Saturday, July 16, 2016

Writing home

From The Invention of News: How The World Came to Know About Itself by Andrew Pettegree.

Pettegree observes that university students in medieval Europe were also nodes in the meager communication network.
The largest universities drew their students from all over Europe. These young men, far from home, were homesick, and all universities developed a sophisticated letter service to allow them to keep in touch with their families. The first documented case of a university postal service is that of Bologna, established in 1158; such a service was a common feature of almost all universities by the fifteenth century. The university of Salamanca in Spain employed fifteen muleteers for its messengers. Bourges, in France, had six couriers from the date of its foundation. The best documented example is that of the university of Paris. Founded in around 1300, its messengers were appointed by different student 'nations' to serve their locality. The longer journeys were made one of twice a year, shorter routes were covered more frequently. The university messengers were privileged individuals, exempted from a variety of taxes and duties. The positions were very much sought after, and became more lucrative when, from the fourteenth century onwards, the couriers began to carry letters also for other customers. This private postal service was remarkably enduring. Jean de Ravillac, the man who in 1610 would murder King Henry IV of France, was one of the petits messagiers of the university: he made his living carrying letters for a consortium of eighty students.

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