regular posts in the 16th century in England, they served two purposes, the carrying of the king's letters and the exclusive supply of horses for his couriers and for other travellers, the first being called the “ posts of the pacquet,” the second “ the thorough posts.” When, in 1780, the monopoly of supplying post-horses was taken away from the “ postmasters,” the term was retained for the “ posting ” establishments for travellers throughout the country, as well as in such words as “post-boy” and “ post-chaise.” The expression “post-haste,” generally used adverbially in the sense of “with the utmost speed,” was originally a superscription, “haste, post, haste,” on letters that needed the greatest despatch, and was a command addressed to the “ post,” the bearer of the message. The peculiar use of “postmaster” as the name of the “ scholars ” of Merton College, Oxford, has not been explained. It occurs in the college records first as the name of a building (Postmasters' Hall) outside the college, in which the scholars (called porcionistae or portionistae) lived until about 1575. The suggestion that “ postmaster ” is a corruption of portionista is far-fetched, and there is nothing to support the theory that the scholars, as servitors to the masters, stood behind them at table and were thus called post-magistri.
POST, and POSTAL SERVICE. The germ of modern postal systems is to be looked for in the earliest organized establishment of a staff of government couriers. In the postal system of Spain and the German empire there is express record of permission to government couriers to carry letters for individuals in April 1544; and within fifteen or sixteen years that permission had grown into a legalized and regulated monopoly, whence the counts of Taxis drew part of their profits as postmasters-general. In Great Britain existing private letters of the 15th century—some, perhaps, of the 14th—bear endorsements which show that they were conveyed by relays of men and horses maintained under the control of the government, and primarily intended for its special service. In several states on the continent of Europe the universities had inland postal establishments of a rudimentary sort at an early date. The university of Paris organized a postal service almost at the beginning of the 13th century, and it lasted in a measure until 1719. In various parts of Europe mercantile gilds and brotherhoods were licensed to establish posts for commercial purposes. But everywhere—as far as the accessible evidence extends—foreign posts were under state control.
Early History (c. 1533–1836).
As early as the middle of the 13th century entries occur in the wardrobe accounts of the kings of England of payments to sixteenth royal messengers for the conveyance of letters. In the supervision of these royal messengers lies the germ of the office of postmaster-general. The firstSixteenth Century. English postmaster of whom a distinct account can be given is Sir Brian Tuke, who is described (1533) in the records as “Magister Nunciorum, Cursorum, sive Postarum,” “both in England and in other parts of the king's dominions beyond the seas.” But long subsequent to this appointment of a postmaster general the details of the service were frequently regulated by proclamations and by orders in council. Thus, among the royal proclamations in the library of the Society of Antiquaries, there is one of Philip and Mary (undated, but apparently of 1555) which regulates the supply of horses for the conveyance of letters to Dover. Again, in July 1556 the lords of the council ordered “ that the postes betweene this and the Northe should eche of them keepe a booke, and make entrye of every lettre that he shall receive, the tyme of the deliveries thereof unto his hands, with the parties names that shall bring it unto him." Much of the business of the foreign postal service to and from England during the earlier years of Queen Elizabeth was managed by the incorporated “merchant strangers, ” who appointed a special postmaster. When that office fell vacant in 1 568 they quarrelled about a successor; and the quarrel cost them their privilege.
The accession of James I. to the English throne, by necessitating a more frequent communication between London and Scotland, led to improvements in the postal service. Special posts had already been established by the magistrates of certain Scottish towns to convey theirUnder James I. dispatches to and from the court. Thus in 1590 a messenger was appointed by the magistrates of Aberdeen with the title of “council-post.” The new royal orders of 1603 directed (1) that the postmasters at the various stages should enjoy the privilege of letting horses to “ those riding in post (that is to say) with horn and guide, ” by commission or otherwise, and to that end they were charged to keep or have in readiness a sufficient number of post-horses; (2) that the lawful charge for the hire of each horse should be, for public messengers, at the rate of 21d. a mile, “besides the guides’ groats,” private travellers being left to make their own agreements. Finally, it was directed that every postmaster should keep at least two horses for the express conveyance of government letters, and should forward such letters within a quarter of an hour of their receipt, and that the posts should travel at the rate of not less than 7 m. an hour in summer and 5 m. in winter.
In 1607 the king granted to John Stanhope, first Baron Stanhope of Harrington, and to his son Charles Stanhope, afterwards second Lord Stanhope, jointly and to the survivor of them, the post mastership of England under the title of “Master of the Posts and Messengers,” with a fee of 100 marks a year, together with all “avails and profits” belonging to the office. In 1619 a separate office of “postmaster-general of England for foreign parts” was created in favour of Matthew de Quester and Matthew de Quester the younger. The new office was regarded by the existingThe De Questers. postmaster-general, Charles, Lord Stanhope, as an infringement of his own patent. A long dispute ensued in the king's bench and before the lords of the council. In 1626 by an order in council liberty was granted to all companies of merchants, including the merchant adventurers, to send their letters and dispatches by messengers of their own choosing. A year afterwards this liberty was revoked, except for the Company of Merchant Adventurers. Lord Stanhope, however, continued to carry letters abroad by his agents, and obtained a warrant prohibiting De Quester from interfering. It shows strikingly the confusion of postal affairs at this period to find a statement addressed to the privy council by the postmasters'of England to the effect that they had received no payments “ ever since the last day of-November 1621 till this present time, June 1628”—the arrears amounting to £22,626.
The rights of the postmasters were also infringed by private individuals, as by one Samuel Jude in 1629 in the west of England. In 1632 the foreign postmastership was assigned by De Quester, who had lost his son, to William Frizell and Thomas Witherings. Letters-patent were granted to them
- F. Windebank to Sir W. Cecil: “All the Italians were unwilling to give their voices to Raphael, . . . but inclined to favour Godfrey” (Dom. Cor. Eliz. xlviii. § 65, State Paper Dept., Rolls Office). Raphael was a German, Godfrey an Englishman.
- Kennedy, Annals of Aberdeen, i. 262.
- Book of Proclamatlons, p. 67 (S. P. O.; now in Rolls House); Report from the Secret Committee on the Post Office, (1844) appendix, pp. 38–40.
- Or “De l’Equester, " as he is called in Latch’s Reports of King’s Bench Cases, p. 87.
- These disputes were much embittered by the growing jealousies of English against foreign merchants. The proofs of this in the state correspondence of Elizabeth’s day are abundant, but there were many statesmen who took larger views. See, e.g. John Johnson’s “Brief Declaration for the . . erecting and maintaining of the Staple . . . in England ” (June 1582), Dom. Corresp. Eliz. cliv. No. 30; and compare the same wrirer's “Discourse for the repairing the decayed State of the Merchants, " &c. (July 22, 1577), ibid. cxiv. No. 39, with Leake's “Discourse,” &c., of the same year (ibid. cxi. I seq.), and with John Hales's “Letter to Sir W. Cecil” (March 20, 1559), ibid. iii., where he describes the merchant strangers as being “spies for foreign princes,” and with Cecil's “Reasons to move a Forbearing of the Restitution of the Intercourse to Antwerp” (1564), ibid. xxxv. No. 33 (in Rolls House).
- See Analytical Index to the Revnembrancia, p. 418, as quoted by H. B. Wheatley in the Academy of the 27th of December 1879, p. 464.