Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the corporation to 1624; in the freemen from 1625

Number of voters:

35 in 16401


4 Oct. 16092SIR NORTON KNATCHBULL vice Smythe, deceased
 Sir Allen Apsley
 Sir Richard Weston*
 ?Basil Dixwell

Main Article

Hythe received its first charter in 1156, and in 1575 became the first Cinque Port to be formally incorporated, under a mayor, nine jurats, and an undefined common council in whom the franchise was vested. By the early seventeenth century the obstruction of the haven by shingle had reduced the town, described in 1613 by the mayor and jurats as ‘much decayed’, to a mere fishing port.3 Its difficulties were compounded during the mid-Jacobean period by competition from French trawlermen.4 The absence of a secure economic foundation not surprisingly left the borough vulnerable to the local gentry. Indeed, no townsman was elected in this period. After 1614 the dominant gentry interest passed from the Smythes of nearby Westenhanger to the borough’s near neighbour Sir Peter Heyman of Sellinge. Sir Norton Knatchbull of Mersham Hatch could probably always have commanded a seat, but he preferred to exercise his interest behind the scenes. Successive lord wardens were able to exercise their power of nomination only intermittently. Elections were held in the town’s common hall.5

In 1604 Sir John Smythe I, the eldest son of ‘Customer Smythe’, was elected, together with his father’s old servant and friend Christopher Toldervey. When Smythe died in 1608, he was replaced by Knatchbull, who declined the honour of re-election in 1614, by which time Toldervey was also dead. The corporation accepted lord warden Northampton’s nomination of Sir Lionel Cranfield, surveyor-general of the customs, ‘whose quality both for worth and sufficiency I know to be void of all exception’. As Smythe’s heir was still under age, his brother Sir Richard was elected to the remaining seat, fortified with the recommendation of Sir John Scott*.6

After 1614 the Westenhanger interest was in eclipse, owing to the incapacity of Sir John Smythe’s son Thomas, and Sir Richard’s disdain for politics.7 On 28 Nov. 1620 lord warden Zouche wrote to the corporation at the request of Sir Peter Heyman, who desired a seat. Zouche was willing that Heyman should supply one of the seats, but as he had already promised his support for another he asked the borough to bestow upon him the place reserved ‘for the burgess of whom yourselves have the sole nomination’. This arrangement, he promised, would ‘be no prejudice to your privilege in future times’. It was not until 18 Dec., however, that Zouche was in a position to announce his official candidate. His choice fell upon his kinsman Dr. Richard Zouche, a civil lawyer, ‘whom I will boldly commend unto you for a very sufficient, religious, worthy gentleman’.8 Although entirely unacquainted with Dr. Zouche, the borough elected him the following day without demur. Heyman too was chosen, having brought the lord warden’s letter of nomination to the town in person.9

On 17 Apr. 1621 the corporation wrote to Lord Zouche asking that the Dungeness lighthouse, ‘being called in question in Parliament’, might be committed to the custody of the Cinque Ports. It may have been in response to this letter that the lord warden’s cousin rose to his feet in the debate on sea-marks of 7 May.10 Although no speech was ever delivered, the corporation was well enough satisfied with both its Members to re-elect them in 1624. In April the corporation asked for a subsidy for the repair of the haven, whereupon Lord Zouche recommended that it petition Parliament. However, although two men were appointed to solicit the business, no such petition had been submitted by the time Parliament adjourned the following month.11 Heyman had been vocal in defence of the tax exemption enjoyed by the Cinque Ports. In May the corporation sent him a dozen fish, and in June it resolved to let him have ‘a billet in the town for the freeing of his goods and chattels’.12

By the time of the 1625 election Heyman was overseas, probably in Ireland. On 3 Apr., the day after the writs of summons were issued, Knatchbull approached the corporation and asked that Sir Edward Dering, a gentleman ‘without exception, religious, learned [and] stout’, be elected. He added that it was ‘without question’ that the new lord warden, the duke of Buckingham, would approve of this choice, as Dering had ‘lately matched in his family’. Eight days later Buckingham nominated the courtier Edward Clarke. On 14 Apr. the corporation approved both candidates, but the following day, to general consternation, it received a further letter of nomination from the duke. In addition to Clarke, Buckingham desired the town to bestow a seat on Sir Allen Apsley, the lieutenant of the Tower and victualler of the Navy. ‘If you shall now thus doubly gratify me at my entrance in my office’, he declared’, it would ‘be no prejudice to your privilege and freedom of this kind for the future’. It was in these circumstances that the corporation decided to strengthen its position by widening the franchise. An assembly was held in the town hall late in the evening of Easter Monday, to which the freemen were summoned, and ‘the said mayor, jurats, commons, and freemen, being all particularly called by their names, did freely elect, choose, and confirm the said Sir Edward Dering and Edward Clarke, esq. their burgesses to the said next Parliament’. They then wrote to Apsley to assure him that his candidature had been properly presented to the electorate, but that at this second meeting they had ‘elected, or at the least confirmed, the said persons before mentioned for their burgesses to the next Parliament’.13 A separate letter of explanation was also sent to Buckingham.14 Three days after the election Dering came down to Hythe and demonstrated his gratitude by spending £3 6s. on white wine and sugar ‘upon the mayor and jurats and freemen’.15

Although the corporation had refused to allow Buckingham both seats in 1625, it had at least accorded him the right to nominate one of the candidates. In 1626, however, the borough failed to wait for Buckingham’s letter of nomination before proceeding to an election. On 7 Jan. the writ reached the town, and the following day it was resolved to return Heyman, who had now returned from overseas, along with a newcomer to the neighbourhood, Basil Dixwell of Folkestone. Buckingham’s nomination of Sir Richard Weston*, the chancellor of the Exchequer, arrived four days later. At a second meeting the corporation resolved to adhere to its original choice, whereupon the grateful Dixwell ‘gave liberty to all the inhabitants of this town at all times hereafter to carry and recarry, go and return over his land called the Slip at the east end of the town … without paying anything for the same’. A letter of apology, explaining the circumstances, was sent to Buckingham, and another was dispatched to the lieutenant of Dover Castle, Sir John Hippisley*, one of the duke’s closest allies.16 Following the dissolution, Heyman sent the borough some rabbits and venison.17

Buckingham may not have been overly displeased at the borough’s refusal to elect Weston, as Dixwell, apart from being a friend of Hippisley’s, was also the godson of his kinsman by marriage, Basil Feilding. However, he had now twice failed at Hythe, and therefore not surprisingly he seems not to have bothered to nominate anyone at all there in 1628. Heyman, however, was unaware that his seat was safe, for on 26 Jan. he wrote to Buckingham’s Admiralty secretary, Edward Nicholas*, complaining that ‘my lord the duke takes something ill at my hand (which I am not able to guess at)’.18 The borough turned for the other seat to (Sir) Edward Scott, who had twice stood for the county. On 25 Feb. they notified him of his election in a letter in which he was praised for his ‘worthiness and integrity both to God and the country’ and for having shown his ‘special love to us’.19 Five weeks after the election six companies of Irish soldiers were billeted upon Hythe. Heyman’s tacit support in Parliament for billeting may have redounded to the advantage of his constituents, for not long after he addressed the Commons on the matter the Privy Council ordered the number of troops stationed at Hythe to be reduced by more than half.20 His constituents were evidently kept closely informed of events in Parliament, for on learning of the passage of the Petition of Right the town fired off its guns in celebration.21

Although no wages were paid to its Members during this period, the borough was unable to avoid incurring some expenditure in relation to Parliament. In 1620/1 4s. was paid to the messenger who brought down the writ of summons and two proclamations, and who carried the return to Dover Castle. A further 2s. was also bestowed upon the clerk of Dover Castle, Richard Marsh. In November 1620 the corporation bought Heyman dinner after he produced the lord warden’s letter of nomination in person, and in 1626 both Heyman and Dixwell were dined at the corporation’s expense after it was decided to disregard Buckingham’s nomination of Weston.22 However, such social events were rare, as those chosen were often unwilling to journey to Hythe to be sworn in as freemen. In 1614 the corporation delayed making its return in the hope of forcing its newly elected Members to come down to be sworn, but it was ignored and had to beat a retreat. In December 1620 lord warden Zouche bluntly informed the borough that he thought it ‘needless’ for his kinsman Dr. Zouche to journey all the way from London, and demanded that a commission be issued allowing the latter to take the oath of a freeman in the capital ‘as other towns that will have it so do’.23 Reluctantly the corporation agreed to this request, and following both the 1625 and 1628 elections it issued similar commissions regarding Edward Clarke and Sir Edward Scott respectively.24

Authors: Peter Lefevre / Andrew Thrush


  • 1. G. Wilks, Barons of Cinque Ports and Parlty. Rep. of Hythe, 80.
  • 2. Dates of elections 1609-28 taken from E. Kent Archives Cent. 1209, ff. 3v, 45v, 129v, 181; 1210, ff. 19v, 22, 61.
  • 3. E. Hasted, Kent, viii. 236-7; HCA 30/4, unnumb. item, 19 Apr. 1613, mayor and jurats to Northampton.
  • 4. CSP Dom. 1611-18, pp. 349, 365, 433; 1619-23, p. 345.
  • 5. Wilks, 69.
  • 6. Ibid. 66-8.
  • 7. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, ii. 228.
  • 8. Wilks, 69-71.
  • 9. E. Kent Archives Cent. H1209, f. 140v.
  • 10. CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 247; CJ, i. 610a.
  • 11. E. Kent Archives Cent. 1209, f. 191v.
  • 12. ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 100v; E. Kent Archives Cent. 1209, f. 192; 1210, f. 5.
  • 13. Wilks, 75-9.
  • 14. E. Kent Archives Cent. H/01/01.
  • 15. Cent. Kent. Stud. U350, E4, f. 51.
  • 16. Wilks, 72-3; Procs. 1626, iv. 240-1.
  • 17. E. Kent Archives Cent. H1210, f. 56.
  • 18. SP16/91/63.
  • 19. Procs. 1628, vi. 151.
  • 20. APC, 1627-8, pp. 370, 383-4, 389.
  • 21. E. Kent Archives Cent. H1210, f. 81.
  • 22. E. Kent Archives Cent. H1209, f. 140v; 1210, f. 33.
  • 23. Wilks, 67-70.
  • 24. E. Kent Archives Cent. H1210, f. 73r-v.