In 1278 Edward I formalized the unofficial confederation of defensive coastal settlements – Dover, Hythe, Sandwich, New Romney and Hastings – as the Cinque Ports (pronounced “sink”, despite its French origin). In return for providing England with maritime support, chiefly in the transportation of troops and supplies during times of war, the five ports were granted trading privileges and other liberties. Later, Rye, Winchelsea and a few other “limb” ports on the southeast coast were added to the confederation. The ports’ privileges were revoked in 1685; their maritime services had become increasingly unnecessary after Henry VIII had founded a professional navy and, due to a shifting coastline, several of the ports’ harbours had silted up anyway, leaving some of them several miles inland. Nowadays, only Dover is still a major working port.

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