Cinque Ports

From Academic Kids

Formally, in Kent and Sussex there are five 'Head Ports' making up the Confederation of the Cinque Ports. The primary Corporate Members are represented by the ports of Hastings, New Romney, Hythe, Dover, and Sandwich. They are supported by the two 'ancient towns' of Rye and Winchelsea, whose councils have held a long standing tradition of maintaining defence contingents for the realm of England. King Edward I of England granted the citizens of the Cinque Ports special privileges, including the right to bring goods into the country without paying import duties; in return the Ports would supply him with men and ships in time of war. The associated ports, known as 'limbs', were given the same privileges. A Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports was appointed, and the office still exists, though it is now a purely honorary title.

The town of Hastings was the head port of the Cinque Ports in medieval times. The seven other members of the Cinque Ports Confederation are called 'Limbs' of the Cinque Ports. These are Lydd (Limb of New Romney), Folkestone, Faversham and Margate (Limbs of Dover), Deal and Ramsgate (Limbs of Sandwich) and Tenterden (Limb of Rye). There are in addition some 23 towns, villages and offices which have varying degrees of connection to the ancient 'Liberties of the Cinque Ports'. Pevensey was once a Limb of Hastings, and the 'coastal confederation' and during its mediŠval period consisted of a confederation of 42 towns in all.

History of the Ports

A Royal Charter of 1155 established the ports to maintain ships ready for the Crown in case of need. In return the towns received:

"Exemption from tax and tallage, Right of soc and sac,
tol and team, blodwit and fledwit, pillory and tumbril,
infrangentheof and outfrangentheof, mundbryce,
waives and strays, flotsam and jetsam and ligan"
(Exemption from tax and tolls; self-government;
permission to levy tolls, punish those who shed blood or flee justice, punish minor offences,
detain and execute criminals both inside and outside the port's jurisdiction, and punish breaches of the peace;
and possession of lost goods that remain unclaimed after a year, goods thrown overboard, and floating wreckage.)

In other words, the authorities would turn a blind eye to ships and sailors from these ports. This led to smuggling becoming a major local industry.

The towns also had their own system of courts, and the right to send barons to hold the canopy above a new monarch in the coronation ceremony. While this custom no longer continues, the barons still have the right to attend the ceremony.

As time went by and some ports declined or silted up, others were added. Rye and Winchelsea were attached to Hastings as "Ancient Towns" in the 12th century.

Lydd, Faversham, Folkestone, Deal, Tenterden, Margate and Ramsgate were all added as "limbs" in the 15th century. Other places associated with the Cinque Ports and sometimes described as "limbs" included Bekesbourne, Birchington, Brightlingsea, Fordwich, Hastings, Pevensey, Reculver, Seaford, Stonor and Walmer.

In 1985 HMS Illustrious established an affiliation with the Cinque Ports.

During the 15th Century, New Romney, once a port of great importance at the mouth of the river Rother (until it became completely blocked by the shifting of sands during the great storm of 1287), was considered the central port in the confederation, and the place of assembly for the Cinque Port Courts, the oldest such authority being vested in the 'Kynges high courte of Shepway', which was being held from at least 1150. It was here that from 1433 The White (1433-1571) and Black (1572-1955) Books of the Cinque Port Courts were kept.

The continuing decline of the confederation of the Cinque Ports may be ascribed to a variety of different circumstance, but they were not so hampered by the raids from the Danes and the French to be removed by the numerous destructive impact of plagues, and survived the politics of the 13th Century Plantagenets, and the subsequent War of the Roses.

Although by the 14th Century the confederation faced wider challenges from a greater consolidation of national identity in the monarchy and Parliament, the legacy of the Saxon authority remained. Even after the 15th Century, the 'ancient towns' continued to serve with the supply of transport ships.

A significant factor in the need to maintain the authority of the Cinque Ports by the King was the development of the Royal Navy. With the advance in shipbuilding techniques came a growth in towns such as Bristol and Liverpool and the wider development of ports such as London, Gravesend, Southampton, Chichester, Plymouth and the royal dockyards of Chatham, Portsmouth, Greenwich, Woolwich and Deptford. A further reason for the decline of many older ports may be ascribed to the development of the railway network across Britain, and the increased quantity of overseas trade it could distribute from the new major ports developing from the 18th Century.

Ongoing changes in the coastline along the south east coast, from the Thames estuary to Hastings and the Isle of Wight did undoubtedly influence the significance of a number of the Cinque port towns, as port authorities, but ship building and repair, fishing, piloting, off shore rescue and sometimes even 'wrecking' continued to play a large part in the activities of the local community.

Exemption from taxation and the right to levy tolls; the authority to detain and execute felons both inside and outside the Ports' jurisdiction; power to claim wreckage off the shore or goods thrown overboard; these were privileges granted to the Cinque ports, along with the right of assembly as a Guild, which gave the confederation the authority to act in such matters.

However by the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the Cinque Ports had effectively ceased to be of any real significance, and were absorbed into the general administration of the Realm. Local Government reforms and Acts of Parliament passed during the 19th and 20th Centuries have further eroded the administrative and judicial powers of the Confederation of the Cinque Ports sv:Cinque ports


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