The Cinque Ports were a confederation of English south eastern ports which were given a number of privileges in the Middle Ages in return for lending the king their ships and crews for transport and warfare. The name (which is pronounced ‘sink’ and not ‘sank’) comes from the French word for five as there were originally five of these ports – Dover, Hastings, Hythe, Romney and Sandwich.
These were later joined by Rye and Winchelsea, while numerous other towns were also enlisted by the confederation to help them fulfil their obligations. The privileges enjoyed by the Cinque Ports included exemption from a wide range of taxes and customs duties, and the right to carry the canopy over the head of the monarch during his or her coronation procession.
Representatives of the Cinque Ports were also allowed to run a highly lucrative herring fair at Yarmouth in Norfolk. This didn’t go down well with the locals, who weren’t members of the Cinque Ports, and in 1297 the two sides actually fought a naval battle off the Flemish coast in which at least seventeen ships were destroyed.
The need for the ships of the Cinque Ports declined with the development of Royal dockyards and the privileges were eventually abolished. However the office of Warden of the Cinque Ports still exists today as an honorary post with Walmer Castle as the Warden’s official residence. The current Warden is Admiral Lord Boyce who was installed in 2005 following the death of the previous Warden, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.