Posted by: madkentdragon | March 30, 2011

Quirky Kent Part 4 Vanishing Palaces and Ports and the Invicta


I’m starting this time with a quirky fact, the symbol for Kent is a white horse, standing on its rear legs and here’s why….
When William the Conqueror marched through Kent on his way to London and legend has it that the local people picked up branches and marched at William’s men. Scared, William and his army took flight and took a different route to London. As the people of Kent felt that they had chased William away, they adopted “Invicta” as a county motto. Also as Dover was not besieged or defeated by him, they folk
agreed to a conditional surrender on their own terms, the port was never conquered by William! Further to this, the way that land of a tenant was passed down from father to son was not dictated by Norman law but stayed as the original gavel-kind of Saxon law and this continued to the early 20th Century! So they must have won this concession as the rest of the country then came under Norman law of primogeniture, which meant that all land passed to the first born male or the nearest born male as Jane Austen used in her books! Further to this, under the Kentish way, if a land-holder was convicted of a felony, the land was not forfeited to the crown.
Now we’ll go down the A256 to Eastry, look around, it’s a pretty but quite unremarkable country village near Sandwich but its history is something else, kings, murder and more! The village was here from at least Roman time, probably earlier and sits on a Roman road which led to Dover, but it is in the 7th Century that anything of note happened here.
In 664 AD king Egbert I of Kent came to the throne ruled Kent with his mother, Queen Seaxburgh (at least with the Normans the names are easier!), they were linked diplomatically with France and various Bishops stayed with them, however he had no children and to ensure
that the throne went to his brother, Egbert had his cousins Aethelred and Aethelberht killed and paid blood money as compensation to their mother. The boys were the sons of Egbert’s father’s brother. The boys were buried in the King’s Hall; however it is now buried under Eastry Court. Legends state that the palace was forfeit to the priory of Canterbury for the crime. By 827 the Kings of Kent had moved on and left this now quiet little village.
One further tradition is that Thomas Beckett often visited Eastry Court and hid here whilst waiting for a boat to take him to France, there is meant to be a small chamber linking the manor to the church. There is a labyrinth of caves nearby which are said to have been used as hiding places/places of worship during religious persecutions.
Right, on to Sandwich! This pretty little medieval town was once one of England’s main ports, although it no longer stands by the sea. The town sat on the Wantsum Channel (river Wantsum) and the Stour which divided the Isle of Thanet from the rest of Kent. The river was up to three miles wide at some places which meant that ships of all sizes could navigate it and dock here.
Once the Romans left in the fourth century, Sandwich became a major naval base for the Saxon kings. In 1014, King Canute put English hostages minus their ears, noses and hands ashore here when he was battling Ethelred the Unready. The fact that these people were landed at Sandwich which was England’s premier naval base, was meant to rub in the insult.

Edward the Confessor came to Sandwich every year from 1043 to 1047 to personally take command of the fleet gathered to face a potential invasion from Norway and he also gathered a fleet to resist the Earl Godwine’s rebellion in 1052.  Godwine was Edward’s Father in Law, but did not like the fact that Edward was being influenced by the Normans and tried to replace him, a trait he passed on to his own son Harold and we all know what happened to poor King Harold!

Between the 11th and 13th Centuries an alliance between several ports, including Sandwich formed the Cinq Ports (pronounced sink), the ports
provided ships and sailors for national defence in return for trading privileges and it became a very powerful organisation until King John established Portsmouth as his main naval dockyard, however it was still recognised as a port in Henry VIII’s time. But unfortunately – or fortunately according to how you look at it – the Wantsum Channel started to silt up and despite pleas to Henry nothing happened – he did promise to help – and so the Port’s importance diminished as fewer ships could use it. So from the 17th Century Sandwich became a quiet market town, much as it is today and this is probably the reason why centuries of “improvement” have passed it by. The quay is still
there, but it is only for small pleasure boats that cruise the river Stour which is all that is left of the once wide Wantsum with its ferry instituted by King Canute.

Next time we’ll carry on across the Wantsum to the Isle of Thanet.

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