Merlin Unwin Books

"Merlin Unwin Books are lively, innovative countryside book publishers.

Their well-produced range of rural, wildlife, fieldsports and fishing books never fail to inform and entertain."

Philip Dunne MP
co-founder of Ottakar’s bookshops

The Byerley Turk

The True Story of the First Thoroughbred

This is the true story of the most remarkable horse in history. In 1678, a beautiful mahogany bay Karaman colt is foaled in a stable on a feudal landholding in the Balkans. Yet this is no ordinary colt: this is a colt with a destiny.

He is destined to become the magnificent Byerley Turk, the first Foundation Sire of the thoroughbred line. From his early days the young horse is hard-schooled in the disciplines of war. In 1683, in diamond and ruby-studded harness in the ranks of the glittering Ottoman sipahi, he fights as a charger at the Siege of Vienna.

Seized as an exotic prize from the Siege of Buda three years later, he is ridden across Europe to the Royal Barracks of King James II in Hounslow, England, where he is acquired in 1687 by Captain Robert Byerley. In 1690, as a charger in the ranks of King William's army, he faces sabre and cannon at the Battle of the Boyne, but not before romping past the winning post at Downroyal and snatching the King's Plate.

After two years of bitter campaigning in Ireland he is shipped back to England, where his owner, now Colonel of his regiment, retires him to Goldsborough Hall in Yorkshire.

Here the horse is put to Stud and begins a long well-earned retirement. He died at the age of 25 in 1703.

No stone marks his grave. Until now his story has never been told. But on racecourses throughout the world today, his blood thunders on.

Author: Jeremy James
ISBN: 978 1 873674 98 7
Published: September 2005
Latest edition: March 2007
Format: 210 x 148 mm
Binding: Paperback
No. of pages: 416
Price: £9.99

look inside this book
The Byerley Turk by Jeremy James

Reader reviews

Reviewed by Lee Ann Day-Whistler in August 2008

The origins of the Byerly Turk have remained shrouded in mystery - until now. This story needed to be told by someone very special, who would understand the bond between man and horse, and this author is that person. I believe that it was his destiny to tell this tale. The author has done extensive research and lovingly constructed the story of the Byerly Turk and his people. Despite the many years since he lived his presence leaps off the pages and we feel honoured to have witnessed the life and times of one of the founder fathers of the thoroughbred racehorse. This is a fantastic story, rich with historic detail. It is highly recommended for everyone who enjoys reading about horses in general, and throughbreds in particular. I could not put the book down and was sad when it was finished. It would make a great movie.

Reviewed by Helen Stewart in August 2008

This book is a wonderful read which sweeps the reader along from exotic Ottoman Turkey through the plains and princes of continental Europe to the colour and chaos of seventeenth century London, the beauty of the unsullied English countryside and the wilds of Ireland. It presents the history of the period as history should always be first presented, vibrant and full of the practicalities of everyday existence that really bring it alive. This is particularly true in the depictions of war which illustrate and carry the reader along through the exhilaration and the horror of battle, with brilliant descriptions of combat its aftermath and the preparations for it that are worlds away from a dry recitation of dates, battle fields and the peace treaties that follow. The characters in this book are wonderful. The horse and his groom are unique and easily carry the weight of the story, Byerly too on his entrance is a figure to follow and admire. The horse though is the unashamedly the hero and the beauty and power of the story is arrived at from the fact that the horses full unbridled nature can only be realized through the symbiosis with his two true human friends, the groom and then Byerly who most of the world initially perceive to be the horses master but who come to realize that the power of the relationship is based on understanding, one in which the humans are accepted only as an equals and a friends. The story then, is a history of a horse, a chronicle of a time from east to west, a brilliant exposition of war and most of all a wonderful and moving story based on characters who hold principles that have made the best stories great since story telling began.

Press reviews

Reviewed by PR of Horse & Hound Magazine in November 2005

'Jeremy James captures the intimate but unsentimental relationship between the main human characters – the seyis and Byerley – and the horse…..revel in the company of these supreme horsemen and the magnificent Byerley Turk.'

Reviewed by Eileen Battersby of Irish Times in October 2005

'This is a brilliantly well-researched, atmospheric, at times theatrical, narrative about ancient kingdoms, political ambition, battles, men and horses as well as the philosophy of horsemanship. The narrative reads as a flamboyant, historical novel.'

Reviewed in Farmer's Guardian Magazine in October 2005

'I have read a lot of books … this is a strong contender for my favourite ever. Minutely researched and written with passion, this is a wonderful book.'

Reviewed by Garry Ashton-Coulton of Horse Magazine in January 2006

'This is no dry academic work; it is written as a dramatic narrative that has the reader savouring the twists and turns of every page. Told from the viewpoint of Azarax’s groom, the story is not only a compelling account of the life of the horse, but a vivid exploration of a long-distant epoch. With an almost cinematic breadth of vision, we are witness to the fall of empires and the splitting of nations, to a clash of cultures whose cannon roar and sword clash can still be heard in conflicts around the world today.'

Reviewed by Kerry Goldsworthy of The Sydney Morning Herald in February 2006

'To follow a colourful, well-told story of the life of one extraordinary horse through the intricate embroidery of European history is to learn, with surprise, that two essentially religious but otherwise very different conflicts, the Ottoman Empire’s Siege of Buda and the Battle of the Boyne, took place within 10 years of each other, on the opposite margins of Europe. As well as his skills as horseman and scholar, James has a lovely way with words; his prose is often ornately but skilfully bejewelled, as befits the book’s Byzantine background and its celebration of beauty and skill.'

Reviewed in New Zealand Thoroughbred Racer in February 2006

'The book quickly grew on me. And even though the Turk’s story is part of racing history, his early days are largely unknown. It was obviously a huge undertaking on the author’s part to research the probable background of a horse in the 1680s – those who like a dash of history with their evening read will not be disappointed.'

Reviewed by Sue Porter & Karen Milbourne of England's Equestrian Magazine in April 2006

'By the end of the first chapter I was hooked. Set in a forgotten time, the book draws you into the life of this magnificent horse, you feel yourself willing him to survive, forcing him to battle on through adversity.'

'If you think that this book is going to be a history lesson, you are in for a surprise. Go and buy it, I did and could not put it down.'

Reviewed by Thomas Rees of The Astene Bulletin in August 2006

'A rattling good yarn.'

Reviewed in Farm Life in January 2008

'Horse-lovers who enjoy a dramatic story need look no further.'

Offer of the month

Offer of the month

Our Catalogue

Download our catalogue