Map of Cinque Ports
Faversham Town Quay
Cinque Ports Coat of Arms
Stained glass window
in St Mary of Charity
depicting the Faversham
Barons of the Cinque
Faversham's Membership of the
Cinque Ports Confederation
Faversham takes pride in its continuing association with the Confederation of Cinque Ports.
Among its treasures is the oldest surviving Royal Charter granted to the Ports. Dating from 20 May 1260, this gives the ‘Barons’ (established citizens) of all the member Ports immunity from summons before the Royal Justices Itinerant in respect of land in any county, unless anyone sues them.
With other ancient Royal Charters, it is on view every year in the Mayor’s Parlour at the Alexander Centre during the Faversham Society’s popular Open House event.
Origin of the confederation
Till the 15th century England had no permanent navy to defend it from sea-borne aggression. Instead five ports in the South East - the region most vulnerable to invasion - contracted with the Crown to provide a defensive fleet when required.
In return, they enjoyed extensive privileges, rather like those of the Hanseatic Ports.
This Confederation of Cinque Ports (cinque is the French for five) was formed probably in the early 11th century. Its ‘head of state’ was the Lord Warden.
The founding Members (‘head ports), later joined by Rye and Winchelsea, were Hastings, New Romney, Hythe, Dover and Sandwich.
Each town recruited as ‘limbs’ other ports that could help it to raise the requisite number of vessels and crews. Dover recruited Faversham, probably when the Confederation was formed.
Admiral Henry Pay of Faversham
The Ports fleet fended off many threats of invasion. One of its great admirals - and a career corsair - was Henry Pay, from Faversham. Based originally in Poole (Dorset), which had links with Winchelsea, he made life difficult for Spain and France. With his own fleet he scoured the Straits of Dover in such strength that no vessel could escape without being captured. He plundered the coast of Castile.
In 1404 when he was on board the big ship which belonged to the Lord Warden of the Ports she was captured by the French. When they went below in search of booty, Pay’s war-cry was heard, and he and his fellow-prisoners overpowered their guards and recaptured the vessel.
He then seized two French ships and, flying the French flag, sailed up the Seine, plundering with impunity.
In the following year he was one of the captains in an English fleet which burnt 40 towns and villages in Normandy. In 1406 he took a vessel laden with wine, but had to hand it back as it belonged to a London owner. In 1407, off the coast of Brittany, he captured no less than 120 ships laden with iron, salt and oil. Not exactly someone to trifle with! 12 years later, he died in Faversham. His grave can still be seen in the north transept of Faversham Parish Church.
Autonomy and enterprise
Like the other Ports, Faversham functioned virtually as a ‘city-state’, owing allegiance only to the Crown and not forming part of the administrative county of Kent. Sometimes, indeed, leading local citizens gave the impression that the Lord Warden, rather than the King or Queen of England, was their head of state.
From this maybe stems the town’s long record of standing up for itself, usually successfully, when the authorities fail it; and also, through its charities, of foreshadowing some of the provisions of the Welfare State.
True to form, the town was regarded as something of a ‘loner’ by the other Members. It was specially enterprising and was the only one to exempt all trading vessels (not just those from other Member-ports) from dues and taxes. This encouraged trade and helped make Faversham prosperous.
Significantly, the arms of Faversham Abbey were those of the Ports, with an abbot’s crosier added. Each head port had its own MP and in the 16th century, when Dover was in decline, Faversham often elected one instead.
Among ships supplied by the town for the Cinque Ports fleet were Nicholas, in 1298, La Katerine, in 1327, and the Hazard to fight the Armada in 1588. The present Sea Cadet HQ in Conduit Street, a former warehouse built in about 1475, is named TS Hazard after this vessel.
By the early 17th century the nation had a big enough permanent Royal Navy for the services of the Cinque Ports to be no longer required. The Confederation still exists, however, and fulfils various ceremonial functions. The post of Lord Warden is now an honorary one, held by figures of the stature of the late Sir Winston Churchill and Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother. It carries with it the right to reside at Walmer Castle, near Deal. The present Lord Warden is Admiral Lord Boyce, appointed in 2004 and installed in 2005.
Text: Arthur Percival
Pictures: the Faversham Society and the Confederation of Cinque Ports.