travel in the 16th century

(23 Posts)
MaMaLa321 Sat 02-Jan-21 15:15:35

Hi all, I'm hoping that someone can help me on this, as I've been trying to find out for some time with not luck.
I you were a young girl and her companion, and you had to travel from Perugia to Bologna, about 300 miles, in the 16th century, how do you think you'd do it? Obviously you'd have guards. Carriage is out, I think, because of the condition of the roads, but perhaps a litter, or riding pillion.
Any thoughts would be gratefully accepted.

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stodgystollen Sat 02-Jan-21 15:25:35

I think it would depend on how wealthy they were and the reason for travelling. I'm not a historian, but a peasant would have an option of walking or hitching a lift on a goods cart. A more wealthy woman would have access to horses or mules. If you're going as a touring queen, you'd want people to see you so might go on a litter and you would have lots of guards. But if there are bandits, the weather was bad or you were in a hurry, you'd want to be faster moving so would ride. Italy was a merchant nation, so the roads would have been ok in the summer and spring (although very hot in summer, and risk of plague so you probably wouldn't travel then)

I wouldn't imagine you'd ride pillion because a) it would be too heavy for the horse long distance and b) you get travel sick and jolted. A litter is probably more glamorous, but also slow and uncomfortable. I believe most noble women hunted so would be able to ride. I would also expect that a woman going a long distance wouldn't ride with a single companion, she'd be in a group with servants and guards, or with a group of pilgrims or merchants because inns were dangerous and there was a risk of bandits (as in Chaucer for example, although obviously that's a bit earlier).

QueenOfLabradors Sat 02-Jan-21 15:32:15

I'd expect them to ride their own horses, with luggage on pack horses. The taboo about women riding astride hadn't fully kicked in in the sixteenth century either. Carriage would have been an available option, these were both major cities and wheeled traffic would have needed to move around for trade reasons.

ClashCityRocker Sat 02-Jan-21 15:36:13

Are they going there and back again or via a particular route? I only ask because I thought they were closer than that - about 150 miles ish.

Which would be doable on foot in three weeks, probably less.

MaMaLa321 Sat 02-Jan-21 15:38:04

thank you both for such a quick and informed response. The girl was only 7 though - would a child of that age be able to ride her own horse? Up until then she had lived in a convent, so I don't think that she would have ridden already. She was noble, but they wouldn't have wanted to attract too much attention, I believe.

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ClashCityRocker Sat 02-Jan-21 15:38:48

I would expect carriage with perhaps some sections on foot or riding, though, depending on the wealth of the traveller.

MaMaLa321 Sat 02-Jan-21 15:39:47

Yes, clash I initially thought that 300 miles was too long, but I've just checked it again.

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Swimmingiscancelled Sat 02-Jan-21 15:45:16

from research I did Side saddles were introduced to Britain in the early to mid 15th century. They had been known in continental Europe a bit longer - so by 16th they might have been known. However they were limited as the rider had to be led. They were also only really for wealthy women. Children and poorer women would have walked or ridden astride.

A child of 7 - if they were riding was most likely to have sat behind the adult controlling the horse. Some riding centres in Spain still offer double saddles for young children - not ideal but might give some idea of the kind of contraptions available!

senua Sat 02-Jan-21 15:52:30

I think that you have to bear in mind that the two towns are opposite sides of the Appenines.
Perugia isn't far from Assisi - can you research travel to there? (pilgramage site).
Would water-transport be a thing? River or sea?

MaMaLa321 Sat 02-Jan-21 15:53:58

yes, I'm thinking of maybe a double saddle.
I find the whole area of how women rode fascinating. Side saddle was initially literally sideways with a step for your feet to rest on. I believe palfreys were specially bred for this.
But then, Mary of Burgundy and Margaret of Austria loved hunting, and, the former died in a hunting accident. So I can only assume they rode astride.
I'd be very interested to hear more about this.
I think the side-saddle with the raised pommel that one hooked one's leg over came along later

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MaMaLa321 Sat 02-Jan-21 15:54:40

I'd not thought of that senua. Thankyou

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sleepyhead Sat 02-Jan-21 15:57:26

Who else would have been travelling at that time? How did they travel?

They may have joined up with other travellers for convenience and safety.

TheCountessofFitzdotterel Sat 02-Jan-21 16:01:40

I think if she’s 7 and noble she is most likely to be riding, either pillion or on her own horse which might be led rather than completely controlled by her.
I don’t think it’s unlikely she would have learned to ride at a nunnery- it was such a basic skill and as it was normal for middle or upper class girls to go to nunneries for education I don’t think it would have drawn too much attention if they were trying to keep her under the radar. Nuns travelled for pilgrimages or to sort out financial affairs relating to their convent and its property so a nun being able to ride would be reasonable.

Re her age, if you have ever seen the mounted fancy dress at a country show you will know that kids much younger than 7 can be at home on a pony especially if someone is leading it!

I agree with Queenoflabradors about riding astride, though I was looking at England in the same period and I don’t know about Italy.

TheCountessofFitzdotterel Sat 02-Jan-21 16:06:02

I am wondering about stamina though and how long per day a 7 year old could stay in the saddle for.

MaMaLa321 Sat 02-Jan-21 16:49:39

this is the gift that keeps on giving - thank you all. I was worried about the history board being moribund, but it clearly isn't.

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Swimmingiscancelled Sun 03-Jan-21 07:44:38


It depends in the seven year old. I used to take childrn riding and some could easily manage 5-6 hours a day (around 30km) - others found an hour challenging.
I believe one of the reasons why most children would not have ridden on their own is that there weren’t that many small childrens pony types about. They would have to have been able to manage something quite large. (although I guess the perceptions of large has got bigger? Most 16th century breeds aren’t any bigger than 15h?)

Hollywhiskey Sun 03-Jan-21 08:35:16

@Swimmingiscancelled I don't know about in Italy but most of the British native breeds are small and exactly the sort that we'd think of as suitable for kids these days. And the smallest ones, Shetlands, Welsh A, Exmoor are the oldest breeds.

Ifailed Sun 03-Jan-21 08:53:28

probably using the Via Flaminia to Rimini then the Via Aemilia. The old Roman roads were still in use in the middle ages and well known. I'd imagine that there were carriers who would take you on the journey?

MaMaLa321 Sun 03-Jan-21 10:42:47

Thanks Ifailed I just checked out your idea. Very useful.

As a general thought, could she have ridden a jennet (it being smaller than a horse)?

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Ifailed Sun 03-Jan-21 11:25:40

I would also add that the Catholic church would have had quite a substantial travel network across Europe back then, the men at least were the writers and recorders of all events and contracts. I'd imagine that a 7 year-old from noble background would have been hooked into that network to move from a nunnery?
Whether she rode or not I don't know, certainly a boy would be able to, but weren't girls bought up to be 'ladies', sewing etc? A peasant child would definitely be working at 7 and would be used to walking long distances daily.

TheCountessofFitzdotterel Sun 03-Jan-21 12:00:04

Yes upper class girls were brought up very differently from boys and doubtless their riding was more sedate but riding was still important for both sexes because it was how you got around. In England at least the upper classes were far more peripatetic than we might imagine- they would move from one property to another regularly as well as going to London and back for attendance at events at court.
Horses (expensively done out) were also important as a display of wealth - think velvet saddle cloths with gold fringing etc as well as the cost of the actual animal which could be stratospheric. So as a noblewoman on a horse you would need to ride well enough to not let the public image down.
It was also important for leisure pursuits like hunting and hawking which women also took part in even though not to the extent men did.

senua Fri 08-Jan-21 08:45:12

I was reading a book last night and thought of this thread. It is about London at the turn of C16/C17 but is probably applicable to this.
"These were carriers' inns - they would later be called coaching inns, but there were as yet no regular stage-coach services. Coaches were essentially covered carts, unsprung, and were not much used for longer journeys (though increasingly fashionable as an urban vehicle). The common mode of travel was on horseback, preferably in the company of the carriers, who travelled the country delivering goods and letters. In Henry IV Part I there is a scene with two carriers ... saddling up their horses and waiting for certain gentlemen who "will along with company, for they have great charge" - in other words, travellers carrying valuables who will accompany the carriers for safety."
You could have the nun on a horse (that she would probably have to change several times because 300 mi is a long way!) and the girl catching a lift on carriages (?fussing about with comfy cushions?). That means that you can introduce some new non-church characters to explain the plot to talk to, and you could discuss their interesting loads.

MaMaLa321 Fri 08-Jan-21 11:13:45

thank you so much *@senua*. It's very helpful . (note to self, don't go off on a tangent researching 16th century cushions)

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