The Cinque Ports, or Ancient Towns
The Cinque Ports helped the English crown control the Channel throughout the Middle Ages.
The Ancient "Cinque Ports" of England
BY DAVID ROSS, EDITOR
The key to the security of the realm as Edward saw it was to control the English Channel. To this end he granted the ports of Sandwich, Dover, and New Romney, all in Kent, the right to keep all legal fees assigned in court cases. This was quite a profitable concession for the towns involved, and made them far more prosperous than most towns of similar size elsewhere in the country.
In exchange, the towns agreed to provide ships and sailors for defense when required by the crown. To the original three ports were later added Hastings in Sussex, and Hythe, in Kent.
The need for defense was so great that a large number of other towns became allied to the major ports. Thus, inland Tenterden became an ally of Rye, and Pevensey an ally of Hastings. This 'coastal confederation' reached a total of 42 towns at its medieval peak.
The fortunes of the Cinque Ports varied. Dover, with its excellent coastal harbour, prospered. Others fared less well. The sea receded over the medieval period, and rivers silted up, leaving Winchelsea and Tenterden totally isolated from the coast. Rye transformed from a coastal port into a river one, with subsequent loss of trade.
Walmer Castle near Deal (Kent) is the official residence of the Warden of the Cinque Ports, a post little more than ceremonial today, but once of huge national importance. The current (2005) Warden is Admiral the Lord Boyce, and past wardens include the Queen Mother, Winston Churchill and the Duke of Wellington. The "Cinque Ports" and the two Antient Towns still retain their unique legal status in Britain.
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