Knighten Guilde - Origin


According to a legend solely recorded in John Stow's A Survey of London,

"(In) Portsoken, which soundeth, the Franchise at the gate, was sometime a Guild, and had beginning in the dayes of king Edgar, more than 600 yeares since. There were thirteene Knights, or Soldiers welbeloved to the king and realme, for service by them done, which requested to haue a certaine portion of land on the East part of the Citie, left desolate and forsaken by the Inhabitants, by reason of too much seruitude. They besought the king to haue this land, with the libertie of a Guilde for euer: the king granted to their request with conditions following: that is, that each of them should victoriously accomplish three combates, one aboue the ground, one underground, and the third in the water, and after this at a certaine day in East Smithfield, they should run with Speares against all commers, all which was gloriously performed: and the same day the king named it knighten Guild..."

The King Edgar referred to appears to be King Edgar (d. 975), who fits the timespan given by Stow and was the only crowned monarch of that name. There was only one other King Edgar, better known as Edgar the Aetheling, who was regarded as king by the Saxon loyalists, the Witan had chosen him in 1066 but was never crowned or recognised by the victorious Normans.

According to Stow the heirs of these Knights in 1115 were, 'certaine Burgesses of London... to wit Radulphus Fitzalgod, Wilmarde le Deuereshe, Orgare le Prude, Edward Hupcornehill, Blackstanus, and Alwine his kinsman, and Robert his brother, the sonnes of Leafstanus the Goldsmith, Wiso his sonne, Hugh Fitzvulgar and Algare Secusme...'

The guild were allegedly responsible for the creation of St Botolph's church at Aldgate, sometime before 1115, or were at least its custodians. At one time a St Botolph dedicated church stood outside every City gate in London as a spiritual 'checkpoint' for devotions made on passing the boundaries of the City.

The editor of Stow's A Survey of London added a footnote commenting that

The Knighten guild of London is known to us only through the gift of its soke to Trinity, and the consequent preservation of the documents in the Priory Chartulary. Its true character is uncertain, and its bearing on the history of municipal institutions in London has been disputed. See Round, Geoffrey de Mandeville, 307–9, and Commune of London, 97–105, 221; and Gross, The Gild Merchant, i. 186–8. The documents have been printed in Trans. Lond. and Midd. v. 477–93, and in Letter-Book C, 73–5, 216–25. See also a deed, ap. Chron. de Rameseia, 241, Rolls Ser."

In its later years the Guild simply performed religious duties, later taken on by livery companies, a Royal Commission report says,

"the companies of London prove to have sprung from a number of guilds, which were associations of neighbours for the purposes of mutual assistance. Such associations were very numerous in the Middle Ages, both in town and country, and they appear to have abounded in London at a very early period. A "frith guild" and a "knighten- guild" seem to have existed in London in Anglo-Saxon times, and at the time of the Norman Conquest there were probably many other bodies of a like nature in London. Their main objects were the relief of poverty and the performance of masses for the dead."

Stow records the Guild's account, as recorded in the Liber Trinitae, claimed its charter was given by Edgar and renewed by Canute the Great, Edward the Confessor, William I, William Rufus and Henry I, but its earliest surviving records are from the latter Medieval period, namely the Charter of Liberties of Henry I. Though Stow quotes from an earlier charter from William I:

"William king of England to Maurice Bishop, and Godffrey de Magum, and Richard de Parre, and to his faithfull people of London, greeting: know yee mee to have granted to the men of Knighten Guilde, the Guilde that belonged to them, and the land that belonged thereunto, with all customes, as they had the same in the time of king Edward, and my father. Witnesse hugh de Buche: at Rething".

Unfortunately this charter no longer seems to exist, nor does any of the others, though Stow insists that these were present when the Guild was dissolved. However he does not quote any sources other than the Liber Trinitae.

A more recent historian, Sydney Maddocks, summarises the Guild's end

"The members of the Knighten Guild in 1115 granted their estate to the Priory and Convent of Holy Trinity, Aldgate, which grant King Henry I confirmed. The transfer of the possessions of the Knighten Guild to Holy Trinity Priory immediately brought about trouble with Geoffrey de Mandeville, Constable of the Tower. Having taken a piece of ground in East Smithfield and made it into a vineyard, he and his successors held it by force. The situation of the vineyard cannot be identified, but it doubtless became attached to Tower Hill which it adjoined".

No reason is given in any source for the transfer, and it may either indicate the Guild had run its course or the change was part of the political and ecclesiastical changes imposed by Henry I when he seized power after the death of William Rufus.

The assumption is that the Guild was dissolved after its lands were passed on. Though according to the Livery Companies Commission, the Guild was believed to have been absorbed into London's livery companies. It certainly no longer exists, though Portsoken still exists as a ward.

The sources for Stow's account are uncertain, the only one given, Liber Trinitatis, records the views of the Order of the Holy Trinity which took over the area, and so no doubt gives a biased account.

Read more about this topic:  Knighten Guilde

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