Politics, Politicians and People – Part Two

In 1628 Buckingham did not risk another humiliation and nominated no-one for the Hythe seats, although he had made his displeasure clear to Heyman.  The corporation re-elected Heyman and Sir Edward Scott, a godly Puritan who only spoke in the House on religious matters. Five weeks after the election Buckingham secured the king’s agreement to billet three companies of Irish soldiers, under the command of his friend Pierce Crosby, at Hythe.

The king and Buckingham had been using billeting since 1626 as a way of exacting revenge on those who had failed to pay the forced loan, and to avoid having to maintain the soldiers. The crown always promised to recompense the householders on whom the men were billeted, but they might have to wait years before they saw any money.  Anyone in the town was liable to have men placed in their home, and had no right to refuse (although if you were rich enough, you could as always buy yourself out of the situation). The soldiers generally considered themselves beyond the law. In 1626 men from Devon and Cornwall were billeted in Hythe and murdered one of the town’s night-watchmen, Laurence Fin, a young married man.   In Canterbury troop ransacked shops for food and clothing, and in the Isle of Wight rapes and burglaries were reported.

Hythe had taken its fair share of billeted men, and Buckingham’s action so soon after the election which he could not influence seems suspiciously like revenge. The reputation of the Irish soldiers was fearsome, and they did not disappoint, terrorising the town and the surrounding countryside.

George Villiers, first Duke of Buckingham
George Villiers, first Duke of Buckingham

Charles needed the 1628 parliament in order to equip another expedition to La Rochelle. Parliament granted him the subsidies he wanted, but only in return for his ratification of the Petition of Right.   Passed on 7 June 1628, the Petition contained restrictions on non-Parliamentary taxation, forced billeting of soldiers, imprisonment without cause, and the use of martial law. When the people of Hythe heard the news, the town guns were fired in celebration.

On 23 August 1628, Buckingham was assassinated by a deranged army officer. The event was marked by general exultation. In October La Rochelle fell to the French, and by 1630 peace had broken out. Charles felt no need to call another parliament until 1640. He could now have established himself as the people’s favourite. But he had no political instinct worth the name, and instead he moved from palace to palace or visited private houses and devoted himself to hunting. After Buckingham’s death he was reconciled with his neglected wife, who, ill-qualified though she was, became his principal advisor. Not by nature an energetic man, he was happy to let his ministers get on with their jobs.

Unfortunately, the country was short of money and needed to pay off the debts of the war years.    In breach of the Petition of Right, Charles set about raising money without parliamentary approval. Ship money was his first clever wheeze. In 1634 Hythe corporation was dismayed to receive a demand, and wrote to the new Lord Warden asking for his assistance in avoiding paying as ‘we are very much disabled and impoverished’ The Cinque ports held an emergency Brotherhood and Guestling, but nothing was to be done. In Hythe, Richard Pashley and William Gately, a brewer and a blacksmith, went door-to-door to collect the £60 required.

Ship money raised £730,000 for the king between 1634 and 1640; fines in distraint of knighthood £173, 537.  The latter was an ancient custom which required all men with landed income worth more than £40 a year to present themselves at the king’s coronation to be knighted, or else to be fined.  Charles’s resurrection of it raised as much animosity as revenue.

To procure more money, monopolies were sold by James and Charles on just about everything imaginable: in 1618 the Hythe corporation were told by the Lord Warden to ‘assist Abraham Baker, sole patentee for manufacture of smalt, to search and seize all smalt not stamped and sealed by himself’. Smalt was ground blue cobalt, used as a pigment in painting, glassmaking and pottery and stored in small glass flasks. It can scarcely be imagined that there was much to be found in Hythe. There was plenty of salt there, though, and there was a monopoly on making that, as well as licensing inns, making gold and silver thread, turning coal into coke, and making glass.  Monopolies made a few men very rich and put many others out of business.

Politics, Politicians and People – Part One

It was impossible to separate religion and politics in the seventeenth century. In general, the king and his supporters favoured the reforms of Laud, while parliament generally favoured the Puritan position, although it was not always quite that cut and dried. Some Puritans as the century wore on began to question the whole establishment of the Church of England, and particularly the authority of bishops who, they claimed were ‘unbiblical’. This was a step too far for more moderate Puritans in parliament, who wanted to maintain the status quo, and would therefore be more likely to support the king.

Hythe’s M.P.s during the years leading up to the civil wars were a mixed bunch. In the early years of the seventeenth century the town played safe, electing local gentry and their hangers-on. In 1604 Sir John Smythe of Westenhanger was elected, together with his father’s old servant and friend Christopher Toldervey.  When Smythe died in 1608, he was replaced by Norton Knatchbull of Mersham Hatch near Ashford, the founder of the grammar school in the town. He declined the honour of re-election in 1614, by which time Toldervey was also dead.

Norton Knatchbull, Hythe M.P.
Norton Knatchbull, Hythe M.P.

The Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports had, by custom but not by right, been used to nominating at least one of the two members for Hythe. In 1614, he nominated Sir Lionel Cranfield, surveyor-general of the customs, ‘whose quality both for worth and sufficiency I know to be void of all exception’. John Smythe’s brother, Richard, was elected for the other seat in what was to be known as the Addled Parliament.

Sir Richard Smythe  had become very rich through a combination of financial acumen and a predilection for wealthy widows and had bought and rebuilt Leeds Castle. He wanted to carry on with the business of making money, despised politics and did not want to be an M.P., but seems to have been pressured into it by his family.  Sir Lionel was not yet very rich, but had ambitions to be so. The son of a London mercer, his rise in the service of the king had been meteoric and he hoped that the Hythe seat would lead to greater glory. He eventually became Lord High Treasurer before falling out badly with the Duke of Buckingham and suffering an equally meteoric fall.

Lionel Cranfield
Lionel Cranfield, Hythe M.P.

In the event, neither man had much opportunity to prove themselves or otherwise, as the king, James I, dissolved the Addled Parliament only nine weeks after it first assembled because it was side-tracked by rumours of election fixing and did not get down to the king’s business of raising money to get him out of his financial difficulties. He did not call parliament again until 1621.

This time the Lord Warden nominated both M.Ps, one of his relatives Richard Zouche, and Peter Heyman of Sellinge.  Zouche, an academic, was in inactive member, but Heyman from the start was a favourite of the corporation. Unlike Zouche, who thought it ‘needless’, he came to Hythe to personally present to the corporation the Lord Warden’s letter of recommendation, and was entertained to dinner. In parliament he spoke up for the Cinque Ports, and was strongly anti-Catholic and anti-Laud and often spoke out against pluralism in the Church (ie holding more than one benefice in the Church, perhaps a sensitive subject in Hythe). Together with the inoffensive Zouche he was re-elected in 1624.  In May of that year, the corporation sent him a dozen fish, and in June it resolved to let him have ‘a billet in the town for the freeing of his goods and chattels’. He was obviously a frequent visitor.

By the time of the 1625 election to Charles I’s first parliament, the Duke of Buckingham held the post of Lord Warden, having openly bought it from the previous incumbent. Heyman was abroad, and not eligible to stand and Zouche has taken up a post at Oxford university. Buckingham tried to nominate two candidates for election, but Hythe corporation, already had one of their own, and duly elected him. The next year, with Heyman back in the country they did not bother to wait for Buckingham’s nomination but proceeded to an election as soon as was legally possible, choosing Heyman, and Basil Dixwell of Folkestone. The Duke’s nomination arrived four days later; the corporation apologised profusely but said the election was legal and could not be overturned and then took their two new M.P.s out to dinner to celebrate.  Heyman and Dixwell were both suitably grateful. Heyman sent rabbits and venison, and Dixwell, a wealthy landowner (he later built Broome Park near Barham) gave ‘liberty to all the inhabitants of this town at all times hereafter to carry and recarry, go and return over his land called the Slip at the east end of the town … without paying anything for the same’. This carrying way was probably on the same site as the present Twiss Road in Hythe.

Basil Dixwell, Hythe M.P.
Basil Dixwell, Hythe M.P.

This was another short parliament, which refused to grant money to the king unless he impeached his friend Buckingham for, among other things, buying the wardenship of the Cinque Ports. The king refused and dissolved parliament.  This meant he had no money to meet the expense of running two wars, with France and with Spain. Instead, he raised a forced loan which yielded £267,000 over two years, but which was mostly squandered by Buckingham’s farcical attempt to take the French port of the Ile de Rhe, which ate up £200,000.

The Perils of Public Office

Life might have provided some luxuries for the middling sort, but the other side of the coin was that it fell upon them to provide most of the composition of the corporation and its various offices.  Gentlemen, too, played a part, but there were far fewer of them.  Hythe corporation  had a mayor and deputy mayor, up to twelve jurats; up to twenty-four commoners, a chamberlain (treasurer),  a town clerk, the warden of St Bartholomew’s Hospital;  a constable; two leather searchers; two market searchers, two flesh searchers,  the town sergeant, the mayor’s sergeant; the chamberlain and an attorney. The mayor was chosen annually from the jurats, who were themselves chosen from the common council composed of the freemen. Men became freemen either because their father was a freeman, or because they had married the eldest daughter of a freeman or by invitation and paying the asking price, usually about twenty shillings. The other posts were filled by the jurats and freemen, except that of attorney, who was legally qualified and employed on a retainer. Acting as a jurat was a double-edged sword.  Prestige was the principal reward, especially if one became mayor, but a reputation could be forever sullied if it became known or was believed that one had abused that authority. The jurats were amateurs at government, with many temptations to take advantage of their situation and little in the way of guidance to avoid pitfalls. It could be an explosive combination.

Honour and reputation were important and dismissal could mean ruin. In the early 1620s an ugly situation developed between Thomas Browning and David Gorham, both jurats, but of very different backgrounds. The Brownings were gentlemen; Thomas’s uncles had been mayors, his sister had married into the influential Tournay family of Saltwood, and in 1620 Thomas started his own campaign to become mayor by wining and dining his colleagues, an unsubtle tactic which did not go unnoticed by his opponents. Nevertheless, it proved successful, and he became mayor in 1621, and again in 1625. In the meantime, David Gorham, a fisherman, had been made mayor in 1623. He was the Cinque Ports Bailiff to Yarmouth in the year of Browning’s second term of office and created mayor again himself in 1626. However, that year Browning trumped him by being selected to be one of the Cinque Ports ‘barons’ to carry the canopy at the coronation of Charles 1 in March.

The beginning of 1627 saw Browning’s downfall. He was dismissed as jurat ‘for divers misdemeanours and for telling the secrets especially about the election and choosing our burgesses to Parliament and telling lies about them many times in a gross and ill manner’. This was uncompromising language, and Browning had no intention of letting it pass.  He petitioned anyone and everyone he knew, starting with the Lieutenant of Dover Castle, Sir John Hippisley, who passed the matter up to the Duke of Buckingham. The corporation were required to explain themselves. While awaiting a decision, Browning took his case to the Cinque Ports’ Brotherhood and Guestling – and won his suit. They judged that the case against him was ‘weak and feeble’ and ordered that the corporation and Browning ‘reconcile themselves’ and reinstate him.  However, in 1628, the Lord Warden concluded that the real reason for Browning’s dismissal was ‘his contemptuous behaviour towards Mr Gorham’.

That has the ring of truth. Twenty five years earlier, another gentleman, Ambrose Warde (later mayor of Hythe himself) had taken a similarly arrogant attitude towards the mayor of New Romney, a tradesman. During a court hearing he deliberately jostled him and commented ‘in skoffynge wise’ and loud enough for all to hear that any pedlar or butcher could be mayor of New Romney.

Whatever their station in life, jurats were expected to maintain high standards in their personal lives. In 1662, Peter Philpott was dismissed as a Hythe jurat.  for ‘begetting a bastard child and other misdemeanours well known to this assembly’. Since the facts of this case were incontrovertible, Philpott stayed dismissed.

The jurats’ amateurism could also land them in hot water. As a Cinque Port, Hythe had, among other privileges, the right to any vessel, goods or fish washed ashore within the port’s jurisdiction. In February 1656, when the corporation was flat broke, it seemed that fortune had smiled on them by providing just such a gift: a Dunkerque sloop, on a mission to seize English ships, was driven onshore by the English navy and its captain and crew arrested. The fleet sailed off westward, leaving the prisoners in Hythe, where, almost inevitably, given the town’s record in this area, they escaped. They were recaptured and sent to Dover Castle (where the Lieutenant had no idea what to do with them). Not missing a trick, Hythe corporation asked the Lord Warden to reimburse them for the cost of keeping the prisoners and then seized the sloop, which had been abandoned on the beach, for the town.

A couple of months later, they sold the sloop to some of the jurats, on condition that they did not sell it on to any ‘foreigners’ ie anyone who did not live in Hythe. The jurats failed to find a local buyer, so the corporation gave them permission to offer it to all comers, which resulted in a sale a few months later. The jurats had promised to give any profits to the town, but found that after their expenses in the matter were taken into account that the total profit was exactly two pounds, fifteen shillings and tuppence

Even this slender profit was to be challenged when the sale came to the attention of the naval authorities, who were of the opinion that the sloop did not belong to Hythe at all, presumably because it was not, strictly speaking, a wreck. An emergency conference was held at the home of the mayor, Michael Lushington, attended by everyone who had been involved in the sale, and the hapless mayor was despatched to London to plead with Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector, on the town’s behalf. Cromwell may have listened, as no action was taken immediately, but the navy was not so easily discouraged, and in 1661 Hythe corporation paid to the Commander of the Navy an undisclosed sum in compensation.

It was a hard lesson, but one well learned. The next time a ship washed up on the beach, in 1692, the town clerk, Thomas Tournay, prudently went to Dover to the Admiralty Court to check the situation. The ship, the Dorothea of Stockholm, was wrecked above the low water mark and Tournay asserted the town’s right to it but the court considered it was not a wreck at all, as its crew had been saved. Another disaster for the corporation was, however, averted.