Voices of medieval English maritime towns : petitions concerning the Cinque Ports, 1272-1377

  • Jiazhu Hu

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


This thesis explores the political communication between royal and local governments in late medieval England. It focuses on the petitionary language used by medieval English maritime towns, especially by the confederation of the Cinque Ports, under the reigns of Edward I, II and III, in order to examine the political awareness and self-representation of medieval England's urban-maritime communities. It intends to contribute to an ongoing historiographical movement that redresses the isolationist view of urban presence in the medieval English polity, and also to a broader understanding of what the perspective of political language might bring to the studies of medieval England's political culture.

Chapter I discusses how the focus and methods of this research have been influenced by a few currents underlying the historiography of late medieval England's politics and political culture. It also introduces the methodological framework of this thesis, and presents the arrangement of the other three chapters. Chapter II focuses on the usage of the unique title of 'barons' in the petitions from the Cinque Ports, in order to reveal the self-representation of the Portsmen through petitioning. Owing to the limits of constitutional documentation regarding the origin and nature of this collective urban baronship, this chapter suggests taking a more communicative approach to understand the rhetorical use of this title. Chapter III provides a case study on the Portsmen's sophisticated petitionary strategy, to examine their use of political language during their communication with the English Crown in the early fourteenth century. Through a comparison with Great Yarmouth's performance, this chapter aims to demonstrate the political awareness of the Portsmen, which included their alertness to current political circumstances, familiarity with legal terminology, and insights into the relationship between the confederation and the Crown. Chapter IV adopts a broader perspective to examine the awareness and experiences of England's urban-maritime communities in the early years of the Hundred Years War. It also reveals the growing participation of English port towns in England's naval and fiscal systems, which raised a serious challenge to the distinctiveness of the Cinque Ports. The rhetorical use of the Portsmen's baronial image, which was treated in Chapter II, was part of an integral narrative strategy that the petitioners of the Cinque Ports skillfully used to represent themselves as the reliable and noble subjects of the king, and map their own businesses onto a larger picture of national enterprises.
Date of Award2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorRory Cox (Supervisor) & Justine Marie Firnhaber-Baker (Supervisor)


  • Medieval English history
  • Medieval petitions
  • Political language
  • Political communication
  • Maritime towns
  • Self-representation
  • Cinque Ports
  • Maritime history
  • Medieval English navy
  • Hundred Years War

Access Status

  • Full text embargoed until
  • Restricted until 25 February 2026

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