Westbury White Horse
The Westbury or Bratton White Horse is a hill figure
A hill figure is a large visual representation created by cutting into a steep hillside and revealing the underlying geology. It is a type of geoglyph usually designed to be seen from afar rather than above. In some cases trenches are dug and rubble made from material brighter than the natural...
on the escarpment of Salisbury Plain
Salisbury Plain is a chalk plateau in central southern England covering . It is part of the Southern England Chalk Formation and largely lies within the county of Wiltshire, with a little in Hampshire. The plain is famous for its rich archaeology, including Stonehenge, one of England's best known...
, approximately 2.5 km (1.6 mi) east of Westbury
Westbury is a town and civil parish in the west of the English county of Wiltshire, most famous for the Westbury White Horse.-Name:The most likely origin of the West- in Westbury is simply that the town is near the western edge of the county of Wiltshire, the bounds of which have been much the same...
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...
. Located on the edge of Bratton Downs
Bratton Downs is a 395.8 hectare biological and geological Site of Special Scientific Interest in Wiltshire, notified in 1971.-Source:* -External links:*...
and lying just below an Iron Age
The Iron Age is the archaeological period generally occurring after the Bronze Age, marked by the prevalent use of iron. The early period of the age is characterized by the widespread use of iron or steel. The adoption of such material coincided with other changes in society, including differing...
A hill fort is a type of earthworks used as a fortified refuge or defended settlement, located to exploit a rise in elevation for defensive advantage. They are typically European and of the Bronze and Iron Ages. Some were used in the post-Roman period...
, it is the oldest of several white horses carved in Wiltshire
Wiltshire is a ceremonial county in South West England. It is landlocked and borders the counties of Dorset, Somerset, Hampshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire. It contains the unitary authority of Swindon and covers...
. It was restored in 1778, an action which may have obliterated a previous horse which had occupied the same slope. A contemporary engraving of the 1760s appears to show a horse facing in the opposite direction, and also rather smaller than the present figure. However, there is at present no documentary or other evidence for the existence of a chalk horse at Westbury before the year 1742.
The origin of the Westbury White Horse is obscure. It is often claimed to commemorate King Alfred's victory at the Battle of Eðandun in 878, and while this is not impossible, there is no trace of such a legend before the second half of the eighteenth century. It should also be noted that the battle of Eðandun has only tentatively been identified with Edington
Edington is a small village and civil parish in Wiltshire, England, about five miles east of Westbury.The parish includes two principal settlements, Edington village and Tinhead, which lies between the main village and Coulston and contains the parish's only surviving public house, The Paulet Arms...
Another white horse, that of Uffington, featured in King Alfred's earlier life. He was born in the Vale of White Horse
Vale of White Horse
The Vale of White Horse is a local government district of Oxfordshire in England. The main town is Abingdon, other places include Faringdon and Wantage. There are 68 parishes within the district...
, not far from Uffington
Uffington is a village and civil parish about south of Faringdon. It was part of Berkshire until the 1974 boundary changes transferred it to Oxfordshire. Uffington is most commonly known as the location of the Uffington White Horse hill figure....
. Unlike Westbury, documents as early as the 11th century refer to the "White Horse Hill" at Uffington ("mons albi equi"), and archaeological evidence has dated the Uffington White Horse
Uffington White Horse
The Uffington White Horse is a highly stylised prehistoric hill figure, 110 m long , formed from deep trenches filled with crushed white chalk...
to the Bronze Age
The Bronze Age is a period characterized by the use of copper and its alloy bronze as the chief hard materials in the manufacture of some implements and weapons. Chronologically, it stands between the Stone Age and Iron Age...
, although it is not certain that it was originally intended to represent a horse.
A white horse war standard was associated with the continental
Continental Europe, also referred to as mainland Europe or simply the Continent, is the continent of Europe, explicitly excluding European islands....
The Saxons were a confederation of Germanic tribes originating on the North German plain. The Saxons earliest known area of settlement is Northern Albingia, an area approximately that of modern Holstein...
in the Dark Ages, and the figures of Hengest and Horsa
Hengist and Horsa are figures of Anglo-Saxon, and subsequently British, legend, which records the two as the Germanic brothers who led the Angle, Saxon, and Jutish armies that conquered the first territories of Great Britain in the 5th century AD...
who, according to legend, led the first Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon is a term used by historians to designate the Germanic tribes who invaded and settled the south and east of Great Britain beginning in the early 5th century AD, and the period from their creation of the English nation to the Norman conquest. The Anglo-Saxon Era denotes the period of...
invaders into England, are said to have fought under a white horse standard (a claim recalled in the heraldic badge of the county of Kent
Kent is a county in southeast England, and is one of the home counties. It borders East Sussex, Surrey and Greater London and has a defined boundary with Essex in the middle of the Thames Estuary. The ceremonial county boundaries of Kent include the shire county of Kent and the unitary borough of...
During the 18th century, the white horse was a heraldic symbol associated with the new British Royal Family
British Royal Family
The British Royal Family is the group of close relatives of the monarch of the United Kingdom. The term is also commonly applied to the same group of people as the relations of the monarch in her or his role as sovereign of any of the other Commonwealth realms, thus sometimes at variance with...
, the House of Hanover
House of Hanover
The House of Hanover is a deposed German royal dynasty which has ruled the Duchy of Brunswick-Lüneburg , the Kingdom of Hanover, the Kingdom of Great Britain, the Kingdom of Ireland and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland...
, and it is argued by some scholars that the Westbury White Horse may have first been carved in the early 18th century as a symbol of loyalty to the new Protestant reigning house.
In Alfred and the Great White Horse of Wiltshire (1939), the Downside Abbey
The Basilica of St Gregory the Great at Downside, commonly known as Downside Abbey, is a Roman Catholic Benedictine monastery and the Senior House of the English Benedictine Congregation. One of its main apostolates is a school for children aged nine to eighteen...
Dom is a title of respect prefixed to the given name. It derives from Latin Dominus.It is used in English for certain Benedictine and Carthusian monks, and for members of certain communities of Canons Regular. Examples include Benedictine monks of the English Benedictine Congregation...
Dom Illtyd Trethowan , earlier known as Kenneth Trethowan, was an English priest, philosopher, and author, for more than thirty years sub-prior of Downside Abbey in Somerset and a visiting professor in theology at Brown University.-Early life:Born at Salisbury in 1907, he was the son of William...
debunked the suggested connection of the White Horse with Alfred and the Battle of Ethandune.
In the 1950s, the horse was vandalised. It was repaired, but the damage could still be seen. The horse was fully restored in late 2006.
The figure can be seen in Breathe, a music video by Scottish guitarist Midge Ure
James "Midge" Ure, OBE is a Scottish guitarist, singer, keyboard player, and songwriter...
The Westbury White Horse was mentioned in the novel The English Patient
The English Patient
The English Patient is a 1992 novel by Sri Lankan-Canadian novelist Michael Ondaatje. The story deals with the gradually revealed histories of a critically burned English accented Hungarian man, his Canadian nurse, a Canadian-Italian thief, and an Indian sapper in the British Army as they live out...
by Michael Ondaatje
Philip Michael Ondaatje , OC, is a Sri Lankan-born Canadian novelist and poet of Burgher origin. He is perhaps best known for his Booker Prize-winning novel, The English Patient, which was adapted into an Academy-Award-winning film.-Life and work:...
as the location where the sapper Kip learned how to deactivate bombs.
The Westbury White Horse was featured in the 2010 film Robin Hood
Robin Hood (2010 film)
Robin Hood is a 2010 British/American adventure film based on the Robin Hood legend, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett...
starring Russell Crowe.