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Closing ranks: oligarchy and government at Rye, 1570–1640

  • Stephen Hipkin
Abstract

During the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries the development of oligarchic government was accomplished in many English corporate towns by the introduction of a common council, the exclusion of the commonalty of freemen from participation in decision-making processes, and often their removal from the municipal and/or parliamentary franchise. Resistance to such changes among rank-and-file freemen frequently gave rise to civic strife, factionalism and oligarchic dependence on outside support. But analysis of developments at the town of Rye in Sussex suggests that an alternative (or subsidiary) route to oligarchy, less prone to fostering factionalism and dependency on crown agents, may have existed in towns where it was possible strictly to control freeman admissions and promote rule by exclusive commonalty.

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1 Clark, P. and Slack, P., English Towns in Transition 1500-1700 (Oxford, 1976), 126-36, 140; idem (eds), Crisis and Order in English Towns 1500-1700 (London, 1972), 21-2; Weinbaum, M., The Incorporation of Boroughs (Manchester, 1937), 127–30; O'Day, R., “The triumph of civic oligarchy in the seventeenth century?”, in Phythian-Adams, C. (ed.), The Traditional Community Under Stress (Milton Keynes, 1977), 122–3.

2 Clark, P., English Provincial Society from the Reformation to the Revolution: Politics, Religion and Society in Kent 1500-1640 (Hassocks, 1977), 20, 80, 140-3, 252-5, 332, 334, 340-1, 381-2, 424 n. 37; Fletcher, A., A County Community in Peace and War: Sussex 1600-1660 (London, 1975), 238-9, 250. For an account of developments at Sandwich which challenges some of Clark's claims see Ollerenshaw, Z.L., “The civic elite of Sandwich, Kent 1568-1640” (unpublished M.Phil, thesis, University of Kent, 1991), 6599. See also Hirst, D., The Representative of the People?; Voters and Voting in England under the Early Stuarts (Cambridge, 1975), 47, 69-71, 133-5, 142, 201-3, 207-9, 232–4.

3 For analysis of the demographic, economic and social history of Rye see Hipkin, S. A., “The economy and social structure of Rye, 1600-1660” (unpublished D.Phil, thesis, University of Oxford, 1985), chs 15, and Mayhew, G., Tudor Rye (Falmer, 1987), chs 1, 4 and 7.

4 Hipkin, ‘Economy of Rye’, 272-3; Dell, R.F. (ed.), Records of Rye Corporation (Lewes, 1962), xiii–xiv; East Sussex Record Office, Rye Corporation Manuscripts (hereafter RYE), 1/12, f. 13r; RYE 57/1; Holloway, W., The History and Antiquities of the Ancient Town and Port of Rye, in the County of Sussex (London, 1847), 137-58, esp. 145.

5 Hipkin, ‘Economy of Rye’, 231-42, 268-72; Murray, K.M.E., The Constitutional History of the Cinque Ports Confederation (Manchester, 1935), 74-8, 84-90, 157, 205–17.

6 Clark, Religion, Politics and Society in Kent, 254; Historical Manuscripts Commission, 13th Report, Appendix Part IV, The Manuscripts of Rye and Hereford Corporations (hereafter HMC Rye) (London, 1892), 44–5.

7 RYE 1/3, ff. 55-6; RYE 1/4, ff. 187-9, 193v-4; HMC Rye, 44-5; Hipkin, ‘Economy of Rye’, 275-7; Dell, Records of Rye, 2; Holloway, History of Rye, 204-7.

8 Hipkin, ‘Economy of Rye’, 291-2; RYE 1/4, ff. 211v-14; RYE 1/7, f. 507r; HMC Rye, 45, 47-8. In precisely similar terms the seamen of Rye appealed upwards to the corporation c. 1570 for action to be taken to build a jetty providing safe harbourage ‘for the commonweal, and ease not only for ourselves, but generally for others’, RYE 99/5.

9 For example, Clay, C.G.A., Economic Expansion and Social Change: England 1500-1700, Volume II. Industry, Trade and Government (Cambridge, 1984), 222–50; Williams, P., The Tudor Regime (Oxford, 1979), 176215; Palliser, D.M., The Age of Elizabeth: England Under the Later Tudors 1547-1603 (London, 1983), 80–1.

10 RYE 1/3, ff. 164v, 179; RYE 1/4, ff. 99, 148v, 175, 211v-15, 217v-18, 233-4, 257v, 309; RYE 7/1-3; HMC Rye, 45, 47-8.

11 RYE 47/6, 12; Mayhew, Tudor Rye, 104.

12 Hipkin, S.A., ‘The impact of marshland drainage on Rye harbour 1550-1650’, in Eddison, J. (ed.), Romney Marsh: The Debatable Ground (Oxford, 1995), 138–47; Hipkin, ‘Economy of Rye’, 98-229; Mayhew, Tudor Rye, 233-69.

13 RYE 1/3, f. 189; RYE 1/4, ff. lOOv, 165, 195, 198v, 204v; RYE 1/5, f. 13v; RYE 99/5-6; RYE 47/9,15,26; RYE 60/9; Hipkin, ‘Economy of Rye', 39-40, 116.

14 Mayhew, Tudor Rye, 127-37 provides a descriptive account of the disorders. Dell, Records of Rye, 68; RYE 60/9, f. 135r.

15 RYE 47/24, 25; HMC Rye, 71; RYE 1/4, ff. 121-2, 332; Hipkin, ‘Economy of Rye’, 4, 27, 277.

16 Ibid., 277; RYE 47/22; HMC Rye, 73-4; RYE 1/4, ff. 321 v-2; Dell, Records of Rye, 2.

17 RYE 1/3, f. 12; RYE 1/4, ff. 64v, 124, 384; Dell, Records of Rye, 26. Mayhew‘s Tudor Rye, 107-8, does not recognize the existence of the strategy, described here, of promoting oligarchy by restricting entry into the commonalty.

18 The Rye custumal probably dates from the mid-fourteenth century, but only mid-sixteenth-century copies survive. Holloway, History of Rye, 137-58, esp. 145; RYE 57/1.

19 Hipkin, S.A., ‘Buying time: fiscal policy at Rye 1600-1640', Sussex Archaeological Collections, 133 (1995), forthcoming; Clark and Slack, English Towns in Transition, 115-16, 129; Palliser, Age of Elizabeth, 220-1; Ollerenshaw, ‘Civic elite of Sandwich’, 54-78; Reed, M., ‘Economic structure and change in seventeenth-century Ipswich’, in Clark, P. (ed.), Country Towns in Pre-Industrial England (Leicester, 1981), 120–1; Dyer, A.D., The City of Worcester in the Sixteenth Century (Leicester, 1973), 173; Palliser, D.M., Tudor York (Oxford, 1979), 147.

20 RYE 1/4, f. 384; Hipkin, ‘Economy of Rye’, 279-80.

21 RYE 1/1-14; RYE 60/6-10; RYE 61/10-59; Hipkin, ‘Economy of Rye’, 281, 286-8.

22 Ibid., 277-8; RYE 1/5, ff. 184-5.

23 This paragraph is based on analysis contained in Hipkin, ‘Economy of Rye’, 164-92, 281-6, 350-3.

24 Clark, Religion, Politics and Society in Kent, 340-1.

25 RYE 1/9, f. 540r; Hipkin, ‘Economy of Rye’, 289-90.

26 Ibid., 290-7; RYE 1/7, f. 475r; RYE 1/8, ff. llv, 168r; RYE 1/9, f. 540r; RYE 1/10, ff. 70, 114v, 122r; RYE 1/11, f. 266v; RYE 1/12, f. 226; RYE 1/14, f. 20v.

27 Fletcher, Sussex, 238; Hipkin, ‘Economy of Rye’, 173-4; HMC Rye, 120-2; RYE 47/70; RYE 1/7, ff. 325r, 386v, 412r, 417v-18r, 419-29r; Gregory, A.S., ‘Witchcraft, politics and “good neighbourhood” in early seventeenth-entury Rye’, Past and Present, 133 (1991), 39-50, esp. 41; idem, ‘Slander accusations and social control in late sixteenth and early seventeenth century England, with particular reference to Rye (Sussex), 1590-1615’ (unpublished D.Phil, thesis, University of Sussex, 1985), 135-6. Gregory concedes that ‘it is difficult to establish factional allegiance even among the magistracy at this period’, that ‘principles’ determining choice of allegiance amongst followers and ‘main’ protagonists ‘need not have been identical’, and that the allegiance of individuals ‘may have changed at different times’. One can only wonder what substance there could be to ‘factions’ whose leaders cannot be identified but may, whoever they are, have been motivated by different, unspecified, principles from their followers, and where leaders and followers alike were ever liable to ‘change sides’ for, again, unspecified reasons.

28 RYE 47/111, 113, 115; RYE 1/11, ff. 215, 218-19, 227v, 228, 236r, 242r, 245r, 261r, 265-8. For a more detailed account of the Sharp/Benbrick affair, and of the handful of other cases of inter-oligarchic disputes, all of them related to allegations of corruption or business malpractice, see Hipkin, ‘Economy of Rye’, 294-301.

29 BM, Add. MS 5705, f. 140; RYE 99/13; RYE 47/1-133; Hipkin, ‘Economy of Rye’, 231-9.

30 Ibid., 301-12; Underdown, D., Fire From Heaven; Life in an English Town in the Seventeenth Century (London, 1992), 92.

31 Hipkin, ‘Marshland reclamation’, 139-44; idem, ‘Economy of Rye’, 240-3; RYE 1/7, ff. 384-5, 387v, 509v.

32 Neale, J.E., The Elizabethan House of Commons (London, 1976), 204-12, 299; Murray, Constitutional History, 94-5, 98-100; Hull, F. (ed.), A Calendar of the White and Black Books of the Cinque Ports 1432-1955, Kent Records XIX (Maidstone, 1966), 291, 375; Hirst, The Representative of the People?, 207, 232.

33 HMC Rye, 126-7, 135; RYE 1/7, ff. 506v, 508r; RYE 1/8, ff. 52v, 68r.

34 Hipkin, ‘Buying time’, passim; RYE 1/7, ff. 324v-5r, 328, 373r, 386v, 412r, 437v-8r, 440v, 446-8r, 464r, 468r, 487, 501r; RYE 130/45; RYE 135/26.

35 RYE 47/86, 96; HMC Rye, 157-9, 162-4; RYE 1/9, ff. 424r, 431; RYE 1/10, ff. 209r-10r; RYE 1/11, ff. 15r, 22r; Calendar of State Papers Domestic (hereafter CSPD) 1619-1623, 123, 176, 200, 212; CSPD 1623-1625, 152; Gruenfelder, J.K., ‘Rye and the parliament of 1621’, Sussex Archaeological Collections, 107 (1969), 2930.

36 RYE 1/8, ff. 250r, 264v; RYE 1/9, f. 574r; RYE 1/10, ff. 211r, 217r; HMC Rye, 144-6, 162, 166-71; Russell, C., Parliaments and English Politics 1621-1629 (Oxford, 1979), 37–8; CSPD 1619-1623, 222; CSPD 1623-1625, 184-5; RYE 47/97, 115; Hipkin, ‘Economy of Rye’, 104-5, 120-1.

37 HMC Rye, 173, 176, 189-90; Fletcher, Sussex, 176, 237-8; RYE 1/11, ff. 67r, lOOv, 196v; RYE 47/113; Hipkin, ‘Economy of Rye’, 105-7.

38 Ibid., 254, 256, 286-8, 298; Hirst, The Representative of the People?, 226.

39 Hipkin, ‘Economy of Rye’, 252-5; RYE 47/131, 132; HMC Rye, 208-10; RYE 1/12, f. 349r; Gruenfelder, J.K., ‘The election to the Short Parliament, 1640’, in Reinmuth, H.S. (ed.), Early Stuart Studies (Minnesota, 1970), 199200; Keeler, M.F., The Long Parliament, 1640-1641, A Biographical Study of its Members (Philadelphia, 1954), 391; Fletcher, Sussex, 246-7.

40 Everitt, A., The Community of Kent and the Great Rebellion 1640-1660 (Leicester, 1973), 7683; Keeler, The Long Parliament, 77, 209; Brunton, D. and Pennington, D.H., Members of the Long Parliament (London, 1954), 55, 57.

41 RYE 47/133; RYE 1/13, f. 6r.

42 RYE 47/133.

43 Fletcher, Sussex, 239, 250. Fletcher incorrectly summarizes Hay's petition, citing him as saying that when ‘the freemen “did there divide themselves and draw sides” thirteen were for Hay and White, three were for Jacob’, whereas Hay's petition in fact states ‘13 of the freemen were for your petitioner and ten for Mr White and but three for Sir John Jacob’.

44 RYE 47/133.

45 Hipkin, ‘Economy of Rye’, 263-4.

46 Clark and Slack, English Towns in Transition, 116; MacCaffrey, W.T., Exeter, 1540-1640 (Cambridge, Mass., 1975), 52; Palliser, Tudor York, 177, 269-70; Reed, ‘Economic Structure and Change’, 99, 120-1; Palliser, Age of Elizabeth, 221; Ollerenshaw, ‘Civic elite of Sandwich’, 54, 70-1; Dyer, Worcester, 181; Mayhew, Tudor Rye, 107-8.

47 Ollerenshaw, ‘Civic elite of Sandwich’, 54-62, 68-73.

* I should like to acknowledge the constructive suggestions and advice from two anonymous referees.

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