27th March 1190. The Cinque Ports.
The Cinque Ports were exempt from tax, tallage, right of soc and sac, tol and team, blodwit, fledwit, mundbryce, flotsam, jetsam and ligan. DON’T ASK!
The original Confederation of the Cinque Ports came before the Norman Conquest when from the time of Edward the Confessor it was saddled with the task of supplying ships from their fishing fleets whenever the King wanted to go abroad.
It was an obligation recorded in the Domesday Book and became established by Royal Charter in 1155.
Rye and Winchelsea were acquired through the Charter at the Court of Shepway signed by Richard I at Messina Today in 1190, on the way to the 3rd Crusade.(1)
In 1278 Dover (the castle with its double ramparts, built by Henry II), Hythe, Sandwich and New Romney and Hastings, were already part of an established unofficial Confederation of defensive coastal settlements and formalised under a charter of the great castle builder Edward I, as the Five (Cinque) Towns.(2)
Later came the ‘Limbs: Lydd, Folkestone, Deal, Ramsgate, Margate, Faversham and Tenterden.
Winchelsea old town was washed away in the storm of 1287 and by the mid 14thc a Castilian fleet took advantage of the depopulation of the Cinque Ports to plunder English merchantmen in the Channel at the Battle of Winchelsea in 1350.(3)
The ports, including Camber Castle, later became part of Henry VIII’s defensive network supplying ships and seamen at their own expense. However silting up of rivers, competition, and expensive tolls quickened the pace of decline.(4)
Later French threats from Napoleon saw the raising of the Cinque Port Volunteers and the erection of fortifications in the south-east, including seventy-four squat cylindrical Martello Towers every 600 yards.
Samuel Pepys was made a Baron of the Cinque Ports at the Coronation of James II. Wardens have included Churchill and the Duke of Wellington whose boots worn at Waterloo can be seen at Walmer Castle now the residence of the Lord Wardens.
Wellington was to die there in 1852, ten years after he had lent Victoria and Albert the Castle in 1842, where the Queen ‘shivered in the draughts but she still formed affection for it’.
The membership of five defensive towns with other ‘limb’ ports, as the South East Coast Confederation continued until the 17thc.
(1) English lost the ‘Hundred Years War’, leaving her a second rank power, but there were beneficiaries as Sir Edward Dalygruge, whose ancestors were foresters, and who built Winchelsea.
This town, now dry land, had been rebuilt high up on a cliff by Edward I and largely finished by 1292 as the King was anxious to protect this vulnerable part of Sussex.
It was based on the Roman grid system and had a French wine trade, the products being stored in vaulted under-crofts.
(2) Sandwich gained significance as a port especially for the Calais trade which was English until 1558.
During the 13thc the Constables of Dover Castle acquired wider powers and with them the title, Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports.
(3) At a time when John of Gaunt had designs on Castille. Bodiam Castle was later built for defence.
(4) Henry Fitzroy Duke of Richmond the bastard heir of Henry VIII at an early age of about six was made a Warden of the Cinque Ports.