Relais de poste and inns under the Ancien Régime

Relais de poste and inns under the Ancien Régime

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In ancient times, the paths being very often dreadful, stops were necessary to change the horses, to eat and to rest. Sovereigns and great lords rested in castles; hospices and convents welcomed pilgrims. The Relay station, the cabarets, then the hostels, very important for travelers made their appearance, but all were subject to regulations because each establishment bore "Hostellerie, Cabaret, Taverne by permission of the King" in large letters.

Relais de poste, cabarets and taverns

In order to deliver the royal mail, Louis XI created the post offices in 1464. These establishments, installed every 16 to 20 kms, on a large part of the roads, were kept by the "postman", then by the master of post. In 1500, Louis XII made the post relays available to travelers. In the 18th century, the relays were used as inns, also providing the stagecoach service, and there were around 1400 at the end of this century.

In almost all the villages, cabarets were allowed to sell drinks at the table. Most often held by women, you could eat and drink there. These places also had several rooms including bedrooms and travelers would stop there for several days and sometimes they would take board. Places of conversation, meeting and games, cabarets were rather frowned upon, accused "by their neighbors of selling at night, of welcoming gangs of libertines who make noise, of chime every night".

As for taverns, they were famous for being places where thugs, drunkards and prostitution were concentrated in the 12th century. They only served wine to take away or to consume upright, in metal, horn or wooden goblets. The glasses will not be used until the end of the Middle Ages.

The hotels

According to royal regulations, only inns, ancestors of current hotel-restaurants, can accommodate travelers to rest, drink and eat, also acting as a post house. In the 1570s, they were distinct, according to the inscription on the main door. Some received travelers on foot: “dinner of the traveler on foot, six sols; lying of the traveler on foot eight sols ”. Others were reserved for travelers on horseback “Dinner of the traveler on horseback, twelve sols; lying of the traveler on horseback, twenty sols ”. According to the edict of 1577, each tenant had to register the name of customers who stopped for one or more nights, an obligation still in use today.

Three times less numerous than the cabarets under the Ancien Régime, these establishments should not "carry anything contrary to the laws, customs and rules of the French language", were installed near the places of passage, in places and provided. a sign above their door, recognizable from afar and almost always the same. All the towns had a large inn such as "Le Chapeau Rouge" in Bordeaux, the "Cheval Blanc" in Limoges, the "Grand Cerf" in Angoulême, the "Lion d'Or", the "Croix Blanche", the "Trois Rois". "Or the" Ecu de France ".

Very numerous on the road to Paris connecting Bordeaux, some inns were renowned in the 1625s, thanks to an important pilgrimage of the Virgin in September and in particular the Auberge de l'Autruche, run by women and where Louis XIV would have slept opposite at the basilica.

Travelers entered through the large gate or the porte-cochere and left the horse to rest in the stable. A large number of stables was an attractive point for customers. The house accommodated people in a large room; upstairs, along the corridor or the gallery, one reached the bedrooms. Depending on the size and fame of the inn, they were simple "reduced" rooms or beautiful rooms bearing different names "blue room, green room", like the "Three Pillars" in Poitiers in 1786 which included 19. Over time, significant progress has been made and the inns have become larger at the turn of the century.

According to the writings of Madame Craddock, visiting France around 1785, the English inns seemed to her of a much higher standard as she said "on the road to Bordeaux, an inn where the food was so-so, the rooms and the disgusting beds, I lay down on and not in the bed, from which the fleas and bedbugs chased me and spent the rest of my night on two chairs ... luckily the Hôtel des Princes in Langon and the Hôtel d 'England in Bordeaux were well kept, very clean and resembled the English inn ”.

Well-off travelers were certainly demanding. But they weren't the only ones traveling. The Companions who made their Tour de France found there a warm welcome by "the mother" and according to them, these places looked like cabarets which gave food and drink, as well as a moment of relaxation.

The case of very beautiful inns was nevertheless rare; more often than not, the hostels were "medium" and had only 3 to 8 rooms. The traveler was not sure to sleep in a real room, let alone sleep alone, because it was common on the roads of large passages, to have to share his room and his bed with a stranger.

There were also many mediocre hostels, uncomfortable, sometimes very dirty, noisy, to such an extent that "it was better to go and get cover from a friend or a relative", but thanks to the appearance of guides, we could choose the best accommodation for each stage.

Travel guides

In the 17th century, some inns were already advertising and listing their signs in travel guides. This more frequent use in the 18th century, mentioned the remarks on the meals and the quality of the inn, as one could read in the Affiches du Poitou in 1773 “the hotel of the Three Kings, near Saint-Germain in Poitiers, a good beds, clean rooms, cabinets, stables, sheds, stores, ..., very close to the Horse Post ”.

The rates

In the Middle Ages, it was often said that when you set out on a trip, you had to beware of brigands and "hosteliers" who were especially abusive in terms of prices. In the days of Saint Louis, we paid two liards to eat in inns in Paris. 100 years later, prices had risen so much that King John issued an ordinance in 1351 stipulating that "a day and a night, meal included, could not be paid for more than three sols" (sol parisis or the silver penny) .

Quickly, the hoteliers forgot this order and prices began to rise considerably. In 1566, Charles IX, imposed a tariff to be displayed at the door of hostels and taverns. Municipal officers were responsible for verifying compliance with royal orders and collecting complaints from travelers.

At the beginning of the reign of Louis XIV, the prices of meals in Paris were quite reasonable. We ate for twenty sols in good hostels. But in the following century, everything increased again, in spite of the bad care given to the rooms and the poorly served meals as was the case for “Mme du Deffand, in 1742, going to the Forges waters, stopped in Gournay for dinner. . Madame de Picquigny, who accompanies him, is forced to make do with a piece of bread soaked in the pot, a brioche and three biscuits. It was around the same time as around Marseilles the president of Brosses was paying ten pounds for half a dozen eggs ”.

Curiously nowadays, some edicts are still in use. But the adage of the Middle Ages “one had to beware of brigands and hosteliers” is no longer relevant, thanks to the new standards of the French hotel industry, better respecting the traveler.

For further

- History of the hotel industry, by Jean-Christophe Lefreve. Publibook, 2011.



  1. Siomon

    What words ... great, a wonderful idea

  2. Daitaur

    Quite right! This is a good idea. I am ready to support you.

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