Cinque Ports (sĭngk) [key] [O. Fr., = five ports], name applied to an association of maritime towns in Sussex and Kent, SE England. They originally numbered five: Hastings, Romney (now New Romney), Hythe, Dover, and Sandwich. The association was informally organized in the 11th cent., and a formal charter was drawn up in the 13th cent. In the 12th cent., Winchelsea and Rye were added with privileges and duties similar to those of the founding members. Later, neighboring places were added as "limbs" or "members." The Cinque Ports reached their peak of significance during the Anglo-French struggle in the 14th cent. The main duty of the ports was the provision of ships and men for protection against invasion at a time when England had no permanent navy. (The ports form an arc along the coast most likely to receive an invasion from the European continent.) In return the crown allowed the members various privileges, such as exemption from taxation and from certain laws governing municipalities. The highest officer of the chartered organization was the lord warden of the Cinque Ports, who had extensive civil, military, and naval duties. His official residence was at Walmer Castle, near Deal. After Henry VII (1485–1509) founded the royal navy, the association declined. It contributed only five ships to defeat the Spanish Armada in 1588. The office of lord warden remains but has no real power.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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