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About The Origins of The Honorable Artillery Company
The Honorable Artillery Company is the oldest regiment in England and, some say, the world.
There is no clear understanding of the earliest origins. The earliest known primary record is dated August 25th 1537 and this documents the granting, by King Henry VIII, of a Charter of Incorporation to the Guild or Fraternity of Saint George, a Guild of Archers and Handgunmen. This group eventually become known as the Honorable Artillery Company. The wording of the charter is such that it could be inferred either that the Guild had been established earlier or that a new Guild was to be established using other groups of archers ready for incorporation in to a new body.
There is some evidence in The King’s Roll of Payments in 1509 and 1515 of disbursements to the Fraternity of Saint George’s Guild and this leads to the likely conclusion that the Company’s origins can be traced back to the 15th century. Those seeking earlier origins should look to Highmore who, writing in 1804, describes how the London Auxiliaries (“from whom in subsequent periods the Artillery Company took their rise”) marched with King Alfred in the year 883 to dislodge the Danes from the town of Hertford.
Following the grant of the Charter, the Fraternity of Artillery and Gunners of the Tower leased land (in 1537) in the Teasel Ground (or Old Artillery Garden) off Bishopsgate. This enclosure which was used for training was supposed to be the site of the old Roman ” Campus Martius”. There are many accounts of large groups of archers meeting in the surrounding area – archery was a popular leisure activity at that as well as an important military activity. There is a map by Ralph Agas, circa 1560-70, showing the old Artillery Garden. The conflicting activities of the Gunners and the Artillery Company eventually led to the move to new headquarters in Finsbury.
Bibliography Raikes, G.A. – History of the Honorable Artillery Company (Richard Bentley 1876) Goold Walker, G – The Honorable Artillery Company (John Lane The Bodley Head 1926) For a selection of historical prints visits the author’s web site thebookbay