Stirrups

Introduction

Stirrup irons are used in pairs when riding horses to support the rider’s feet. Being most often iron, stirrups are rarely encountered through PAS; they are also relatively rare archaeological finds. However, the late early-medieval period saw common use of copper-alloy fittings on iron forms to the point that there are separate guides to the most common: stirrup terminals and stirrup-strap mounts. Stirrups cast entirely in copper alloy are sometimes encountered, dating mainly from the 14th and 15th centuries.

PAS Object type to be used

Use STIRRUP

PAS object classifications and sub-classifications to be used

At the moment the Classification field is reserved for recording stirrup terminals or stirrup-strap mounts. Visit these guides for further guidance, including how to complete the Sub-classification field for stirrup-strap mounts.

Terms to use in the description

The shape of the stirrup’s bow gives its overall form. At the apex there is often a suspension loop through which the leather (stirrup strap) was attached. From the apex the arms travel down to a tread-plate on which the rider’s foot rested.

Date

In England, stirrups appear to have been introduced in metal, specifically iron, during the Second Viking Age, around the turn of the 11th century. For a short general history of the stirrup see Seaby and Woodfield (1980). They have been used ever since, though, as noted, rarely are they purely copper-alloy objects.

Early-medieval stirrups

One English form in iron has been isolated by Seaby and Woodfield (1980) and classified as (English) group 2c (see image), as derived from Scandinavian forms, and effectively tall and triangular. At its apex is a rectangular suspension loop, divided from long, curved arms by a ‘neck’ or an oval knop. At the base the arms expand into ‘side-plates’ below a boss, squared off at their terminal. The tread-plate is located above the terminals, and below the bosses. The type is synonymous with inlaid brass wire decoration, which often takes a running scrolled form (see Hinton 1974, pls XII, XIII).

The form of the stirrups associated with copper-alloy components, including stirrup terminals which were either applied over the lower corner or used to connect the broadly oval tread-plate to the arm, varied from an elongated D shape, to more trapezoidal forms (Ward Perkins 1993 (1940), 90; fig. 24, nos 3, 4; Williams 1997, 7; fig. 4). Such forms could also feature further applied copper-alloy decorative plating/sheathing to the arms (see image below, and Williams in Geake 2005, 329-332). The main formal difference would appear to be that the apex loop emerged directly from the top of the stirrup, rather than surmounting a (bossed) constriction; they were also somewhat slighter stirrups.

Late early-medieval to medieval stirrups: Seaby and Woodfield type 2c (left, WAW-989551); composite of bimetallic form made elements in approximate locations (clockwise from top) - stirrup-strap mount (OXON-C868FD), arm sheath and integral terminal (SF-97D5B1), stirrup terminal (SOM-C2BC82), arm sheath (SUR-51D12B). Copyrights: Birmingham Museums Trust; The Portable Antiquities Scheme; Suffolk County Council; Somerset County Council; Berkshire Archaeology; CC-BY-SA licence)
Late early-medieval to medieval stirrups: Seaby and Woodfield type 2c (left, WAW-989551); composite of bimetallic form with elements in approximate locations (clockwise from top) – stirrup-strap mount (OXON-C868FD), arm sheath and integral terminal (SF-97D5B1), stirrup terminal (SOM-C2BC82), arm sheath (SUR-51D12B). Copyrights: Birmingham Museums Trust; The Portable Antiquities Scheme; Suffolk County Council; Somerset County Council; Berkshire Archaeology; CC-BY-SA licence)

Medieval stirrups

Medieval stirrups seem to show a continuity of form with the latest early-medieval forms, being broadly D-shaped or triangular, sometimes tending towards trapezoidal (Goodall 2011, 381; fig. 13.9). However, iron examples apparently came to lose their earlier copper-alloy embellishments. Initially, as before, stirrups had rectangular suspension loops emerging directly from their apexes (Clark 2004 (1995), 72-73; figs 54, 55).

A development seemingly of the 14th century was the use of a bar rather than a suspension loop for attaching the stirrup leather, the bar sitting behind a decorative and protective ‘cover plate’. A common 14th-/15th-century form – in both copper alloy and iron – was broadly trapezoidal, with a trapezoidal cover plate which sometimes has engraved or openwork decoration (Clark 2004 (1995), 73; fig. 55, no. O2587). This form also sometimes features moulded decoration on the slightly expanded and turned down foot-rest (see image below; Clark 2004 (1995), 73; fig. 55, no. 84). In the later 15th century cover plates in the forms of a fleur-de-lis or a scallop shell are known (Gaimster 1990; Huddle 2006); the scallop is also known later.

Medieval stirrups: complete 14th-/15th-century form (left, BUC-5D596F); composite of 14th-/15th-century form made from two, separate fragments (centre top, SF-D14660; centre bottom, SOM-7B8251); composite of later 15th-century form made from two, separate fragments (right top, ESS-9FD2F6; right bottom, WILT-7D926C). Copyrights: The Portable Antiquities Scheme; Suffolk County Council; Somerset County Council; Colchester Museums; CC-BY-SA licence)
Medieval stirrups: complete 14th-/15th-century form (left, BUC-5D596F); composite of 14th-/15th-century form made from two, separate fragments (centre top, SF-D14660; centre bottom, SOM-7B8251); composite of later 15th-century form made from two, separate fragments (right top, ESS-9FD2F6; right bottom, WILT-7D926C). Copyrights: The Portable Antiquities Scheme; Suffolk County Council; Somerset County Council; Colchester Museums; CC-BY-SA licence)

Post-medieval stirrups

Around the very start of the period the arms of stirrups started to be expanded towards their base, sometimes with ribbed decoration (see image). Tread-plates could be highly expanded into openwork rings with bars. Stirrups of the 17th century are often rather plainer, D shaped, with bowed sides and with flat tread-plates (e.g. Courtney in Ellis (ed.) 1993, 144-145; nos 124-128). Their integral loops are rectangular or D shaped.

Post-medieval stirrups: c. early 16th century (left, SUR-2C2345; centre, NARC-5BFCAC); c. 17th century (BERK-9C04E7). Copyrights: Surrey County Council; The Portable Antiquities Scheme; CC-BY-SA licence)
Post-medieval stirrups: c. early 16th century (left, SUR-2C2345; centre, NARC-5BFCAC); c. 17th century (BERK-9C04E7). Copyrights: Surrey County Council; The Portable Antiquities Scheme; CC-BY-SA licence)

Examples

Search for all examples of stirrups, but excluding late early-medieval to medieval stirrup terminals or stirrup-strap mounts

Key references

Clark 2004 (1995)

Ward Perkins 1993 (1940)

Goodall 2011