Female Equestrian Culture in France, 1600-1715
This dissertation investigates female equestrianism in France between 1600 and the end of Louis XIV’s reign in 1715. The introduction situates the study of female horseback riding within the scholarship on early modern women’s sport, elite femininity and corporeal culture in seventeenth-century France. It also positions the analysis of equestrian garments within current trends in fashion and dress history. Chapter I examines definitions of female athleticism in medical and pedagogic literature. It highlights how traditional humoral models of the body and conservative views of women’s education gradually made space for new progressive conceptualisations of the female ‘Amazonian’ athletic body. Chapter II starts by reassessing the significance of equestrianism within French aristocratic culture, emphasising its role as an elite medical practice. It then traces the development of female horse-riding techniques in the seventeenth century. Chapter III explores the social and political significance of female horse riding in seventeenth-century France with reference to aristocratic women’s lives. The first part shows how, far from being exclusively associated with hunting, riding was connected with crucial economic and military functions. The second part focuses on the court of Louis XIV and highlights how female horse riding moved beyond hunting conventions and established itself as an independent athletic practice. Chapter IV explores the evolution of female riding attire, revealing how liberating forms of dress were created to suit new spaces of corporeal freedom. First, it examines the donning of riding breeches and the fashion for a particular ‘Amazonian’ feather headdress in the mid-seventeenth century. It then traces the emergence of a recognisable tailored outfit that represented the first sporting uniform for women. The conclusion outlines how, by the turn of the eighteenth century, the ‘Amazonian’ French horsewoman had been fashioned into a powerful and influential ideal of athletic femininity.