European Postal Networks
By Nikolaus Schobesberger, Paul Arblaster, Mario Infelise, André Belo, Noah Moxham, Carmen Espejo and Joad Raymond
News Networks in Early Modern Europe, edited by Joad Raymond Noah Moxham (Brill, 2016)
Introduction: During the early sixteenth century state postal routes, based on a sequence of horses ridden by a single rider across a series of organised stages, were developed across Europe and were progressively transformed into public services. Postal communication was fundamental to European news, and though they were by no means the only basis of communication they formed the essential spine to news networks.
We have two working assumptions: the first, that the penetration of avvisi into the public culture of early-modern Europe (i.e. beyond official communications) depended on the development of accessible postal services. The second is that (relatively) predictable public postal deliveries, which developed out of state administrative needs and manuscript culture, including manuscript news, were a precondition for the development of a (relatively) periodic newspaper press. Once newspapers were established, they could draw in communications from other types of network connection (merchants, churches and monasteries, booksellers, diplomatic couriers, soldiers, travellers, ships’ captains, and so on), but to be widely established in the first place they needed reliable public posts, bringing correspondence from a number of newswriting centres elsewhere. In this article we sketch the various postal systems that transversed Europe, and, crucially, how they were interconnected.
Until the 1490s the communication network in the Holy Roman Empire was built up by courier services of merchant families, cities, aristocrats and sovereigns. All these services were inaccessible to the wider public. Due to the needs of the Habsburg dynasty for communication over longer distances, primarily for the gathering of political news for the court and for administration, but additionally to serve the needs of the emerging merchant communities and cities, the postal system in the Holy Roman Empire developed very rapidly in the last decades of the fifteenth century and the beginning of the sixteenth century.
Top Image: A fifteenth-century image of a messenger.