Post-classical history

APPENDIX FIVE

Henry’s Speed of Travel in 1406 and 1407

As the text makes clear, Henry’s physical health in the summer of 1406 is of crucial importance to understanding the Long Parliament, and in particular whether it was a confrontation between king and commons (as it is usually portrayed) or an attempt by the commons to protect the king in his illness by placing a number of royal duties in the hands of the council. One tool used to determine Henry’s health at this time is his speed of travel. For example, it has been suggested that a journey of 355 miles over 98 days – an average of 3.62 miles per day – is very slow, and indicates ill health.1 This may be the case, but this analysis does not allow for the fact that much of the time the king needed to be stationary in order to perform royal business, even after the arrangements of 22 May 1406. The average of 3.62 miles thus includes a lot of time spent in one place, when Henry cannot be said to have been ‘travelling’ at all. In order to examine this more closely, his journeys in the summer of 1406 have been assessed according to the actual days on which he was travelling, to get a more accurate estimate of his speed, and by implication, his ability to ride. The results are as follows:2

Date (1406)

Journey

Route

Approx.
distance (miles)

Daily
mileage

20 July

Hertford to Barley

direct

18

18

21–24 July
(3/4 days)

Barley to
Bury St Edmunds

via Babraham &
Newmarket

37

9–12

25 July –
1 August
(7/8 days)

Bury St Edmunds
to Walsingham

via Thetford,
Wymondham
& Norwich

70

9–10

2–4 August
(2/3 days)

Walsingham to
Castle Rising

direct

23

8–12

16–21 August
(5/6 days)

King’s Lynn to
Bardney Abbey

via Spalding &
Horncastle

76

13–15

25–29 August
(4/5 days)

Lincoln to
Leicester

direct (Fosse Way)

51

10–13

6–15
September
(9/10 days)

Leicester to
Smithfield

via Northampton,
Huntingdon &
St Albans

114

13–23

Total for 31/37 travelling days

407

11–13

This results in an approximate rate of 12 miles per travelling day during the summer of 1406. This does not sound very much by the standards possible at the time: royal messengers could travel at four or five times this speed, and although this is not representative of a king’s rate of progress, 30 miles per day was attainable for a fit king. Therefore in order to see how it compares to Henry at his fittest, a check has been made on his progress in the summer of 1403. This period has been chosen because (a) it was also summer, and the roads may be presumed to have been more or less in the same state of dryness; (b) Henry was at least reasonably fit, as he was about to fight in person at the battle of Shrewsbury; and (c) he was travelling north with a specific purpose, to face the Percy revolt. The results are as follows:3

Before the battle of Shrewsbury (1403):

Date

Journey

Route

Approx.
distance (miles)

Daily
mileage

4–7 July
(3/4 days)

Kennington to
Newenham Priory

via Waltham,
Hertford & Hitchin

64

16–21

9 July

Newenham Priory
to Higham Ferrers

direct

14

14

10 July

Higham Ferrers to
Market Harborough

direct

21

21

11–13 July
(2/3 days)

Market Harborough
to Derby

via Leicester &
Nottingham

54

18–27

14–16 July
(2/3 days)

Derby to Lichfield

via Burton-on-Trent

25

8–13

19–20 July
(1/2 days)

Lichfield to
near Shrewsbury4

[via ‘St Thomas Abbey’,
which is unidentified,
so presume direct]

c. 39

c. 20–39

Total for 10/14 travelling days

217

16–22

After the battle:

Date

Journey

Route

Approx.
distance (miles)

Daily
mileage

22–24 July
(2/3 days)

Shrewsbury to
Stafford

via Lilleshall Abbey

31

10–16

25/29 July
(4/5 days)

Stafford to
Nottingham

via Lichfield,
Burton-on-Trent
& Derby

56

11–14

30 July-
3 August (4/5 days)

Nottingham to
Pontefract

via Mansfield,
Blyth & Doncaster

57

11–15

6–8 August
(2/3 days)

Pontefract to York

via Rothwellhaigh
and Tadcaster

24

8–12

13 August

York to Pontefract

direct?

24

24

15–17 August
(2/3 days)

Pontefract to
Worksop

via Doncaster

31

10–16

18–23
August
(5/6 days)

Worksop to
Woodstock

via Nottingham,
Leicester, Lutterworth
and Daventry

114

19–23

Total 20/26 travelling days

337

13–17

As is evident from a comparison of the above tables, when Henry was fit and well and in a hurry he could cover more than twenty miles in a day. In a similar state of good health, but with less urgency, the distance he covered was less, around fifteen miles per day. Thus, unless he was being carried in a litter or a carriage, the twelve miles per day recorded in the summer of 1406 does not indicate chronic ill health, being four-fifths of his usual healthy travelling speed.

Henry’s speed of travel in 1407 has also been described as slow and ‘leisurely’ and has consequently been associated with a pilgrimage.5 For this year it is harder to use the above method, as we have fewer details about Henry’s itinerary. However, it is possible to make a few observations on account of some specific journeys in the summer months:6

Date

Journey

Route

Approx.
distance (miles)

Daily
mileage

16–19 August
(3/4 days)

Nottingham to
Pontefract

via Newstead
and Worksop

57

14–19

13–16
September
(3/4 days)

Beverley to
Bishopthorpe

via Bridlington
(by boat?)
and Kilham (by road)

69

18–23

16–17
September
(1/2 days)

Bishopthorpe
to Doncaster7

unknown (by boat?)

31

16–31

29–30
September
(1/2 days)

Worksop8 to
Nottingham

direct

27

14–27

4–10 October
(6/7 days)

Repton to Evesham

unknown

68

10–11

Total 14/19 travelling days

252

13–18

The distances in the above table all presume Henry travelled by road, and it needs to be stressed that some of the journeys were probably by water. In fact, Douglas Biggs has suggested that Henry moved mostly by water in 1407.9 With regard to his journey from York (5 September 1407) to Beverley (11 September): he sailed down the River Ouse, pausing at Faxfleet, and up the River Hull to Beverley. Similarly Henry could have travelled by water from Nottingham to Pontefract (via the rivers Trent and Calder), and from Bishopthorpe to Cawood (via the Ouse). However, he did not always move by water. His journey from Nottingham to Pontefract via Newstead and Worksop in the above table must have been by road, and his presence at Kilham indicates that, although he probably sailed from Beverley to Bridlington, he returned to Bishopthorpe by road. Thus it is very interesting that for these short periods at least, his speeds were as high as they had been immediately after the battle of Shrewsbury in 1403. It is possible that he had recovered his health. An alternative explanation is to be inferred from a payment for two metal saddles made for him in this year.10 Quite what these were is unclear; they were not the first brass saddles made for him (he had had ‘leather and brass’ saddles made for his own use in 1392), and so were probably not specially designed to cope with his ailment.11 They may have been some form of litter. Either way, his speeds suggest they helped considerably.

Few periods of sustained travel can be so precisely measured in later years, largely because Henry confined himself to the Thames area. One of the few which can is his return from seeing to the punishments and rewards following Bramham Moor in 1408: he left Pontefract on 30 April and travelled the 52 miles by road to Newstead Priory, arriving on 4 May (10–13 miles per day). Another is his pilgrimage to Leicester in the winter of 1409. He left Berkhamsted on or after 20 November 1409 and was at Stony Stratford (26 miles) and Northampton (another 13 miles) on the 23rd.12Hence on the 23rd he must have covered at least 13 miles by road, if not more, and kept up a rate of 9–13 miles per day over the previous two or three days. However these are rare examples. There are no indications that Henry travelled by road at a rate in excess of 13 miles per day after September 1407.

On the basis of these figures one may tentatively conclude that Henry was in discomfort when he travelled to East Anglia in 1406, but not chronically unwell. The irreversible collapse of his health – to the point of being an invalid – probably did not occur until some time after the autumn of 1407. This would accord with Adam Usk’s evidence that the disease which killed him could be dated to the early summer of 1408, when he lapsed into a coma for the first time.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!