In 1730, Robert Walpole (1676 – 1745), then Prime Minister, closed all the theatres in London (except Drury Lane and the Opera House) and banned the Knights Club for sedition. Frederick, Prince of Wales (1707 – 1751), son of George the Second and father of George the Third, a patron of the arts and opponent of Walpole, almost immediately revived the club. His aim was to establish a social and dining fellowship for London literary, artistic and scientific gentlemen. He took the legend of King Arthur, his Knights and their ethic of chivalry (courtesy, mercy, faith, generosity and hospitality) as their model, calling themselves “Knights of the Round Table”.
After several dinners in Prince Frederick’s own royal apartments, they again met at the Fountain Tavern, on the site of the old Palace of the Savoy in the Strand. When these buildings were demolished, John Simpson opened his Dining Room on the site and the Knights continued to meet there until in 1860 a fire destroyed both the premises and all the Society’s records back to 1720. We do know, however, that among others David Garrick was a member between 1761 and 1776 – his snuff box, painted by William Hogarth, is still in the Society’s possession.
Following the fire, the Club’s activities lapsed until it was revived in 1866 as “The Knights Club of the Round Table”. Charles Dickens, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Sir Henry Irving and Carl Rosa among many literary and artistic men of the day became members.
By the early 20th century, the theatrical nature of the membership had declined and most members were drawn from the military, civil and diplomatic services. Through the first half of the century the Society continued mainly as a dining and discussion club. One of its aims then was the promotion of international understanding and friendship and hence many of the Society’s guests at dinners were foreign politicians and ambassadors and other diplomats to the Court of St. James, who, after dinner, were often inducted as Honorary Vice Presidents of the Society. It could be said that the first Diplomatic Dinner was held in 1911, and these dinners were a particular feature of the Society’s activities between the two World Wars. Meetings were held successively at Simpsons, the Junior Carlton and the Naval & Military Clubs, moving in the 1960’s to the Athenaeum and later, the Lansdowne Club.
During the two World Wars most activities of the society were suspended as many members were on active service. Occasional lunches and dinners throughout the 1939 – 1945 war welcomed as guests members of exiled governments resident in London. Among others dined by the Society were Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, King Peter of Yugoslavia, the King of Denmark, Christian the tenth and King Haakon of Norway who, following the war, inaugurated “Det Runde Bords Klubb” in Oslo.
In 1956 the Society was again reconstituted as “The Honourable Society of Knights of the Round Table” and in 1964 it was incorporated as a company limited by guarantee. In 1966 the Society celebrated its 100th anniversary since the 1866 revival with a banquet at the Naval & Military Club at which Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, was the principal guest, together with several ambassadors. In 1991 the Lancaster Herald of Arms devised the Society’s Coat of Arms; a shield depicting the Grail Cup, a helmet, crest and supporters and the Society’s motto “Non Nobis Solum Sed Toto Mundi Nati” – Not for us alone but for the whole world created.
In 1921 the Society undertook a pilgrimage to Winchester. Pilgrimages have continued intermittently since, visiting Winchester, Glastonbury, Salisbury and Walsingham in the UK and Norway, Finland & St. Petersburg, the Holy Land, Peru, Eire & St.Malo abroad.
In 2003, following the sudden death of the Knight President, Patrick, Earl of Limerick, the Society, hitherto an all male club, elected to welcome lady knights. Sylvia, Countess of Limerick became our first lady knight.
Since the 1956 reconstitution, the Society’s social programme has continued to flourish under succeeding Knight Presidents. The Earl of Athlone was followed sequentially by Lord Sempill, Simon, Earl of Dalhousie, Major General Douglas Kendrew, Lord Marshall of Leeds, General Sir Edward Burgess, Major General Mike Walsh, Patrick, Earl of Limerick, Terence Mallinson to the present President, Lord West of Spithead.
Our present annual programme comprises four formal dinners with guests – a Medical and Guinevere Dinner (held in either the Royal College of Surgeons or the Barber Surgeons Hall), a Services Dinner (Armourer’s Hall), a Legal Dinner (alternating Inner and Middle Temples) and a Diplomatic Dinner in the House of Lords. We hold an annual luncheon (The Merlin Lunch) primarily for Knights who find attending evening events in London difficult, an annual Prizewinners Luncheon for Knights and our Award winners, the Annual General Meeting with supper in July and in December during Advent, a Service of Rededication with supper in the Knights Chapel, St Martin-within-Ludgate.
The gifts of many former knights have provided the muniments, chattels and regalia of the Society comprising banners, shields, swords and maces, loving cups and the robes of the Knight President and senior members of the Chapter, which appear at our dinners.