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The Fictional and Completely Made-Up Origin of Freelancing

posted by Matt Ward on Jan 29, 2010.

What is the origin of freelancing? I have no idea. But in this post I completely make it up as I tell the fictional misadventures of Sir William Post, the world’s first Free Lancer! It is episodic, situational comedy intended to do nothing more than entertain!

Today, the concept of freelancing is generally understood to encompass an individual, or sometimes a group of individuals, who work without any particular allegiance to any business or company. They ride the winds of fortune, allowing circumstance and (in many cases) money to determine the course of their immediate future.

It’s a unique kind of life and is not for everyone, but for those special few it offers a gateway to freedom and success – and often a episodic series of interactions with clients that are enough to make many tear their hair out.

The Fictional and Completely Made-Up Origin of Freelancing

The Fictional and Completely Made-Up Origin of Freelancing

But where did it all start?

I honestly have no idea! But that’s not going to stop me from writing about it. So, I present to you the fictional and completely made-up origin of freelancing, following some of the (mis)adventures of the brave and noble knight Sir William Post – the world’s first Free Lancer!

What follows is meant to be light-hearted, entertaining and perhaps even a little humorous. It has absolutely no foundation in historical truth and is entirely the product of my somewhat overactive imagination. Please enjoy!

The Disgruntled Knight

Sir William Post was an accomplished knight in the service of the good Lord Cornrick. He had won many tourneys and proven the difference in many battles. He was beloved by all of his fellow knights and had won the favour of many of the maids of the land (much to the disapproval of his wife). He had done everything that a knight could possibly hope to accomplish.

Yet, somehow, he remained vastly unsatisfied.

He was tired of spending nearly every day at Lord Cornwick’s castle, doing the same things over and over again. There was training and riding. There were ordered missions and official luncheons. There were balls to attend, messages to run and a never ending stream of trite niceties and horrible castle politics that always seemed to weigh heavily on Sir William’s mind.

He was tired of it all, but didn’t know what he could do about it.

Until, one day he was struck by a bolt of inspiration, as though from heaven itself. In various battles he had faced a variety of mercenaries, men who sold their swords in exchange for money. Good Sir William would never allow himself to stoop to their level. As a noble knight, he saw them as little better than bandits and petty thieves. But maybe… just maybe…

Slowly an idea began to form in his mind. Why couldn’t he do something similar, but at much higher standard? Why couldn’t he offer his services as a knight on a contract basis? He could perform knightly tasks for those who did not, or could not have knights of their own. He could help bring greater justice to the land!

As he thought of these things, a great vision began to unfold before him, a grand dream and the perfect escape that he had been so desperately longing for. Inspired, he rushed home to consult with his wife, the Lady Jane.

Breaking Away

As it turned out, the Lady Jane was somewhat less than enthusiastic about Sir William’s brilliant vision. She had already been with child for four months, and was more than a little concerned about how they would be able to meet the cost of living without the generous salary afforded to them by Lord Cornwick. In truth, the same concern had already started to nibble tiny holes in William’s dream, but after much thought and discussion with the Lady Jane, he finally determined to follow his course of action through to it’s end.

He was, after all, a very accomplished knight. If his plan somehow failed to pan out the way he was expecting, he was certain that he could find employment again. If not with Lord Cornwick, then certainly by one of the many neighboring lords, who had often hinted at being envious of Sir William’s services.

So, with a mixture of excitement and nervousness, good Sir William approached Lord Cornwick and explained that he would be leaving his employment in order to pursue a career as an independent knight. Lord Cornwick was somewhat taken aback at first – he had never heard of such a thing being done, except perhaps by a knight who had been most greviously shamed. After a bit of discussion, however, the good Lord agreed and released sir William from his service with a blessing and a promise of future employment should the need ever arise.

Excited and reassured, Sir William raced home again and began preparing for his new career as an Independently Employed Knight, or IEK as he was planning on calling himself!

Birth of The Free Lancer

Fortunately for him, Lady Jane, who was widely read and just that much more clever than her husband when it came to matters of words, foresaw that the term IEK might not be the best title (for which all modern freelancers should be infinitely grateful). She very gently encouraged her husband to consider something a little more meaningful.

Seeing (though perhaps somewhat grudgingly) the validity of her point, Sir William sat down and gave a long thought to what he was going to call himself. The names Heroic Horseman, Super Sword and White Lightning were all quickly trumped by Lady Jane, until Sir William finally came stumbled (quite by accident) on the term Free Lancer.

Incredibly, it seemed to fit. He was after all, most well known for his ability with the lance, and his new independent career would certainly lend him a certain degree of freedom. It seemed perfect to an elated Sir William. Lady Jane, was not entirely convinced, but did not expect any better options to be forthcoming any time soon.

So, the title was decided upon, and Sir William was able to turn his attention to more important matters, such as getting the word out about his availability as the Free Lancer and finding his first independent employment!

The First Job – Kind of

That first job came sometime later, after long weeks of riding around the countryside, announcing himself in towns and to farmers, to lesser lords, merchants and landowners. Most listened with mild interest. Others clearly thought he had gone entirely mad. After several weeks and absolutely no work, Sir William was beginning to share the sentiment. Had he truly gone mad?

Then, just as he seemed to be giving up all hope, he was approached the by the mayor of a nearby village, which had been having troubles with some bandits who were hiding in a nearby forest. The mayor was wondering if Sir William would be able to do something about getting rid of the bandits.

Filled with a new sense of purpose, our noble Knight jumped at the opportunity. He immediately began questioning the mayor and the villagers about the bandits, their habits and behaviours. Using that information, he sketched out an elaborate plan about how to lure the bandits out of hiding and into a trap. He then laid this plan out to the villagers in an impressive presentation. They quickly accepted his proposal, at which point Sir William went to work at making it a reality.

He was so excited. He just knew he would take home a significant amount of money, which would set Lady Jane’s mind at ease. Plus, when the rest of the countryside heard about how he saved the village from the bandits, they would all want to hire him for various tasks!

Sir William was, perhaps, a bit of an optimist.

Regardless, his plan was executed to perfection. The bandits took the bait, were lured out of hiding in the forest, captured by Sir William and handed over to the local authorities, who promptly agree to hang them (that being the custom of the day).

It was only at this point that our Sir William thought to begin discussing the terms of his payment. This, it seemed, took the Mayor by surprise, as he had never had any intention of paying anything. Sir William’s title was the Free Lancer, after all, which the mayor felt clearly indicated that all services were to be rendered without payment. Sir William tried explaining that he was an independent knight for hire, and that all of his services had been rendered on the basis of receiving compensation. He did need to make a living, after all.

The mayor, being a sympathetic sort of fellow, felt quite bad for good Sir William, but indicated that they simply did not have any money to spare. They had spent it all on rigging the trap that had caught the bandits. The villagers were, however, able to offer him an old hound dog named Bolt, who Sir William was certain had never moved at more than a slow dawdle.

Not knowing what else to do, and having neither the heart nor the recourse to extract any payment from the poor villagers, Sir William accepted Bolt and made his way home. During the long journey (it was only a few miles, but felt like a few dozen with Bolt plodding along), our noble knight very clearly decided that he would henceforth establish terms of payment before accepting any job.

He also considered getting rid of the term Free Lancer, but had already paid to have the term emblazoned on his shield and embroidered on several banners. He certainly did not have the money to have those things redone, so it seemed like he was stuck being the Free Lancer.

That night, Bolt slept on the bed, while Sir William found himself bunked down with his horse, being very unwilling to face a more-than-a-little perturbed Lady Jane.

The Pesky Nephew

The next job did not prove nearly so difficult to find. Another nearby village had heard about the work that Sir William had done in capturing the bandits, and decided that they wanted to be proactive and protect themselves against any other bandits who might come to the area in the future. So, they approached Sir William and asked if he could help them raise and train a local militia.

Having learned from his error, Sir William made it known that he would be interested in such a project, and clearly laid out the terms of payment that he would require. Somewhat to his surprise, the mayor of the village accepted the proposal, and Sir William went to work.

Two weeks into the project, everything was going quite swimmingly (a term used by Sir William himself, who was quite font of aquatic sport). He had found a dozen or so young men whom he was training to use bows and short swords and running through strength exercises.

Then, the local innkeeper’s nephew appeared in down, having recently returned from the city. Before Sir William knew what was happening, this nephew was hired on as a special advisor to the militia project and began offering all manner of ridiculous ideas that clearly indicated that foppish fellow had absolutely zero experience in or understanding of anything having to do with battle or combat. His only claim to any sort of expertise was that he had seen a tournament joust. Once.

Of course, that was much more than any of the other villagers, so the nephew was seen as a sort of resident expert in the area.

Ultimately, Sir William was able to complete his task to his own satisfaction, but with the Nephew’s pesky interference, it took almost twice as long as he had originally planned. And, while he did get paid for the project, he only received what he had originally agreed to, meaning that all that extra time caused by the pesky Nephew had been almost like working for free!

When Sir William finally made it home, the money he brought with him at least purchased him entrance back into his own bed, but he still had a long way to go before Lady Jane would be satisfied with her Free Lancer husband.

To Be Continued?

Okay, I hope you enjoyed that. It was a lot of fun to write, and should be fun to read too, as long as you’re not taking it to seriously. This article was also a bit of an experiment, so please do let me know what you think. I have several different ideas for more amusing scenarios, but first I would like to get a little feedback from you – the reader.

Would you like to read about more of the misadventures of Sir William Post, as he struggles with becoming the world’s first Free Lancer? Do you have any suggestions for different scenarios for Sir William to get himself into, or characters for him to meet along the way? I’d love to hear from you!

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Also from Echo Enduring Media:

An Unfolding Tale

About the Author

Matt Ward is a digital artist who lances freely under the moniker of Echo Enduring Media, and specializes in graphics design, illustration and writing. He is also the Creative Director for Highland Marketing, a creative direct marketing company based out of Waterloo, Ontario. You can follow Matt on Twitter

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Jan 29, 2010

Liam McCabe says:

So that’s the real origin of freelancing,…ooooh :)

Remove the first bit. ;)

Jan 29, 2010

Shurandy Thode says:

Great article Matt. It was indeed funny to read also. I am interested in some follow ups on this kinda posts. Voted :)

Jan 29, 2010

Brad C says:

That wasn’t what I was expecting at all, but pretty entertaining.

It wasn’t that long ago in human history that we were all “freelancers”, you did what you needed to do for a living and most people worked for themselves.

Jan 29, 2010

Matt Ward says:

I hope that the article didn’t disappoint in terms of what you were expecting, Brad!

You are very right that people used to do a lot more working for themselves. My concept was to concentrate a bit more on the actual word “freelancer” and apply it quite literally to a comical character. Then I can take the character than try to recreate some of the situations that many freelancers face today, but in a “knightly” context :) We’ll see how it goes.

Jan 29, 2010

Brad C says:

haha, nope not disappointed at all :)

Jan 29, 2010

starr says:

Hi Matt loved this article. When is the follow up coming? Great Post :)

Jan 29, 2010

Josh says:

Hi Matt. I really enjoyed the article and its engaging narrative. The whole idea of freelancing and its medieval context is extremely creative and you have actually brought up some logical and pertinent points about the dynamics behind freelance work. Hugely entertaining piece! I would encourage you to post that follow up soon!!

Jan 31, 2010

Design Informer says:

Matt, I completely enjoyed reading this. I definitely suggest you do a follow-up post. I’m really interested to read more about the Free Lancer and Sir William Post.

I can definitely see the correlation to the story and with freelancing. Excellent idea. I really love your writing style.

Jan 31, 2010

Robert Anthony says:

Funny yet informative! Good post. I second the Follow up article idea.

Feb 2, 2010

Mario says:

Funnily enough, the world’s real first freelancer was Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, a fictional knight…


Feb 2, 2010

Dani says:

Really entertaining, wating for the follow up.

Feb 3, 2010

Steveo says:

Great post! More of the same please :-)

May 3, 2010

Marko Randjelovic says:

Cool article, Matt. Really enjoyed it. :)

Have you made a decision about continuing to write about Sir William’s adventures? :)

May 3, 2010

Matt Ward says:

I have some idea for continuing Sir William’s adventures for sure. Still trying to formulate how it will work though.

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