History of the Cinque Ports / As always, written by the victors

Once upon a time

The precise origins and antiquity of the Confederation have long been the subject of contention between scholars. Some have claimed that the organisation was formally established by a long-lost Royal Charter, dating from before the Norman Conquest in 1066; others that it did not come into existence until the 13th Century.

The leading modern authority on the subject, however, suggests that the Portsmen first came together informally, during the 11th Century, to regulate the important herring-fair held each year at Yarmouth, on the Norfolk coast, and that this common, economic interest was reinforced by the strategic position of the Ports, on a coast constantly open to attack and controlling the important sea routes across the English Channel. Although the earliest known charter granting rights in common to the Cinque Ports dates from 1260, it is suggested, on the basis of other contemporary evidence, that it was Edward the Confessor (1042-1066) who first set about replacing the Saxon mercenary fleet with one drawn from the five ports, assisted by nearby coastal and creek-side towns and villages. In return for the grant of privileges, Edward was able to muster a fleet to maintain the important transportation links to Normandy and to protect his kingdom from attack. By the reign of Henry II (1154-1189), the towns were already known collectively as the "Cinque Ports".

Initially, charters conferring privileges were granted to the Ports individually, since they retained their right to act independently, in matters beyond the areas of mutual concern, and separate charters were generally considered to be more effective. However, by the middle of the 12th Century, the Court of Shepway had been established with jurisdiction over all of the Ports and, over the next 100 years or so, rights first granted, separately, to the individual members of the Confederation had been consolidated in joint charters.

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Who are the Mayors ?
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