Intimacy with Horses

The United States of America’s third President, Thomas Jefferson (1743 – 1826), was an intensely passionate man both in his political life and personal life.

Rembrandt_Peale__Thomas_Jefferson_c1805_01aThomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale, circa 1805.

In 1772, at the age of twenty-nine, Jefferson married a young widow, Martha Skelton; however Martha died in 1782, shortly after the birth of their sixth child.

Jefferson took a diplomatic role in Paris in 1784 and was appointed Minister to France in 1785. Following the death of his youngest daughter, Lucy Elizabeth (II), Jefferson’s youngest surviving daughter, Polly moved to Paris accompanied by one of his slaves, Sally Hemings. Jefferson subsequently formed a torrid relationship with the fourteen-year-old Hemings, leading to him commissioning a remarkable piece of furniture.

Drawn to Revolutionary Paris’ flamboyant lifestyle and influenced by the debauched constituent of Paris’ salon culture, Jefferson had one of Paris’ artisan brasiers, René Antoin Cavalier make him a “Parisian horse on two levels […] of strong brass and gilded leather […] for intimate liaisons”.

Jefferson named his indecorous horse ‘Fitzpartner’ and seemingly made good use of it. Hemings bore Jefferson a further six children.

Thomas_Jeffersons_Parisian_horse_01aFitzpartner; Thomas Jefferson’s cheval d’amour, circa 1785.

Not normally falling within the purview of this blog, I now take a leap forward to the late nineteenth-century and Queen Victoria’s son, Albert Edward (1841 – 1910) – the playboy Prince of Wales; the future King Edward VII, then known to everyone as ‘Bertie’. Bertie too, had a predilection for Paris’ salacious distractions and, no surprise by now, another Parisian horse.

Edward_VII_01aLicentious and smouldering: Bertie, the future king of England.

The Prince of Wale’s wife, Princess Alexandra of Denmark, tolerated his numerous dalliances to a degree. His father, Prince Albert, however, despaired of Bertie’s debauched lifestyle, calling him “depraved”. The Queen blamed Bertie for her beloved husband’s broken heart and premature death.

Amongst Bertie’s favourite Paris haunts were the Café des Anglais, the Moulin Rouge and the Chabanais – a ‘maison de tolérance’ established by Irishwoman, Roisin Kelly. Madame Kelly’s opulent brothel pandered to all tastes with rooms lavishly decorated in exotic themes.

Bertie, an esteemed patron of Madame Kelly’s, was provided with a personal room in which were a bed (carved with his coat of arms), a swan-necked bath (purportedly filled with champagne) and a Parisian horse made by the renowned nineteenth-century French furniture manufacturer, Soubrier.

Edward VII's_Parisian_horse_02aBertie’s cheval d’amour, circa 1870.

Soubrier are the current owners of the former Prince of Wales’ cheval d’amour.

Jack Plane


About Jack Plane

Formerly from the UK, Jack is a retired antiques dealer and self-taught woodworker, now living in Australia.
This entry was posted in Distractions and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Intimacy with Horses

  1. FIG Woodworks says:

    I am disappointed there are no pictures instructing one on their use!


    • Burbidge says:

      Action paintings have always been problematic…


      • Maximilien Robespierre says:

        The Committee of Public safety has decreed that, “The act of writing Madame before Phil does not make you a French Woman”. However, “if your wife is also called Phil, it is acceptable” (albeit tres oddish).

        Vive la Revolution, and its horsey parts!


  2. Jerry Olson says:

    I own and have read virtually every book ever written about Thomas Jefferson in addition to most of his letters and writings. In none of these writings was such a device ever alluded to.
    While it fairly apparent that he maintained some sort of monogamous relationship with his deceased wife’s half sister (Sally H.). He also followed her dying wish to never remarry.


    • Burbidge says:

      Have you too found it remarkable how much Thos. Jefferson resembles the later portraits of Nick Nolte?


    • James Daily says:

      Really? I’m pretty sure he wrote about it in a letter to Benjamin Franklin, dated April 1st, 1786. In the same letter he also discussed the French tradition of poisson d’avril.


    • RachelB. says:

      The WSJ published an article a number of years ago based on the research of an historian who claims it was NOT Thomas Jefferson who dallied with Hemmings, but another male Jefferson, namely his brother Randolph or one of Randolph’s five sons. This whole business started by a rival of Thomas Jefferson’s who was trying desperately to drag his name into the mud and as often repeated, “A lie told often enough becomes the truth.”


  3. la bonne femme espiegle says:

    Quelle horreur! (But, ah.. where does the horse go?)


  4. Jim says:

    This has ruined Georgette Heyer for me. I will never again be able to read such things as, “he rose in his stirrups to greet a lady”, with a straight face.


  5. Eric R says:

    Sounds to me like Jefferson was a man with horse parts…


  6. LD says:

    Perhaps the increasing popularity of the cheval d’amour would explain the decline in skill of the menuisiers (see the earlier posting French Mustard). After all, production of the cheval would have been much more lucrative, and probably required extensive ‘end user’ testing before delivery to the customer…


  7. Tico Vogt says:

    Always lively at Pegs and ‘Tails!


  8. Matt S says:

    Very creative, Mr. Plane.


  9. markhochstein says:



  10. Editor says:

    While I’m working from the assumption that this is an April Fool’s jest (and a clever one, too), I found out about it through a pin from Pinterest where it’s presented as straightforward truth. This itself is interesting to me (an example of how easy it is for Pinterest to lead people astray). I’m also intrigued by what this image is — if it’s not Jefferson’s. Where does the photo come from? To whom does the object belong? What is this room in which it’s shown?



  11. She Lew says:

    gives a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘hobby horse’


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