Did Ken Follett’s Kingsbridge exist?

Everyone who has read Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth knows that the priory of Kingsbridge is meant to be fictional, as well as the adjacent town of Shiring. What if historical evidence might suggest that there was a place called Kingsbridge in the 12th century? Although not a diocese, the hundred-court of Kingsbridge appears in one of Henry I’s charters tentatively dated 1118, so some 30 years prior to the opening scenes of Pillars. While the king was in Nonant or around Alençon in Normandy, he instructed William de Pont de l’Arche, sheriff of Wiltshire, to “cause the hundred-court of Kingsbridge to sit and summon Walter of Salisbury before it to do right to the monks of Winchester about the land which he usurps from them and settle the boundary” (Regesta Regum Anglo-Normannorum, II, 1185).

The name Kingsbridge is apparently of Anglo-Saxon origin for the original charter has “Chembrucge” (Chem (king)+ brucge (bridge).

What is even more interesting is that the monks of Winchester cathedral claimed property in the area, which suggests that the city of Winchester was not too far away. It only took Aliena a day to reach town and her father the earl had conveniently been imprisoned there.

To conclude: it is pure coincidence this happened. Kingsbridge might have existed but it was neither a priory or a bishopric as Follett has it. If the author made the name up, then this piece of charter evidence shows that history transcends human imagination.

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