By 1640, Charles I was finding that his non-parliamentary attempts to raise money were failing to fund his plans, especially his military struggle with Scotland. After twelve years of personal rule, he called a parliament in April 1640. It was not a success. Parliament only wanted to continue where it had left off and talk about their own privileges and the king’s abuses of power. Exasperated, Charles dissolved it after only three weeks, and it became known, appropriately, as the Short Parliament.
Inevitably, he had to call another parliament in November. This one lasted rather longer and became known as the Long Parliament, because technically it sat until it dissolved itself in 1660. Charles still wanted it to vote him money, but it had other priorities, and one of its first acts was to impeach William Laud, the reforming Archbishop of Canterbury and protégé of the king, for high treason. This was really a way of getting at Charles by the mostly Puritan parliament, who disliked Laud’s reforms and his sometimes draconian methods of enforcing them – by having his opponents branded, for example. Given his age (he was sixty-seven), Laud was imprisoned in the Tower of London rather than being put on trial. Parliament next impeached Charles’s close advisor, the Earl of Strafford, alleging that he had attempted to raise an army in Catholic Ireland to subdue England. Charles was obliged to sign his friend’s death warrant and he was dead within six months of the Long Parliament’s first meeting.
When rumours reached Charles that parliament was also planning to impeach his queen, Henrietta Maria, for alleged involvement in Catholic plots, Charles decided to go on the offensive and arrest five of its leaders for treason. It was not a wise move. No king had ever entered the House of Commons, but on Tuesday, 4 January 1642, in gross violation of Parliamentary privilege, the King entered the House with armed men to arrest the Five Members. They had been warned and fled, but Charles had openly shown his contempt for parliament. He left London on 10 January 1642 and set up his court in Oxford, where he began raising an army, having declared that parliament was in rebellion. The Civil War had started.
In 1640, Hythe had elected John Wandesford and Henry Heyman as M.P.s for the Short Parliament . The two men could not have been more different. Wandesford was a Royalist, who later went with the king to Oxford and managed the king’s artillery train there during the Civil War. His attraction for Hythe corporation seems to have been that he tried to get the Crown to take an interest in building a proper harbour for the town. He was as good as his word, and sent papers to the Secretary of State, who undertook to pass them to His Majesty, but by then Charles’s mind was on other things and the project never got any serious attention. Henry Heyman , on the other hand, was the parliamentarian son of Peter Heyman, the towns’ former M.P. The Heyman’s family seat was Somerfield at Sellinge about four miles from Hythe, and they were well-known to the corporation.
In the election for the Long Parliament the same year, Hythe plumped for two parliamentarians. Henry Heyman was chosen again, and wrote frequently to the corporation, his ‘brethren and loving friends’, keeping them up to date with national developments, especially of the Five Members charged with treason. The town ditched Wandesford, who had failed to deliver the promised harbour, and chose instead John Harvey, brother of the physician William Harvey. He also had local connections, having inherited from his father land at Arpinge and Folkestone. He had broken with the family’s Royalist loyalties (his brother was physician to James I), and sided with parliament until his death in 1645.
The choice of two staunch parliamentarians attracted the attention of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, the Duke of Lennox, who was a Stuart cousin of the king. He was incensed by Hythe’s decision and wrote a threatening letter to the corporation demanding to know the name and standing of every man who had voted for Harvey and Heyman. Votes were not then secret and were given verbally. The list had to be provided to Dover Castle. Refusal would be ‘at your peril’.Unintimidated, the corporation referred the letter to their M.P.s., who passed it on to other interested parties. It formed part of the evidence against Lennox when, in 1643, the House of Commons decided that he was ‘one of the malignant Party, and an evil Counsellor to His Majesty’ and that he should be removed from all his offices. He fled into exile before joining the king at Oxford.