Available from Boydell and Brewer
|John Halle I|
|1388 (Feb.)||John Gyles|
|John Halle I|
|1388 (Sept.)||John Gyles|
|1390 (Jan.)||John Gyles|
|1397 (Jan.)||Nicholas Spicer|
|1397 (Sept.)||John Monyn 1|
|1411||Thomas Monyn 2|
|1413 (May)||Thomas Monyn|
|1414 (Nov.)||Walter Stratton|
|1416 (Oct.)||John Braban 3|
|Thomas atte Crowche|
|Thomas atte Crowche|
|1421 (May)||Thomas Arnold|
|1421 (Dec.)||John Braban|
No fortification in the British Isles has a longer recorded history than Dover castle, and the town on its doorstep shares its antiquity. Dover’s prosperity was firmly based on its position as the main port of embarkation for travellers to the continent. It suffered for a time in Edward III’s early French wars, owing to the absence of a secure port of landing on the other side of the Channel, but the capture of Calais remedied this lack, though it also provided a rival for control of the crossing. The barons did their best to reinforce Dover’s natural advantages by securing a legal monopoly based on custom and a royal ordinance issued in 1335, which forbade any travellers save for recognized merchants to cross the Channel except from Dover. Before 1380 they even tried to make the merchants of the Staple at Calais, crossing in their own ships, pay Dover the usual toll of 3s.4d. a head. The barons frequently procured orders to have Dover’s privileges observed, and Edward III’s ordinance was confirmed by Richard II in 1381, reiterated in the Parliament of 1390 (Jan.), and approved by Henry IV in 1399.4
The chief officer in Dover was the King’s bailiff, who presided over the town court and accounted for the revenues due to the Crown. However, the barons had reasonable security against royal interference through this agency, in the fact that between 1361 and 1440 the office was normally held by a townsman and, in any case, those royal servants who did secure the post usually nominated one of the barons to act as their deputy. The internal government of Dover was left in the hands of the mayor and 12 jurats. According to the custumal compiled in the mid 14th century the commonalty elected the mayor every year on 8 Sept. But the jurats (although they could not intervene at an earlier stage) might reject a person whom they considered unsuitable and oblige those assembled to put forward another. The new mayor then selected the jurats for the forthcoming year, usually naming the same men as had been in office previously, with one or two changes at most. The common chest and seal were carried to his house, although this practice probably ceased after 1368, from which date four custodes bonorum ville were elected to collect and disburse the town’s revenues. One or two of these custodes were usually jurats, the others being drawn from rising commoners, who by their tenure of office fitted themselves to fill the next vacancies among the jurats.5 For making ordinances and obtaining grants of maltolts the mayor and jurats had to resort to the common assembly, known after the method of its summoning as a ‘hornblowing’. This body was sufficiently independent as to venture on occasion to refuse to grant the full maltolt asked for.6 It would appear that the hornblowing was the normal venue for the election of MPs in our period, for when in the spring of 1384 the parliamentary writ of summons arrived late, and Dover sent to Sandwich on two successive days to discuss what should be done, a meeting of the common assembly was called.7
Electoral returns have survived for no more than 20 of the 32 Parliaments of the period, but the names of one of Dover’s representatives for each of the Parliaments of 1397 (Sept.), 1411 and 1416 (Oct.) have been found among the records of New Romney. As few as 16 men filled the 43 seats thus accounted for, revealing a pattern of parliamentary representation which differed considerably from that of the other Cinque Ports. An explanation for this may lie in the importance of the passage across the Channel, for although the exclusive Company or ‘Fellowship’ that had formerly controlled the passage-boats had been weakened both by agreements to let every member, rich or poor, take his turn in crossing the Channel, and by Edward III’s ruling in 1343 that any who would pay the town its dues could keep a ‘passager’, a substantial share of the profits still fell to a small group of townsmen who combined the ownership of large vessels with that of inns for the benefit of travellers passing through Dover.8 Hence Dover’s life, and its parliamentary representation, was dominated by a select number of wealthy men, who excluded the majority of the inhabitants (and even most of the jurats) from Parliament and the mayoralty.
Under Richard II there emerged four such barons: John Gyles, John Halle I, John Monyn and John Strete. Each of them possessed both ships and taverns, probably attached to inns, and Strete built up substantial mercantile interests, including the export of wool. Halle, Monyn and Gyles were all personally instrumental in obtaining confirmation from Richard II and Henry IV of Dover’s exclusive rights as a port of embarkation for pilgrims and other travellers, while Strete was the chief of those who managed the passage in the early 15th century. Between them, these four monopolized the mayoralty from 1385 to 1402. Furthermore, between 1371 and 1402 they occupied 38 places in Parliament out of the 50 for which evidence survives — perhaps more significantly, between 1381 and 1399 as many as 29 out of the 34 where Membership is documented. Halle sat in at least 12 Parliaments, Strete in ten, Gyles in nine, and Monyn in seven (the last named going on to sit one more time, but for Canterbury instead of Dover, towards the end of his career). In the late 14th century, too, Dover, unlike the other Ports, often re-elected Members to successive Parliaments. Gyles appeared continuously in every Parliament for which returns survive from 1385 to January 1397, on four of those occasions with Strete as his companion. Both Members of the Parliaments of 1386, 1388 (Sept.) and 1391 were re-elected to consecutive assemblies.
From 1402 to 1414 there was a relaxation of the oligarchic domination of Dover, during which lesser men became its MPs. (Perhaps the internal dissensions, which in 1411 required the arbitration of the warden of the Cinque Ports, Henry, prince of Wales, contributed to this change.) But under Henry V another dominant group emerged, headed by Walter Stratton and John Braban, who, with John Garton, Thomas Arnold and Thomas atte Crowche, occupied the mayoralty, to the exclusion of all others, from 1414 to 1435. In the Parliaments summoned between 1414 and 1425 this group took 18 out of 19 recorded places. Braban sat in nine Parliaments between 1416 and 1435; and as had happened under Richard II, re-election again occurred regularly, with Braban sitting in three Parliaments running (1416-19) and Arnold in the consecutive Parliaments of 1420 and 1421 (May). On no known occasion in our period did Dover return two novices to the Commons; and in at least ten Parliaments it was represented by two men with previous experience of the ways of the House.
Although all 16 MPs were resident barons of Dover, they nearly all also acquired land outside the town, on which as Portsmen they claimed exemption from parliamentary taxation. John Monyn became a landowner of some substance, with holdings which included property in Canterbury, and before the end of his life he achieved armigerous status. His presumed son, Thomas, was the only one of Dover’s Members not recorded as ever discharging an office in the town; the remaining 15 all served as jurats (seven of them doing so before they first entered Parliament) and most (12) also obtained election as mayor (although in only four cases did tenure of office precede parliamentary service). Yet it was not customary for a member of the governing body actually in power to be sent to the Commons: no more than five instances have been found of a jurat being returned, and only on six occasions was the mayor himself selected. Thus, the majority of places (32 out of 43) were filled by barons temporarily out of office.
None of the parliamentary barons of the period was ever appointed by the Crown to the bailiffship of Dover, and although six of them did act as deputy bailiffs in the course of their careers their terms of office never coincided with service in Parliament. Under Henry IV Dover elected two ‘King’s esquires’: Thomas Gyles (1402 and 1406), who had been given the sinecure post of bailiff of Rye as reward for assisting Bolingbroke’s return to England from exile, and Thomas Monyn (1411 and May 1413), who had earlier enjoyed a royal annuity of £20. Yet there can be no doubt that it was for their local connexions and family backgrounds that the two were chosen as MPs, rather than for any links they may have had with the royal court. In the course of their careers four of Dover’s representatives (John Halle I, Henry Merley, Walter Stratton and John Strete) were engaged in the collection of customs and subsidies either at Dover itself (during the brief period from 1377 to 1386 when it enjoyed the status of a head port), or at Sandwich. Thus, Halle was holding royal office when elected to six of his 12 Parliaments (from 1378 to 1386), as were Strete when returned in 1391 and Stratton in 1419 and 1421 (Dec.). Halle attained the important post of lieutenant of Dover castle (i.e. deputy warden of the Cinque Ports), only not until after his parliamentary career had ended.
Dover was at first generous in its payments to MPs. At the beginning of our period they received 3s.4d. a day (as compared with knights of the shires who received 4s.); and even though by 1423 the daily rate had fallen to 2s.8d., this was a higher sum than was usually paid by the other Ports. However, the town’s revenues suffered a decline during the period, falling from over £50 a year before 1380 to sometimes less than £40 under Henry V, and in the years that followed there were complaints of depopulation and decay. On occasion in the 1420s the parliamentary barons (such as Thomas atte Crowche and John Garton) encountered considerable difficulty in securing the payments promised for their services.9 Nevertheless, it is clear from the outcome of Dover’s dispute with its member-port of Faversham that seats in Parliament were widely sought after. The men of Faversham had grown weary of being taxed at will for Dover’s needs, without receiving any notable return, and from 1420 they refused to pay the customary annual contributions. When, after prolonged discussions and mediations, they agreed in 1438 to supply just 40s. a year, the barons of Dover had to promise in return to accept a burgess chosen at Faversham as one of their parliamentary representatives, or else forfeit half the money. Even so, after one experiment, the barons preferred to keep both seats to themselves and forgo 20s. from Faversham in years when Parliaments were held.10
Author: A. P.M. Wright
- 1. Romney assmt. bk. 2, f. 52.
- 2. Ibid. f. 74.
- 3. Ibid. f. 88d.
- 4. CRR, 1341-3, p. 342; 1343-6, pp. 545-6; 1354-60, p. 539; 1377-81, p. 400; Rot. Gasc. et Franc. ed. Carte, ii. 46; RP, iii. 275; CPR, 1381-5, p. 1; 1399-1401, p. 46.
- 5. Stowe 850, f. 133; J. Lyon, Hist. Dover, ii. 267-8; J.B. Jones, Annals of Dover, 229, 287; Add. 29615, ff. 3, 43, 65, 72.
- 6. Egerton 2091, f. 91; Add. 29615, ff. 13, 54, 76.
- 7. Egerton 2091, f. 85.
- 8. Dover Chs. ed. Statham, 34-36, 52-54.
- 9. Add. 29615, ff. 54, 75, 136; RP, iv. 364.
- 10. Dover Chs. 184-99; Add. 29810, ff. 64, 72.