Celebrating the History of Science
and the Science behind History
During the Renaissance, French kings and queens built many palaces, in an area known as the Loire Valley. The royal family would travel from palace to palace to get away from Paris, the way you might head to a lake house. The Loire Valley is not very close to Paris. It’s about 110 miles from Paris to the palace of Chambord, for instance. I wondered how long it took sixteenth century travelers to make this journey—and why there were so many palaces.
First, the distance. Under the best of conditions (good roads, decent weather, level ground), humans can walk four miles per hour over long distances. Horses can’t do much better–maybe five mph—but a lot less if they’re pulling something or if roads are in awful condition. A horse can canter at 20 mph, but it can only do that for six to eight miles at a time, after which it will slow down and walk, or stop completely. So it would have taken a long time to get from place to place. Under the best conditions, a journey from Paris to Chambord would have taken three weeks.
But in fact, it took a lot longer than that. Because in the sixteenth century, the royal court didn’t just hop on a horse and head to their country home. They took everything and everyone with them, loading all the stuff onto the backs of horses and mules.
When Catherine de Medici was queen of France, she traveled with her ladies and gentlemen, foreign ambassadors, pet bears, servants, retainers, attendants, apothecaries, astrologists, tutors, musicians, cooking pots, food, clothing, portable triumphal arches, wall hangings, and furniture.
And the reason there were so many palaces is simply that the court in Renaissance times –thousands of people–had to move around from estate to estate so as to find new hunting grounds. Once they’d exhausted the food supply in the area, they moved on to the next estate. Also, the sanitation was dreadful. After thousands of people had taken up residence in and around a great estate for a few weeks, filth piled up, and with it, stench and disease.
The royal procession could be miles long. When Catherine de Medici’s court packed up and left for a new palace, the beginning of the royal caravan sometimes entered a town before those traveling at the back of it had left the last one.
Sara Albee's recent book is Why'd They Wear That?, published by National Geographic in 2015. Get ready to chuckle your way through centuries of fashion dos and don'ts! In this humorous and approachable narrative, you will learn about outrageous, politically-perilous, funky, disgusting, regrettable, and life-threatening creations people have worn throughout the course of human history, all the way up to the present day. For more information, click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Albee, Sarah. "Renaissance Road Trips." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/renaissance-road-trips.
We may think nothing of travelling to the other side of the world, but things were much different two centuries ago. Only adventurers and explorers ventured to faraway places.
That changed when three important breakthroughs occurred. In 1869 the First Transcontinental Railroad was completed in America. It enabled people and goods to travel easily. In 1870, the Indian railways were linked, increasing trade and travel opportunities. And the Suez Canal opened in 1869 allowing ships to sail from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea.
These three leaps forward made it possible for someone to travel around the world. The idea was exciting.
Jules Verne was one of the many people imagining such a trip. He wrote a bestseller in 1873 about a man who bet his friends that he could travel around the world in eighty days.
“I will bet twenty thousand pounds against anyone who wishes that I will make the tour of the world in eighty days or less,” says Phileas Fogg at the beginning of Jules Verne’s adventure novel Around the World in Eighty Days.
In those days, making the trip in eighty days or less was almost impossible. The only way people traveled during that time was by ship, train or carriage. And there were always delays.
Stunt reporter, Nellie Bly, also wondered if it could be done. Although women faced the challenges of not readily being able to travel alone, they also felt the lure of adventure.
Nellie pitched the idea to her editor and a year later, he consented to send her. She would not only beat Phileas Fogg’s record, but she would prove that a woman could do it.
Nellie began her trip in November 1889 on a ship sailing for England. She carried with her only one bag and one dress-- and no chaperone.
Soon all of America was rooting for her. Along the way delays made it seem like it wouldn’t happen. Storms rocked her ship. Weather slowed her down. Could Nellie do it? She was courageous and full of adventure. If anyone could it would be her.
She returned to New York on January 25, 1890, in a record 72 days, beating Phileas Fogg. Her journey rivaled the fictitious one Jules Verne had imagined. Nellie Bly had written herself into the history books!
For Vicki Cobb's BLOG (nonfiction book reviews, info on education, more), click here: Vicki's Blog
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