Harness hooks are chunky medieval (or sometimes post-medieval) artefacts, one end of which curves to a blunt hook, while the other end terminates in an expansion (of a variety of forms). The expanded terminal helped retain the object against a loop or perforation in the lower lateral bar of the lower frame of a curb bit; the hooked end was attached to the reins via a ring or separate looped strap-fitting.
Many harness hooks end in a simple domed or conical terminal, a shape that features an expanded base for retention; others have long conical terminals elaborated with an animal head at the tip. A small proportion terminate an enamelled plate which emerges from a truncated conical collar; on most of these the plate is shield shaped (Griffiths 1989, 4; no. 19), although other forms are known. Enamel occurs only on such plates; gilding is often present across all of the terminal forms noted. Those with domed terminals are effectively the same as certain swivelling hooks made from iron used in a domestic context: for example one attached to a bucket handle from Llanstephan Castle (Goodall 2011, 325; fig. 11.12, no. J157); presumably it is the use of copper alloy which helps isolate these harness hooks.
PAS object type to be used
Use HARNESS HOOK
Read (2008, 215-216) suggests a date range between the 13th and 15th centuries for these objects. However, a distinction may perhaps be drawn between plain examples, for example with domed or conical terminals, which presumably ran through the floruit of curb bits from the medieval through to the post-medieval period, and those decorated with enamel that can be, to an extent, independently dated.
The enamelled examples suggest their dating centred on the century either side 1300; they can be compared with contemporary harness pendants. While some examples bear animals that are not heraldic (e.g. the charming BERK-06C185), others can be interpreted as such, including one (ESS-4E6152) which may relate to the Clifford family, members of which were active in the late 13th and early 14th century (Ashley 2002, 46). A Franco-Neapolitan curb bit held by the Metropolitan Museum of Art with two harness hooks in situ (one a replacement) is dated overall to c. 1325-1350.
Medieval harness hook (IOW-14E414) (Copyright: Isle of Wight Council; CC-BY licence)