxon holdings into a mere 20 (verify number) or more baronial and
church estates, is perhaps the most important even in British history
that lost to us much culture and custom, and certainly had great impact
on existing domesticated cattle herds of the time. This would be
just yet another instance where the passage of time and devastating
international events contrives to almost
lose to us some of our rarer moments and species. British White
cattle are perhaps the most docile breed of beef cattle on the
earth, many having no flight zone from humans. At times it
seems almost magical.
Update: In Welsh stories the fairy cows are described as either white or speckled, so one can infer that they were white and speckled with another color. British White cattle often have speckles of black spots across their shoulders. Further, Mr. Harting gives us this old description of the Somerford herd which includes ". . . Like all other old herds of the forest breed, they have a strong tendency to produce small black spots on the neck, sides, and legs, and this the proprietors admire and encourage; many of them have therefore become more or less speckled."
Author's Note: The opinions expressed in this work are mine at this writing. As research into the history of the white cattle of the British Isles continues, this work will be updated to reflect any new information found or changes in opinion.
|British White Cattle - Born Gentle, Stay Gentle, and you can't ask for more in fertility, milkiness, calving ease, low birth weights, and hardiness..........|