Key Stage 3: Geography

15th century travelling times.

Medieval kings spent a great deal of their time travelling around their realm dispensing justice, granting licences to trade or hold weekly markets, consulting local nobles and gathering information about possible rebellions.  Today all that can be done online but imagine you are in the 15th century with no TV, no radio, no mobile phones, no satellites, no cars, helicopters or planes, no newspapers. How do you find out what is happening in your realm? As king, you either go yourself or you have a system of royal messengers to bring news and to send letters to your nobles.

People either walked from place to place which put a limit of about ten to fifteen miles per day, or if they could afford a horse, they could cover twenty five miles a day using a mixture of walking and trotting with rest periods.

Roads were not in great condition in the 15th century. The main Roman roads still existed but other routes were just dirt tracks through farmland, forest and moorland which slowed down travel times. Sometimes it might be faster to travel by river or even sea, but weather played a big part in sea voyages and shipwrecks were a regular occurrence.

The best road map in 15th century England was this one:

The Gough map of Great Britain. Late medieval. North to left hand side.
© The Bodleian Library, Oxford.

Your Task

Work out travel times between some important cities and towns in 15th century England and present these in the form of table like the one shown below OR draw a map and add labels with travelling times.

Places that Richard visited are shown on this link (Rhoda Edwards, The Itinerary of King Richard III 1483-1485)

To work out distances use a modern map of England and measure using straight lines. These will be the shortest possible distances between two places to produce minimum travel times.

Make two tables, one for walking on foot (15 miles per day) and another for riding a horse. (30 miles per day)

Londonx100 miles; 7 days200 miles; 13 days
Leicester100 miles; 7 daysx100 miles; 7 days
York200 miles; 13 days100 miles; 7 daysx
walking times

Compare the medieval travel times with modern travel times.

You can use the AA route planner for travel by car and trainline for train journeys.

Today, driving from London to Leicester takes about two hours and London to York about four hours. Trains take about half the time of cars.

Imagine the reaction of King Richard III if you could tell him that in five hundred years, we would have machines that travel at one mile a minute or more. He might refuse to believe you or think it was black magic and therefore the work of the Devil.