Tudor and Stuart Provincial Posting and the Development of England’s Exchequer-Funded Postal Network
Intellectual Geography / Tuesday 6 September, 2011
Although the central focus of the paper is the development of England’s Exchequer-funded postal network in the period c.1500 and c.1700, the gradual establishment of the system is considered within the wider context of other means by which communications were made. By the end of my period, a state letter delivery service had been created, but common carriers continously guarded their long-held right to be allowed to carry letters. Moreover, some correspondence was always carried by relatives, neighbours, friends, or acquaintances, travelling either to, or through, the locality where the recipient resided. The services of ostlers, or facilities for hiring post-horses, and the availability of accommodation at stages along the realm’s principal highways made personal travel possible over considerable distances. Servants of the wealthier sort acted as letter-bearers for their employers, travelling either on horseback, or on foot. Civic authorities sent and received correspondence by similar means. Messengers or couriers—always privileged by the lower horse-hire charges secured under royal purveyance—similarly served the Court and Privy Council throughout the period. But the arrangements made for a regular letter-bearing service adopted by the London Company of Merchant Strangers in 1496 and the various commercial and state systems devised elsewhere in Europe led, in the reign of Henry VIII, to the commencement of England’s Exchequer-funded relay of posting services for the carriage of letters and travel on royal service. Previously, relays of couriers had only been laid for very short periods in special circumstances. On certain thoroughfares, permanent postrooms were now engaged and the network was steadily extended and improved until, in the time of Charles I, the service was opened for public letter carrying. In describing these changes, the paper emphasises the importance of travel and letter carrying in widening and deepening of England’s early modern cultures of knowledge.