Are We There Yet?

Kaitlyn here, posting today as one of my other selves, Kate Emerson the historical novel writer and offering a FREE BOOK ~ LOOK FOR DETAILS AT THE END OF THIS POST.

As both Kate Emerson and Kathy Lynn Emerson, I’ve been writing novels set in Tudor England for some time now. One of the challenges I have to deal with every time has to do with moving characters from one place to another. This is true in the contemporary mysteries I write as Kaitlyn Dunnett too, but in a story set in the present day, the time lapse on a trip is relatively short. I can jump over an hour’s drive or a three-hour flight in a sentence. In the sixteenth century, though, there wasn’t any speedy way to get from point A to point B. Even a messenger who had fast horses stationed along his route couldn’t relay urgent news very quickly. The record, set by the Venice to Bruges postal service, was 700 miles in seven days, but most dispatch riders averaged closer to twenty miles a day than a hundred.

Sometimes the difficulties and slowness of travel have provided me with an opportunity for a humorous scene, but more often or not, they just slow things down. In many cases, although I’d like to simply jump to the next scene, with my characters already safely arrived at their destination, that just isn’t possible. They’re stuck together for days on end. Readers will feel that something must have happened, whether it did or not. The trick is to keep the pacing fast even when the travel time is slow.

How slow? Over the years I’ve collected a number of “nuggets” about travel during the sixteenth century. Of course, how long it took to get somewhere varied widely depending on the kind of horse you had (or if you were walking), whether you had wheeled vehicles with you, what the road conditions were, what the weather was, and so on, but there are some averages available. On foot, a man could walk anywhere from twelve to twenty-five miles in a day. On horseback, the distance he covered might go as high as fifty miles. Pack trains, many using mules rather than horses, averaged fifteen to twenty miles a day. An army with baggage train and foot soldiers advanced at a mere eight miles a day. 

Travelers who went by water instead of by road usually made better time, but they were at the mercy of wind and weather. And tolls. Traveling by barge via rivers and canals was cheaper and faster than travel by pack train, but in some places there were tolls every few miles. As for the crossing from England to France, that could be made by sail, from Dover to Calais, in two hours on an afternoon with perfect weather conditions. Or it could take three days. Or a month. The trip from Dover to Boulogne was reckoned to require eight hours of hard rowing if the wind didn’t cooperate.

Women who traveled moved at an even shower pace. Although I am absolutely certain that some females defied convention, put on men’s clothing, and rode astride, for the most part women were reduced to a handful of choices, all of them uncomfortable. Some variety of the sidesaddle was available long before the start of the sixteenth century, probably consisting of a bench-like seat with a platform or sling hanging off one side for both feet. Later models provided a purpose-cut place to hook one knee and made the rider’s precarious position marginally more secure. More often, though, if women were traveling on horseback at all, they did not ride alone. They were relegated to a pillion, another bench-like contraption attached to the back of a man’s saddle. The woman then had to sit sideways, feet in a sling or on a board, and cling to the man’s waist. Talk about uncomfortable!

 In the first half of the sixteenth century, the coach had not yet been introduced to England. It did not make its appearance until the 1560s and it was still a far cry from the vehicle that comes to mind when most people hear that word. It had no springs, for one thing. Prior to the introduction of the coach, women rode in four-wheeled carriages that resembled hay wagons (see above). Or they were carried in litters (ditto). The latter were usually fixed to poles and suspended between two horses. Carpets, mattresses, and cushions were added to the interior in an attempt to make it more comfortable, and there were curtains to keep out the dust of the road and a roof overhead for protection from the elements. Later, there were “chairs” like the one shown here. In spite of all these amenities, the occupants would have an uncomfortable journey—jounced about, bruised, and battered—before arriving at their destination.    

Between the time it took to travel any distance, and the sheer discomfort of getting there, it’s a wonder Tudor people didn’t just stay at home. Many did, but not those who had any connection to the court or any ambition to find a place there. The king, most of all, had to get out of the palace and show himself to his subjects. Every year he made at least one royal progress, dragging his hapless courtiers along. While Henry VIII was treated to the best his houses or his hosts’ houses had to offer, his minions, and the women who served his queens, often found themselves camping out in tents set up in muddy fields. Although I’ve been able to avoid spending too much time describing the rigors of travel, I’ve yet to discover a way to skip royal progresses entirely. They crop up again and again in the Kate Emerson novels, because each and every one of those books is set at the Tudor court.

And now we come to the Blatant Self Promotion part of the post.

In At the King’s Pleasure, which came out on January 3rd, my heroine, Lady Anne Stafford, makes one particular trip that I didn’t wish to avoid relating in some detail. Imagine if you will, a newly-married woman falsely accused by her husband (Lord Hastings) and her brother (the Duke of Buckingham) of having an affair (with the king, no less) and spirited away from court to a nunnery some sixty miles distant, there to be incarcerated until the men in her life decide she’s learned her lesson. With every step of the journey, her resentment increases, setting the stage for her to take revenge. For once, the slowness of the journey didn’t affect the pacing of the novel in the least. All it did was give me plenty of time to create motivation for everything that comes afterward.

Want to know more? Here’s HOW TO WIN A FREE BOOK. Just comment on this post and you will automatically be entered in a drawing to win a free, autographed copy of either At the King’s Pleasure, a non-mystery historical novel, or my latest Liss MacCrimmon Scottish-American Heritage Mystery, Scotched. Your choice. The drawing will be held January 15th and the winner will be contacted by email on that date. Thanks in advance for your comments.

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17 Responses to Are We There Yet?

  1. MCWriTers says:

    Fascinating post, Kaitlyn/Kathy/Kate. I’ve always wondered why women just didn’t fall off when riding sidesaddle.

    Love the title of the new book, and you’ve created a perfect teaser for it. We will actually get to see “get thee to a nunnery” in action.


  2. Gerry Boyle says:

    Very interesting, Kate. Gives you new respect for those who did travel. Of course, the discomfort was exacerbated by the possibility of being robbed and killed. Not all of the thieves were Robin Hood or very merry.

    Just watched The Tudors series. Henry and his entourage were usually on horseback (and on gorgeous horses), and the women also were fine equestrians on standard saddles. Was this poetic license?

    Great research. Thanks for passing it on.

    • Oh, Gerry, you’ve just hit one of my hot buttons. Almost everything about The Tudors is poetic license. I keep trying to watch an episode, out of curiosity, and I’ve yet to last more than about thirty seconds before they do something so historically incorrect that I can’t stand to watch any more! The two Cate Blanchett movies on Elizabeth are almost as inaccurate. Don’t get me started giving examples. The list would go on and on.

  3. That litter slung between two horses makes me ache just to look at it.

    How very large the world was in the past is one of the things that interests me in historical fiction – and fact. I live some 14 miles outside of Portland, and was fascinated to discover that in the 19th century, Salmon Falls was a vacation community for the city. People who wanted to escape the congestion and infections of the metropolis would summer in what is now Hollis/Buxton. If you were a businessman, you could still make it into town and back in the later 1800s, because the “milk train” ran twice daily to and from Portland. That’s one way in which progress really wasn’t – if we still had those daily trains, there would be a lot fewer gas-burning cars on the road in southern Maine!

  4. Marilyn Strout says:

    I shudder thinking about the litter between 2 horses! I’ve read my fair share of historical novels and I truly think the women were not insipid by any stretch of the imagination. I can’t imagine living in those times, yet they certainly produced a number of heroines. I haven’t read any of your books, but my interest is tweaked with this one! Can’t wait to read it, and knowing me, will then gobble up everything else you’ve written!

  5. Cynthia Burnham says:

    How interesting. Sounds like a great read. Best of luck now.

  6. Anne R. says:

    Those two new books sound soooooooooooooo interesting! Especially the At the King’s pleasure. Do keep writing!

  7. Betsey Monnot says:

    One of my favorite childhood books, “Adam of the Road,” describes a carriage in the 1200s with the girls and women riding inside it–they say how uncomfortable it is, how much it bounces and jolts. I think the pillion would be pretty awful–riding behind someone with your feet on a platform, holding on for dear life–talk about painful!

  8. Alison says:

    Whenever I am driving on the prairies I always think of settlers traveling west. What it must have been like to see the Rockie Mountains for the first time, growing gradually higher and higher… The trip must have seemed endless.

  9. Linda says:

    I hope all these modes of travel came with a large bottle of whatever was the equivalent of ibuprofen! I do LOVE a good revenge story!!

  10. Deb says:

    I couldn’t agree more about The Tudors! As my major was Tudor History, the series drives me crazy. I have never read any of your books, but I look forward to doing so!

  11. Eadie Burke says:

    Your books look very interesting. I’m always looking for new reads and authors. Will have to definitely check out your books!

  12. Vicki Doudera says:

    Fascinating, Kate. Your grasp of Tudor times is very impressive. Thanks for making our backsides ache in sympathy for those long-ago travelers!

  13. Ruth Nixon says:

    I always dream about living about living in another era but I’m a bad traveler so guess I better not be a time traveler

  14. Sherry says:

    I knew riding a horse for any length of time could be uncomfortable (though I don’t know how anybody can stay on sidesaddle), but I never thought about the comfort of all those other modes of transportation you describe. And I thought sitting in the middle seat in coach was bad!

  15. Jane says:

    I’ve always been amazed at how much at least some people traveled in the Tudor and earlier periods. Can’t wait to read your new book!

  16. We have a winner in the drawing and she has been notified. Thank you to everyone who entered by posting a comment.

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