The Cinque Ports and Great Yarmouth in dispute in 1316: maritime violence, royal mediation and political language

Jiazhu Hu

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1 Citation (Scopus)


Before the Tudors, England had no standing navy, and relied heavily on its urban corporations for shipping and coastal defence. Despite their significant naval contribution to medieval England, eminent maritime communities such as the Cinque Ports were notorious for indiscriminate piratical activities, especially at a time when the sea was largely a lawless area, and crime could hardly be differentiated from reprisals and private wars. In the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, Admiralty jurisdiction was not yet established, and royal intervention into domestic maritime disputes was limited and only resulted in short-term peace. While local factors in royal mediation have largely been ignored in the historiography, this article argues that the result of arbitration depended significantly on local cooperation. It focuses on the recurring royal mediation in the perennial conflict between the Cinque Ports (Kent and Sussex) and Great Yarmouth (Norfolk), and especially on a notably hostile episode in 1316. Two opposing petitions from the Cinque Ports and Great Yarmouth, produced and submitted for the purpose of arbitration, show how the two communities presented maritime disputes and voiced their grievances before royal authority. By contextualising and comparing these petitions, the article explores the political language used by the two communites and the political awareness behind it, which led to their different reactions to the royal proclamation of peace in the following months. The dispute between the Cinque Ports and Great Yarmouth in 1316 also illustrates the nature of political interaction between England?s maritime communities and royal authority in the early fourteenth century, a period when the English Crown?s interest in keeping maritime peace was growing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)666-680
Number of pages15
JournalThe International Journal of Maritime History
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sept 2020


  • Cinque Ports
  • Great Yarmouth
  • Maritime violence
  • Political lnguage
  • Port towns
  • Private petitions
  • Royal arbitration


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