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|1388 (Feb.)||Stephen Elyot|
|William Marchaunt II|
|1388 (Sept.)||William atte Vawte|
|1390 (Jan.)||Laurence Lunceford|
|1391||John Salerne I|
|1397 (Jan.)||Richard Tichebourne|
|William atte Vawte|
|1406||William atte Vawte|
|William Long II|
|1413 (May)||William Long II|
|1414 (Nov.)||William Long II|
|William Long II|
|William Long II|
|1421 (May)||Robert Onewyn|
|1421 (Dec.)||William Thirlwall|
Rye had been founded in the 11th century on a manorial estate belonging to the Norman abbey of Fécamp. Its name, meaning ‘the island’, reflects its situation at the confluence of rivers and the sea which formed the natural harbour known as the Camber. The proximity of Rye to Winchelsea, coupled with the fact that until 1247 they were both under the lordship of the same abbey, caused them to be long treated for administrative purposes as a unit, and their interests remained closely linked. A charter of Henry II granted to the two towns had given them certain privileges enjoyed by Hastings and the Cinque Ports generally, and in return for further liberties granted in 1191 they undertook to find two ships to help Hastings make up its contingent due for the King’s service. In the 13th century the service due from Rye and Winchelsea was increased to 15 ships (of which Rye’s quota was five), but it was only in the 14th that they ceased to be limbs of Hastings, acquiring their peculiar status as ‘ancient towns’.1
Rye was sacked by the French in 1339, 1360 and 1377, and never fully recovered in our period. The townsmen and the government were alike greatly concerned that fortifications should be built to prevent a recurrence of the disaster. In 1372 and 1380 grants of the profits of the bailiwick were made to the mayor and commonalty to aid them with the defences, but evidently without much result, for in 1382 they were granted these same revenues for a three-year term on condition that if within that period they failed to enclose the town with a stone wall they would forfeit £100. Even so, the fortifications were still not completed on time (although in view of the townsmen’s poverty half the fine was remitted), and in 1385 the works were placed under the supervision of the warden of the Cinque Ports assisted by commissioners appointed by the Crown.2
As Rye was not held at fee farm, its bailiffship remained at the King’s disposal. Down to 1358 this office had been combined with the bailiffship of Winchelsea, but after the two places were separated it was for a time entrusted to select townsmen at an annual farm of £20 or £18 (even though Rye’s revenues, derived from rents and tolls on shipping and use of market stalls, besides the profits of the court, seldom, according to the accounts, reached this figure). Then, in 1382, the mayor and commonalty were permitted to farm the bailiwick for 13 years; but their failure to build walls led to the withdrawal of this concession, and from 1386 the office of bailiff was granted to royal servants as a sinecure, often for life, the profits going to provide their pay or pensions. Thereafter the bailiffs’ duties in the town were generally performed by deputies.3 Freedom from outside interference was further assured by the fact that the bailiff could not exercise his office until he had taken oath before the mayor to observe the liberties and customs of the town. The mayor was chosen every year by the commonalty at an assembly held on the Sunday after the feast of St. Bartholomew (24 Aug.), and he himself then appointed 12 jurats as assistants. In return for an annual fee of £5, he managed the town’s revenues and held the local court in conjunction with the bailiff or the latter’s deputy. Local regulations were probably made by the mayor and jurats with the assent of the assembled townspeople.4
To the 20 Parliaments for which electoral returns survive, Rye sent 21 individuals, of whom one remains unidentified. Although ten are known to have sat in Parliament just once, some of the rest appeared fairly frequently: John Baddyng and Stephen Elyot were returned six times each, and William Thirlwall seven all told. Besides his three Parliaments for Rye, John Salerne I also represented Hastings four times, while John Shelley, who sat on five occasions for Rye, was afterwards returned three times by Sandwich. To six Parliaments of the period Rye elected two barons who were already experienced in the proceedings of the Commons, and in 11 more one of those chosen was qualified in this way. However, re-election to successive Parliaments occurred infrequently: only two instances are known, in February 1388 and 1420.
All of those Members identified held property in Rye, several coming from families long established in the locality. Indeed, the majority lived there, although after the French attack of 1377 many leading townsmen, such as Simon Lunceford* and John Salerne I, left the neighbourhood for a while, doubtless because their homes and businesses were in ruins. Subsequently, those barons of Rye who were still wealthy enough to own ships sometimes augmented their legitimate fishing and trading ventures (importing wine and exporting wood from the Weald) by indulging in piracy. In the case of the notorious William Long II, this activity reached the scale of an international scandal, causing a major diplomatic crisis for the government of Henry IV. Nearly all of Rye’s MPs had also acquired holdings in the surrounding countryside, and a few of them even became landowners of substance, although after doing so they generally ceased to show much interest in the affairs of the town and gave up their share in its parliamentary representation. Such was the case with William Marchaunt II, descended from an old Rye family, who after sitting in Parliament just once, in his youth, set up as a farmer at Iden, and soon attained armigerous rank and influential connexions among the gentry of the shire. So too with John Salerne I, who, having been a vintner and mayor of Rye, acquired land worth at least £40 a year, served as sheriff of Surrey and Sussex, and married his daughters to a future shire knight and the son of a judge. They left the town to be represented by the leading jurats, drawn from its traders and seamen. Twelve of the 21 parliamentary barons served as mayors of Rye, many of them doing so for three or four annual terms. Generally, parliamentary service preceded election to the mayoralty, and on only three occasions (in January 1390, 1410 and 1420) was the officiating mayor returned to the Commons (Lunceford, Long and Shelley, respectively). John Baddyng, Richard Tichebourne and Robert Onewyn all acted at some time in their careers as deputy bailiffs of Rye. Indeed, Tichebourne was holding the office when elected to Parliament for the only time in January 1397, and Onewyn may have been doing so when returned in 1413 and 1414.
The standard wage for Rye’s MPs in this period was 2s.6d. a day, as at other Cinque Ports, that is, 6d. a day more than the amount customarily paid by parliamentary boroughs.5
Author: A. P.M. Wright
- 1. M.W. Beresford, New Towns, 495-6; VCH Suss. ix. 49; K.M.E. Murray, Const. Hist. Cinque Ports, 44.