Find your ancestors in London, Watermen's Petition For The King Charles I, 1648

In 1648, 2,026 members of The Company of Watermen signed a petition to King Charles I petitioning. Was your ancestor among the members who signed? The petition is one of the earliest records of The Company of Watermen.

In 1555, The Company of Watermen was created. Watermen would transport people either across or along the River Thames. The company’s jurisdiction stretched from Gravesend to Windsor. Watermen were essential to London, especially at a time when the roads were in poor condition and unsafe. Many people commuted through London by water. To work as a waterman, one needed to have a license and be a member of the company.

The petition to King Charles I was prompted by Nowell Warner and Robert Bursey, the Royal Bargemasters. It was written by Thomas Lowe, the clerk of the company. The petition was created during the Second English Civil War (1648-1649) and presented to Parliament on 18 July 1648. The petition was in favour of a speedy end to the current disputes and the return of the king.

In 1721, John Rushworth wrote, ‘Tuesday July 18, 1648: A Petition this Day from the Watermen upon the River of Thames, desiring a Personal Treaty, and the speedy settlement of the Peace of the Kingdom, was read, and the Petitioners called in, and Mr Speaker acquainted them, That most of the Petitioners were Witnesses of what the Parliament's Endeavours have been to settle the Peace of the Kingdom, that it was a Business now before them, and the House doubted not to do therein as shall be for satisfying the whole Kingdom, and gave the Petitioners Thanks for the private Addresses with that Petition with a few of the Petitioners, according to the Declaration in that behalf.’

Another source which mentions the watermen’s petition is Cobbett's Parliamentary History of England published in 1808. The text explains, ‘Petitions from the Watermen on Thames... for a personal treaty...presented to the Lords... is the most pathetic we have yet met with, and very expressive in the King's favour. The Lords answers to these and the foregoing both shew, that they thought themselves obliged to use all parties with civility.’ The petition stated, ‘To the Right Hon the Lords in Parliament assembled; the Humble Petition of the Watermen belonging to the River of Thames. That the petitioners being in fraternity above 2,000 persons, are all undone and like to perish by reason of His Majesty's absence from us; he being kept away notwithstanding his many former gracious offers; and therefore, having an interest both in his person and government, we cannot do less than humbly beseech your honours to speedily and really to invite him to London, with honour, freedom and safety. And your Petitioners shall pray etc.’ Then ‘the Petitioners were called in again and answered by the Speaker, "That the Lords have not been wanting in their endeavours to bring His Majesty to treat at London, and shall still continue to do what in them lies for the procuring a speedy settling of these unhappy distractions.”’

The company’s records start in 1692, which makes this petition and the admiralty muster of 1628 vital records to the early years of the company. The petition is held at the Parliamentary Archives.