• Dana Arpquest

Don't Shoot The Messenger

Updated: May 4, 2020

In the Middle Ages, sending a missive was not just a quick trip down the post office; it was somewhat more intricate. First you needed to dictate your message to a scribe, unless you were middle-class or a merchant, in which case you required a professional writer. High rank people rarely wrote messages themselves.

At that time, people were using messengers for various reasons: to keep in touch with a loved one, or a lover, to ask a husband who was traveling to town to bring back some fabrics or spices, but it was a way to buy a property or to negotiate some trade. It could also warn someone of a danger or ask for help with your plotting scheme.

So when you wrote something that was urgent and contained sensitive information, you had to make sure it reached its destination the fastest way possible. In theory, that would have been easy, but in practice it did not always work as planned.

First you had to choose who would deliver your message. A servant? A paid messenger? Or a merchant who proceeded through the country?

The cheapest way was to employ one of your servants, but if you had already sent out a few of them with messages, you could hardly spare another one, so perhaps you could get a messenger you would pay or a merchant who would travel to the town you hoped to reach.

Once you found the way to send out your courier, the letter begun its journey. Now, all you had to do was to pray that it would reach its destination with no obstruction. Too often messages were intercepted or fell in the wrong hands, too bad for the messenger and sender. Now, if there were no one at the end of the journey to receive your letter, then your message would have come back to you long after you had sent it.

Don’t shoot the messenger! Now that your message had reached its addressee, the messenger had to hope that he would be able to return home. Sometimes they had to bring back a response and thus wait for the person to have read the message. They did not always bring good news and some message were scornful and insulting… Some messengers never came back home.

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