• 5th April 1820

    [Mariana and I] came upstairs at 10-30 p.m. Sat up talking about my manners being too attentive; having too much of the civility of a well-bred gentleman – that I unintentionally spoilt people. Shewed her Emma Saltmarshe’s last note. She said it proved that I gave rise to an interest which people did not understand, or why they felt as they did. I promised to make my letters less attentive.

Anne Lister and her horses

In the summer of 1810, when Anne was nineteen years old, her father, Captain Jeremy Lister, presented her with the gift of a horse, which served to alleviate the tedium of the prosaic provincial life so irksome to her. On the 30th August that same year, she writes excitedly about it to her then lover, Isabella Norcliffe …

‘My father has got me a very spirited horse which is ready for me at any time in quarter of an hour. It is exactly what I wished for, though I confess it is at present quite as much as I can manage. The moment one mounts it begins prancing and capering, and as I am not a very steady [indec] scientific rider I daresay like Homer’s heroes I shall lick the dust.’

A month later, on the 30th September, she writes again to Isabella, saying that riding around the countryside with her brother Sam had become a great source of pleasure to her …

‘We take very pleasant and sometimes very long rides, indeed we have every inducement as the landscape is everywhere interesting and in many places delightfully varied with the beautiful and the sublime.’

The years between 1810 and 1816 are missing from Anne’s journals, so it is not possible to follow her horse-riding activities for those years, but following her move to live at Shibden Hall with her bachelor uncle, James Lister, and his unmarried sister Aunt Anne, we can take up the topic of her equestrian interests.

In 1822 still saddened by the defection of her then lover, Mariana Belcombe, who married Charles Lawton, a wealthy landowner, Anne found the business of tending to the horses a comforting and welcome distraction. On the 22nd January of that year it had become necessary to have the Listers’ old mare put down.

‘One of the Mr Taylors (the young man) came at 7 this morning to destroy the old mare, Diamond. He stabbed her thro’ the heart & she was dead in less than 5 minutes.’

During the course of that year of 1822, the Listers acquired three new horses. Naming them was a serious business for Anne. The names had to have meaningful associations with either literature, history or people. One of the horses, ‘a very pretty, four-year-old, useful mare [is] to be called Vienne, from a little circumstance relative to Vienne in Dauphiny’, i.e. the birthplace of her married lover, Mariana Lawton (nee Belcombe) who was born in Vienne in 1790 during the time her father, Dr Belcombe, spent working on the Continent.

Anne gave her next horse the name of Percy, again ‘out of compliment to Mariana’, whose full name was Mariana Percy Lawton. But her choice of Percy carried a double meaning for the third horse to be added to the Lister stable, was a ‘handsome 3-year-old bay colt to be called Hotspur to match Percy.’ In this instance, the reference to Hotspur and Percy relates to Sir Henry Percy (1364-1403), who was known as Harry Hotspur. He was the son of Henry Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland. A famous northern warrior, Hotspur was immortalised in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part I.

Of the three, Hotspur was to be Anne’s exclusive property. ‘He is indeed a beautiful animal & is to be mine. I shall pay for him myself with the legacy my Aunt Lister left me.’ Her stable was now complete and the attention she lavished on her horses did much to alleviate the pain and sadness caused by Mariana’s marriage.