Tuesday, 11 January 2005

No infangentheof for Bill Clinton

Among the many hairy old institutions we have here in England, few are hairier or older than our most ancient military honour, the post of Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports.

A Royal Charter of 1155 established the original ports (Sandwich, Dover, Hythe, Romney and Hastings), which maintained ships that could be called upon by the Crown in times of strife - there was no navy in those days. In return, the members of the Cinque Ports had the right to:
"soc and sac, tol and team, bloowit and fledwit, pillory, tumbril, infangentheof, outfangentheof, mundbryce waives and strays, flotsam and jetsam and ligan".

This meant that the sailors from these ports could do what they wanted, including wrecking, grounding and plundering other ships. For many years they got away with what amounted to open piracy around the Kent and Sussex coast; they were a sort of legit mafia.

The title of Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports was held by Henry d' Essex in 1155, then by a succession of famous or totally obscure people such as Walerland Teutonicus, Hugh de Bigod, Hamo de Crevequer, the 1st Duke of Wellington, W H Smith (the bookseller), Winston Churchill and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.

Since the latter's death in 2002 the position has remained vacant. Joe Trussler, the speaker of the Cinque Ports, Mayor of Sandwich and clearly a major league dingbat, asked the Queen and the Prime Minister to consider appointing Bill Clinton, because “his appointment would improve relations with the USA and he likes playing golf”.

However, it has been decided that the new Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports will be Admiral the Lord Boyce, GCB, OBE, who will be installed in office at a session of the Grand Court of Shepway, to be held in Dover on Tuesday 12 April, 2005.

The position, like so many other things in Britain today, has no significance whatsoever other than ceremonial, and we may have every confidence that Lord Boyce will carry out his non-existent duties splendidly. Hello sailor!

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