The Ulster People: 33 -The Byerley Turk – Williamite War Horse

The Byerley Turk (1678–1706) fought for King William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne and is one of the most remarkable horses in history. I was presented with Jeremy James’ book on him by Eugene Keane,  when our Dalaradia organisation visited the Boyne, Newgrange and Tara. I had presented Eugene with two of my books Dalaradia and 1690; King William and the Boyne as Patron of the organisation. Eugene is Head of National Historic Buildings Division of the Office of Public Works, Republic of Ireland, and accompanied the Queen and Prince Phillip on their visit to the Rock of Cashel and The Lord Bannside and Baroness Paisley, when I accompanied them , and more recently, the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers, on their visits to the Boyne Site.

The Byerley Turk was the earliest of three stallions that were the founders of the modern Thouroughbred horse racing bloodstock (the other two are the Godolphin Arabian and the Darley Arabian). He was born in a humble stable in the Balkans in 1678, but went on to become one of the finest fighting horses in the Ottoman cavalry. The stallion is believed to have been captured by Captain Robert Byerley at the Battle of Buda in 1686, served as Byerley’s war horse when he was dispatched to Ireland in 1689 during King William’s War and saw further military service in the Battle of the Boyne.

The Byerley Turk was reportedly a dark brown horse with large eyes, long and high set on neck with high carriage of the tail. The Byerley Turk helped form the modern Cleveland Bay. Many of his offspring were also noted to have been either bay or black. He was shipped from Hoylake in England on 12th September 1689, landing in Carrickfergus the following day, He was on the march south to Dundalk on 18th September, arriving in Dundalk on 23rd. He joined the march north again to Lisburn on 30th, where he wintered.

On 27th February 1690, he commenced the march to Downpatrick, where on 15th March he won the King’s Plate at the great race at Flying Horse Road. On 17th June he proceeded to Hillsborough to be presented to William of Orange, who had landed in Carrickfergus on 14th June. The march south to the Boyne started on 25th, culminating in the famous battle on 1st July, now celebrated on Bonfire night 11th July, due to the change in the calendar. On 2nd July James II fled to France and on 5th July William’s army mustered at Finglas, Dublin and then marched west in pursuit of the Jacobite army.

On 8th August the Byerley was at the First Siege of Limerick and during that month was engaged with reparee guerillas. The siege was lifted on 27th August and the Byerley wintered in Mountmellick. The following June 1691 he was present at the second Siege of Athlone and on 12th July took part in the great Battle of Aughrim, helping, with immense bravery, to turn the flank of the Jacobite army. 17th July saw the march to the Siege of Limerick, which lasted until August and the Jacobites finally surrendered on 26th of that month, signing the Treaty of Limerick on 3rd October 1691. The Byerley was on the march to Dublin on 7th November and was finally shipped back to Hoylake on 19th.

In 1696, Captain Robert Byerley married his cousin, Mary Wharton (sole heir to the estate of Goldsborough, near Knaresborough, North Yorkshire, England) and moved to live with her at her family home of Goldsborough Halll. After Byerley retired (as Colonel Byerley), the Byerley Turk retired to stud, first at Middridge Grange, then, from 1697, at Goldsborough Hall, near Knaresborough. The Byerley Turk died there in 1706 and it is believed he is buried close to the Hall. Goldsborough Hall is now a private family home which offers accommodation, which includes the commemorative Byerley suite. Surely the Turk was the best of all the fighters for Royal William, Prince of Orange, the greatest of British Kings. There are 12 Epsom Derby winners, 10 St Ledger winners, and 14 The Oaks Stakes winners listed in family 1 as his descendants.

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