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.

Puritans and Purges

At this stage in my research, I realised that I knew a lot more about the interesting sects of the 17th century  – the Muggletonians, Levellers, Ranters Adamites, Quakers, Fifth Monarchists and so many more – than I did about civic government, which has less curiosity value but is a necessary background.

I knuckled down and read the classic text of the period, A.M. Everitt’s The Community of Kent and the Great Rebellion 1640-60 (Leicester University Press, 1960). This was a pioneering work when published, and helped make local history a respectable subject. Everitt suggests that although there was a well-established central government, Kent (and other counties) was effectively run as a mini-state by its resident gentry, tied together by bonds of kinship and property ownership. It was quite insular, little affected by or interested in, national politics, and inclined to be conservative and therefore loyal to the King and the established order (but I should mention that later historians have taken issue with this view). Hythe is mentioned, but only  en passant, usually in the context of the Cinque Ports.

Next up came Peter Clark’s English Provincial Society from the Reformation to the Revolution: religion Politics and Society in Kent, 1500-1640(The Harvester Press, 1977). Apart from the useful overview, there were some specific mentions of Hythe here. Clark mentions that in 1621, 1624, 1626 and 1628 the jurats of Hythe elected Peter Heyman as the town’s M.P. (although they were usually referred to as ‘barons’ in Cinque Port parlance). Heyman, he says, was a leading critic of the town.

Then there is mention of the Archdeacon of Canterbury Cathedral, William Kingsley, who zealously implemented the policy of the Archbishop of Canterbury of purging the clergy of Puritans. The Archbishop was William Laud, whose views were very close to those of the King. Clark says that the Puritan reaction to this was hostile, especially in towns with a Laudian incumbent.  A little further research into the zealous Archdeacon revealed that he was appointed Rector of Saltwood in 1614.

Saltwood is a mile or so up the hill from Hythe, and today they are separate ecclesiastical parishes, but this was not always the case. Until the mid-nineteenth century, St Leonard’s church in Hythe was only a chapel of Saltwood Church, and the Rector had authority over both, although he usually employed a curate to look after the ‘chapel’.

I was now looking at the history of Hythe more than twenty years before the outbreak of the first Civil War in 1642, and it was clear that I had to look much more closely at what had gone before I could make sense of what happened during the conflict and afterwards. I needed to read a great deal more and go back to the primary sources.

Since I last did any serious research, the internet has developed to provide some very useful tools for local historians. My first port of call was British History Online, a digital library of key printed primary and secondary sources for the history of Britain and Ireland., with a focus on the period 1300-1800. It can be accessed here:


I searched for ‘Hythe’ and refined the search to the seventeenth century and found:

  • Physicians and Irregular Medical Practitioners in London 1550-1640 Database
  • Calendar, Committee For the Advance of Money: Part 1, 1642-45
  •  Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Interregnum, 1655
  •  Journal of the House of Commons: Volume 9, 1667-1687
  •  Calendar of Treasury Papers, Volume 2, 1697-1702
  •  Journal of the House of Lords: Volume 4, 1629-42
  • Grey’s Debates of the House of Commons: Volume 8

and 292 other entries. You have to pay £35 for a year’s subscription to view the entries. For me that was affordable.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t much about the central period I was interested in, but lots which contributed to the general social history of the time, and the way in which Hythe interacted with central government. One of the very earliest entries announced the imminent arrival of the press gangs in the town in 1602.  I began to wonder how this impacted on the town, and who exactly it impacted on.

Another very useful site is www.historyofparliamentonline which provides over 22,000 biographies of  members of parliament. You can search by constituency or name of the member.  Peter Heyman’s biography is long and detailed. It tells us he was a devout Puritan, who refused to pay the Forced Loan (one of Charles I’s desperate money-raising schemes) and ignored a subsequent summons from the Privy Council to explain himself. He ended his political career by being arrested & interrogated for telling the Speaker of the House that although he, the Speaker, was a Kentishman he was ‘a disgrace to his country and a blot to a noble family’ for seeking ‘to pluck up our liberties by the roots’. Heyman warned, ‘we shall annihilate the liberties and dignity of Parliament’. This was the man that Hythe elected to Parliament no fewer than four times.

So Hythe in the 1620s had elected as Member of Parliament  a Puritan who tried to thwart royal excesses and preserve the liberty of Parliament, but  by the 1630s had a Rector who enthusiastically carried out the anti-Puritan policies of the King’s favourite clergyman, Archbishop Laud.  Unless the townsfolk had performed a complete spiritual U-turn, it seemed that conflict was inevitable.

At this time, I was also completing my research into the life of William Gately, whose tomb was the starting point for this project. Having successfully deciphered his will (which I was able to download from the National Archives website at a cost of £3.30), I read when he died in 1652, he  left a sum of money to ‘William Wallace, Minister of Hythe


Like many old churches, St Leonard’s in Hythe has a board which lists all the incumbents. William Wallace’s name was not on it.

Another puzzle to be solved.