At this stage in my research, I realised that I knew a lot more about the interesting sects of the 17th century – the Muggletonians, Levellers, Ranters Adamites, Quakers, Fifth Monarchists and so many more – than I did about civic government, which has less curiosity value but is a necessary background.
I knuckled down and read the classic text of the period, A.M. Everitt’s The Community of Kent and the Great Rebellion 1640-60 (Leicester University Press, 1960). This was a pioneering work when published, and helped make local history a respectable subject. Everitt suggests that although there was a well-established central government, Kent (and other counties) was effectively run as a mini-state by its resident gentry, tied together by bonds of kinship and property ownership. It was quite insular, little affected by or interested in, national politics, and inclined to be conservative and therefore loyal to the King and the established order (but I should mention that later historians have taken issue with this view). Hythe is mentioned, but only en passant, usually in the context of the Cinque Ports.
Next up came Peter Clark’s English Provincial Society from the Reformation to the Revolution: religion Politics and Society in Kent, 1500-1640(The Harvester Press, 1977). Apart from the useful overview, there were some specific mentions of Hythe here. Clark mentions that in 1621, 1624, 1626 and 1628 the jurats of Hythe elected Peter Heyman as the town’s M.P. (although they were usually referred to as ‘barons’ in Cinque Port parlance). Heyman, he says, was a leading critic of the town.
Then there is mention of the Archdeacon of Canterbury Cathedral, William Kingsley, who zealously implemented the policy of the Archbishop of Canterbury of purging the clergy of Puritans. The Archbishop was William Laud, whose views were very close to those of the King. Clark says that the Puritan reaction to this was hostile, especially in towns with a Laudian incumbent. A little further research into the zealous Archdeacon revealed that he was appointed Rector of Saltwood in 1614.
Saltwood is a mile or so up the hill from Hythe, and today they are separate ecclesiastical parishes, but this was not always the case. Until the mid-nineteenth century, St Leonard’s church in Hythe was only a chapel of Saltwood Church, and the Rector had authority over both, although he usually employed a curate to look after the ‘chapel’.
I was now looking at the history of Hythe more than twenty years before the outbreak of the first Civil War in 1642, and it was clear that I had to look much more closely at what had gone before I could make sense of what happened during the conflict and afterwards. I needed to read a great deal more and go back to the primary sources.
Since I last did any serious research, the internet has developed to provide some very useful tools for local historians. My first port of call was British History Online, a digital library of key printed primary and secondary sources for the history of Britain and Ireland., with a focus on the period 1300-1800. It can be accessed here:
I searched for ‘Hythe’ and refined the search to the seventeenth century and found:
- Physicians and Irregular Medical Practitioners in London 1550-1640 Database
- Calendar, Committee For the Advance of Money: Part 1, 1642-45
- Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Interregnum, 1655
- Journal of the House of Commons: Volume 9, 1667-1687
- Calendar of Treasury Papers, Volume 2, 1697-1702
- Journal of the House of Lords: Volume 4, 1629-42
- Grey’s Debates of the House of Commons: Volume 8
and 292 other entries. You have to pay £35 for a year’s subscription to view the entries. For me that was affordable. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much about the central period I was interested in, but lots which contributed to the general social history of the time, and the way in which Hythe interacted with central government. One of the very earliest entries announced the imminent arrival of the press gangs in the town in 1602. I began to wonder how this impacted on the town, and who exactly it impacted on.
Another very useful site is www.historyofparliamentonline which provides over 22,000 biographies of members of parliament. You can search by constituency or name of the member. Peter Heyman’s biography is long and detailed. It tells us he was a devout Puritan, who refused to pay the Forced Loan (one of Charles I’s desperate money-raising schemes) and ignored a subsequent summons from the Privy Council to explain himself. He ended his political career by being arrested & interrogated for telling the Speaker of the House that although he, the Speaker, was a Kentishman he was ‘a disgrace to his country and a blot to a noble family’ for seeking ‘to pluck up our liberties by the roots’. Heyman warned, ‘we shall annihilate the liberties and dignity of Parliament’. This was the man that Hythe elected to Parliament no fewer than four times.
So Hythe in the 1620s had elected as Member of Parliament a Puritan who tried to thwart royal excesses and preserve the liberty of Parliament, but by the 1630s had a Rector who enthusiastically carried out the anti-Puritan policies of the King’s favourite clergyman, Archbishop Laud. Unless the townsfolk had performed a complete spiritual U-turn, it seemed that conflict was inevitable.
At this time, I was also completing my research into the life of William Gately, whose tomb was the starting point for this project. Having successfully deciphered his will (which I was able to download from the National Archives website at a cost of £3.30), I read when he died in 1652, he left a sum of money to ‘William Wallace, Minister of Hythe
Like many old churches, St Leonard’s in Hythe has a board which lists all the incumbents. William Wallace’s name was not on it.
Another puzzle to be solved.