Travelling required a great deal of complicated organisation because the King never travelled alone. In the early 14th century, the royal Court amounted to around 600 people. This number rose steadily, reaching 2,000 under the reign of Charles VII.

Material challenges

Specific services were in charge of organising the movements of the King and his entourage. They were known as the King’s household.

Tasked with catering to the sovereign’s material needs, there were six sections to the household. These included: the pantry (referencing the baking of bread – “pain” in French), the cup-bearers (covering what the king drinks), the kitchen, the fruitery, the “fourrière” (in charge of lodging people and fodder) and, lastly, the stables. Some staff were affected solely to the king while others served the “common” needs.

To this we need to add the King’s guard which included crossbowmen and archers. A dozen knights served as the King’s private guard. Lastly, the Queen and the royal children would accompany the King, bringing their own households in tow.

When the King was on the move, each section of the household would have their own wagons and numerous workhorses. Each was responsible for their own provisions.

Such enormous trains moved very slowly, covering no more than 30 to 50 kilometres a day. In order to speed things up, the cortège would sometimes split with sections taking different routes.

In fact, it was essential for some services to be ahead of the King. As the Court moved from residence to residence, it took furniture and valuables along, leaving dwellings empty. So the premises needed to be prepared ahead of the sovereign’s arrival. To accommodate this way of life, daily objects were designed to be transportable; tables that could be taken to bits, benches and wall coverings… Large wooden chests bound in leather and fitted with iron bars served as both furniture and luggage. Their capaciousness and the protection they provided to the items packed in them were unparalleled. They carried everything necessary to daily comforts – lighting, furniture and little cabinets.

The challenges of governing

Affairs were managed on a day-to-day basis by the Chancery, the King’s Council and the Chamber of Accounts.

During the 15th century, the King’s household became increasingly separate from administrative and judicial bodies. Under Charles VII, the Chancery had 60 notaries and secretaries. The Council’s judicial role was also much greater. But the administrative role of these bodies made it difficult for them to move around too much. So from the 15th century a more durable set-up was created in the central town around which the King gravitated. For example, when Charles VII went from Tours to Montil-les-Tours (now Plessis-les-Tours) or to Loches, the Chancery and the Council did not go with him. Daily contact was maintained through couriers recruited from stable grooms.

Focus: The roads of progression

The state of infrastructure (road and bridges) had to be taken into account when the King went on a progress. The bailiffs were in charge of control, maintenance and repair. Some routes were part of a very old network such as the route from Bourges to Bordeaux – a path trodden since the Bronze Age. The late 13th century and early 14th century was a period during which the road network was expanded significantly. Numerous royal routes were laid but this flurry of activity was brought to an abrupt halt by the Hundred Years’ War. Significant development of the river network began in the 13th century.



Quintus Curtius Rufus, “Darius III and Bessus”, Histories of Alexander the Great, 15th century, French 257, folio 91 v. © BnF.