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The Cinque Ports and Southern England

I will be trying to show how the Cinque Ports developed from the late Saxon times until modern times

The Early History and the Charters
The Charters/reports that define the Cinque ports are as follows
1052AD Earl Godwins Revolt
He went to Pevensey, Dungeness, Romney, Hythe, Folkestone, Dover and Sandwich and collected a naval force to enable him to recover his lands and position. (Odd that Hastings wasnt included, and also not included in the Domesday book - implying that Hastings supported William the Conqueror) There was also a report of the ships of Hastings in battle with Godwin's nephew.
Cinque Ports are mentioned in the Pipe Rolls(accounts of the royal income and expenditure)
1189AD RICHARD I (The Lionheart)
At his Coronation his canopy was borne over him by the Barons of Dover and the Cinque Ports
1191AD A Charter for Rye and Winchelsea
Charter for Hastings, New Romney, Hythe, Dover, Sandwich, Rye and WInchelsea confirming an earlier Charter
Charter for Lydd and Dengemarsh, Members of Romney

The Creation of the Cinque Ports
Cinque Port Logo Originally created by the ports of Dover, Sandwich and Romney during Edward the Confessor's times for mutual protection and trade.(the original charter was probably created out of a need to purchase the loyalty of a group of potentially troublesome ports that were of strategic importance to the control of cross-Channel traffic)

Hastings and Hythe probably joined just after the Norman Conquest to create the original Confederation of Cinque Ports. By AD1190 Rye and Winchelsea who were part of the Hastings contingent had been accepted as 'Ancient Towns'.

As an aside William the Conqueror landed near Hastings however Romney was reported as being destroyed because they sank some Norman ships, perhaps this was part of the Saxon naval defence and actually attacked as the fleet sailed in to England.

Once Harold had been defeated William went to Romney and then Dover before going to London, this was to ensure that the original three ports were going to be loyal to William and were not going to provide ships to the remaining Saxon Earls to provide sea transport so his troops were cut off.

The First Charter
Image of the Charter of the Cinque Ports The earliest Charter granted to the Ports collectively was dated 28 May by Henry III in AD1260.

The first major official document of the Cinque Ports was created in a Royal Charter in AD1278 by Edward I, five(french cinque) ports were to maintain ships and defences for the Crown in case of attack and war,this document also referred to earlier charters which are now lost.

The chief obligation laid upon the ports, as a corporate duty, was to provide 57 ships for 15 days' service to the king annually without payment, each port fulfilling a proportion of the whole duty.

In return the towns received the following privileges:
  • Exemption from tax and tallage
    tax and land tax
  • right of soc and sac
    local laws and justice
  • tol and team
    tax goods passing through and exemption of government tolls
  • blodwit
    the right to punish shedders of blood
  • fledwit
    the right to punish those who were seized in an attempt to escape from justice
  • pillory and tumbril
    punishment of offenders
  • infangentheof and outfangentheof
    local punishment of thieves
  • mundbryce
    the breaking into or violation of a man's mund or property in order to erect banks or dikes as a defence against the sea
  • waifs and strays
    the landowner to take ownership of goods or animals left or straying onto their land
  • flotsam and jetsam and ligan
    flotsam - goods from a sunken vessel
    jetsam - goods thrown from a vessel to make it lighter etc
    ligan - object attached to a buoy, i.e smuggled goods

In effect the Laws of the land did not apply to the Cinque Ports.

Map of the Cinque Ports pre the 1287AD Storm
Map of the Cinque Ports pre the 1287AD Storm This Map is based on a Google Relief Map and shows the sea level at 4.5 metres higher than today to reflect the sea level at the time
Hastings was a fishing and major shipbuilding centre due to its proximity to the vast forest of Andredsweald it was in its own protected harbour most likely in the Filsham Valley.
New Romney(Langport) was a fishing centre, but was the entrance to the Rother where other ships were made in the Newenden/Bodiam areas again due to the proximity of Andredsweald
Hythe was a fishing centre but was relatively close to modern France
Dover was a fishing centre but was the nearest point to modern France
Sandwich was another fishing centre but was protected by a shingle bar projecting northwards fromn Deal and protected the Wantsum channel between Kent and the Isle of Thanet.

The five ports are fairly evenly spread out along the coast providing good response speed to any offence from europe

The AD1287 storm on the South East coast of England
Medieval Storm On the South coast of England in AD1287 there arose a dreadful storm which in changed the shape of the coastline.

The harbour at Hastings(this was in the Filsham valley) was destroyed and its entrance blocked by shingle, the old town of Winchelsea and Broomhill(which were on islands offshore from modern Winchelsea) were washed away and abandoned. Winchelsea was resurrected on the hill behind Ihamme overlooking Rye and old Winchelsea, and is now a beautiful town with one of the first grid layouts in England.

The thriving port of New Romney was turned into a landlocked town when massive quantities of shingle from further down the coast, along with mud and soil, inundated the town. This completely filled the harbour, blocked the river Rother and left New Romney nearly a mile from the sea with its church about 1 metre below the land and stains on the pillars marking the level of the flood.

The river Rother, which ran through the town, was blocked by the storm and found a new outlet to the sea at Rye, 15 miles away, a course that the river still takes today.

The AD1287 storm and its effect on the independance of the Cinque Ports
The economic effect this storm had on the Cinque Ports was that to remain independent they were still obliged to provide 57 vessels for 15 days' service to the king. Now this was impossible for the 5 ports and the 2 ancient towns as a significant number of ships had been destroyed by the storm, and also harbours blocked and towns destroyed.

Map of the Cinque Ports after the 1287AD Storm
Map of the Cinque Ports after the 1287AD Storm This Map is based on a Google Relief Map and shows the sea level at 4.5 metres higher than today to reflect the sea level at the time

Hastings lost a large proportion of its ships and men and the old Hastings harbour in the Filsham valley was now completely blocked.

New Romney suffered even more as the river Rother was now blocked completely at New Romney and broke through the shingle bank where Old Winchelsea was located, about 10 miles(14 Km) aweay to the west.

Hythe was badly damaged but still useable

Dover was badly damaged but still useable

Sandwich was now isolated from the sea by the shingle bar from Deal having blocked the Wantsum channel between Kent and the Isle of Thanet.

This has made 3 of the 5 ports pretty much useless so to continue with their supplying of vessels to the king they allowed other places to join the Ports which then got the benefits of the Charter. Rye and Winchelsea were known as the 'Antient Towns' and the remainder of the other places were known as 'Limbs' of the main ports.

The addition of the 'Limbs' and 'Ancient' towns to the Cinque Ports
So to mitigate the loss of ships and their supply to the King in order to keep their charter, the Cinque Ports organised other local ports to supply ships and crew, and in return these became 'limbs' of the main ports and were given the same benefits as the five original ports.

The various 'limbs' of the Cinque Ports which meant they had the same privileges are shown below, had to help the main ports to allow them to provide enough vessels for the King during the 1200 & 1300's

  • Hastings
    • Ancient town of Rye(AD1190)
      • Tenterden (limb of Rye)(AD1449)
    • Ancient town of Winchelsea(AD1190)
    • Guestling
    • Bulverhythe
    • Petit Iham (Pebsham nr Hastings)
    • Northeye (an island in AD1287)
    • Pevensey (an island in AD1287 joined before AD1230)
    • Hydneye (nr Polegate - an island in AD1287)
    • Seaford (joined before AD1229)
    • Bekesbourne (nr Canterbury - inland now but on river in AD1285)
    • Grange (nr Gillingham Kent joined before AD1285)
  • New Romney
    • Lydd(AD1155)
    • Old Romney
    • Dengemarsh (probably near Lydd)
    • Oswaldstone (possibly near modern Greatstone/Littlestone)
    • Bromehill (an island near to current Camber village)
  • Hythe
    • West Hythe
  • Dover
    • Folkestone(AD1313)
    • Faversham(AD1302)
    • Margate(AD1424)
    • St. Johns
    • Goresend
    • Birchington Wood
    • Woodchurch
    • St Peters
    • Ringwold
    • Kingsdown
  • Sandwich
    • Deal
    • Ramsgate(AD1353)
    • Brightlingsea
    • Fordwich
    • Sturry
    • Walmer
    • Stonar
    • Sarre
    • St. Nicholas
    • Reculver

Map of the Cinque Ports together with their Limbs after 1287
Map of the Cinque Ports together with their Limbs after 1287AD This Map is based on a Google Relief Map and shows the sea level at 4.5 metres higher than today to reflect the sea level at the time
The Limbs of Hastings are shown as green settlements
The Limbs of New Romney are shown as pale blue settlements
The Limbs of Hythe are shown as orange settlements
The Limbs of Dover are shown as purple settlements
The Limbs of Sandwich are shown as yellow settlements
The antient towns of Rye and Winchelsea are shown as purple castles
Finally Tenterden is shown in dark blue and is a Limb of the Ancient town of Rye

Magna Carta AD1297
This is a translation of the relevent clause in the AD1297 Magna Carta that was signed by Edward I and included the Cinque Ports.

(9) The city of London is to have all its ancient liberties and customs. Moreover we wish and grant that all other cities and boroughs and vills and the barons of the Cinque Ports and all ports are to have all their liberties and free customs.

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Author Simon M - Last updated - 2024-05-06 15:54:12
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