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

 

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.