CINQUE PORTS, the name of an ancient jurisdiction in the south of England, which is still maintained with considerable modifications and diminished authority. As the name implies, the ports originally constituting the body were only five in number—Hastings, Romney, Hythe, Dover and Sandwich; but to these were afterwards added the “ancient towns” of Winchelsea and Rye with the same privileges, and a good many other places, both corporate and non-corporate, which, with the title of limb or member, held a subordinate position. To Hastings were attached the corporate members of Pevensey and Seaford, and the non-corporate members of Bulvarhythe, Petit Iham (Yham or Higham), Hydney, Bekesbourn, Northeye and Grenche or Grange; to Romney, Lydd, and Old Romney, Dengemarsh, Orwaldstone, and Bromehill or Promehill; to Dover, Folkestone and Faversham, and Margate, St John’s, Goresend (now Birchington), Birchington Wood (now Woodchurch), St Peter’s, Kingsdown and Ringwould; to Sandwich, Fordwich and Deal, and Walmer, Ramsgate, Reculver, Stonor (Estanor), Sarre (or Serre) and Brightlingsea (in Essex). To Rye was attached the corporate member of Tenterden, and to a Hythe the non-corporate member of West Hythe. The jurisdiction thus extends along the coast from Seaford in Sussex to Birchington near Margate in Kent; and it also includes a number of inland districts, at a considerable distance from the ports with which they are connected. The non-incorporated members are within the municipal jurisdiction of the ports to which they are attached; but the corporate members are as free within their own liberties as the individual ports themselves.
The incorporation of the Cinque Ports had its origin in the necessity for some means of defence along the southern seaboard of England, and in the lack of any regular navy. Up to the reign of Henry VII. they had to furnish the crown with nearly all the ships and men that were needful for the state; and for a long time after they were required to give large assistance to the permanent fleet. The oldest charter now on record is one belonging to the 6th year of Edward I.; and it refers to previous documents of the time of Edward the Confessor and William the Conqueror. In return for their services the ports enjoyed extensive privileges. From the Conquest or even earlier they had, besides various lesser rights—(1) exemption from tax and tallage; (2) soc and sac, or full cognizance of all criminal and civil cases within their liberties; (3) tol and team, or the right of receiving toll and the right of compelling the person in whose hands stolen property was found to name the person from whom he received it; (4) blodwit and fledwit, or the right to punish shedders of blood and those who were seized in an attempt to escape from justice; (5) pillory and tumbrel; (6) infangentheof and outfangentheof, or power to imprison and execute felons; (7) mundbryce (the breaking into or violation of a man’s mund or property in order to erect banks or dikes as a defence against the sea); (8) waives and strays, or the right to appropriate lost property or cattle not claimed within a year and a day; (9) the right to seize all flotsam, jetsam, or ligan, or, in other words, whatever of value was cast ashore by the sea; (10) the privilege of being a gild with power to impose taxes for the common weal; and (11) the right of assembling in portmote or parliament at Shepway or Shepway Cross, a few miles west of Hythe (but afterwards at Dover), the parliament being empowered to make by-laws for the Cinque Ports, to regulate the Yarmouth fishery, to hear appeals from the local courts, and to give decision in all cases of treason, sedition, illegal coining or concealment of treasure trove. The ordinary business of the ports was conducted in two courts known respectively as the court of brotherhood and the court of brotherhood and guestling,—the former being composed of the mayors of the seven principal towns and a number of jurats and freemen from each, and the latter including in addition the mayors, bailiffs and other representatives of the corporate members. The court of brotherhood was formerly called the brotheryeeld, brodall or brodhull; and the name guestling seems to owe its origin to the fact that the officials of the “members” were at first in the position of invited guests.
The highest office in connexion with the Cinque Ports is that of the lord warden, who also acts as governor of Dover Castle, and has a maritime jurisdiction (vide infra) as admiral of the ports. His power was formerly of great extent, but he has now practically no important duty to exercise except that of chairman of the Dover harbour board. The emoluments of the office are confined to certain insignificant admiralty droits. The patronage attached to the office consists of the right to appoint the judge of the Cinque Ports admiralty court, the registrar of the Cinque Ports and the marshal of the court; the right of appointing salvage commissioners at each Cinque Port and the appointment of a deputy to act as chairman of the Dover harbour board in the absence of the lord warden. Walmer Castle was for long the official residence of the lord warden, but has, since the resignation of Lord Curzon in 1903, ceased to be so used, and those portions of it which are of historic interest are now open to the public. George, prince of Wales (lord warden, 1903-1907), was the first lord warden of royal blood since the office was held by George, prince of Denmark, consort of Queen Anne.
Admiralty Jurisdiction.—The court of admiralty for the Cinque Ports exercises a co-ordinate but not exclusive admiralty jurisdiction over persons and things found within the territory of the Cinque Ports. The limits of its jurisdiction were declared at an inquisition taken at the court of admiralty, held by the seaside at Dover in 1682, to extend from Shore Beacon in Essex to Redcliff, near Seaford, in Sussex; and with regard to salvage, they comprise all the sea between Seaford in Sussex to a point five miles off Cape Grisnez on the coast of France, and the coast of Essex. An older inquisition of 1526 is given by R. G. Marsden in his Select Pleas of the Court of Admiralty, II. xxx. The court is an ancient one. The judge sits as the official and commissary of the lord warden, just as the judge of the high court of admiralty sat as the official and commissary of the lord high admiral. And, as the office of lord warden is more ancient than the office of lord high admiral (The Lord Warden v. King in his office of Admiralty, 1831, 2 Hagg. Admy. Rep. 438), it is probable that the Cinque Ports court is the more ancient of the two.
The jurisdiction of the court has been, except in one matter of mere antiquarian curiosity, unaffected by statute. It exercises only, therefore, such jurisdiction as the high court of admiralty exercised, apart from restraining statutes of 1389 and 1391 and enabling statutes of 1840 and 1861. Cases of collision have been tried in it (the “Vivid,” 1 Asp. Maritime Law Cases, 601). But salvage cases (the “Clarisse,” Swabey, 129; the “Marie,” Law. Rep. 7 P.D. 203) are the principal cases now tried. It has no prize jurisdiction. The one case in which jurisdiction has been given to it by statute is to enforce forfeitures under the statute of 1538.
Dr (afterwards the Right Hon. Robert Joseph) Phillimore succeeded his father as judge of the court from 1855 to 1875, being succeeded by Mr Arthur Cohen, K.C. As Sir R. Phillimore was also the last judge of the high court of admiralty, from 1867 (the date of his appointment to the high court) to 1875, the two offices were, probably for the first time in history, held by the same person. Dr Phillimore’s patent had a grant of the “place or office of judge official and commissary of the court of admiralty of the Cinque Ports, and their members and appurtenances, and to be assistant to my lieutenant of Dover castle in all such affairs and business concerning the said court of admiralty wherein yourself and assistance shall be requisite and necessary.” Of old the court sat sometimes at Sandwich, sometimes at other ports. But the regular place for the sitting of the court has for a long time been, and still is, the aisle of St James’s church, Dover. For convenience the judge often sits at the royal courts of justice. The office of marshal in the high court is represented in this court by a serjeant, who also bears a silver oar. There is a registrar, as in the high court. The appeal is to the king in council, and is heard by the judicial committee of the privy council. The court can hear appeals from the Cinque Ports salvage commissioners, such appeals being final (Cinque Ports Act 1821). Actions may be transferred to it, and appeals made to it, from the county courts in all cases, arising within the jurisdiction of the Cinque Ports as defined by that act. At the solemn installation of the lord warden the judge as the next principal officer installs him.
The Cinque Ports from the earliest times claimed to be exempt from the jurisdiction of the admiral of England. Their early charters do not, like those of Bristol and other seaports, express this exemption in terms. It seems to have been derived from the general words of the charters which preserve their liberties and privileges.
The lord warden’s claim to prize was raised in, but not finally decided by, the high court of admiralty in the “Ooster Ems,” 1 C. Rob. 284, 1783.
See S. Jeake, Charters of the Cinque Ports (1728); Boys, Sandwich and Cinque Ports; Knocker, Grand Court of Shepway (1862); M, Burrows, Cinque Ports (1895); F. M. Hueffer, Cinque Ports (1900); Indices of the Great White and Black Books of the Cinque Ports (1905).