Commonwealth – Part Three

In 1658, Oliver Cromwell died and his son Richard succeeded him as Lord Protector. Richard found himself needing money and decided to call a new parliament with the old franchise, not the nominated assembly his father had used. Hythe would now once again be represented. Competition was quite fierce, with four contenders. Sir Robert Hales was a Bekesbourne lawyer; Colonel William Kenricke, a member of the County Committee, Mr Naylor, who remains a mystery, and Henry Oxinden, a member of the minor gentry, of Denton, on the road from Folkestone to Canterbury.

Oxinden had in middle age been widowed, and had fallen in love with an unsuitable young woman less than half his age, Katherine Cullen.  She was the daughter of a yeoman, and not Henry’s equal in either rank or fortune, but he wooed her with expensive gifts and execrable poetry and won her hand. One of her cousins was James Pashley, a brewer and jurat of Hythe. When Oxinden decided he wanted to stand for Hythe in 1659, Pashley found himself in demand as the cousin, albeit rather tenuously, of the candidate.  Thanks to their letters, we know how the voting went.

Oxinden was supported by people as disparate as Michael Lushington, the mayor, who had ordered the attack on the Quaker George Rofe, and Captain Laurence Knott, himself a Quaker, who agreed with Oxinden’s position against ‘ tithing, self-seeking ministers’. The correspondence reveals a split in the town between those who, like Oxinden and Knott, wanted to reform religion and those who wanted to preserve the Church of England. In the event, Hales and Kenricke won the election. It was the perfect compromise. Hales was a Royalist who earned a baronetcy at the Restoration.; Kenricke had been the first signatory on the 1649 petition calling for the king’s execution.

The split in the vote is typical of the mixed pattern of political and religious allegiance in Hythe during the civil war and interregnum.  Take as an example Ferdinando Bassett, jurat, mayor and businessman. He was not accused of supporting the king in the 1649 purge, but in 1655 tacitly admitted that he had by quitting the corporation. In contrast, he supported the radical Puritan minister William Wallace, and after the Restoration, refused to swear allegiance to Charles II. Or the gentleman Michael Lushington,, also a jurat and mayor, who persecuted Quakers but agreed with them  on abolishing tithes. Did these men frequently change their minds? Were they opportunists? Did they run with the hare and hunt with the hounds? We will never know, but there must have been many like them during those exciting but dangerous years.

The parliament in which Hales and Kenticke sat comprised a bunch of men as diverse in opinion as these two were to each other. The army did not like it, and it did not like the army, but the latter had the benefit of having guns, and when troops assembled at St James’s Palace in April 1659, Cromwell eventually gave in to their demands and dissolved Parliament. The Rump parliament, which had not sat since 1653 was now recalled, but Hythe had no representative on this, John Harvey and Thomas Westrow, who had been elected to it both being dead.

Richard Cromwell had lost control of parliament, the army and the country. He resigned as Lord Protector and faded quietly into the background (he lived, mostly abroad, until 1712).

Richard Cromwell, Lord Protector 1658-59
Richard Cromwell, Lord Protector 1658-59

For the next few months, the country teetered on the brink of another civil war, as the military struggled and failed to maintain control. On 4 April 1660, Charles II wrote to the Speaker of the House of Commons from Holland, offering, humbly, his assistance.

The experiment with republicanism was over.

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Commonwealth – Part Two

The name ‘Quaker’ was originally an insult. They called themselves (and still do) the Religious Society of Friends. Quakers emphasise direct experience of God and believe that priests and rituals are an obstacle between the believer and God, who can be found in the midst of everyday life, not just in church services. They called churches ‘steeplehouses’, and refused to take off their hats when entering.  In the 1650s, many Quaker converts were made in the Army, where they were purged in 1657 because they had a reputation for insubordination.

What made them feared was their challenge to authority. They challenged the notion that one man might have authority over another. They refused to pay tithes, they interrupted sermons, they intervened in the activities of ministers. They refused to acknowledge their elders and social superiors by removing their hats, addressed everyone as thee and thou and acknowledged no distinctions of class. They attracted violent antipathy.

In 1655 some London Quakers undertook a missionary visit to Kent. They started at Dover but were ordered to leave by the Mayor and Corporation. They were then thrown out of the parish church at Folkestone but undeterred and guided by the light of God they made their way to Hythe. One of them, George Rofe, visited St Leonard’s church there during the Sunday service. According to his later complaint to the Cinque Ports Brotherhood and Guestling, he went in just as the final blessing had been delivered by the minster, William Wallace and stood before the pulpit. He was then moved by the Spirit to speak a few words to Mr Wallace. The mayor, Michael Lushington, took this amiss, and apparently said ‘take away this fellow’.  Whereupon ‘a great multitude’ dragged Rofe from the church and threw him down the steps of the south porch, kicking and beating him as they went. His blood, he said, ran down into his shoes.

Deciding that Hythe was not ready yet for conversion, the evangelists went on to Lydd, Ashford and Tenterden, where they were welcomed. Their mission ended in being put in the stocks and whipped as vagrants in Maidstone.

Worshippers in Hythe who wanted something different from Anglicanism had not far: to travel during the Interregnum, when a variety of sects flourished, some surviving into the twenty-first century, others not surviving the Commonwealth which allowed them to come into being.

At Canterbury and Sandwich there were Fifth Monarchists, a very short-lived group which was founded in 1649, and believed that the Kingdom of God was imminent. In 1661, about fifty of them tried to take London in the name of ‘King Jesus’.  Most of them were killed; the survivors were hanged, drawn and quartered for high treason.

In Ashford, the searcher after truth could find Muggletonians, whose two founders claimed to be the two witnesses referred to in the book of Revelations, and that they had power to pronounce damnation or salvation for eternity. Although it did not evangelise, on principal, the sect survived into the twentieth century.

Biddenden had Brownists, early Congregationalists, believing each church should run its own affairs.   In Lydd, Ashford and Tenterden there were small Independent gatherings. it was alleged that Northbourne was full of Anabaptists and Quakers. Anabaptists are Christians who believe in delaying baptism until the believer confesses his or her faith, but during the Interregnum the term was often used to describe any separatist sect. Hythe had its ‘Anabaptists’ but we do not know which, if any of the radical sects they belonged to, only that they included the freemen of the town. In 1659, writing to his kinsman about the Hythe electorate, James Pashley, himself a jurat, said ‘the Anabaptists are in general for you.’

Hythe’s Anglican minister, William Wallace was himself moving towards non-conformism. After the Restoration, when he was removed from his position, he continued for many years as an independent preacher in conventicles, though was never associated with any particular sect. The corporation liked Wallace. In 1649, when parliament had failed to put in place any reliable  means of maintaining him, they voted him ten pounds a year at the town’s expense, as he was ‘a well deserving man’. Some of the jurats made additional personal donations, and the mayor, William Gately, left him money in his will.  The donations and bequests continued throughout the 1650s.

Wallace had less work to do than his predecessors, because although there was still a state church, no-one was obliged to attend it. People could worship where, and how, and how often they wished.   Religious services at burials had already been abolished, and in 1653, marriage also became a civil union, to be witnessed by a J.P. rather than a minister. It no longer had to take place in church, but could be solemnised in the market place, if the couple so wished. The form of words was pared down to the minimum:

 I …. do here in the presence of God the searcher of all hearts, take thee ….. for my wedded Wife; and do also in the presence of God, and before these witnesses, promise to be unto thee a loving and faithful Husband

I …..do here in the presence of God the searcher of all hearts, take thee ….. for my wedded Husband; and do also in the presence of God, and before these witnesses, promise to be unto thee a loving, faithful and obedient Wife

So on 13 October 1657, the church registers for St Leonard’s include the following:

Ferdinando Bassett jurat and Mary Smyth maiden were married before John Finch jurat and bailiff elect to Yarmouth; Julius Deedes and William Jenkin gentlemen witnesses.

Similarly, baptisms were no longer recorded, but only births.  Wallace may have continued to baptise children whose parent’s wished it, or they may have gone to other parishes, or belonged to sects which practised adult baptism or no baptism at all. We do not know.

Commonwealth – Part One

In Hythe, the aftermath of the 1648 Kent rebellion was suspicion and mistrust.  The rebellion had flared into violence when the County Committee had tried to suppress a petition, signed by many, calling for the dismantling of the New Model Army and the reinstatement of the king. Now parliament was out to get anyone who had put their name to the petition, particularly if they were in any sort of public office. The Hythe jurats William Deedes, Laurence Weller and Austen Greenland and the town clerk, Thomas Curtis were all hauled before the Committee, suspected of involvement in insurrection, but were cleared and the Committee found the whole town to be blameless in the affair.

To add insult to injury, soldiers had been billeted in the town to fight the rebels under the command of Sir Michael Livesey, a ruthless parliamentarian soldier. Months later the victuallers who had put them up and fed them had still received no recompense and saw little hope of ever receiving it.

Sir Michael Livesey, Parliamentarian soldier and administrator
Sir Michael Livesey, Parliamentarian soldier and administrator

In 1653, the charges against the four jurats were revived. They appealed to their M.P., Tom Westrow, who put the Committee straight on the men’s allegiance to parliament.  This was more or less his last act for his constituents, as that year the Rump Parliament was dissolved. A new nominated assembly of one hundred and forty-four members took its place, named the Barebones parliament after a godly London leather seller, Praise-God Barebone, one of its members. Hythe was not represented on this assembly, but it did not last long, resigning its powers to Cromwell at the end of the year.

Cromwell was now Lord Protector. Despite the best efforts of the Rump to impose strict Puritan codes of behaviour on the country, Cromwell, believed that it was still in need of moral reform. He divided the country into twelve regions, each under the command of a Major-General. Their first duty of the Major-Generals was to maintain security by suppressing unlawful assemblies and disarming Royalist ‘malignants’.

Kent’s Major-General was Thomas Kelsey. Originally a London button-maker, he had risen to power through the New Model Army and had been Lieutenant of Dover Castle. The Major-Generals became the enforcers of righteousness and godliness. At the beginning of the civil war the Book of Sports had been burned and edicts were published to ensure that pleasure of any sort never again happened on a Sunday.  The edicts were re-issued with more vigour. ‘No persons shall hereafter exercise or keep maintain or be present at any wrestling, shooting, bowling, ringing of bells, masque, wake, feast, church-ale, dancing games, cock-fights, cock-running, horse races, bear baiting.’ Children under twelve heard cursing were to be publicly whipped. Convicted fornicators were to be sentenced to three months and adulterers were to be hanged.

Kent’s proximity to the continent and the exiled Charles II made it of particular interest to parliament and the Major-Generals. Time and again Hythe and the other Cinque ports were warned to look out for the comings and goings of ‘dangerous persons’ and to apprehend them. Kelsey also oversaw the administration of parliament’s Decimation Tax, designed to punish Royalist. One of these was Robert Spice of Old Romney, who also leased a house in Hythe.   No longer able to afford  live in Old Romney, he moved his family to Hythe to the appropriately named  Romney House, where they settled down. The house belonged to the corporation, but Spice, presumably broke, was not paying the rent.  Learning of this, the corporation dispatched the Chamberlain to take possession and to persuade Spice to pay up.  Even if they felt sorry for him, his was not a time when showing open compassion to Royalists was a sensible option.

In 1655, the same year that he appointed the Major-Generals, Cromwell, issued another proclamation prohibiting ‘Delinquents,’ that is anyone who had actively supported the king in any way, from holding office or having a vote in any election. In February of the following year, during one of Hythe corporation’s quarterly meetings, they were unexpectedly visited by Captain Laurence Knott of Sandgate Castle who, with several of his soldiers burst into the Common Hall, flourished this proclamation and proceeded to read it aloud.  He then insisted that despite having been cleared of any offence by the County Committee, most of the corporation were, in fact, Royalists who had signed the 1648 petition. They were therefore delinquents and should give up their places on the corporation. He refused to leave the building until they had done so.  John Grey, John Mercer, Laurence Weller and Ferdinando Bassett, the landlord of the ‘White Hart’ finally left, together with the town sergeant, John Browning.

Captain Knott was a Dover man, but did not let his local connections and sympathies get in the way of performing his duty to the Protector.  At the Restoration it was he who was imprisoned, in Dover Castle, not for his activities during the Commonwealth, but because of his dissenting religious views. Laurence Knott had become a Quaker.

Parliament and King – Part Four

In 1645, John Harvey, the town’s sitting M.P., died.  Faced with the necessity of choosing a new man, the corporation wrote for advice to the parliamentary County Committee, which was based at Aylesford. They had not apparently had qualms about upsetting the king’s cousin, but were concerned about the opinion of the Committee.  The Committee declined to make a recommendation for the seat, but reminded the assembly about the importance of choosing well.  ‘for aught you know, you yourselves may be the men, nay, may be the man, who with a breath crying ‘Aye’ or ‘No’ may so turn the scale as may raise or forever sink a tottering kingdom. Be wise for God, for a bleeding nation, for yourselves and your posterity, let nothing sway you but truly pious and public aims.’

It was stirring stuff, and thus inspired the jurats chose Thomas Westrow, a member of the Committee and friend of Oliver Cromwell.  He represented Hythe until his death in 1653.

That same year the jurats elected Thomas Bedingfield  as their mayor for the second time. His family was well-to-do and influential in the Hythe and Dymchurch areas.  His brother Peter became the local Collector for yet another parliamentary committee, for ‘the Sequestration of Delinquents’ Estates.’. Essentially, they confiscated and sold the estates of Royalists who had fought against parliament. The ‘delinquents’ could, however, pay a fine instead. One of these was the Earl of Thanet, who had taken part in the failed plot in 1642.  Peter Bedingfield seized his goods, but the earl offered to pay £5000, which was accepted. He raised the money by selling Bodiam Castle.

By now, things were going badly for the king. Archbishop Laud, despite his great old age and a lack of evidence against him, was executed in 1645. Parliament had set up the New Model Army, whose troops served anywhere and received regular pay. They re-took Bristol for parliament in July 1645 and the Royal army was annihilated at the Battle of Naseby.  Although the war dragged on for another year, Charles surrendered to the Scots in Newark 1646. He was offered peace terms but rejected them.  Parliament voted £400,000 to the Scots in return for their departure which they accepted and handed Charles over to parliament.

Over the next couple of years, while Charles and parliament engaged in a futile round of negotiations, there were no further battles or bloodshed, but in 1648, the fragile peace was shattered by a series of local rebellions against parliament which comprised the Second Civil War.

One of these was in Kent. By that time, king was confined in Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight, where he plotted, negotiated and prevaricated.  In January parliament, exasperated by his equivocation, voted to break off negotiations with him. This appalled those in the country who supported the king and those moderate parliamentarians who still hoped for a peaceful outcome.  The tense situation was compounded by a growing dislike of the power of the County Committees, now comprising more merchants and lawyers than local gentry, ‘tradesmen committees’ as they were sometimes sneeringly called by their social superiors.

In Kent, a petition was raised addressing these issues, and the movement gathered strength until an armed uprising, led by Sir William Brockman of Beachborough near Hythe, attacked the parliamentary troops at Maidstone. It was a brave but doomed attempt. The Kent movement had suffered from the attentions of a fervent but inept Royalist Roger L’Estrange, who alienated many moderates, and had failed to identify a single strong leader. After Maidstone they could not command enough support to strike again, the rebellion fizzled away and L’Estrange escaped abroad calling the men of Kent ‘thankless peasants’. Local rebellions elsewhere in the country failed, too.

In November that year, the New Model Army presented a Remonstrance to parliament calling for the trial of the king and a republic. Parliament rejected it, so the army sent soldiers to the House of Commons and removed any M.P. who did not support them. Both Hythe’s M.Ps, Heyman and Westrow, kept their seats in this new parliament, called ‘The Rump’.

Thus purged, the Rump decided it did, after all, have the right to try the king on charges of treason. Despite the Royalist rebellion only months before, there were plenty of men in Kent who supported this decision. A radical petition from the county, which called not only for the trial of the king, but his execution was presented to parliament.  It was signed by over a thousand men, including the jurats of Sandwich, Canterbury and Hythe.  One of Hythe’s two  M.P.s, however, Henry Heyman, did not wish to be associated with the trial, and did not sit in the Commons while it was underway. The other, Thomas Westrow had no such misgivings.

The king was executed on 30 January 1649.

The execution of Charles I
The execution of Charles I