The Dean and Canons have not always had an easy relationship with the Military Knights of Windsor, that band of veteran warriors who had given great service to their country but had fallen on bad times. Under the terms of the College’s foundation, the Poor or Alms Knights, as they were then known, were to attend daily service in the Chapel in return for their pay and accommodation. According to the tenth provision of the Elizabethan Statutes of 1559, they were to be obedient to the Dean and Canons. Each Poor Knight swore an oath to uphold the statutes and ordinances concerning their government on appointment. However, not every Knight abided by these rules.
John Norton was appointed a Poor Knight around 1595. In January 1596, he received his first warning, accused of speaking contemptuously of the statutes and ordinances governing the Poor Knights. In addition, he spoke against the Canons, saying “Turde in all your teethe, a fart for you all, you are a sorte of peysantlye priestes”. On being rebuked, he “rapt out an oathe Blood and Woundes he cared not a button for Frenche [the Precentor] nor any that tooke his parte let them all doe their worst a sorte of Curmuggens”.
In August 1602, he was called before Chapter to answer the charge of striking one of the other Knights, Mr Hooke. He answered that he did strike him and would strike him again, “that hooke was a roage and a base companion, and that he was no gent nor soldier.” Norton was barred from entering the Chapel without the express permission of the Dean. He seems to have paid no attention, for just two days after his ban he forced his way into the Chapel, disrupting the service. He was made excommunicate and his salary stopped. The stopping of his pay seemed to do the trick, and in September he appeared in Chapter and expressed himself “hartelye sorie” and begged forgiveness.
All was quiet for a few years, until in June 1606 a new Governor was appointed from amongst the existing Poor Knights. As the senior Poor Knight, Norton was requested to convey the new Governor, Mr Massingberd, to his seat in the Chapel according to the custom. Norton refused, saying “he is a Pycard, he is no gentleman, he is no soldyer, I will bringe him to the gallowes if you will.” In addition to this insult, he also persuaded others of the Knights to similarly show their opposition to the appointment of Massingberd. He was again suspended without pay. When called to account for his behaviour, he said that he “wold rather lye seven yeres in the Marshalsey” than acknowledge Mr Massingberd as Governor. The stand-off continued until October, when again Norton came to apologise for his behaviour and promise to behave from now on.
He seems to have continued quietly for the remainder of his time at St George’s, until his death in 1617.
Eleanor Cracknell (Assistant Archivist)