History for fantasy buffs: Carriages

What’s interesting about the horse-drawn carriage from an historical perspective is that while horse-drawn conveyance has been with us since before recorded history, true carriages didn’t arrive until the 15th-16th century–the very end of the Middle Ages.

Why didn’t carriages arrive sooner?

Earlier medieval carriages did exist, but they were heavy, requiring 2 or more horses to pull, and it’s uncertain whether they had any sort of suspension. Ironically, the Roman Empire, which came before, had sprung wagons, but this technology was lost when the Roman Empire fell apart, and it was not rediscovered until the Middle Ages were just about over. Without suspension, medieval carriages must have delivered a rough ride and probably had to travel slowly, especially given the state of most roads during that time period.

In the 15th century, innovators in Hungary rediscovered how to suspend the carriage using chains. They also made the carriage lighter, which meant it could be pulled by a single horse. This innovation spread throughout Europe, and throughout the horse and carriage age that followed, carriage design was continuously improved, especially when the steel C-spring was invented. The Barouche, an 18th-century carriage, was suspended on C-springs.

If you’re writing in the Victorian or Edwardian era and need to know details like the difference between a brougham and landau, I recommend a book called Carriages at Eight, by Frank E. Huggett.

This entry was posted in Fantasy, History, Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to History for fantasy buffs: Carriages

  1. Jessi Gage says:

    Cool picture, and nice summary! I’ve got a cart and horse in my upcoming novel, and a gypsy wagon pulled by a pair of horses. But i haven’t done much research into these modes of transport beyond what I remember from hay-rides as a kid…

  2. Interesting. It’s amazing how one little piece of technology can make a huge difference.

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