The installation of the Lord Warden, however, was small-time when compared to the opportunity to attend the coronation of the monarch. ‘Barons’ of the Cinque Ports had been called upon to carry the canopy over the king or queen at the coronation since time immemorial (the right was called ‘ancient’ at the time of Richard I).
Elizabeth I died in March 1603, and by May, the Lord Warden was writing to his ports that they should take great care in their choice of representative. He must be ‘fit for the service’ although whether this meant physically capable of carrying the canopy or of pleasing appearance was not clear. He was more specific in July: ‘I wish you to be very cautious and wary that they may be men of the meetest and comliest personage amongst you’ and also that they should be fit and well. The coronation was not to be marred by the ugly, the old or the lame.
The Brotherhood and Guestling decreed that every baron returned to the coronation should wear ‘one scarlet gown down to the ankle, citizens fashion, faced with crimson satin, gascaine hose (a sort of loose breeches), crimson silk stockings and crimson silk shoes and black velvet caps’. They would also be responsible for their own travel and accommodation costs for the occasion, so anyone without a healthy disposable income was also excluded.
Elizabeth had reigned for over forty years, and the fact was that no-one now alive remembered how a coronation worked. Francis Raworth, the town clerk of Dover, was despatched to London to consult the Lord High Steward and the livery books to try to find out what should be done. He made some enquiries about the cost of scarlet and crimson satin and silk while he was there, and was horrified to report that ‘scarlet is valued at £3.10s. the yard at least and crimson satin at 15s. the yard’.
The corporation of Hythe chose Thomas Sprott to be their representative. No doubt he was comely, fit and reasonably well-off, but the deciding factor must have been that he was a draper and therefore able to buy cloth wholesale, not retail.
In the event, the coronation was a muted affair, as plague had visited London. Sprott, though, was proud enough of the part he played to have it recorded on a stone placed over his grave in St Leonard’s church
‘ Here lieth the bodi of Thomas Sprotte Juratt and Susan his first wife who whilst he lived was thris Mayor and Baylif to Yarmoth and on of those that did cary the cannopye over the King at his Cronation who died 21 January 1619′
The honour of carrying the canopy had some additional perks to make up for the outlay on crimson and scarlet cloth and the expenses of getting to London and overnight accommodation. The Cinque Ports barons were invited to the ceremonial banquet after the coronation and were given part of the cloth of gold of which the canopy was made, together with a share in the silver staves which supported it and the silver bells with which it was decorated. The silver was usually melted down and made into other objects, some of which are in the Victoria and Albert museum today. Perhaps coronation silver was the origin of the silverware seized by the corporation from Thomas Sprott.
Thomas Browning (gentleman) of Hythe was chosen to carry the canopy at the coronation of Charles II in 1626. A Mr Monings of Dover was rejected by the Lord Warden, Buckingham, because he was ‘too low of stature’ and also because he had stopped Buckingham’s parliamentary nomination at Dover from being elected. Buckingham was by this time careless of whether anyone knew of his petty vengefulness or not. He believed he was untouchable.
In 1661, at the Restoration coronation, Elias Bassett, jurat and landlord of the ‘George’ inn was chosen to carry the canopy, an unlikely choice given his previous commitment to parliamentary rule, but the country was full of such ‘reformed’ characters.
The coronation was marred by an unseemly tussle recorded by Samuel Pepys:
‘ but only the King’s Footmen had got hold of the Canopy and would keep it from the barons of the Cinque ports; which they endeavoured to force from them again but could not do it till my Lord Duke of Albermarle caused it to be put into Sir R Pye’s hand till tomorrow to be decided’.
The barons got their silver the next day, but in the melee they had lost their places at the banqueting table. The king had the footmen imprisoned and dismissed.
In 1685, for the coronation of James II, Julius Deedes was chosen by the corporation, but rejected by the Lord High Steward as his behaviour in the recent parliamentary had been questionable, to say the least of it. Julius responded by getting his son, William, elected as a Hythe freeman, and immediately placed at the top of the ‘reserve list’ for the Cinque Ports in case anyone should be unable to perform the service. There is no other recorded instance in the seventeenth century of a father and son being freemen in Hythe at the same time. There were obvious implications for the impartiality of the voting system. In the event, Julius’s ploy did not work, and no member of the Deedes family attended the 1685 coronation.
James fled into exile in 1688, and his daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange were invited to take the throne as joint monarchs. At last Julius achieved his ambition and carried the canopy at their 1689 coronation. It was not an entirely happy event as the Archbishop of Canterbury refused to participate and the new king himself thought the ceremony was ‘a popish mockery’.