Cinque Ports


Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
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The Cinque Ports had their own representative institutions, the Guestling and the Brotherhood, and from the 14th century seven of them regularly sent 'barons' to the House of Commons. Seaford was restored to the franchaise in 1640 after a long lapse. Only Dover was of much economic significance, but the little towns afforded a ready haven to the victims of religious persecution on the Continent, and Rye in particular occupies a place in the annals of nonconformity. The period is marked by the persistent claim of the lord warden to nominate 'barons'. As this office was either in suspense or held by a non-resident it was 'somewhat useful, if not necessary, that the lieutenant [governor] of Dover Castle (who under the lord warden manageth the Cinque Ports) should be in the Parliament, and he was usually entrusted with the government interest at elections. But for the general election of 1660 the Council of State instructed Edward Montagu I* to take care of the elections. John Rushworth* informed him

that the usual way for executing these writs hath been to employ Mr Raven, clerk in Dover Castle, to go with the writ and mandate from port to port leaving a copy of the writ and mandate with the chief magistrates thereof and after the elections are done to receive the returns from several ports and transmit them unto the Council. Expedition will be necessary in this business.

On 25 Mar. the writ and mandate were delivered to Montagu aboard his flagship, Samuel Pepys* sent word to Raven to attend, and Montagu began to make his nominations. He was almost entirely unsuccessful. Returned for Dover himself, he was unable to find a seat for his cousin, the Hon. Edward Montagu*, at Hastings, where the electors 'were all promised before', or at Sandwich, where the corporation, having 'waded into the business', decided to continue to return local candidates. The corporation of Hythe promised to do their best to honour his request, 'could they prevail with the freemen', but their best was not good enough. Rye rejected William Penn*, who had been recommended by Montagu's vice-admiral, Lawson, though both proposer and candidate were notorious for their sectarian attitudes. Apart from Montagu himself and William Howard, who was returnd for Winchelsea, probably on the Ashburnham interest, the only outsider among the barons in the Convention were the obscure London merchant Nicholas Delves, whose brother was returning officer at Hastings, and George Montagu, who succeeded to the Dover seat when his cousin was raised to the peerage. But this return was in reality a further snub to the Court, since the Duke of York, the newly installed lord warden, had recommended his lieutenant-governor, Sir Francis Vincent*.1

In 1661 Dover returned Vincent and Montagu and most of the other ports accepted one official nominee. Hythe returned John Hervey, New Romney Sir Charles Berkeley II, Rye Richard Spencer, Winchelsea Sir Nicholas Crisp, and Hastings Edmund Waller I. Apart from Berkeley, who had been made captain of Sandown Castle, and Spencer, whom his corporation described as a stranger despite his property in Romney Marsh, none of these Members had any local connexions. But Rye rejected Sir John Jacob, the customs farmer, as Spencer's colleague in favour of the former parliamentarian colonel Herbert Morley. Sandwich this time elected the Hon. Edward Montagu, but Sir John Mennes, the admiral, whose family had long been connected with the port, was defeated. At Seaford Thomas Harrison, who was apparently on bad terms with the corporation, induced the electors to reject the courtier Sir Allen Apsley*, and the lord warden had to make the best of it by putting in a second recommendation, Sir Thomas Dyke, a local landowner who would doubtless have been re-elected anyway, and by depriving Harrison of his militia commission. The first by-elections of the Cavalier Parliament were held in November, and both resulted in court victories. Sir Henry Wood succeeded a non-official Member at Hythe without recorded opposition, but on Spencer's death John Robinson I faced a formidable challenge from a local industrialist, Samuel Gott*, which cost him £100 to overcome. Harrison's exploits at Seaford may have suggested the necessity of keeping the independent companies of the Cinque Port militia under closer control, and John Strode II, who took over as lieutenant-governor from Vincent in 1663, was responsible for grouping them into regiments. The next two elections in October 1665 were also court successes. Strode himself met with no opposition at Sandwich, but Henry Brouncker defeated Sir Charles Sedley* at Romney by a single vote. Both candidates were prominent Court, but Sedley, who had been denied the Duke of York's support, came from a Kentish gentry family. The turning-point came a year later when Robert Austen registered a gain for the country partly by defeating Baptist May* at Winchelsea. In 1667, immediately before the fall of Clarendon, Austen's brother outvoted Henry Savile* at Rye, and in the following year Sedley was elected unopposed in place of Brouncker, who had been expelled the House. On 21 July 1668, on the inititiative of one of the Rye representatives, who complained that country gentlemen had been admitted to the freedom of the Port and were voting at mayorial elections, the Guestling ordered that only resident freemen should vote in either municipal or parliamentary elections. Further, if any but a freeman or inhabitant were elected a baron, unless he were of counsel to the Ports, the mayor, jurats and commons were to be fined £10. But this proviso was withdrawn at the next meeting. In any case the Court continued to lose ground in the Ports. Dyke's loyalty at least could not be questioned, but his successors at Seaford, Robert Morley and Sir Nicholas Pelham, belonged to the country tradition. After the humilitating rebuff in 1661, the lord warden made no recommendation at either election. Nor does he appear to have cast his interest behind Edward Montagu's son, Lord Hinchingbrooke, who won the Dover by-election of 1670 by wooing the dissenters. Worse was to follow in 1673, when two elections held without the Speaker's authorization were declared void. The court candidates were re-elected, but at Dover the House reversed the election on petition, as they had done to Morley's benefit three years earlier, and at Hythe Sir Leoline Jenkins, depsite a strong interest as judge of admiralty in the Cinque Ports, only narrowly escaped the same fate. Matters might have been expected to improve after the Duke of York was forced to resign under the Test Act and his office reverted to the crown. But in the only by-election held under the Danby administration, an obscure country squire, Cresheld Draper, defeated the court candidate at Winchelsea, the enormously wealthy merchant Sir John Banks*.2

There is no evidence that the King attempted to nominate candidates as lord warden in the exclusion elections, but if he did so his recommendations had little effect. Of the court supporters only Robinson retained his seat at the first general election in 1679. Jenkins migrated to Oxford University and Sir Edward Dering was returned on his own interest at Hythe, but Strode was defeated at Dover, Romney and Sandwich. For the first time in this period two townsmen were elected, William Stokes at Dover and Julius Deedes at Rye, while Paul Barret, Sedley's new colleague at Romney, was one of the standing counsel to the Ports, and another lawyer, John Thurbane*, held office under the Sandwich corporation. The large number of absentions among the 'barons' on the first exclusion bill may indicate that the Duke of York still enjoyed some popularity in the Ports. They included such country party stalwarts as Deedes, Sedley, Thurbarne and Robert Austen. Of the seven Members who voted, four supported the removal of the Duke from the succession, while only three (Dering, Barret and Herbert Stapley) supported him. Both the new Members in the second Exclusion Parliament, Sir John Darell for Rye and Edward Hales I, were exclusionists, replacing the abstainers Robinson and Deedes. The Opposition gained another seat at Hastings in 1681, but Robert Austen was defeated in his constituency by a court supporter. Two new Members came in at Seaford, but the political balance was unchanged.

The tide turned in 1683. The Guestling presented a loyal address after the Rye House Plot, and on 6 Oct. Strode wrote a circular letter to the Ports demanding 'a punctual answer ... whether you do ... absolutely yield and admit ... the lord warden's undoubted right' to nominate one 'baron' for each Port. Apparently all the Ports complied except Romney, though this did not save Dover and Sandwich from forteiture of their charters. Barret warned the Romney corporation that they were also vulnerable to a quo warranto, but the town clerk insisted that a search in the  'ancient books' in his custody revealed no 'inherent right' of nomination, as distinct from recommendation. 'I have always looked on the thing', he concluded, 'to be only a civil request, which I find by the entries in the books to be sometimes granted, and sometimes others elected.' The Guestling met on the accession of James II, surrendered all their privileges, and approved an address undertaking not to 'elect or admit into any office ... any persons that voted for that diabolical and unjust bill of exclusion. ... We do readily acknowledge our lord warden's right of recommendation of one Member for each Port to serve in Parliament.' James, who retained the office in his own hands, responded by nominating a complete slate of court candidates, all placemen except Edward Selwyn* at Seaward. In addition Strode was returned at Sandwich on his own interest, and when the elction of Deedes was declared void a Treasury clerk, William Shaw, took the second seat at Hythe. A second by-election was caused by the decision of Samuel Pepys to sit for Harwich. Sir Philip Parker* was recommended for the vacancy at Sandwich as part of an electoral bargain, though he too was not a placeman. Romney elected an official, Thomas Chudleigh, when the courtier Sir Benjamin Bathurst chose to sit for Bere Alston; but the borough was obliged to surrender its charter. Hastings, Rye and Seaford soon followed; only Seaford remained inviolate. Not all the Ports received new charters, but on 12 Sept. 1688 a general confirmation was ordered, reserving the lord warden's right to nominate 'barons' as well as the usual power to displace officials by order-in-council. Court candidates were presumably nominated by Strode's successor, Edward Hales*, but their identity is not known.3

At the general election of 1689 no government pressure was possible, and all the 'barons' originally chosen for the Convention were residents or owners of property in Kent and Sussex. John Ashburnham II was the only Tory, and he was so reliable a supporter of the Revolution that he was soon raised to the peerage. No lord warden had yet been appointed and the writ for the by-election was directed to the lieutenant-governor, John Beaumont, who stood himself and defeated a Whig adversary by three votes. The return was of course challenged, but eventually upheld by the House after prolonged debate and by a narrow majority. On the same day John Thurbane wrote to the corporation of Sandwich that a short bill had been prepared on the advice of John Brewer* to abolish the lord warden's right of nomination. The Members for the Ports also intended to bring in a new clause for the militia bill 'that the musters shall be by the officiers only that were anciently used to muster the same and at such rates and for such fees as were then usually paid'. But neither bill could be reported before the dissolution of the Convention.4

Author: Basil Duke Henning


  • 1. Bodl, Carte mss 73, ff. 234, 236; 75, f. 357; Pepys Diary, 25 Mar., 3 Apr. 1660; A.M. Everitt, Community of Kent and the Great Rebellion, 313-14; HMC 13th Rep. IV, 235; Adm. 2/1745, f. 2v; CSP Dom. 1660-85, p. 5.
  • 2. HMC 13th Rep. IV, 235-43; Adm. 2/1745, f. 35; Kent AO, Sa/C4/21, 22; NR/Jbf/22; Add. 33507, f. 118; Pepys Diary, 21 Oct. 1666; Bodl. Rawl. A190, f. 168; White and Black Bks. (Kent Recs. xix), 526, 530; CSP Dom. 1670, p. 506; 1673, p. 13; Williamson Letters (Cam. Soc. n.s. ix), 71; Stowe 180, f. 79.
  • 3. White and Black Bks. 538, 540; J. Harris, Hist. Kent (1719), 265; Kent AO, NR/AEp/47-48, 53-54; D. Gardiner, Historic Haven, 294; CSP Dom. 1683-4, pp. 117, 155, 267, 275; 1684-5, pp. 32, 37; 1685, pp. 347-8; 1687-9, p. 272.
  • 4. CSP Dom. 1689-90, p. 219; Add. 33512, f. 118.