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.