Five hundred years ago today, on 19 March 1513, a guild of mariners—troubled by the inexperience and poor conduct of unregulated pilots on the Thames endangering life and cargo—petitioned the King for license to set up a fraternity enabled to regulate pilotage on the Thames. This fraternity was already in ownership of a great hall and 21 almshouses for the benefit of distressed seamen and their dependants, suggesting an already well-established body.
The petitioners put forward the following case:
To the king our sou(er)aigne lord.
In the moste lowly wise shewen unto your excellent highnes yor humble subgiects and true liegemen the maisters rulers and maryners of yor navye within your Ryver of Thamys and other places that wher moste mercifull redoubted prince that of tyme owte of man is mynde as long as due order good rule and guyding were sufficed to be had in yor said Ryver and other places by auncient Englissh maisters and lodesmen of the same the said rivers and places and the daungers of the same were then by theym thrughly serched so surely that fewe shippes or noon were perisshed in defaulte of lodemanage now it is so moste gracious sovereign lord that dyvers and many yongmen namyng theym self mariners beyng owte of all good order and rule not havyng the perfyte knowlege ne experience in shipmens crafte neither of sufficiency experience approved ne of age in the same to knowe the surance and saufconduyte of shippes by the connyng of lodemanage dailly unseytly medlen therwith to great and hurte and losse of moche of the said Navye And also not willeng to entre into the actuell aventure and paynes of saillyng in the mayn see wherby experience and knowledge of sailleng from Realme to Realme might clerely growe and be lerned and also by the same your navye and marchaunts shulde be the more in nombre and your custumers greatly encreased whiche can not be had but by the connyng and science of shipmans crafte by greate laboure and aventure of the see sailleng from land to land taken in yowth but the said yongmen not intendyng to learne the said science and crafte ne to aventure for the obteyning of the same ne for the weale nor for the avauntage aforsaid dailly applye their myndes to easier labor to be pilotts and lodesmen in yor said Ryver of Thamys oonly whiche was somtyme the lyveng of auncient maryners whan they myght no lenger for bruseys and maymes had upon the see in the Kings warres or for pure age labor any more in the crafte and aventure aforsaid
And so by reason of the said yongmen wull no ferther lern but pilotship oonly in yor river aforsaid whan auncient maisters and maryners of this yor realme that now ben whiche am very feble and many ben expended and goon Then ffewer maryners of science and connyng to saille by sees shall then be·lefte behynde theym
And so this yor Realme whiche here tofore hath florisshed with navye·to alle other lands dredfull and connyng maisters and maryners in the same yor Realme to guyde the said navy through all Cristendom is sees shall then be utterly destitute and unpurveyd of suche sure and connyng maisters and maryners at tyme of nede That God defend
And howbeit soueraign lord that among yor said subgietts there ben many and dyvers conyng men aswell maisters as lodismen that be of great age and perfyte connyng to convey and bring into the said Ryver and owte of the same any carrak gayly or vessell of what burden however it be yete for all that for lak of good ordre and due correccion amongest us as well Scotts Flemmyngs Frenshmen as other straungers borne not beyng yor naturell subgiects take upon theym to be lodismen in yor said river and other places of this yor roialme
And to enserche and knowe yor stremes and the daungers and secrets of the same contrary to yor olde lawes and customes And all the good policye of this yor roialme By reason wherof thissame yor Realme myght be put in great jeoperdy as experience of olde tyme hath shewed in so muche that fewe yeres sens it hath ben seen within yor said river and other places of this yor reelme in tyme of werre Frenshmen and other then beyng enemyes By knowlege of the secrets of yor said Ryver have comen as fer as Gravesende and fette owte Englissh shippes to the great rebuk of this realme
And if the auncient maisters and maryners therof that now been had the rule or ordryng of the premisses as their predecessours in dayes paste have had There shuld noon suche straungers have the rule of lodemanage nor take any charge upon theyme in yor said ryver as they now have and fewer shippes or noon shuld perisshe in defaulte of lodemanage as now of late have doon But many moo shippes shulde come in to yor said river and other places then of a greate season have doon to the great avauntage of yor custumers and also sufficient maisters and maryners of connyng wolde every day encrease more and more so that in tyme of nede soueraign lord it shuld not requyre to seke straungers to do yor grace service at yor high pleasure ne to serve yor marchaunts in any besynes
And so in conclusion moste rightwis and our moste drad soueraign lord yor said subgiects must nede shortly perisshe and yor said Navye utterly mynyssh and decay to all straungers most greatly rejoysyng and to all true Englishmen moste pitiously lamentyng withoute yor moste tendir pitye and mercy to theym in this case be shewed
WHEREFORE the recontinuaunce and reencreasing aswell of yor said maisters & maryners as of yor Roiall whiche ben greatly abated and decayed over that they were and have ben of late tyme And in consideracion gracious leige lord that all princes and kings cristenys have speciale favor & preferment to the Marchaunts maisters &maryners of their regions contreyes & lands for the encrease and mayntenyng of their Navye for the greate perfitt and custumers that come therby to the said kings and princes and for the great honor and comonweale of their said regions contreys & lands
IT MAY pleas therfor you most mercifull soueraign lord syns ye be the moste noble cristen king and have the moste noble region in comodities with merchaunts maisters maryners and navie of the worlde if they be maynteyned and cherisshed as other nacions ben now at this tyme for Godds sake and in wey of charite calling to yor gracious remembraunce how that it were a blissid dede to breke all the forsaid ill rules and mysguydings and to reforme and bryng to good use and ordir every thing towchyng the premysses and to helpe to set it in good wey to the pleasure of God honor and worship to you soueraign lord and of this yor Roialme
And to the great joy and comfort of all trew English merchaunts maisters lodismen and maryners And for the speciall encreas of yor navie and custumes to graunt to yor said subgietts yor gracious letters patents in due and ample form to be made and enseelid under the greate seale after the tenor ensuyng And they shall every pray to God for the preservacon of your most noble and roiall estate long to endure in as moche joy and felicite as ever did Cristen prynce.
As Henry was engaged in his first war with the French at the time of petition, it was 14 months before the charter could be finally signed, incorporating that body of mariners as The Master, Wardens and Assistants of the Guild or Fraternity of the most glorious and undividable Trinity and St. Clement in the Parish Church of Deptford Strond, although this name would be slightly altered in a later charter to The Master Wardens and Assistants of the Guild Fraternity or Brotherhood of the most glorious and undivided Trinity and of St. Clement in the Parish of Deptford Strond, in the County of Kent.
So that’s how it all got started; now follow the Trinity House History blog for more on what happened next!