Politics, Politicians and People – Part Four

The installation of the Lord Warden, however, was small-time when compared to the opportunity to attend the coronation of the monarch. ‘Barons’ of the Cinque Ports had been called upon to carry the canopy over the king or queen at the coronation since time immemorial (the right was called ‘ancient’ at the time of Richard I).

Elizabeth I died in March 1603, and by May, the Lord Warden was writing to his ports that they should take great care in their choice of representative. He must be ‘fit for the service’ although whether this meant physically capable of carrying the canopy or of pleasing appearance was not clear. He was more specific in July: ‘I wish you to be very cautious and wary that they may be men of the meetest and comliest personage amongst you’ and also that they should be fit and well. The coronation was not to be marred by the ugly, the old or the lame.

The Brotherhood and Guestling decreed that every baron returned to the coronation should wear ‘one scarlet gown down to the ankle, citizens fashion, faced with crimson satin, gascaine hose (a sort of loose breeches), crimson silk stockings and crimson silk shoes and black velvet caps’. They would also be responsible for their own travel and accommodation costs for the occasion, so anyone without a healthy disposable income was also excluded.

Elizabeth had reigned for over forty years, and the fact was that no-one now alive remembered how a coronation worked. Francis Raworth, the town clerk of Dover, was despatched to London to consult the Lord High Steward and the livery books to try to find out what should be done. He made some enquiries about the cost of scarlet and crimson satin and silk while he was there, and was horrified to report that ‘scarlet is valued at £3.10s. the yard at least and crimson satin at 15s. the yard’.

The corporation of Hythe chose Thomas Sprott to be their representative. No doubt he was comely, fit and reasonably well-off, but the deciding factor must have been that he was a draper and therefore able to buy cloth wholesale, not retail.

In the event, the coronation was a muted affair, as plague had visited London.  Sprott, though, was proud enough of the part he played to have it recorded on a stone placed over his grave in St Leonard’s church

The memorial stone of Thomas Sprott (or Spratt) which is now on the Vestry wall in St Leonard's Church, Hythe
The memorial stone of Thomas Sprott (or Spratt) which is now on the Vestry wall in St Leonard’s Church, Hythe

‘ Here lieth the bodi of Thomas Sprotte Juratt and Susan his first wife who whilst he lived was thris Mayor and Baylif to Yarmoth and on of those that did cary the cannopye over the King at his Cronation who died 21 January 1619′

The honour of carrying the canopy had some additional perks to make up for the outlay on crimson and scarlet cloth and the expenses of getting to London and overnight accommodation. The Cinque Ports barons were invited to the ceremonial banquet after the coronation and were given part of the cloth of gold of which the canopy was made, together with a share in the silver staves which supported it and the silver bells with which it was decorated. The silver was usually melted down and made into other objects, some of which are in the Victoria and Albert museum today. Perhaps coronation silver was the origin of the silverware seized by the corporation from Thomas Sprott.

Thomas Browning (gentleman) of Hythe was chosen to carry the canopy at the coronation of Charles II in 1626. A Mr Monings of Dover was rejected by the Lord Warden, Buckingham, because he was ‘too low of stature’ and also because he had stopped Buckingham’s parliamentary nomination at Dover from being elected. Buckingham was by this time careless of whether anyone knew of his petty vengefulness or not. He believed he was untouchable.

In 1661, at the Restoration coronation, Elias Bassett, jurat and landlord of the ‘George’ inn was chosen to carry the canopy, an unlikely choice given his previous commitment to parliamentary rule, but the country was full of such ‘reformed’ characters.

The coronation was marred by an unseemly tussle recorded by Samuel Pepys:

but only the King’s Footmen had got hold of the Canopy and would keep it from the barons of the Cinque ports; which they endeavoured to force from them again but could not do it till my Lord Duke of Albermarle caused it to be put into Sir R Pye’s hand till tomorrow to be decided’.

The barons got their silver the next day, but in the melee they had lost their places at the banqueting table. The king had the footmen imprisoned and dismissed.

In 1685, for the coronation of James II, Julius Deedes was chosen by the corporation, but rejected by the Lord High Steward as his behaviour in the recent parliamentary had been questionable, to say the least of it.  Julius responded by getting his son, William, elected as a Hythe freeman, and immediately placed at the top of the ‘reserve list’ for the Cinque Ports in case anyone should be unable to perform the service.  There is no other recorded instance in the seventeenth century of a father and son being freemen in Hythe at the same time. There were obvious implications for the impartiality of the voting system. In the event, Julius’s ploy did not work, and no member of the Deedes family attended the 1685 coronation.

James fled into exile in 1688, and his daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange were invited to take the throne as joint monarchs. At last Julius achieved his ambition and carried the canopy at their 1689 coronation. It was not an entirely happy event as the Archbishop of Canterbury refused to participate and the new king himself thought the ceremony was ‘a popish mockery’.

The coronation procession of William and Mary. One of the canopy bearers was Julius Deedes
The coronation procession of William and Mary. One of the canopy bearers was Julius Deedes of Hythe

In Sickness and in Heath – Part Four

The ever-present spectre of the Grim Reaper did not mean that people were any less willing to enjoy themselves than people in the twenty-first century. The six-day working week, together with long working days of around fourteen hours (and longer for apprentices) meant that holidays were to be made the most of.  Shrove Tuesday was the traditional holiday for young people and apprentices, perhaps with games and races in the town. Mothering Sunday was the day young servants and apprentices could visit their homes, if they were near enough. Easter and Whitsuntide were also celebrated, but it was May Day that was the most important spring holiday. There was dancing, especially round the maypole and gathering branches and flowers to make May garlands; there might be hobbyhorses, Morris dancers, baiting, and wrestling.  It was second only to Christmas as a time of festivities.

Lest a picture of bucolic innocence be conjured up by this description, it must be added that the authorities, secular and religious, were generally uneasy about holiday merrymaking, which invariably also involved alcohol, foul language, fighting and sex. The Puritan government of the Commonwealth years was particularly disapproving of these excesses.

The Puritans latched onto the maypole as the paramount symbol of wickedness and depravity. It was, they said, a ‘heathenish vanity’ and should be removed wherever it was found. Hythe corporation was ahead of the game here, and had removed their maypole in 1615. Removing the maypole did not however remove all ungodly jollifications. In 1655 Thomas Kelsey, then the Major-General in charge of Kent issued an edict to all local magistrates, telling them to ban the traditional Whitsun celebrations which ‘produced no other fruits but drunkenness, swearing and all other kinds of lowness and debauchery’. Christmas was targeted, too, as it was ‘superstitious’ and ‘unbiblical’. Predictably this was unpopular. There were riots in Canterbury in 1647, when the mayor tried to enforce the ban.

There had been a time, under James I and his son Charles I when having some good, clean, fun after church on Sunday had been positively encouraged. The Book of Sports, first issued in 1617 and re-promulgated in 1634 set out what sports were acceptable and included Morris-dancing, archery, dancing and ‘leaping and vaulting’. Bowling, for reasons unknown, was excluded. By the time of the 1634 declaration, the Puritans were in the ascendant, and there was widespread antipathy towards the book, culminating in an order in 1643 that it should be publicly burned. By 1650, the attitude had hardened into a ban on having any sort of fun at all on Sundays: ’No person or persons shall without reasonable cause for the same, travel, carry burthens, or do any worldly labours or work whatsoever on that Day’ and there was ‘a prohibition against wrestling, shooting, bowling, ringing of bells for pleasure or pastime, masque, wake, otherwise called feasts, Church ale, dancing, games, sport, or pastime whatsover’.

Local magistrates had no option but to follow these laws. In 1655 Hythe corporation fined two people for travelling on the Lord’s Day and put one of them in the stocks for six hours. The stocks were probably not often used, as they had to obtain a new lock to secure the miscreant in place.

Bowling might have been banned on Sundays, but it continued to flourish in Hythe on other days of the week. The bowling green was a true civic amenity, owned by the corporation and maintained by a keeper appointed and paid by them. It was situated off the modern day Stade Street, in approximately the position where ‘Oaklands’ now stands, and was conveniently placed next to a horse pond, where players could rest their mounts during the game.  Its demise started in 1687, when the corporation, strapped for cash, agreed to sell part of it off.

Feasting was also banned on Sundays but could be enjoyed on other days. St John’s and St Bartholomew’s hospitals both had feasts to celebrate the small occasions of institutional life. Ordinary people of all stations in life had feasts to celebrate baptisms and marriages. Feasts were held after musters of the Trained Bands. The Bailiffs to Yarmouth were expected both to attend and to host feasts. The corporation had a big annual feast after the election of the mayor and smaller ones after each quarter sessions, usually held in the ‘White Hart’ inn. This was conveniently owned from 1648 by Ferdinando Bassett, a jurat, although the corporation also had an account at the ‘George’ (now the ‘King’s Head’) which was owned by the other Bassett brother, Elias, another jurat.

This is not to suggest that Hythe corporation was particularly greedy or profligate with rate-payers’ money.  Feasting and food gifts were a legitimate form of expenditure for corporations as well as individuals. Wine, sugar and marzipan were often given to notables on their visits to towns, and food changed hands in the form of gifts, bribes and fines at all levels. The Lord Warden, on his brief visit to Hythe in 1615 was served with sugared wine and in 1650 Hythe corporation sent fish to the M.P. Henry Heyman. He reciprocated with a side of venison. Thomas Browning in 1620 wooed the freemen and jurats of the town with dinners in his mayoral election campaign, and towards the end of the century William Honeywood did the same for the electors of Canterbury.

Feasts always included two essentials: a lot of meat and a lot of alcohol. A typical bill from the ’White Hart’ for a corporation supper in 1677 included roast beef, a leg of mutton, three chickens and some bread. No vegetables were served, and dessert was a dish of damsons. Beer and wine together cost nearly as much as the food, and by this time it had become the norm for tobacco to be provided as well. The final item on the bill was hay and oats for the gentlemen’s horses.

Given the quantities of wine and beer consumed, some high spirits were inevitable. In 1626, the corporation, noting the disorder at muster feasts directed the Chamberlain to take note of the wine and beer brought into the rooms, and to allow no ‘superfluyitie’. The boot was on the other foot in 1678 when they were themselves penalised: after a feast at the ‘White Hart, the landlady charged them two shillings and sixpence extra for ‘glasses broke’.

The excessive consumption of alcohol concerned the government and local authorities in the seventeenth century every bit as much as it does in the twenty-first. Alehouses, where beer was cheap, and, until it was banned in 1637, home-brewed, were anathema to the respectable classes, and there were repeated attempts by parliament in early years of the seventeenth century to limit them. In 1608 the king issued orders that licences should be more judiciously issued and strictly monitored.  Old licences were to be repealed and new ones issued, with stringent conditions as to illegal gaming and good order attached. To solemnise this undertaking, each licence was to be ‘sealed with a common seal, ingraven in brass with a rose, and the inscription of the county, city or town-corporate’.

The sting in the tail was that these impressive seals were only to be had from one man, the king’s engraver, who had premises near Goldsmith’s Hall in London. He charged twenty shillings for each seal, and as he said himself, he had been ‘promised the 20s for every county, city, and town’ in England.  James I loved to give money to his favourites, and if that money belonged to other people, so much the better.

 

In Sickness and in Health – Part Three

Death was at the centre of life just as the church was at the centre of the town. It was a normal occurrence in people of all ages, not just the old. The most at risk of death were new born infants. Life expectancy at birth was about forty years, and there were not many over-sixties – possibly only about  4-7% of the population, whereas the percentage of children under sixteen was probably about 35%. The whole country was much younger than it is today.

The exact population of Hythe in the seventeenth century cannot be established. A census was carried out, but not for the purpose of counting total population. The religious Compton Census, of 1676 asked ministers how many Anglicans lived in the town, and how many of other denominations. It showed that Hythe had 274 conformists, 2 Roman Catholics, and 25 Nonconformists. This gives a total population of 301. However, the census did not come with instructions on how it was to be completed. Some ministers counted the whole population, some only those over sixteen, some only those over twenty-one, some only men, some only heads of households. The only thing that can definitely be gathered from the information recorded for Hythe is that it had more Anglicans than others.

It is possible to make a very broad guess at the population. Experts in the field say that the crude birth rate in England was about 32 per 1000 at the beginning of the seventeenth century and about 28 per thousand at the end. ‘Crude birth rate’ means the number of live births in the population as a whole over a year. By counting up the number of baptisms recorded in Hythe and working backwards, it looks like Hythe’s population in the early seventeenth century was about 1100, and by the end of the century only about 650. Of course, this is a very rough estimate and does not take account of the fact that by the end of the century there were Nonconformist baptisms of which we have no record.   However, it is significant that the numbers of marriages and burials were also falling by the end of the century.

If a child survived birth and the first five years of life, he or she had a reasonable prospect of reaching adulthood, although there were many dangers along the way. Quite apart from disease, health and safety concerns seem not to have been at the top of parental worries. The diaries of William Coe (quoted in Ralph Houlbrookes’ English Family Life 1576 – 1716) record that between 1693 and 1703, two of his eight children came close to being choked by pins in their food, two more were bitten by a dog on separate occasions, while  others suffered by having a hat set on fire by a candle, falling into a creek, falling off a horse, being struck in the eye with an oak rail, having boiling fat spilled on his clothes, being accidentally stabbed with an awl, managing to hang himself (not fatally) by the neck from a hall window, falling into scalding water, having his cheek pierced  by a cow’s horn, having his thumb broken by a horse, being thrown from an open coach and narrowly missing death in an overturned wagon.

If a man or woman survived the dangers of childhood, they could expect to marry at about twenty-three to twenty-eight years old (only the daughters of noble families married in their teens). This was relatively late in a short life span, but young people needed to assemble the resources and skills required. Marriage was an assertion of independence from parental ties. It involved setting up a new household with a new household head. There was initial cost of domestic paraphernalia as well as the ability to pay the rent. If a man was setting up a workshop at the home he needed equipment and tools. Skills were needed to be able to run a household. As an apprentice and journeyman, a young man would become master of a set of skills so as to be able to operate on his own with a fair chance of success. His bride needed to know how to bake bread, prepare and cook food, make and mend clothes. In Hythe we see the Bassett brothers, Ferdinando and Elias marrying first at the ages of thirty-four and twenty-six respectively. Thomas Browning, son of the gentleman of the same name married Margaret Huffam of Ash when he was twenty-four. William Gately, the blacksmith, married Ann Dryland of Wye when he was twenty-seven.

If a spouse died, which was often, the incidence of remarriage was high, out of economic necessity for women, and domestic necessity for men.  In England as a whole, about half of widower remarriages took place within a year, but about 15% of widows married within six months.  Ferdinando Bassett, widowed twice, remarried on both occasions within less than a year. His brother Elias, also widowed twice, found new brides again within five months both times.

Death had its own rituals. The body was laid out by local women and might be viewed at home for a couple of days. It was then wrapped in a single linen sheet knotted at top and bottom and carried to the grave either on a pall or in the parish coffin, usually a plank box, which was dispensed with at the graveside. Being buried in your own coffin had great cachet, even if you weren’t there to enjoy it. There was rarely a service in the church: the funeral party went straight to the graveside. Of course, if the deceased was important enough, and rich enough, they may have been buried in the church itself. Thomas Sprott, a jurat  was buried there, as much later were Robinson Beane, a mayor of Hythe, together with his wife and daughter.

 

The memorial to Ann and Elizabeth Beane (St Leonard's Church, Hythe)
The memorial to Ann and Elizabeth Beane (St Leonard’s Church, Hythe)

William Gately, though, another jurat and mayor, was laid to rest in the churchyard, but with rather a splendid tomb as a consolation prize.

The use of linen as a shroud ended in 1678 with the passing of the Buried in Wool Act, which dictated that all bodies should be shrouded in wool, and that a certificate be obtained from a J.P. that this was the case. It was an extraordinary piece of revenue-raising legislation, trading on the one certainty of life – death.

 

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.