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

 

Parliament and King- Part Two

Hythe, like the rest of Kent, was under parliamentary control throughout the first Civil War. The king’s lands were mostly in the west and north of the country.  None of the major battles  were fought in Kent and it was spared the horrors of Englishmen slaughtering each other and the inevitable looting and that retaliation that followed each confrontation.  Most of Kent, although moderately parliamentarian until the war broke out, was thereafter moderately royalist but never effectively challenged the status quo.  Some towns, particularly the Cinque ports, were notably parliamentarian. Dover and Sandwich were two, Hythe was another. In its choice of representatives for parliament, its welcome of a radical Puritan minister, in its support of the execution of the king, it was as firm a supporter of parliament as any town in Kent.

However, there was a mixture of loyalties in Hythe, as in most places. There were those who  were firecely for parliament, or for the king, and those who were moderate in their opinions either way, and those who just wanted to get on with making a living or raising a family and wished things would get back to normal and stop changing so often.

There was a lot of change to assimilate. In 1642, parliament set up county committees, composed of local gentry, to run each county.  Their authority was based not just on their commissions from parliament but also on their powers as deputy lieutenants and JPs. The Cinque Ports argued that their special rights and privileges meant that they should not be governed by the county committee of Kent. Sandwich acted as their mouthpiece, strongly arguing that any attempts by the committee to interfere were contrary to their ‘liberties, customs and freedoms’.  But by 1643 some of the ports were beginning to cave in. Lydd, Folkestone and Hythe were the first. The King’s army was at this time advancing through Sussex and it must have seemed that these ports might be overrun. They chose the protection of parliament instead.

A Royalist plot had been hatched at Beachborough, the seat of Sir  William Brockman, a mile or so north of Hythe.  The king sent him a Commission of Array, entitling him to muster local forces and the Earl of Thanet was sent to assist him, marching eastward from Sussex. Unfortunately, a letter about the plot fell into parliament’s hands, Brockman was arrested and the earl surrendered,  ignominiously requesting ‘an accommodation’, which was refused. His estate became forfeit to parliament.

Sir William Brockman of Beachborough

The county committee was concerned with the raising of taxation and the provision of armed forces. Another committee was set up to in 1643 to seize the estates of royalists and Catholics. Then an accounts committee was set up with separate membership to audit the accounts of the first two committees.  The sheer size of Kent necessitated ‘a numerous offspring’ of sub-committees and there were separate committees to run Canterbury and Rochester. By the mid-1640s there were twenty or so committees or sub-committees operating in the county at a number of sites, including Hythe.

 

Sir William Brockman of Beachborough

Parliament and King – Part One

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.

The Duke of Lennox, Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports
The Duke of Lennox, Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports