The Cinque Port Liberty

Brightlingsea Cinque PortBefore the Norman Conquest, King Edward the Confessor had contracted the 5 most significant Channel ports of that day to supply ships and guys “for the service with the monarch” and despite the fact that this was often as a “cross-Channel ferry service”, it was not exclusively so. Below the Norman kings this became the crucial means of keeping the two halves of their realm collectively, but following the loss of Normandy in 1205, their ships (the for-runners on the Royal Navy) abruptly became England’s very first line of defence against the French.
Right now the Cinque Ports have only a ceremonial function, but a base for the Lord Warden on the Ports is still offered at Walmer Castle and new Lords Warden are normally installed at Dover.
Each and every member from the Confederation, together with their Limbs, is situated in Kent or Sussex, apart from Brightlingsea which, as a Limb of Sandwich, uniquely lies in Essex.

Brightlingsea shieldBrightlingsea
as well as the Cinque Ports
Brightlingsea, a Limb
of the Head Port of Sandwich, could be the only neighborhood outside Kent and Sussex which has any connection with all the Confederation of the Cinque Ports. As a thriving ship-owning port, in becoming a Limb of Sandwich it could contribute to that town’s ship-service quota. Towards the Portsmen commonly it was a useful half-way residence en route to and from their annual Herring Fair at Yarmouth. For the Lord Warden, it produced sense of your extending of his powers so far north of Sussex and Kent over the complete width with the mouth in the Thames. Also it developed excellent oysters plus the Lord Warden had his personal official layings in Brightlingsea Creek till no less than the 1670’s.

Brightlingsea Cinque PortFreemen
from the Cinque Port Liberty of Brightlingsea
The title “Freeman of Brightlingsea” is one fraught
with disappointment.

I know of no legal or valid historical basis for our use of the term Freeman, for the simple reason that Brightlingsea was never a borough. From the outset the subject generally is bedevilled by the fact that ‘freeman’ and ‘freedom’ are terms with confused and confusing overtones. Isn’t Freedom every Englishman’s birth right? At the same time, freedom is the privilege that a chartered town confers on some individual it wishes to honour, quite separately, in towns which had properly constituted Craft Gilds, an apprentice who was recognised to have served his time satisfactorily, was said to be free of his trade: not freed from Craft restrictions, of course, but free to set up his own business in it. In some towns (e.g. Colchester) this did qualify him to become a Freeman or Burgess.

‘Freeman’ has meant different things at different times and places, and has lost pretty well all its former significance.

Prior to the Great Parliamentary Reform Act of 1832, there was no uniform franchise. Each County had 2 MPs – the “Knights of the Shire” – who were elected by the Forty-shilling Freeholders (Owners of land worth 40/- a year). If you were a copyholder, or merely rented land, however extensive or valuable, from someone else, you did not qualify. So in Brightlingsea, where nearly all property was copyhold or on lease from the Lord of the Manor, no one had the vote – except the Lord and perhaps the Vicar.

Within each county there were several Boroughs, each entitled to return 2 MPs, but the right to vote varied. There were 4 types of Borough.