Available from Boydell and Brewer
|1388 (Feb.)||William Jordan|
|1388 (Sept.)||John Berham|
|1390 (Jan.)||John Berham|
|Thomas atte Welle|
|John atte Nessche|
|1397 (Jan.)||Richard Benge|
|John atte Nessche|
|1413 (May)||John Geldeford|
|1414 (Nov.)||Simon Halle|
|1421 (May)||Simon Halle|
|1421 (Dec.)||John Bolle|
One of the five original Cinque Ports, Sandwich was under an obligation to render to the Crown the same ship-service as Dover, that is, 20 ships for 15 days each year. Its early development as an important port was due to its excellent harbour and to the formation of the Wantsum channel (providing vessels with an easy route from London to the straits of Dover). Facing north-east, towards Sluis and Middleburg, Sandwich naturally looked to the Netherlands as one of its primary trading centres, while its convenience as a place both for the mustering and embarkation of troops going overseas, and for the collection of military provisions for the garrison at Calais, meant that the periods of warfare with France saw increased business for its barons. In 1353 the town had established its right to possess the trone for weighing merchandise prior to its export front Kent; and so it came as a severe blow when, in 1368, Edward III, in order to assist the growth of his new foundation of Queensborough, transferred the customs house there (together with the Staple from Canterbury). However, after the barons had promoted a petition in his successor’s first Parliament to have wool weighed once more at Sandwich, not only was the trone restored to its former place, but also the Kentish Staple was established there, if only for a while. Sandwich retained its status as a head port for the collection of customs throughout the period. In the late 14th century there are estimated to have been 810 inhabited houses in the town, for a population of some 3,000; but although Sandwich appears to have prospered, its barons, faced in 1385 with the question of raising money for much-needed fortifications, claimed that their town was severely underpopulated, owing to ‘divers plagues and ... grievous calamities’, and matters seemingly did not improve in the course of the next 20 years.1
From 1290, when Christ Church priory, Canterbury, surrendered to the Crown all its rights and franchises in Sandwich, the bailiff, as at other Cinque Ports under royal lordship, was appointed by the King, although the townsmen were entitled to make this officer swear to observe their liberties before admitting him. He held the town at a yearly farm which was gradually reduced from £70 in 1327 to £40 in 1340 and £20 by 1381. For much of the 14th century it was usual for the office to be granted to a baron, and at one time the Sandwich family of Cundy even secured it in tail. However, by our period the bailiffship had become a sinecure given to royal officials, serjeants-at-arms or King’s esquires. The last local bailiff was Thomas Ellis†, who though he held a patent granting him the place for ten years, was removed prematurely in 1381 in favour of a servant of Richard II. Thereafter the bailiffs were invariably absentees, whose duties were performed by townsmen, no doubt well under the control of their fellows.2
Over the years a substantial measure of self-government had been achieved by the townspeople. Sandwich was ruled by a mayor and 12 jurats, who were elected yearly on the Monday after the feast of St. Andrew (30 Nov.), at an assembly of the whole commonalty comprising those who were over 12 years old. After the retiring mayor had offered satisfaction for any defaults he had committed, he withdrew with three others nominated as candidates. Then the jurats and certain others ‘sedentes per quattuor bancos’ (which may refer to members of the common council) named their preferences, in which they were followed by the acclamations of the rest of those assembled ‘omnes astantes’, the choice of the majority being decisive. After the new mayor had been fetched and sworn in, the jurats were selected, possibly by him, although in practice they were picked from the same group of barons every succeeding year.3 The commonalty had the right to consent to the ordinances made by the jurats, and to the maltolts levied. Under Henry VI the MPs are recorded as being elected at a similar assembly of the whole commonalty, and it was this assembly which, in February 1437, agreed to reduce their daily wage to 2s. By then the commoners seem to have been represented by a body of 60, even though a common council was not to be formally established until 1454.4
Returns for Sandwich have survived for no more than 20 of the 32 Parliaments of the period, providing the names of 22 Members. Seats were not monopolized by a few men for long periods (as was the case at Dover), for nearly half of those elected (nine) are known to have sat only in one Parliament. Admittedly, William Jordan and Stephen Reyner appeared five times each, and John Godard six, but they by no means dominated Sandwich’s representation. In any case, the gaps in the returns make any attempt to analyse them in terms of parliamentary service somewhat unsatisfactory. We can, however, be certain that to at least 17 of the 20 Parliaments Sandwich elected someone who had sat in the Commons previously, and in seven of these both men chosen were already experienced. Even so, in the Parliaments of 1406, 1410 and 1419 it is possible that both MPs were newcomers to the Commons. Re-election of certain individuals to successive Parliaments is known to have occurred seven times in the period, the most notable instance being the return of Laurence Cundy to four Parliaments running between 1419 and 1421 (Dec.).
With the possible exception of John Norton (who remains unidentified), all of Sandwich’s parliamentary barons lived in the town; and although only nine of them are recorded as participating in the trade of the port, as merchants shipping wine, cloth and other goods, it seems likely that a larger number supplied and lodged the foreigners whose commerce brought them there. Some MPs were shipowners; other, as masters of vessels, were on occasion accused of piracy. More than half (12) had interests in land outside the town (usually in its immediate neighbourhood), which in the cases of Thomas Loveryk and John Godard amounted to quite substantial holdings. Loveryk, designated ‘gentleman’ in his later years, could expect an annual income from land of at least £7, while Godard received more than £20 a year from properties acquired through investment of his profits of trade. Sandwich had formerly been dominated by certain outstanding families, but in our period this was no longer the case. The Cundys, who had lost influence since their main line died out in 1368, filled only five seats in the Commons, and the Loveryks just two. Sandwich’s parliamentary representatives were nearly always selected from the same group of barons from which the town jurats were chosen: 19 of the 22 are known to have served on the governing body, the majority (13) doing so before their earliest elections to Parliament. Nevertheless, it was by no means usual for one of the 12 jurats currently holding office to be sent to the Commons: no more than seven instances of this happening have been discovered out of a possible 40. Ten of the parliamentary barons were also chosen as mayor, but only two are recorded occupying the mayoralty before they first entered the Lower House. Only once in our period—in May 1413—did the then mayor (John Gyllyng) get returned to Parliament, although it was while he was sitting in the Commons in 1417 that William Gayler was selected as mayor for the first of his five terms. Thomas Loveryk also held the post for five years (four of them in succession), while John Godard, outstanding in this respect as in others, was placed in the mayoralty at least ten times.
Only three of Sandwich’s MPs secured offices by crown appointment as collectors or controllers of the customs and subsidies levied in the port. John Godard occupied such posts continuously for 14 years, from 1384 to 1398, and it was while so engaged that he was returned to three of his six Parliaments (1386, 1395 and 1397 (Jan.)); Stephen Peyntour was elected in 1399 while serving as customer; and John Gyllyng was returned not only in 1410 while controller, but also in 1413 (May) while acting as deputy butler. However, after about 1405, the increasing importance of Sandwich’s Mediterranean trade led to outsiders being more often given these offices in preference to local townsmen.