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Travelling in the Middle Ages
Cinematic Portrayal and Historic Reality

Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Myeong, Do Hyeong
Term Paper, Medieval History Class, June 2010

Table of Contents

I. Introduction
II. Definition
III. The Reasons for Travelling in the Middle Ages
III.1 Visiting Others
III.2 Travelling of the Royal Courts
III.3 Travelling for Religious Purpose
III.3.1 Missionary Work
III.3.2 Pilgrimage
III.3.3 The Crusades
III.4 War
III.5 Travelling for business
III.5.1 Trade
III.5.2 Travelling of the Journeymen
IV. How people traveled in middle ages
IV.1 Food and Lodging; Finding Shelter
IV.1.1 Finding Shelters in Local Houses
IV.1.2 Inns
IV.1.3 Camping
IV.2 Transportation
IV.3 Dangers of Travelling
V. Movie Analysis
V.1 Ivanhoe
V.2 Joan of Arc
V.3 The Radicals
V.4 El Cid
V.5 Monty Python and the Holy Grail
V.6 Sant¡¯Antonio di Padova
VI. Conclusion

I. Introduction
            The range of the word travelling varies from a short trip to visit others to a lifelong journey to foreign lands. In the middle ages, transportation was not as developed as nowadays, so it took a lot of time to travel far. Moreover, peasants and serfs were tied to the land they belong to and had to get permission of their lords to travel. Therefore, the remaining sources which mentions about travelling in the medieval Europe are limited to the travelling among the above-average class people who were free and could afford time, money and effort to travel. In this paper, the features of travelling in the medieval Europe appeared in the movies Ivanhoe, Joan of Arc, The Radicals, El Cid, Sant¡¯Antonio di Padova, Monty Python and the Holy Grail are to be discussed, and also the following questions are to be answered.
      On what purpose people of medieval Europe traveled ?
      How did people in the medieval Europe travel ?

II. Definition
            According to Wikipedia, the word 'Travel' means "the movement of people between distant places for any purpose and any duration, with or without any means of transport. Travel also includes short stays, less than a year, between successive movements." Movements between places requiring only a few minutes are not considered as travel (1). It also covers all the activities performed during a travel. In addition, for the middle ages lasted from 5th century to early 16th century, this paper focus on the time period between early 6th century and early 16th century , eras portrayed in the movies
            In this paper, the definition of youth would be quite flexible. As a prince/ princess is considered not fully mature until they become king/queen, youth would be defined as a period before the prince becomes king, or a princess becomes a queen, etc. However, if the monarchs become king/queen in a too old age, youth would be defined as a period of life until 25 - 30.

III. The Reasons for Travelling in Middle Ages

III.1 Visiting Others
            The primary purpose of travelling was, of course, to move from one place to another. This includes mere trip to visit acquaintances, as well as travels that has other, more complicated reasons. In the movie Joan of Arc, Jeanne d¡¯Arc travel to her house in Domremy to meet her family. This kind of travel could have been usual among high-class people, for they often had acquaintances living far away. However, for peasants like Jeanne and serfs, travelling to visit people they know might sound odd because they needed their lord¡¯s permission to travel to other places and might live their whole lives in the same place, never venturing more than a few miles where they were born, therefore not having acquaintances and relatives elsewhere. (2)

III.2 Travelling of the Royal Courts
            Kings and Rulers moved often. According to Neil Grant, "in an age with no news media, a king needed to show himself in all parts of his kingdom from time to time, to support his local officials and also to remind people who the ruler was. A king did not travel alone, of course. His household and sometimes his court moved with him. When no permanent seat of government existed, the government itself moved with the king. A ruler of many lands had to be a vigorous traveler. In just one month in 1172, King Henry II of England traveled from Ireland to England and then to France-a journey of about 800 miles (1300 kilometers), with two sea crossings." (3)
            In Chronica Majora, Matthew Paris records the event that King Henry III of England holding his court at Winchester. According to his words, "In the year of our lord 1247, which is the thirty-first year of the reign of the lord king Henry III, he held his court at Winchester in the presence of many of the picked nobles of the kingdom." (4)
            Having the royal court held in a fixed seat of government began from the mid-13th century (5). Matthew Paris also mentions that after the king Henry III spends his Christmas at Winchester and being the guest of the bishop, "he set out in haste for London" (6). The city of London was just next to the Palace of the Westminster, which had been the monarch's principal residence in the late medieval period (7).
III.3 Travelling for Religious Purpose

III.3.1 Missionary Work
            In the movie Sant¡¯Antonio di Padova, Saint Anthony of Padua and his colleague are sent to Africa to spread the Gospel to the pagans, but arrive to western Sicily instead because of the shipwreck.
            In the middle ages, much missionary activity was carried out by members of religious orders. Monasteries followed disciplines and supported missions, libraries and practical research, all of which were perceived as works to reduce human misery and suffering, thus enhancing the reputation of God (8). Missionaries traveled as far as northern Africa or Asia minor, usually by ship. However, only few could succeed in preaching the Christianity and safely returned; many of them were martyred, got sick due to the different environment, or died during travelling for other accidents such as shipwrecking.

III.3.2 Pilgrimage
            A pilgrimage is a very special form of travelling. It means the visit to the holy places or shrines. People were interested in participating in a pilgrimage for a priest might have imposed a pilgrimage as a satisfaction to their sins, pilgrimage were considered pleasing to God, and they believed that by pilgrimage they can get the forgiveness for their sins and the friendship and protection of saints. The three most popular places for pilgrims were Rome, Santiago de Compostela, and Jerusalem (9).
            The route to Compostela was organized by abbey of Cluny, and the monasteries provided food and shelter (10). Businesses thrived along the pilgrim trails and around the holy places. They provided food, lodging, transportation and emergency services (11).
            Also, there were special guidebooks which were the prototypes of the modern guidebooks. Those guidebooks described the trail and told the pilgrims what to expect. For example, a guidebook told pilgrims what to expect like this, "This is a desolate region¡¦¡¦there is no bread, wine, meat, fish, water, or springs; villages are rare here". (12)
            When we look into the Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, we can find out that all kind of people went on pilgrimage; a knight, a miller, a cook, an wife of merchant, a physician, some nuns, and various other characters. People of almost all status from peasants to nobles, except for serfs who were bound to the land, went on pilgrimage.
            Moreover, we can discover that the pilgrims traveled in group. Most pilgrims traveled in a group of friends, relatives, neighbors, or strangers. This was to prevent themselves from being attacked by thieves.

III.3.3 The Crusades
            The crusades were even more specific form of travelling than pilgrimage, for it was half expedition, and half pilgrimage. The crusades happened between the 11th and 14th centuries. The crusades aimed to re-conquer the Jerusalem, the Holy Land, out of Muslim hands. People of various classes participated in the crusades for various purposes, such as gaining fame and fortune, having the sins absolved, or just purely being eager to protect Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem and to rebuild the Christian country in the land of Jerusalem.
            For so many people participated in the crusades and it lasted so long time, the transportation and methods they used when travelling varies a lot.
            The crusades eventually brought other cultures to Europe as its result, though it failed in its original goal to conquer Jerusalem.

III.4 War
            Fighting in a war sometimes required traveling within the country or travelling abroad. For example, English soldiers who fought in the battle of Crecy and the battle of Agincourt had to cross the sea. This kind of travel also included returning home from the war after many years, as shown in the movie Ivanhoe.
            The primary reason for people fighting in the war and therefore having these kinds of travel is because somebody else, for example the pope or the king, wanted them to fight. However, there could have been more reasons such as desire to get their share of the booty or to get fame.

III.5 Travelling for business

III.5.1 Trade
            Merchants traveled a lot to find commodities to sell. These men usually traveled by sea or by established land routes. Merchants brought back many luxuries from far off places. From Africa, merchants brought slaves, sugar, gold, ivory, and precious stones. From Asia came silk, furs, carpets, and the valuable spices such as pepper and cinnamon. Crusaders returning from the Holy Land brought exotic goods such as rice, cotton, perfume, mirrors, lemons, and melons. Also, many regions were making goods such as wine, salt, wool, copper, fish, and timber for sale in other parts of Europe.
            Merchants and the sailors took great risks in search of things to sell. Bad weather and pirates were constant threats. If a crew was shipwrecked, they had little hope of being rescued as many countries had laws that said all loot recovered from a shipwrecked vessel was the property of the finders, unless there were survivors (13).
            Also, the merchants journeyed between the market towns that often grew up on the sites of old Roman towns. The merchants sold their goods, which were carried by the packhorses or the carts. The markets were usually held around the church after worship (14). For this reasons, roads were full of travelers, both the merchants and the local people who were on their way to market, on weekends.

III.5.2 Travelling of the Journeymen
            According to Wikipedia, a journeyman is "a trader or crafter who has fully completed his apprenticeship but is not yet a master." In parts of Europe, as in later medieval Germany, spending time as a journeyman (Geselle), moving from one town to another to gain experience of different workshops, was an important part of the training of an aspirant master (15). During and after the Middle Ages in Germany it was common for young journeymen to go travel for a few years after their apprenticeship and go to distant trades with other masters of the guild to continue the experience and to deepen their skill. The years of travel were to a condition to be master craftsmen in the Middle Ages (16).
            Other reason for their travelling rather than to gain experience could be that there might have been no seat for them in the local guilds. If one wanted to be have his own shop he should have been elected as a master by the other guild members. However, for not everyone who completed his apprenticeship could become a master, some journeymen travelled to find the city where they had empty seat in the guild for their field to become a master.

IV. How people traveled in the Middle Ages

IV.1 Food and Lodging; Finding Shelter

IV.1.1 Finding Shelter in Local Houses
            As shown in the movies Ivanhoe and El Cid, sometimes local people allowed travelers to their houses and provided food and lodging to them. The guests sat next to the host and were given place inside the house to sleep if they were considered worthy of that. Otherwise, guests such as Jews, who were considered as Infidels, were offered the lowest seat in the table and slept in barn, or even not allowed to the house; exiles were not allowed to house, too, for anyone who provided food or lodging to them was punished.

IV.1.2 Inns
            There were also special places that provided the travelers food and lodging. Although travelers could stay overnight at the monastery, there also were inns or hostels to provide food and lodging to the travelers, especially near pilgrimage roads because there were so many pilgrims.
            Medieval hostels or inns provided mostly simple foods and sometimes travelers had to share beds. However, for inns were more ¡®enjoyable¡¯ than monasteries, some travelers preferred inns to the monastery though they had to pay (17). Also, inside the towns or villages without monasteries, travelers had to sleep in the inn.

IV.1.3 Camping
            If travelers could not find the appropriate roof for a night, they might have spent night on the road. This was dangerous because they might get attacked by outlaws or thieves. Moreover, many people in those times believed in superstitions such as demons and ghosts, so they could have felt it scary and unsafe to spend night on the road (18).

IV.2 Transportation
            When travelling on land in the middle ages, roads were not in good conditions except for few which were paved I the era of Roman Empire or by the generosity of local rich people. Because roads were rocky, muddy when it rained and full of dirt when it was sunny, it took a lot of time and effort to travel.
            Pilgrims usually traveled on foot. (19) People who traveled for only a short distance also traveled on foot, and so did people who could not afford horses.
            Horses were favored by people who could afford one, for it was much faster and comfortable. Bags were loaded on horse¡¯s sides. A man riding horse could ride 56 to 60 kilometers a day in that days (20).
            There also was wheeled transportation such as covered wagons, carriages, or carts. Rich people traveled riding in a covered wagon or a carriage. Usually, wagons or carriages were pulled by two horses or more and other person than travelers themselves drove the wagons or carriages. Wagons and carriages were also covered and therefore protected the people inside from the unfavorable weather. Carts were two-wheeled and pulled by horses or oxen. They were usually filled with hay and straw at the bottom, and peasants rode them to travel short distances (21).
            The alternative way of travelling was by ship. Many merchants and other travelers favored water transportation for they were usually cheaper and safer (22). However, travelling by ship in long distance had the possibility of shipwrecking.

IV.3 Dangers of Travelling
            According to Brenda Ralph Lewis in her article ¡®Travel and Travelers in the Dark Ages¡¯, in Middle Ages "travelling was a rather dangerous activity. There were thieves and outlaws living in the forest, attacking travelers and sometimes killing them .For these reasons, strangers were treated with suspicion so that any traveler risked being killed as a thief by anyone they met along the way. No one, it appears, waited to ask a stranger who he was or what he was doing in the forest or on the road. The early Middle Ages were such dangerous and violent times that killing a stranger seemed better than letting him into a village where he might rob the inhabitants, steal cattle or kidnap children" (23).
            Also, transportation had flaws and problems. Water transportation always had the possibility of getting attacked by pirates or getting shipwrecked. Riding horses were not that safe either. When the riders were thrown out of the horse, they could be badly injured or even killed. This kind of things happened quite usually not because they were clumsy riders, but because the quality of the road was often bad. Pedestrians also had the danger of being attacked by thieves (24).

V. Movie Analysis

V.1 Ivanhoe
            In the movie Ivanhoe, two Norman knights, who were returning from the Holy Lands, and a Jew, Isaac of York, request for shelter for the night to Cedric, Ivanhoe's father and the head of the house. Cedric greets the knights in peace, and offers them second-best seat in the table. However, he at first not even thinks of allowing an infidel in his house, and then offers Isaac the lowest seat and makes him sleep in the barn. This is because Isaac was Jewish, belonging to a people who were considered to be murderers of Jesus Christ.
            In the movie, Isaac mentions about the immigration of his people from Spain to England, which was due to the persecution they got in Spain. Though not directly portrayed in the movie, this shows one of the reasons why Jews in medieval Europe moved to different countries. In some countries they were harshly persecuted; however, in other regions of other countries, especially the regions ruled directly by the king or the towns which were independent from the feudal system, sometimes they were tolerated. Sometimes they were banned from the country by law, especially when the king couldn¡¯t pay back the money which he lent from the Jews, and had to move to other countries. Isaac also suffers from the danger of getting killed during the travel in the movie.
            Ivanhoe sleeps in an inn when he travels to York accompanying Isaac. In the movie, the room in the inn has a bed, a table, a window and a wooden door. However, travelers who slept in an inn often had to share bed with strangers and the cleanness of the room was very bad (25).
            Also, when the tournament was held in Ashby, Prince John (Later to be King John) held his court in the tent, which indicates that the court moved with the king.

V.2 Joan of Arc
            The movie Joan of Arc portrays the time period early 15th century. In this movie, Jeanne travels to Chinon riding horse and sleeps on the road at night. She sleeps on the road because there was neither house nor inn along the road, and the reason for that could be there was a war going on.
            When Jeanne first tries to go to Chinon, she rides in a cart filled with the livestock going to dauphin. When she was found among the livestock in Sir Robert¡¯s castle, she slept in the nunnery. This is because she was a woman who couldn¡¯t be allowed to the monasteries for monks, which usually offered lodging to travelling men.
            The peasants appearing in the movie ride in cart pulled by oxen, which was filled with hay. The peasants actually travelled in such carts - if they could afford to travel, of course. However, nobles such as the lady of Burgundy and the bishop travel in carriages with four wheels, pulled by horses. This shows how the people of different social status traveled.

V.3 The Radicals
            The Radicals take its time setting in the 1520s. In this movie, an Anabaptist tells a pedestrian who wants to pass through the forest that there are bandits in the forest and they had lost four travelers a week. The pedestrian believes that without much thinking, which means those kinds of situations such as bandits attacking the travelers were common. Marauders and highwaymen would ambush traveling parties along major routes often (26).
            Also, the Anabaptists mention that the roads were full of travelers on holidays. This is because people didn¡¯t work on Sunday and were encouraged to go to churches, which was considered as very short and simple pilgrimage. The reason for so many travelers in the weekends could also be the market, which was usually held near the churches after the worship.

V.4 El Cid
            In the movie El Cid, which takes time setting in late eleventh century, Rodrigo de Vivar became exile and leaves the country. Exiles were given 9 days to leave the country and neither food nor lodging was to be provided for them. In the movie, Rodrigo sleeps in the barn of a peasant. However, in reality, that peasant would have faced a very difficult situation for providing him place to sleep.

V.5 Monty Python and the Holy Grail
            This movie is based on Arthurian legends, which means it depicts the early sixth century. In this movie, a shrubber travels with shrubbery in his cart. In Middle Ages, some merchants, or peddlers, traveled from town to town with their goods to sell them. Peddlers usually travelled on foot, carrying their wares, or by means of a person- or animal-drawn cart or wagon. They played an important role in supplying isolated populations even with fairly basic and diverse goods and delivering news (27).
            According to the Britannica World Encyclopaedia, peddlers had existed from ancient times and appear in the record in the 6th century for the first time (28). Therefore, it is not so weird if the shrubber appears peddling in the movie. However, according to the G.M. Paterson, in the early middle ages the form of economy was a barter system (29). Therefore, thought the shrubber could have existed in the early 6th century, it is not accurate to show him selling his goods for money, for he would probably have exchanged his commodity with other things than money in those times.

V.6 Sant'Antonio di Padova
            This is the movie about Saint Anthony, who lived approximately 1195 to 1231. In the movie, the Franciscan monks travel to preach the gospel to the pagans in Africa. In the years of Saint Anthony, the Franciscan monks actually travelled as far as Morocco and preached the gospels. Saint Anthony was in charge of hospitality in his abbey after he became a part of the Augustinian Abbey of Saint Vincent, which means the abbey had a social role to provide shelter to the travelers. In this role he met five Franciscans who were on their way to travel to morocco to preach the holy words. He then joined the Franciscans and preached the gospel in Africa. The shipwreck shown in the movie actually happened during Saint Anthony¡¯s return trip to Portugal, which led to his landing to Sicily (30).

VI. Conclusion
            Travelling in medieval Europe happened for various purposes, by various people, and by various methods.
            Widely used transportations were horses, carts, wagons, carriages and ships, but many people also travelled by foot.
            People¡¯s reaction to travelers were basically two; whether hostile for travelers were considered dangerous, or with the greetings and generosity to provide food and shelter to them.
            The two dominant reasons for travelling were religious reasons, such as missionary works, pilgrimage, or the crusades, and trade. However, there were other reasons like merely visiting other people or going on a war, and the real purpose of travel was different from people to people due to their status, personal perception and situation.
            The sources and records about travelling in the Middle Ages were not so abundant. This is thought to be both because of the lack of records remaining from the Middle Ages and because normal people did not travel a lot in the middle ages
            None of the movies used as primary source in this paper focused on travelling alone except the documentary film The Crusades. However, almost every movie shows some contents related to travelling. However, even though many parts of the information from the movies were accurate, some movies had minor detail flaws in portraying travelling. For example, the peddler who travelled in the Monty Python and the Holy Grail could exist at that time, but making him sell his goods is actually wrong. Another example could be that the inn in the Ivanhoe actually could have been in worse condition that shown in the movie. These flaws may seem small, but they make the historical accuracy of the movies a bit dubious. For travelling was very complicated activity, the moviemakers may have lacked the correct information needed. Further research on this topic enables us to get more accurate information about travelling in the Middle Ages, thereby letting us understand more about the medieval Europe society.
            Travelling in the Middle Ages did not mean simple travelling for one or two reasons or just for leisure; it was a complicated activity of various purposes and reasons.

(1)      Travel, Wikipedia
(2)      Grant 2001, p. 8
(3)      Ibid., p. 43
(4)      Paris 1993 , p, 1
(5)      Court (Royal), Wikipedia
(6)      Paris 1993, p. 124
(7)      Palace of Westminster, Wikipedia
(8)      Mission (Christian), Wikipedia
(9)      Kagan 2006, p. 246
(10)      Grant 2001, p. 42
(11)      Kagan 2006, p. 246
(12)      H. W. Janson et al. History of Art, Prentice Hall, New York, 1997, pp. 386~387, quoted after Kagan 2006, p. 246
(13)      Trade and Travel in the Middle Ages, EMuseum
(14)      Market town, Wikipedia
(15)      Journeyman, Wikipedia
(16)      Geselle, Wikipedia German edition
(17)      Grant 2001, p. 42
(18)      Lewis
(19)      Grant 2001, p. 43
(20)      Transport in Middle Ages, Everyday Life in the Middle Ages
(21)      Ibid.
(22)      Ibid.
(23)      Lewis
(24)      ibid.
(25)      Merrick Whitcomb, Source Book of the German Renaissance, quoted after European Inns in the Middle Ages, an article in Oldandsold
(26)      Pilgrimage in the Middle Ages, Hyperhistory
(27)      Peddler, Wikipedia

(29)      Patterson 1995, p. 61
(30)      Anthony of Padua, Wikipedia

Bibliography The following websites were visited in May 2010

1.      El Cid (1961), directed by Anthony Mann, 182 min
2.      Ivanhoe (1952), directed by Rochard Thorpe, 106 min.
3.      Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1972), directed by Franco Zeffirelli, 135 min
4.      Joan of Arc ( 1999), directed by Christian Duguay, 140 min.(UK 180 min.)
5.      Sant¡¯Antonio di Padova (2002), directed by Umberto Marino, 102 min.
6.      The Crusades (1995), directed by Alan Ereira et al., 200 min
7.      The Radicals (1990), directed by Raul V. Carrera, 100 min.
8.      Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), directed by Terry Gilliam et al., 91 min.

9.      Grant 2001: Neil Grant, Everyday Life in Medieval Europe, McRae Books, Florence, Italy, 2001
10.      York-Soderlund 1997: Paula York-Soderlund et al., What Life Was Like In the Age of Chivalry: Medieval Europe, AD 800-1500, Time-Life Books, Richmond 1997
11.      Paris 1993: Matthew Paris (1200-1259), The Illustrated Chronicles of Matthew Paris: Observations of Thirteenth Century Life, translated and edited by Richard Vaughan, Alan Sutton Publishing, Phoenix Mill et al., 1993
12.      Kagan 2006: Donald Kagan et al., The Western Heritage (9th Edition), Prentice Hall, New Jersey, 2006
13.      Chaucer 2005: Geoffrey Chaucer (1340-1400), The Canterbury Tales, edited by Jill Mann, Penguin Books, London et al.,2005
14.      Patterson 1995: Gordon M. Patterson, The Essentials of Medieval History: 500 to 1450 AD, the Middle Ages, Research and Education Association, Piscataway NJ 1995

15.      The Internet Movie Database, data on movies in this paper
16.      Article: Travel, in: Wikipedia,
17.      Article: Court (Royal), in: Wikipedia,
18.      Article, Palace of Westminster, in: Wikipedia,
19.      Article, Mission (Christian), in: Wikipedia,
20.      Article, Trade and Travel in the Middle Ages, in: EMuseum@ Minnesota State University Mankato ,
21.      Article, Market town, in: Wikipedia,
22.      Article, Travel and Travelers in the Dark Ages, by Brenda Ralph Lewis
23.      Article, Transport in Middle Ages, in: Everyday Life in the Middle Ages,
24.      Article, European Inns in the Middle Ages, in: Oldandsold,
25.      Article, Pilgrimage in Middle Ages, in: Hyperhistory,
26.      Article, Peddler, in: Wikipedia,
27.      Article, Anthony of Padua, in: Wikipedia,
28.      Article, Journeyman, in: Wikipedia,
29.      Article, Geselle, in: Wikipedia German edition,

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