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.
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.
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.
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.