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The Royal Posts

The need for rulers to maintain control over and contact with every corner of their dominions led to the creation of the Royal Posts.

Before 1660, European posts for use by the public were virtually non-existent and correspondence between countries depended on the need either for the Royal courts or the rulers to transmit messages or for the maintenance of commercial information between merchants. At that time, many of the countries which we recognize today did not exist at all or existed in a different form. Certainly many of the boundaries were ill-defined and subject to change. Provinces, and indeed even countries, could transfer their loyalty by the marriage of a prince or princess to another royal family, and conquest commonly led to changes of allegiance.

The system of Royal messengers sprang from this need to oversee newly acquired territory or to maintain contact with armies in the field. The messengers were horsed and required to travel at considerable speed, which reduced the number of items which could be carried. Horses had to be changed at regular intervals and staging posts were provided on the main routes to minimize the delay. However, the use of these messengers was limited solely to the King and his court; outside that privileged few the regularity of any means of communication depended on the commercial development of the nation.

Merchants had had to develop their own postal network in parallel. They had no access to the Royal Posts and, commencing in Italy, the Merchants' Posts had spread throughout Europe by the end of the 15th or early 16th centuries. Initially developed by the Venetians to the Levant, Italian trading links were established further and further north and reached England early in the 16th century. By the end of the 16th century, regular services were operated by the Merchants both nationally and internationally. The cost of the letters was paid by the recipient and was usually charged in Italian currency regardless of the country of origin or delivery.

For the general public, neither of these two services was available. The one was forbidden and the other was too expensive. Literacy was at a low level and depended on clerks at court or in great households or on monastic influence. The transmission of letters, which were usually written from dictation, was by private servant or public carrier. Formal transmission of letters from the general public hardly existed.

However, the demand for such a service was growing and as the boundaries of the nations became more settled, the need to develop contact on a social plane as well as for reasons of state or mercantile purposes led to the opening of the Royal Posts to the public. By 1660, both the French and the British services had been made available, and in the latter case was a monopoly to prevent the operation of a mail service other than through the Royal Mail.

The sections for the nations which developed into the major powers of the 18th and 19th centuries examine the state of their postal development up to 1660.

Details of the opening of the posts are also included where they are known to exist, but the exact structure of the formal services is not always clear. The map of Europe up to 1660 shows the state of affairs at a moment when, postally, the new nations were needing to develop their links for alliance and trade, and the first postal conventions were being created.

Europe 1650-1793
Click map for larger view

Select a country:

Austro-Hungarian Empire
Channel Islands
Germany before and after unification
Germany (before 1949)
German Democratic Republic
German Federal Republic
Isle of Man
Italy before and after unification
San Marino
The Ottoman Empire in Europe
United Nations (Austria)
United Nations (Switzerland)
Vatican City

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