The Faversham area is rich in royal associations.
Its first recorded one is with Vortigern, said to have been King of Romanised Britain after Rome had to leave it to defend itself against the ‘barbarians’ in 410. He recruited mercenaries from NW Germany. Their leader was Hengist; and after the first battle in which he helped Vortigern defeat his enemies, the King promised him as much land as an ox-hide could encompass.
A site at Tong, near Faversham, was chosen, but instead of taking a tiny sliver of land, as expected, the resourceful Hengist cut his hide into very narrow strips and joined them together to encircle a plot large enough for him to use for a new castle. Its site is still there, overlooking a big millpond.
Soon afterwards Hengist turned on Vortigern - the trigger for many more immigrants to arrive from NW Germany and to displace the Roman way of life with what we now call the ‘Anglo-Saxon’.
The name ‘Kingsfield’ for the area between the A2, St Ann’s Road, Cross Lane and Preston Street/The Mall, and the richness of the Anglo-Saxon finds made there in the 19th century, have suggested that Faversham may have shared with nearby Canterbury the honour of being capital of the independent Kingdom of Kent. Certainly in 699 one of its kings was in the area when he issued a charter, and in 811 another royal charter referred to it as being ‘oppidulum regis’ (the king’s little town). Perhaps on the basis of this and other later references it should really be Faversham Regis, rather than just plain Faversham.
After the Norman Conquest in 1066 the town’s royal associations come thick and fast, and not just because so many monarchs, English and foreign, were travelling past its southern fringe on the A2. In Faversham alongside this fringe in the early 12th century was built a Maison Dieu (house of God) with a luxurious purpose-built Camera Regis (royal suite) for the overnight accommodation of royalty on their way to or from the Continent via Dover.
The town’s special royal status was strengthened when King Stephen and his wife, Queen Matilda, founded an Abbey here in 1147. This proved a mixed blessing because it dominated the town, metaphorically as well as literally, and its people wanted to wrest their independence from it. Slowly they did so, by a series of royal charters which recognised their right to what would now be called self-determination. They had leverage over successive monarchs because the town was a member of the Confederation of Cinque Ports, responsible for the nation’s defence before the formation of a permanent Royal Navy.
In achieving its high degree of autonomy the town was quite ruthless, playing off one party against another - the king or Lord Warden against the Abbey, the king against the Lord Warden, or the Lord Warden against the king. By the middle of the 16th century the ultimate allegiance of some leading townsfolk was to the Lord Warden, not the monarch. This independent, almost republican, streak ensured that the town sided with the Commonwealth against the King in the 17th-century Civil War. It came to the fore again in 1688, when James II tried to escape to France following the arrival of the future William III at Torbay. He was captured by Faversham fishermen off the Isle of Sheppey and brought to the town in ignominy as a prisoner. He was appalled to be treated with no respect at all and had to be rescued so that he could make a slightly more dignified departure.
In the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688, William and Mary began their reign on the people’s terms, not their own. In the United Kingdom, absolute monarchy was dead, and this seems to have reconciled Faversham to the idea of kings and queens as national figureheads and foci of patriotism. In visits ever since, they have received the respect which in this role is their due.
Use the menu on the left to find out more about Faversham’s many royal associations.