The Story of ‘Rye Royale’
A talk by Jo Kirkham at the East Street museum on February 9th
Our first talk of 2017 can only be described as a tour de force: an outstanding example of how to present extensive research and knowledge on an enormous topic in such a clear and interesting way (including humour) that newcomers to Rye went home with a memorable introduction to their new home and regulars deepened their understanding and made fresh connections within the story of Rye. Some already knew the story of Queen Elizabeth I’s visit to Rye in 1572 which ended with her bestowing the title Rye Royale, but what the evening gave us was a complete summary of Rye’s history from prehistoric times to the present via the town’s multiple and influential visits and actions by royalty.
We were reminded of the time when the Manor of Rameslie (including Rye and Winchelsea) belonged to France – which is why our St Mary’s Church was built and owned by the Abbey of Fecamp whose monks also planned the Norman invasion of William the Conqueror; and of the leading role Rye has played throughout the centuries in building ships and defending the realm. Most of the kings named Henry had ships built or outfitted here and Rye, a member of the Cinque Ports, once ranked as the leading port in England, with Rye-built ships travelling to Chicago, the St Lawrence, Brazil, Australia. . . . . As for defence of the realm think of Edward III (he who made the grant for the Landgate) and Queen Phillipa watching the Battle of Winchelsea (against the Spanish) from Udimore in August 1350 as it was fought in the sea between Winchelsea and Rye, or 1377 when the French burned the town down and stole the bells (Rye retaliated the next year!), or the Spanish Armada, or the threats of Napoleon or the role of this Invasion Coast in winning World War II. Jo’s narrative put the many visits of royalty in context, among them, besides Queen Elizabeth I, there was George III, rescued in a storm and sheltered at Lamb House, and in 1980 Ryers raised money for local craftsmen to make replica cannon for the GunGarden in honour of the visit of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. The present Queen and Prince Philip have of course been too. Problems with royalty in other countries also form part of the story: the many skilled Huguenots fleeing here to escape massacre in France during the 16th and 18th centuries had a huge impact on the town where many of their descendants live today.
The few examples mentioned in the previous paragraph give only the smallest idea of the story we heard from Jo of a Rye Royale all Ryers can be justly proud of. Perhaps the story can be made available in print both for those fortunate enough to attend the talk and those who missed it.