Commonwealth – Part Three

In 1658, Oliver Cromwell died and his son Richard succeeded him as Lord Protector. Richard found himself needing money and decided to call a new parliament with the old franchise, not the nominated assembly his father had used. Hythe would now once again be represented. Competition was quite fierce, with four contenders. Sir Robert Hales was a Bekesbourne lawyer; Colonel William Kenricke, a member of the County Committee, Mr Naylor, who remains a mystery, and Henry Oxinden, a member of the minor gentry, of Denton, on the road from Folkestone to Canterbury.

Oxinden had in middle age been widowed, and had fallen in love with an unsuitable young woman less than half his age, Katherine Cullen.  She was the daughter of a yeoman, and not Henry’s equal in either rank or fortune, but he wooed her with expensive gifts and execrable poetry and won her hand. One of her cousins was James Pashley, a brewer and jurat of Hythe. When Oxinden decided he wanted to stand for Hythe in 1659, Pashley found himself in demand as the cousin, albeit rather tenuously, of the candidate.  Thanks to their letters, we know how the voting went.

Oxinden was supported by people as disparate as Michael Lushington, the mayor, who had ordered the attack on the Quaker George Rofe, and Captain Laurence Knott, himself a Quaker, who agreed with Oxinden’s position against ‘ tithing, self-seeking ministers’. The correspondence reveals a split in the town between those who, like Oxinden and Knott, wanted to reform religion and those who wanted to preserve the Church of England. In the event, Hales and Kenricke won the election. It was the perfect compromise. Hales was a Royalist who earned a baronetcy at the Restoration.; Kenricke had been the first signatory on the 1649 petition calling for the king’s execution.

The split in the vote is typical of the mixed pattern of political and religious allegiance in Hythe during the civil war and interregnum.  Take as an example Ferdinando Bassett, jurat, mayor and businessman. He was not accused of supporting the king in the 1649 purge, but in 1655 tacitly admitted that he had by quitting the corporation. In contrast, he supported the radical Puritan minister William Wallace, and after the Restoration, refused to swear allegiance to Charles II. Or the gentleman Michael Lushington,, also a jurat and mayor, who persecuted Quakers but agreed with them  on abolishing tithes. Did these men frequently change their minds? Were they opportunists? Did they run with the hare and hunt with the hounds? We will never know, but there must have been many like them during those exciting but dangerous years.

The parliament in which Hales and Kenticke sat comprised a bunch of men as diverse in opinion as these two were to each other. The army did not like it, and it did not like the army, but the latter had the benefit of having guns, and when troops assembled at St James’s Palace in April 1659, Cromwell eventually gave in to their demands and dissolved Parliament. The Rump parliament, which had not sat since 1653 was now recalled, but Hythe had no representative on this, John Harvey and Thomas Westrow, who had been elected to it both being dead.

Richard Cromwell had lost control of parliament, the army and the country. He resigned as Lord Protector and faded quietly into the background (he lived, mostly abroad, until 1712).

Richard Cromwell, Lord Protector 1658-59
Richard Cromwell, Lord Protector 1658-59

For the next few months, the country teetered on the brink of another civil war, as the military struggled and failed to maintain control. On 4 April 1660, Charles II wrote to the Speaker of the House of Commons from Holland, offering, humbly, his assistance.

The experiment with republicanism was over.

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