The position of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports was pivotal in Kent local government. Elizabethan policy in the sixteenth century had removed much of the remaining power of the Brotherhood & Guestling and concentrated it instead in the hands of the Lord Warden, a royal appointee, giving the crown a stake in local decision making. His powers were considerable. He held the office of Constable of Dover Castle and had Admiralty jurisdiction from Dungeness to the Naze. As well as nominating candidates for parliament in each of the Cinque Ports, the Lord Warden was the mouthpiece for the crown, who communicated through him rather than through the county lieutenant of Kent or Sussex.
Each new Lord Warden had to swear to uphold the liberties of the Ports at a ceremony at the Court of Shepway and in return the ports made a gift of money. In 1629, when the Earl of Suffolk replaced the late Duke of Buckingham as Lord Warden, the ports clubbed together to provide a hundred pieces of gold and a purse, emblazoned with the Earl’s arms and the arms of the Cinque Ports. Hythe’s contribution was £11.5.0.
The ports were very clear that their rights and liberties meant that the county government held no sway over them, and that they would accept no writ or decree from the Crown unless it was delivered through the Lord Warden, and they managed to hang on to this position until the very end of the seventeenth century. They even claimed exemption from Charles I’s fund-raising knighthood fines, and the government capitulated, though it did not let them off Ship Money.
Confederation with other Cinque Ports separated Hythe from the rest of the county, and helped give it a strong sense of civic identity. Every legal document produced during the seventeenth century, including wills, which mentions Hythe also adds the words ‘The ancient town and port’.
Politics apart, membership of the Confederation provided some golden opportunities for ceremonial and dressing up. The installation of a new Lord Warden was one of these.
In 1615, it was announced that the new Lord Warden, Edward Zouche, would stop, briefly, at Hythe on his way to the Court of Shepway for his big ceremony. A flurry of activity followed. The notorious lane leading to the Mount was sluiced out. Householders were ordered to clean the street in front of their property and to get rid of ‘manure, sullage (general filth), blocks, logs, stocks, barrels, tubs and anything else’. People were ordered to keep their pigs off the street. The corporation erected a platform on which the Lord Warden could sit, to see and be seen. A stool, tables, cushions and carpets (mostly borrowed) were provided and the whole edifice was covered in decorated hangings. Two ash trees in the High Street were cut down as they would impede his view of the newly-immaculate town.
On the day itself, the great man arrived with an entourage, including his secretary, his coachman and the county muster-master. They were served with wine sweetened with sugar, trumpets were sounded, the party went on its way, and the platform was taken down again. The setting up and pulling down took eight days, and the materials, three wagon-loads full, were stored in St Leonard’s Church until 1629 when they were recycled for the Earl of Suffolk’s installation. The bill that Hythe corporation presented to the Brotherhood and Guestling included gratuities for the secretary and coachman, hay and oats for their horses, and a sum paid to the muster-master so that he did not call a muster of the trained bands while he was in town, as was technically his right.