Postal Conditions

  • James Daybell
Part of the Early Modern Literature in History book series (EMLH)


This chapter examines the peculiarities of early modern postal conditions in the period before the postal reforms of Charles I. It focuses on the underlying physical structures upon which postal networks rested, the differing postal modes utilised, and the mechanics, practices and nature of dispatch. Examination of these different aspects of letter delivery raises interesting questions about the speed, efficiency, cost and ultimately the security of postal arrangements. A fundamental argument underpinning the whole book is that one of the distinctive features of letter-writing throughout the period was the un-systematised, idiosyncratic character of the postal conditions, which shaped the very nature of the letter. Charles I’s 1635 proclamation for the ‘setling of the letter office of England and Scotland’ transformed the epistolary medium, opening up the royal post to private mail. Hitherto, royal postal networks were largely inaccessible for the majority of the population who relied on more traditional forms of conveyance. ‘Private’ letters were dispatched in an ad hoc manner: they were delivered by personal servants, entrusted to merchants and chance travellers; conveyed by carriers and foot-posts. Analysis of methods of delivery reveals the complexity of postal arrangements, the degree to which postal modes overlapped and interlocked. Official government correspondence could be sent by royal post and through diplomatic and ambassadorial channels; state officials could employ royal pursuivants, but also simultaneously utilised personal servants and carriers for other seemingly business-related correspondence. The boundaries between state and personal or private mail are thus extremely fluid. In practice correspondents used various methods for conveying correspondence depending on timing, circumstance and urgency. Thus, Lord President of Munster, Sir George Carew, in August 1602 informed Robert Cecil‘The last I wrote unto you was by a man of Sir Edward Wyngfeld’s, called Bacon … The 13th of July and the 20th of the same I sent your Honour two other pacquets, the one by a servant of my own, the other by an ordinary passenger to Brystowe, from thence by the running post [royal standing posts] to the Court’.1


Postal Condition Standing Post Seventeenth Century Sixteenth Century Personal Servant 
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Copyright information

© James Daybell 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • James Daybell
    • 1
  1. 1.Plymouth UniversityUSA

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