DEFENCE AND SECURITY Florilegium Urbanum

Keywords: medieval London defences military organization militia muster war leadership services seigneurial rights ceremony castles taxation fraternities
Subject: The London militia and its leadership
Original source: 1. British Library, Add. Ms. 14252, f.124; 2. Corporation of London Records Office, Liber Custumarum, f.80.
Transcription in: 1. Mary Bateson. "A London Municipal Collection of the Reign of John," English Historical Review, vol.17 (1902), 727-28; 2. Henry Thomas Riley, ed. Liber Custumarum, Rolls Series, no.12, vol.2 (1860), 147-149.
Original language: 1. Latin; 2. French
Location: London
Date: 13th century


1. Certain decisions taken for enclosing the city in the time of King John, by his request and consent.

Each alderman is to convene his wardmoot with all men who are 15 years old or more. When they have assembled, each of them is to swear that as regards moveable goods he owns or debts due him he will pay 2d. per pound of what he estimates as their value, or 1d. per 10s. worth of moveables.

Also, as regards rents, that each of them shall pay 3d. per 20s. worth or three-halfpence per 10s. worth.

The alderman is also to gather all foreign merchants who are [residing] in his ward; explaining to them the city's deliberations and pointing out how they and their goods are protected by the city, he should exhort them all to freely contribute towards enclosing the city an amount commensurate with what they freely receive from the city. If, however, they have to think about it, then for every ten shillings worth of goods they currently have in the city they are to pay 2d.

On all rents of foreigners (excepting rents of churchmen) is to be taken 12d. per pound.

To collect and receive this money 4 reputable and judicious men are to be chosen from each ward; they are to hand over that money at the Guildhall to Simon Blund and Robert de Antioch.

Any who knowingly and intentionally break their oath are to be excommunicated in all the churches of the city.

Once each person has taken oath, he is to pay the money immediately or by the following Sunday at the latest; otherwise, on the following day, the amount will be doubled.

Each alderman is to view the arms of everyone in his ward, [to ensure] that they may have them ready for defending their persons, goods, and the city. If any default in their arms, their names are to be recorded, and it is to be reported to the mayor and other barons of the city how those persons have neglected their duty towards the peace and the defence of the city.

The alderman, in his full wardmoot, is to order and ensure that all who are able have horses.

Each parish is to have a pennant, and an alderman is to have his banner; the men of the individual parishes, with their pennants, are to follow the banner of their alderman, when they receive the alderman's summons, to the place assigned them for defending the city.

2. The duties and privileges of Robert FitzWalter in London

These are the rights that belong to Robert FitzWalter, castellan of London, Lord of Woodham, in the city of London and beyond, by enfranchisement of that city. Let it be known that Robert and his heirs should be, and are, chief bannerets of London by the fee of that castellany which he and his ancestors have had of Castle Baynard in that city. In times of war Robert and his heirs ought to serve the town in the way described below.

That Robert should come, mounted on his caparisoned charger, with nineteen other armed men on horses caparisoned with cloth or iron, as far as the great gate of the church of St. Paul, with his banner bearing his arms unfurled before him. When he has arrived at the great gate of that church, mounted and equipped as described above, then the mayor of London, with all his sheriffs and aldermen, armed with their arms, and all on foot, should come out of the church of St. Paul, as far as the same gate, he carrying a banner in his hand. The banner is to be vermilion and bearing a golden image of St. Paul, his hands, feet and head in silver, and a sword in the hand of the figure. As soon as Robert sees the mayor, sheriffs and aldermen coming on foot out of the church, armed and with the banner, Robert (or those of his heirs who owe this service to the city) shall dismount from his horse and salute the mayor as his comrade and his equal, saying to him: "Sir mayor, I have come to perform the service that I owe to the city." And the mayor, sheriffs and aldermen shall say: "We hereby deliver to you, as to our banneret by fee of this city, this banner of the city, to carry, bear, and control, to the best of your ability, for the honour and benefit of our city. Then Robert, or his heirs, shall receive the banner into his hand and, holding the banner, shall proceed on foot as far as the outside of the gate. The mayor of the city and the sheriffs shall follow him to the gate, leading to Robert a horse worth twenty pounds; the horse is to be saddled with a saddle bearing Robert's arms, and covered with sendal bearing the same arms. And they shall take twenty pounds in cash and deliver them to the chamberlain of Robert, for his expenses of that day. Robert, with the banner in his hand, shall mount the horse which the mayor has presented to him.

As soon as he has mounted he shall ask the mayor to have a marshal chosen forthwith, from the militia of the city of London. As soon as the marshal is chosen, Robert shall have the command conveyed to the mayor and his burgesses of the town that they have the communal bell of the city rung. And the whole community shall proceed to follow the banner of St. Paul and Robert's banner. Robert shall himself carry the banner of St. Paul in his own hand as far as Aldgate. When they arrive at Aldgate, Robert and the mayor shall deliver the banner of St. Paul to whomever they agree on, to carry from Aldgate onwards, should it be that they have to make an exit out of the town. If so, then the mayor and Robert are to dismount, with two of the wisest men from each ward following them, to make arrangements as to how the city could best be defended. Counsel thereon is to be taken in Holy Trinity Priory, beside Aldgate.

For every town or castle before which the city militia of London lays a siege, [no matter] if it remains in the siege for an entire year, then Robert ought to receive from the community of London, for each siege, one hundred shillings for his efforts, and not more.


The first of these two documents was part of a patchy compilation of national laws and civic customs and liberties, pulled together around 1215, perhaps to serve a fledgling local administration now headed by a mayor and facing a role in the constitutional struggle with the king (see below). That one matter treated in the compilation was measures taken for defence of the city should be viewed in the context of that struggle. The measures included the attempt to impose a special tax not only on the citizenry but on foreign merchants who did business in London, presumably to finance the costs of other defensive measures, and the command to the aldermen to ensure they were in a position to lead the men of their ward, properly equipped, to fight for the city at short notice. Whether these measures were normal at this period, or an exceptional response to the national crisis, is unclear. However, the aldermen's view of arms was likely the city's way of implementing the requirements of the Assize of Arms.

Mrs. Bateson was surprised to find parishes being used as units of the militia. But if we compare with the militia organization in Norwich, it seems natural enough that the aldermen (whether in person or perhaps by substitute) acted in the role of constable or centenar, commanding units supplied by each parish, conceivably under their own junior officers of the vintenar type. Whether the London companies and units were of approximately 100 and 20 men respectively we cannot say, but it is interesting to note that the 5:1 ratio was fairly close to the proportion of parishes to wards in the city.

The second document is believed to be part of a statement by Robert FitzWalter of what he considered reciprocal rights and duties. The description of military duties, and of the ceremonial surrounding the transfer of military authority from civic officials, at times when the city militia had to be deployed in defence of the city or sent out to fight in the king's army, was followed by a second part, which even more strongly has the tone of a list of claims to territorial authority:

  • jurisdiction of his seigneurial court over cases involving the tenants of his soke (unless an offence against London's mayor or sheriff);
  • the right to punish felons arrested in the soke, where the stocks or imprisonment were involved (although trial and sentencing remained city prerogatives), as well as the execution of convicted traitors by drowning them in the Thames;
  • the advowson of St. Andrew's church;
  • the right to be invited to participate in Great Councils of the city; also to attend husting court sessions, be seated there beside the mayor, pronounce the judgements of the court, and assign waifs brought before the court to the custody of whomever he chose (albeit with the mayor's advice).

We have no record of the Corporation's response to FitzWalter's claims, although it is unlikely to have looked favourably on them, as they represented a rival to jurisdictional ambitions of them city government. It appears the city made note of the claims without countenancing them; for four years before his death, Robert tried, unsuccessfully, to take advantage of the eyre of 1321 to have his claims – in very much the same words as in the 1303 document – recognized by the king's justices, although he offered to relinquish some of them. In 1275 Robert FitzWalter II was permitted by the king to give Castle Baynard to the Archbishop of Canterbury for foundation of a friary on the site; but in the grant he reserved to himself and his heirs the appurtenant franchises and rights in London. The legal arguments in 1321 hinged partly on whether such a reservation was legal; the London authorities doubtless maintained that it was not and had done what they could to resist or obstruct the exercise of jurisdiction, which may be the reason for the statement of claims in 1303. In 1347 Robert's grandson tried again, and at this point the Corporation formally repudiated the FitzWalter claims to any legal jurisdiction within London.

This does not mean that such jurisdiction, or the related military service to London, has no basis. On the contrary. While rejecting the family's jurisdictional claim at the 1321 eyre, the same venue was used by city authorities to claim rights to land surrounding St. Paul's, in part on the grounds that the muster and meeting with FitzWalter had traditionally taken place there. Furthermore, the claim is corroborated by an entry in the same early thirteenth century compilation from which the first document above was taken; the entry cites a judicial enquiry, held before the death (1136) of Robert FitzRichard, into fishing rights on the Thames. The king's council, hearing the dispute, concluded that jurisdiction over the stretch of Thames between the castle's site and Staines bridge belonged to the lord of Baynard's Castle, as the king's standard-bearer and protector of the city [Bateson, op.cit., 485]. This jurisdiction must itself have been a thorn in the side of the civic administration.

The FitzWalter claims related to a territory within the city appurtenant to Castle Baynard: a soke that later became a city ward. The castle had been built, probably not long after 1066, as one bookend (the Tower being its counterpart) in the Norman strategy for subjugating London's warlike and independent population. Originally held and perhaps raised by the Baignard family (although there are tantalizing hints of one or more pre-Conquest fortifications in London), they lost it in 1110, after falling afoul of the king. It later came into the hands of the Clare family, strong in eastern England, and (by marriage) to Robert FitzRichard, hereditary steward of Henry I. His son Walter FitzRobert was alleged, at the same period when we hear from FitzStephen of the military strength and prowess of Londoners, to be complicit in a plot against Henry III formed by the lord of Montfichet Castle (situated close to Baynard's), whose power base was also in eastern England, although Montfichet was probably a modest fortification; the information was likely scurrilous and nothing came of it. However, Walter's son Robert FitzWalter (grandfather of the 1303 claimant) was to play a key role in the revolt against King John.

John had already had important dealings with London in the context of the power-struggle during the absentee years of Richard I. Richard's justiciar, William de Longchamp, sought to use the Tower as a fortress against Prince John, and both sides tried to win support from London. In 1191 the city gave its loyalty, and a promise of backing his claim to the succession, to John in return for a grant of new privileges and the right to call itself a commune, which led to the introduction of the office of mayor, a communally chosen focus for local government. After attaining the throne, John was persuaded with a large gift of money to confirm the city's old and new liberties, even though no reference was made in the confirmation grant to either mayor or commune. But John's need for money, leading to heavy taxation of the city as well as demands for further gifts, together with steps he took to undermine certain of London's liberties, soon cost him any popularity he had there.

The Londoners therefore had cause to side with the growing baronial opposition to the king. That one of the leaders of this opposition was the lord of Baynard's Castle may have made an alliance easier to forge. In 1212, while Robert FitzWalter was out of the country, John took to opportunity to have Baynard's Castle demolished. But by 1215 the baronial opposition was so strong that John made an attempt to win back London, by granting a confirmation of all its customary liberties, together with a formal recognition of an elected mayoralty. To no avail. When the forces led by FitzWalter, styling himself Marshal of the Army of God and Holy Church, reached London the citizens either permitted, or at least did not oppose, their entry; there was at least an element within the citizenry that sympathized with the rebels, whose list of demands, presented to the king, included London's grievances.

Magna Carta was the result, but only part of the solution. A baronial committee was appointed to oversee the great charter's implementation, and the mayor of London was made a committee member. The king agreed that FitzWalter's forces should continue to hold the city until the king fulfilled the terms of the charter. FitzWalter distrusted the king and knew that control of the city would be a key factor in final victory. Sure enough, John came to repudiate the charter and gather his forces. The barons invited Prince Louis of France to replace John on the English throne. London contributed to Louis' costs in bringing over a French army; upon his arrival, Louis headed for London. In June 1216 the citizens, with FitzWalter and the mayor at their head, gathered in St. Paul's churchyard and paid homage to Louis as their new king. It was said that FitzWalter subsequently commanded a force of 20,000 Londoners raised to support Louis (although we may be skeptical of the estimate). John's death in October 1216, and Louis' failure to win wider support in England, led to his withdrawal and the accession of John's son as Henry III.

Given these circumstances, and the association of the FitzWalters with London, it is credible that document of 1303 reflects a much older tradition, although adapted to changing circumstances, since some of its elements (such as mentions of mayor and recorder, and the heraldic references describing the banner and referring to the saddle and horse-cover emblazoned with the FitzWalter arms) have a later ring to them. The arrangement described in the document appears to reflect a form of cooperation, to mutual benefit, between the city and the feudal holders of a private jurisdiction (soke) within London. The record of Thames fishing rights attached to the soke suggests the alliance came about even before presumably being put to the test during the reign of John. It was perhaps a marriage of convenience, given the mixed feelings the London authorities would have held towards rival jurisdictions within the city.

Whether the military leadership had at any point become a hereditary right, as the document implies, we cannot be sure, but again it is not implausible that such a relationship might have developed – conceivably at the time of the civil war between Matilda and Stephen – between the city leaders and one of the local castellans who (unlike that of the Tower) had some degree of independence from the king. For how long such an arrangement may have been needed we do not know; even before the mustering ground had been absorbed into St. Paul's precinct and Castle Baynard site given over to the Blackfriars, the city authorities – any sense of indebtedness for Robert FitzWalter's help against King John having faded – may have felt the arrangement no longer useful to the city, perhaps even detrimental on balance, preferring to make other arrangements for the command of the militia, even if some of the ceremonial may have lingered. By 1377, many of the aldermen had sufficient social status to have their own coats of arms, and it was expected that their banners be emblazoned with them.

In the early Anglo-Saxon period, London's still sturdy Roman walls gave it a reputation as a refuge; for example, after Hengist's Saxons had defeated the British forces of Kent, the latter fled to London. The Saxon newcomers did not wish to live within the walls and established a trading settlement, Lundenwic, along the stretch of Thames west of Londinium (the area now remembered as the Strand). This was subject to Viking attacks in 839 and 851, and for a while the city was used as a Danish base. Alfred recaptured it in 883 and three years later Lundenberg had become one of the fortified settlements that were a keystone in his plan to defend Wessex. Lundenwic was abandoned (but left its topographical mark as Aldwych, the 'old wic') as the populace sought safety back in the now-ruinous walled area. Efforts were made to repair and rebuild, including the walls and port facilities, in part to encourage settlers and traders to return. By the 890s London was able to field fighting forces that, in conjunction with other English contingents, captured Danish strongholds in Essex.

As a prospering and strategically located commercial and administrative centre, London continued to be a target. As the next wave of Danish invasions got underway, the city faced, in 994, a major assault by a Viking fleet sailing up the Thames, but the citizens were powerful enough to repulse it. Thanks to its defences (which included London Bridge) and its military organization, the city was able to continue to thwart later challenges, but the defensive capability of the English was being worn down. In 1016 most English leaders conceded the crown to Cnut, but the Londoners preferred to continue resistance, choosing as king Edmund Ironside, who prepared for a Danish assault by repairing city defences and assembling troops there. A series of assaults and sieges by Cnut's forces were repeatedly fought off. But after Edmund's death, the city felt it had little option but to submit to Cnut.

London's importance had not been diminished by its stubborn resistance to Cnut. When in 1066 William of Normandy landed near Hastings, the men of London marched out with King Harold's own forces to meet the Normans in battle. After their defeat, the English forces retreated to London, hoping to hold off William there. William too recognized the strategic importance of the city; after a trial assault by his vanguard was repulsed at London Bridge, he recognized that he stood small chance of capturing the city by force and decided instead to isolate it by subduing the surrounding counties and building a series of strongholds there.

The London contingent at Hastings, which was assigned the prestigious role of guarding the person and standard of the king, had been led by Ansgar the Staller, who had the honorific role of bearing the standard. Ansgar held some kind of position of authority in London over a couple of decades, perhaps through his office of staller. Stallers were royal officials, seemingly with regional jurisdiction, whose title means "stable-master"; they were similar to, and perhaps a forerunner of, the Anglo-Norman constable, an office with a partly military role. They may have been imported from Scandinavia, where stallers had a seat near the king and spoke on the king's behalf in the "thing" court. Ansgar, influential not only because of his hereditary office but also as a landholder in eight counties, was wounded in the battle and carried back to London with the survivors of its continent. Despite his wounds, he was apparently able to take the lead in organizing the defence of the city and in negotiating with William for its submission under favourable terms. Some historians have wondered if , because of the various coincidences in their rights and duties, in Ansgar there was some kind of precedent for the FitzWalter field-marshals of the London militia. It has been suggested [William Page, London: Its Origin and Early Development, London, 1923, 132-36] that one early London soke, whose name might (though probably doesn't) mean "war-man's acre", and which incorporated an area that later became Aldgate ward, was at one time in the hands of Tofig the Proud, another staller and grandfather of Ansgar; but this is a very tenuous stringing together of hypotheses. Page in particular argued for a link between the staller and the constable of Castle Baynard.

It was not uncommon under the different conditions at play in Italy for municipal forces to be captained by members of regional aristocracy, although this could prove politically risky. It would be natural enough for English cities to seek similar wartime leadership from the military class, which had landed and commercial interests within the boroughs in the High Middle Ages, but evidence for such arrangements is as rare as indications of inter-city warfare. At York it was claimed, in a report of an inquest of 1106 into the Minster's customary privileges, that the territory of the canons supplied a leader and standard-bearer for the York militia whenever it went to join up with the king's army, but was not liable to provide such military service if the burgess militia as a whole was not called up; however, we do not know if this leader was one of the knightly tenants of the Minster. It would seem that, as the thirteenth century wore on, the price paid in loss of independence was considered by the London authorities too high to pay for professional leadership of that type. But the city was still capable of raising forces that could on occasion play an important role in national defence and in English civil wars.

FitzStephen's description of London makes reference to the military exercises conducted annually, as well as other sports with a military bent, such as tournament-type activities on the Thames or the frozen marshes, javelin throwing, and hand-to-hand combat. In his opening paragraph, he praises in the same breath the commercial success of the townsmen and their physical prowess, while at the same time boasting of the strength of its fortifications. His estimate of London forces as comprising 60,000 infantry and 20,000 cavalry may be taken as exaggeration; the total population of London around his time is unknown but probably around 40,000 [Derek Keene, in The Cambridge Urban History of Britain, vol. 1 (2000), ed. D.M. Palliser, 196].

Nonetheless, the less specific evidence of other writers of that time supports the notion that London could field a sizable force capable of fighting with prowess. If (pursuing the comparison with Norwich) we can imagine each ward being expected to field at least a centenary, which would represent roughly the properly equipped manpower of the ward, but not necessarily the total available to fight in time of crisis, then London should have been able to raise a few thousand men, some of whom would have been mounted; they might conceivably bolstered by more skilled cavalry, such as the FitzWalter contingent, and knights-in-training residing in or around the city such as FitzStephen describes; Baynard and Montfichet castles may have been some of the baronial households he had in mind as supplying young men carrying out military exercises in the fields around the city. Several prominent London citizens of the twelfth century are known to have had the status of knights [Susan Reynolds, "The Rulers of London in the Twelfth Century", History, vol.57 (1972), 339, 346], although this does not necessarily mean they were military men.

As a geographically and politically strategic location with a defensive wall, London was a target for anyone, Englishman or foreigner, with an eye on the English throne. But the Londoners played more than a defensive role. In the civil war between King Stephen and the Empress Matilda, London threw its weight behind the former, who appeared more disposed tan the latter to entertain city ambitions for greater self-government. In 1141 (with Stephen a captive of the Empress) the Londoners took up arms to expel Matilda from the city and blockaded Geoffrey de Mandeville, her supporter and constable of the Tower, in that fortress. Geoffrey switched sides and led a London force, said to be a thousand strong, to raise the siege of the Bishop of Winchester's castle. And in 1145 we hear of a large army of Londoners that Stephen used to capture Earl Robert of Gloucester's castle at Faringdon.

As internal politics settled down and the attention of the king and nobles turned to foreign wars, there was less need for general musters. The contingents the city raised to join larger armies were typically only a small percentage of what could surely have been raised. In 1336, the king imagined that London could raise and equip a defensive force of 7,200 men, but most such demands were far more down-to-earth. On several occasions the city authorities negotiated with the king on the number of soldiers they would supply, sometimes using the excuse that they did not wish to leave the city itself defenceless, although their concern was probably just as much with limiting the associated costs they would have to pay the troops they raised. Nonetheless, the king looked on populous London as an important source of men, and perhaps even more as a source of manned ships for naval defence. As late as 1453, when parliament granted the king a levy of 20,000 archers to serve (probably in France) for six months at the cost of the localities that raised them, London was assigned the largest single contingent at 1,137 (compared to 152 from York, 121 from Norwich, and 91 from Bristol, and smaller numbers from several other towns; in the event, the total number was reduced to 13,000 and even that was never raised, parliament offering instead to raise money to support the planned military campaign.

During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the London authorities, exercised as much as they were able what they saw as a city privilege of discretion in the number of troops it would supply. Consequently, the monarchy had, in its efforts to put together armies for the war in France, come increasingly to rely on calls for volunteers and on monetary payments in lieu of troops, rather than on civic militia.



In this context, the term claudendam seems to be used in the general sense of protecting or securing, rather than the more specific sense of wall-building.

"Simon Blund"
Several Londoners of this surname were aldermen or sheriffs in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, although they were not necessarily all from the same family. Bateson describes Simon and Robert as "wardens of the chest", although it is not clear on what authority, but it is plausible enough that they would have been some sort of city treasurer.

"default in their arms"
That is, if they were not of suitable type or sufficient quality.

"barons of the city"
The royal government acquiesced in this manner that the citizens liked to refer to themselves. Later, as the gulf between rulers and ruled became more conspicuous, the term came to be restricted to the aldermen.

Woodham Walter (near Maldon) in Essex. When the FitzWalter family (as it would become known) acquired Castle Baynard it came with estates in Essex, with the seat at Little Dunmow; the family name became associated with Castle Dunmow, but later the family seat came to be at Woodham. This barony comprised a relatively large number of knights' fees, and more came to through marriage alliances. Robert FitzWalter consequently found himself with a fairly large military contingent when he opposed King John.

Feudal lords who led their vassals (knights and others) to war under their own banner, and who therefore had a rank higher than a knight; they were more like minor barons.

"caparisoned charger"
That is, a war-horse with a covering that served both decorative and protective functions.

"church of St. Paul"
This was the appointed site of the ceremony for many reasons. St. Paul's was the oldest and principal church of the city and an episcopal seat; it was a source of pride and status to the Londoners. St. Paul's image, sword in hand, graced not only the city banner, but also (from at least 1219) the civic seal; he was essentially the patron saint of the city. Furthermore the walled precinct surrounding the church was situated on the boundary between the Castle Baynard soke and the area under jurisdiction of city authorities, and so was a symbolic meeting-place. Another part of the rationale may have been that St. Paul's had long been the site of citizen assemblies. In July 1321, in the context of the eyre, the city authorities accused the dean and chapter of St. Paul's of having, over the previous few decades, been progressively walling off and building over parts of the land at the east end of the church where the community had traditionally held its folkmoots and militia musters. A separate and undated document about the folkmoot [Liber Custumarum, 635-636] states that each year, in April, all men should gather, as sworn brothers, to take an oath to support the king in defending the realm against foreigners or other enemies; whether an armed muster is not clear, for the document goes on to mention a view of arms held each February. A further charge made at this time was that St. Augustine's gateway into the precinct had been blocked off by installing a postern. A statement made by city representatives also claimed that the land on the west side of the church had also been unjustly appropriated, although it too was land held by the city of the king, being where "the citizens of the city were accustomed, and ought, to make their assembly, together with the lord of Baynard's Castle, to carry out a view of their arms for the defence of that city, as often as the citizens considered it necessary." [Liber Custumarum, 343.] .

"armed with their arms"
Presumably this refers to ceremonial weapons (swords, maces) that were carried before them by official bearers.

The original has baillons, a term that has connotations of a transfer of power (i.e. delegation or deputization for executive purposes) and handing over something for safekeeping.

"communal bell"
The bell-tower stood in the north-east corner of St. Paul's churchyard, close to the site of the folkmoot.

"as far as Aldgate"
This destination would take the parade most of the way through central London, via Cheapside and Cornhill, the usual route for major civic processions, giving it the kind of public exposure needed.

"Holy Trinity Priory"
This may simply have been a convenient location near the terminus of the parade route, offering shelter and privacy, in which to discuss defensive deployment. However, the priory represented a close link between city and monarchy, having been founded by Matilda, wife of Henry I; Henry was anxious to reinforce his claim to the throne by winning the support of London, and his queen became a benefactor of the city in many ways. Furthermore, the priory represented a close link with tradition, for it had been endowed by Henry and the last surviving gildsmen with the rights and lands of the Cnihtengild, a somewhat hazy Anglo-Saxon fraternity whose early members were reputed to be military men, although the Old English cniht does not strictly mean (nor preclude meaning) warrior, and in its last years the hereditary membership was dominated by prominent London citizens. Whether the gild ever had any formal role in defending the city is unknown, although (perhaps too English) it was allowed to fade after the Normans took control of London and asserted their political and military dominance, until it was absorbed into the priory. Certainly we cannot conclude from the Trinity Priory connection that the gild might once have played a leadership role such as that now performed by FitzWalter. Nonetheless, if we assume that townsmen, at London and elsewhere, looked to the warrior class for military expertise, and even that some warriors may – as Maitland [Domesday Book and Beyond, Cambridge, 1907, 191] suggests (noting the existence of a thegns gild at Cambridge) – have been retainers of large landholders of the region, 'attached' (residentially or otherwise) to towns to bolster their defensive capability, an organization such as the Cnihtengild could have been a natural source of leaders. We know of other gilds of cnihts, in 9th century Canterbury (where, as at London, it later took on a more urban character), and in Winchester and Cambridge, but the precise nature and purpose of these gilds is just as speculative there.

It is possible the commune and mayoralty were established, unofficially, as early as 1189, with 1191 simply marking royal acquiescence; the evidence is inconclusive. As a communal association whose members swore to stand together in life or death, the commune could be viewed as potentially revolutionary (as it proved in some continental towns). In 1194 one prominent Londoner, William FitzOsbert, accused another of having said that London would never have any king except its own mayor, and was himself accused of trying to stir up discontent and rebellion within the community; he was hanged.

"territory of the canons"
Domesday indicates that the archbishop had jurisdiction over one of the seven 'shires' (wards) into which the city was divided.

"leader and standard-bearer"

It is not clear whether he was actually the militia commander. The banner he carried was also supplied by the Minster and may have borne a depiction of St. Peter.

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Created: December 31, 2007. Last update:December 21, 2011 © Stephen Alsford, 2007-2011