The Cinque Ports
|Timeline - click topic to view||The Confederation of Cinque Ports|
In the 11th century five towns in the south east of England, namely Hastings, Romney, Hythe, Dover and Sandwich, banded together in a confederation designed for mutual protection, for coastal defence and for the furtherance of their trade. The King used them in certain ways - a packet boat service - perhaps even as early as the reign of Edward the Confessor, for which they were paid, not in cash but by the granting of certain privileges, most of which had a financial value. The duties and the privileges of the five ports grew with the years and their heyday came in the thirteenth century, by which time the "Ancient Towns" of Winchelsea and Rye had been added to their number. The title "Cinque Ports" remained although there were now seven head ports.
The first Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports and Constable of Dover Castle was appointed in 1150. Subsequent notable holders of this office include the Duke of Wellington, Sir Winston Churchill and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother. By the 1200s King John grasped what was ready formed, the Cinque Ports fleet. In return for more and more privileges, the ports provided each year an agreed number of ships, fully manned and maintained for a agreed duration.
At first alone, and later in conjunction with the growing naval forces, this fleet from the seven head ports of the Cinque Ports kept control of the English Channel. They may have had successes and failures, they certainly loved piracy and private wars and feuded with the ships of other English towns. However, the Cinque Ports fleet filled a vital gap in the Kingdom's defences for many decades.