By the name, one can be excused for thinking that a Royal Hanoverian Cream might be a rich, frothy, luscious dessert. But in actual fact, they were a breed of horse, now extinct, who pulled the royal carriages for many of the English kings and queens, including all the Georges. Napoleon nearly destroyed the breed in Hanover, but our very own Prince Regent came to the rescue, only to have the next George abandon them primarily because of their origins.
The parade of the Royal Hanoverian Cream horse through history …
The Royal "creams," as they were usually called, have no connection with Palominos. Creams were the color of buttermilk or heavy cream, with long, flowing, wavy manes and tails the color of pale caramel. Their skin tended to be pinkish and their eyes were usually a very pale turquoise blue. Most had a Roman nose, that is, their heads had a convex profile, which is common among horses bred in cold climates. Creams were large, strong horses, typically between sixteen to fifteen hands in height. Their conformation was similar to that of a light draft horse. They had powerful hindquarters, sturdy legs, a deep chest and a short arching neck. The creams had a very graceful way of going and looked extremely elegant when hitched to the royal coaches.
The Hanoverian creams were bred to be calm, deliberate, quiet horses. They were courageous, but obedient and willing to work, which was fortunate, as state occasions could be gruelling for both horse and man. On these occasions they were expected to remain unfailingly calm and attend to the commands of the coachman and the postilions regardless of the noisy crowds in the streets through which they moved. As they were the official coach horses for weddings, funerals, coronations and other state ceremonial occasions, most of these events attended with much noise and confusion, their courage and calm temperament were critical to their success as royal coach horses. To ensure their flawless performance, the creams were routinely exercised to the accompaniment of drums, flutes, whistles and waving flags.
Legend has it that in the fifteenth century, Queen Isabella of Spain made a gift of cream-colored horses to a group of German Knights as a token of her royal appreciation for their service in the Spanish army. For this reason, the Hanoverian Creams were sometimes known as "Isabellas." It is more than likely that these horses had Andalusian blood. Once back in Germany, these Spanish horses were appropriated from the knights by the King of Hanover. It is believed that the descendants of these horses formed the basis of the stud founded at Memsen in Hanover in 1653. It was here that the Electress Sophia began to breed the famous cream-colored coach-horses, which soon came to be known as the Hanoverian Creams.
When the Electress Sophia’s son inherited the throne of England in 1714, as King George I, he brought some of the Hanoverian Cream horses with him. These aristocratic horses were much admired in England and for more than two hundred years these powerful and graceful horses drew the royal coaches on nearly every state occasion, with a short hiatus brought on by Napoleon Bonaparte in the early nineteenth century.
By the time the first George ascended the English throne, creams were also bred at both the Hanoverian summer house, Herrenhausen, and the Royal State Stud at Celle. His son, George II, began sending English thoroughbred stallions back to the stud at Celle. These stallions were made available at low cost to farmers to cover their mares and thus improve the bloodlines of the Hanoverian horses. These English thoroughbred stallions did not service cream mares, but the stallions were the basis of the modern-day Hanoverian horse. The creams continued to be bred exclusively in Hanover and when additional horses were needed by the English king, they were shipped to Britain, solely for his use.
The creams had drawn the state coaches for the coronations of the first two Georges, and the coronation of the third was no exception. However, the great Gold State Coach specially built for the coronation of George III, was perhaps the most demanding assignment the creams had ever had. The coach is twenty-four feet long, twelve feet high, and it weighs four tons, empty. It required an eight-horse hitch, all cream stallions, to pull it. But it must have been a magnificent sight as it made its stately way through the streets of London to Westminster Abbey on Coronation Day. The ornate gold coach, accented with red, drawn by eight noble cream stallions richly caparisoned in red morocco leather harness with fittings of gold, their caramel-colored manes plaited with red ribbons, certainly added great pomp and circumstance to the occasion.
George III was particularly fond of the Hanoverian Creams, though he himself never set foot in Hanover in his life. He even chose a cream stallion, Adonis, as his charger, when he rode to review various military assemblies. As Elector of Hanover, he supported and maintained the state stud where the royal coach horses were bred. His Master of the Horse regularly imported creams, when needed, to ensure there were ample cream horses available to draw the king’s various coaches on all state occasions. And then, disaster loomed, in the person of the little Corsican, Napoleon Bonaparte.
It is believed that early in 1803, when it was clear that Napoleon’s seizure of Hanover was imminent, the best of the Hanoverian Cream stallions and mares were smuggled to England. They were sent to Cumberland Lodge, in Windsor Park, where they continued to be bred. In July 1803, Napoleon, who particularly hated George III, did seize Hanover, and confiscated the Elector’s stud of cream-colored coach horses, just to spite the English king. Adding insult to injury, the following year, on 2 December 1804, Napoleon and his Empress, Josephine, were carried to their imperial coronation in a heavily gilded state coach, drawn by eight of the Hanoverian Cream stallions he had stolen. King George III was so enraged by this affront that in an explosion of fury he ordered that the creams be removed from the stud in the London Royal Mews, then at Charing Cross. From that day forward, only the black Hanoverian coach horses were allowed to draw the royal coaches. This practice continued until the defeat of Napoleon in 1814, though, of course, by then the poor mad king was unaware of the great British victory.
The Prince of Wales was very fond of the Hanoverian Creams, and it seems he arranged for them to be taken to the Royal Stud at Hampton Court. The stud had been started by King William III, primarily for the breeding of racehorses, but it was the Prince Regent who was the real founder of the stud. Here he bred race horses, riding horses and coach horses, including the creams, right through his Regency, and his reign as George IV. His brother, eventually King William IV, also maintained and supported the stud though his own reign. Both George IV and William IV sold a number of their yearlings at the famous Tattersall’s each year, on the Monday of Epsom week. But they never sold a single Royal Hanoverian Cream.
The creams were almost exclusively reserved for the use of royalty and few ever left the royal service. However, some stallions who were not successful as coach horses were gelded and made their way into private hands. A number of these geldings went to the band of the Life Guards, where their calm nature was invaluable. The Prince Regent did occasionally make a gift of a gelded cream to someone whom he highly favored. In one recorded instance, his gift took the form of a practical joke. He publicly presented Admiral Nagle with a cream on a very rainy day at Brighton. The Admiral was so pleased with this mark of distinction that he insisted on mounting his new steed and riding him along the Front. Not long afterwards, he returned to the assembled court at the Pavilion astride a dark bay smeared with white patches. Prinny had a great laugh at the sight, but he soon admitted to his victim that he had had the horse painted white, and he then did give the Admiral a true cream gelding.
Though King George III had sworn never to travel behind a team of creams until Napoleon was defeated, his son thought otherwise. The Prince employed a team of creams on the day he took the oath which made him Regent of England after his father’s final descent into madness. Early on the morning of 6 February 1811, while Carlton House was being cleaned from top to bottom in preparation for the ceremony, a team of creams was being publicly exercised as practice for their part in the event. They were paraded though a double line of soldiers as they made ready to carry the newly-sworn Regent through the streets of London. On Wednesday, 20 April 1814, when King Louis XVIII was to arrive in London from his home in Buckinghamshire, the Prince Regent decided that as a mark of respect, he would travel to meet him en route, to personally conduct the French king to the metropolis. The Regent’s entourage arrived at the village of Stanmore for the rendezvous with the French king’s party. At a quarter past three, the procession of royal carriages set out from Stanmore toward London, the last in line was the Prince Regent’s town-coach drawn by an eight-horse hitch of Hanoverian creams. Within the coach were Louis XVIII and his niece, the duchesse d’Angoulême, the Prince de Condé and the Prince Regent. This regal procession made a grand entrance into London, the Regent’s coach drawn by the cream stallions the pièce de résistance. During the Congress of Vienna, the Prince Regent routinely drove about the city in a coach drawn by the aristocratic and coveted creams. And, on his own Coronation Day, like his father, he travelled to Westminster Abbey in the Gold State Coach, drawn by eight prime Hanoverian cream stallions.
Once Napoleon was finally defeated, the Prince Regent formally petitioned the French government for the return of any cream horses still in their possession which had been looted from the Hanoverian State Stud by their erstwhile Emperor. After much delay, the French authorities claimed that all the royal creams had disappeared from France, and to this day no one has been able to discover what became of them. But all was not lost. The Prince Regent directed that the mares and stallions which had been smuggled out of Hanover before Napoleon seized the stud, and some of their offspring, were to be returned. Though creams were being bred at the Hampton Court stud, through the reigns of George IV and William IV, who were also both kings of Hanover, creams from the Hanover state stud were regularly sent to England to improve the breed. However, when Victoria came to the throne, that practice ceased. The Salic law prohibited Victoria, as a woman, from acceding to the throne of Hanover, and her uncle, the Duke of Cumberland, became the next King of Hanover. As she was not considered Hanoverian royalty, she was not sent any of the cream horses bred there and from her reign onward, English royal creams were all bred at the Hampton Court stud.
Neither the Royal Hanoverian Creams, or the Royal Hanoverian Blacks, ever appeared on duty unless their manes were plaited with ribbons. Well before the reign of William IV, it had become usual for the blacks to be embellished with crimson ribbons, while the creams were adorned with purple ribbons. This may seem a trifling thing, but in 1831, the plaiting of the creams’ manes threatened the very foundations of the British government. Earl Grey and Lord Brougham waited upon the new king, William IV, to recommend the dissolution of Parliament, which was wreaking havoc with the first Reform Bill. Though King William had been resisting this drastic step, he finally decided it must be done and announced that he was going to Parliament immediately. It was pointed out to the King that there would be a delay while the creams’ manes were plaited. After some very salty words, the Sailor King threatened to go in a hackney carriage. The horses’ manes were left unplaited, the king was soon delivered to Parliament, which was forthwith dissolved, and the Reform Bill was saved.
The English Royal Hanoverian Creams continued in service to the British Crown into the first decades of the twentieth century. The prime stallions which pulled the state coaches spent most of their time in the London Royal Mews, by then in Buckingham Palace, while the breeding stallions, the mares and foals were kept at the Hampton Court Stud. Without the occasional introduction of new blood from the Hanoverian State Stud, the English herd was becoming inbred. It became more and more difficult to get the mares in foal. In 1917, Sir Garrard Tyrwhitt-Drake, who kept and bred a string of similar cream ponies for his circus, was called in to consult and within the year mares were once more successfully in foal.
Unfortunately, by then World War I was well advanced and anti-German sentiment was running high in Britain. So high that in 1917, the royal family had actually changed its last name from Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to Windsor. By 1920, it was decided that horses of German ancestry should not draw English state coaches. There was also the consideration that the stud was expensive to maintain. By order of George V, in 1921, all the royal cream horses at the Hampton Court Stud went on the block. Their place was taken by the Windsor Greys, who have continued in the royal service to this day.
A Royal Hanoverian Cream stallion and a couple of mares were given to Sir Garrard prior to the sale, and he bought a few more at the auction. He bred and trained them to perform in his circus and as the many-times Mayor of Maidstone, he also rode his prize stallion in civic parades. Despite his efforts, by the late 1940s, there were only a handful of purebred creams left in England. The depredations of the Nazis had finally done what Napoleon had failed to do, and destroyed the erstwhile Hanoverian state stud. Thus, there were also no purebred creams left in Germany. By 1960, the Royal Hanoverian Cream horse breed was extinct.
Though there is a modern-day horse farm in the southern United States which advertizes Royal Hanoverian Creams for sale, these horses are in reality either American Cream Draft horses or crosses from that breed. The Royal Hanoverian Cream horse breed is truly extinct. But they were an important and highly visible accoutrement of the English monarchy before and during the Regency. The Prince Regent himself frequently used them to enhance his consequence with his own subjects and with foreign monarchs. He is also responsible for protecting and maintaining the breed in both England and Hanover, despite the pillaging of the state stud by Napoleon. I sincerely hope that in the future these noble beasts will figure in novels set during the Regency, and that the Prince Regent will be given some credit for his attempts to preserve the breed.