Who, or what, was Old Rowley?

Strictly speaking, ‘Old Rowley’ was the nickname of a favourite hack, or hunter, belonging to King Charles II. Horse racing in Britain was revived following the Restoration in 1660 and Charles II became passionate about the sport, especially in Newmarket, Suffolk, which he visited frequently and even rode in races from time to time. Indeed, it was during Charles’ reign, between 1660 and 1685, that horse racing started to be called the ‘Sport of Kings’.

Old Rowley, the stallion, had a reputation for being libidinous and was known to have sired many fine colts. Consequently, ‘Old Rowley’ became a popular, if not altogether flattering, sobriquet for King Charles II, himself, granted that he was a notorious philanderer with multiple mistresses and fourteen acknowledged illegitimate children.

The Rowley Mile Course, which is used during the spring and autumn, hosts the majority of the Group One races staged at Newmarket, including the first two British Classic races of the season, the 2,000 Guineas Stakes and the 1,000 Guineas Stakes; in 2017, the Duchess of Cornwall unveiled a statue of King Charles II on the Rowley Mile.