There are several versions of this legend.
The following was
written in a thirteenth
century chronicle by Thomas Sprot a monk of St. Augustine’s Abbey Canterbury.
Sprot describes the gathering
at Swanscombe of the Men of East Kent with their Saxon
Archbishop Stigand of Canterbury. They were awaiting King William I,
the Conqueror. He was taking his first journey through Kent
the Battle of Hastings
and his subsequent
coronation in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066.
On his way to Dover to take ship to his lands in Normandy he was prevented from passing further into the county and
into the lands of East
Kent by a deputation of the Men of Kent. They held a branch
[treaty] or a sword [war] and
told William to choose.
Perhaps the terms requested were reasonable or maybe
didn't have time for another war in case he missed his cross channel ferry
The legend reveals that
he chose the branch and in doing so agreed that the people of both
East and West Kent
could keep certain rights and customs if in return they would accept
him as their King.
Reputedly this is why the custom of Gavelkind
continued in Kent centuries after vanishing from other parts of
Where the Medway’s stream divideth
and by it’s North Eastern shore.
Where the Kentish man abideth
William, unopposed, passed o’er.
But the lands South East the River
knew not what submission meant.
May Invicta stand for ever
word and boast of Men of Kent.
Franklin C 1780