The Charters of the Cinque Ports – Are They Still Needed?

The Charters of the Cinque Ports – Are They Still Needed?

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The Charters of the Cinque Ports – Are They Still Needed?

By Graham McBain

Review of European Studies, Vol.5, No. 2 (2013)

Abstract: The Cinque Ports were a collection of ports on the east coast of England which – from early times – were granted, by charter, a number of Crown prerogatives in return for providing a ship service to the Crown. The earliest charter still extant dates from 1278. However, there may have existed charters granted by sovereigns to some – or all – of the Cinque Ports going back to the time of Edward the Confessor (1042-66). The original Cinque Ports were the ports of Hastings, Dover, Sandwich, New Romney and Hythe. To these five ports were added – probably prior to 1210 – the towns of Winchelsea and Rye. And to these were later added corporate and non-corporate members (or limbs), being other smaller ports.

The heyday of the Cinque Ports was in medieval times when they provided a vital navy for the protection of the realm. Today, the Cinque Ports, and their charters, still exist. However, the purpose of this article is to review the terms and meaning of these charters, in order to determine whether they are now obsolete and should be cancelled. That is the conclusion.

Introduction: A previous article in this journal has considered in detail the multitude of charters granted by the Crown to the City of London (the ‘City’) from very early times. In these charters, grants were progressively made of Crown prerogatives (privileges) to the City and they provide a fascinating insight in the manner in which the City – and its citizens – freed themselves, over the centuries, from Crown interference in many matters and obtained a considerable measure of self-governance. Why did the Crown grant such prerogatives? In the case of the City – which was the effective capital of England even prior to the Norman Conquest of 1066 – they were granted in return for financial and political support to the Crown in times of need. The article concluded that, fascinating as these charters are, they are long obsolete today and they should be cancelled, in order to help rationalise English law and make it more serviceable and intelligible to the general public – as well as to lawyers.

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