1627, Peter Canon seeks to be restored an Admiralty office after being expelled

Peter Canon. SP 16/47 f. 14 (1627)

To the illustrious Prince George Duke of Buckingham his grace Lord Highe Admirall of England.

The humble peticion of Peter Canon your graces servant

Sheweth that it pleased your grace in consideracion of your petitioners services to conferr on him the office or place of sergeant of the Admirallty of the Cinque Portes. To settle your petitioner therein it cost him in ready money 150 pounds and 160 pounds he hath spent since he came to execute the same, to raise which moneys your petitioner is runne farr indebt and was inforced to sell his house and barque leavinge all other in forturnes confidently trustinge through your graces favoure to enjoy his said place.

But so it is may it please your grace that your petitioner it expelled undeservedly from the same by Sir John Hipesley knight (by order from your grace as he pretendeth) to the undoinge of him his wife and 7 smale children.

In regard whereof, and that Sir John Hipesley cannot justely tax your petitioner for insufficiency or dishonest executinge the said place, he most humbly beseecheth your grace to referr the examinacion of the premisses to the comissioners of your revenewe and that accordinge to theire certificate your petitioner may be dealt withall and as in duty bounde he his wife and 7 children will ever pray for your graces happines.

Report by Barbara Prynn

In this petition, Peter Canon seeks to be restored to the office of Sergeant of the Admiralty of the Cinque Ports. He claims that he has run into debt through the expense of the office, and was forced to sell his house and barque, and was unjustly expelled by Sir John Hippisley. In response, it was ordered that the case be referred to the commissioners.  

The Lord High Admiral and the Cinque Ports

The Duke of Buckingham was the Lord High Admiral from 1619 until his death in 1628. His role was effectively the head of the navy whose title at the time was the Navy Board.[1] The Warden of the Cinque Ports was also the commissioner.[2]

Each of the Cinque ports had a Sergeant of the Admiralty who was appointed by the Lord Warden in his role as Admiral of the Cinque Ports. The position was called a ‘droit gatherer’ whose role was to notify the Warden’s staff in Dover immediately a wreck occurred, or flotsam or jetsam was recovered.

‘Droit gatherers’ would keep records of the goods recovered and expenses incurred by the salvors, so that the respective claims of the Lord Warden and the Ports could be determined. The Sergeant of the Admiralty was the principal ‘droit gatherer’ and had responsibility for those functions within Dover as well as for enforcing orders of the Admiralty Court.[3]

Sir John Hippisley

Sir John Hippisley was an English privateer and politician who sat in the House of Commons at various times between 1621 and 1653. He supported the Parliamentary cause in the English Civil War. Hippisley was the son of William Hippisley who died in 1630. He was knighted at Sheriff Hutton Park on 14 April 1617. In 1621 he was elected Member of Parliament for Petersfield. He was re-elected MP for Petersfield in 1624. About this time he purchased from Sir John Leman the manor of Lesnes and the site of Lesnes Abbey in Bexley, which he later sold to Sir Thomas Gainsford of Crowhurst, Surrey. In the same year he was appointed Lieutenant of Dover Castle, a post he held until 1629. He was elected MP for Dover in 1625 and again in 1626. During his time at Dover he was involved in the wars with France and Spain and took part in privateering activities.[4]

Sir John Hippisley was anxious to exploit to the full the Lord Warden’s interest in the general election of 1626. He awaited Buckingham’s instructions before coming up for the second Caroline Parliament where he had to defend himself over the detention of the St. Peter of Le Havre and the sales of confiscated goods. On 22 February (Sir) John Eliot told the Commons that Hippisley had been unable to prove that the ship contained contraband and he was sent for to attend the House immediately. The following day, under interrogation, he admitted informing Buckingham that ships of Calais were carrying Spanish goods from Dunkirk, but he denied any knowledge of the St. Peter. On 6 March he assured the House that the Navy was able to protect the Channel coast. The next day he was among those ordered to attend a conference with the Lords on defence.

His committee appointments were likewise of a martial nature, for example to consider a bill of arms, and a maritime venture against France (both 14 March), and to assess the victualling of Count Mansfield’s expedition (22 March). On 16 March he again denied responsibility for the second detention of the St. Peter, which in any case he claimed was not the cause of the seizure of English goods in France. These protestations were insufficient to avert the groundswell of hostility towards Buckingham, and on 22 April the Commons instructed Hippisley and Emanuell Giffard to invite the duke to defend himself in the Lower House.[5]

The Peter Cannon case

In the years before Peter Cannon’s petition there seem to have been difficulties between Cannon, some of his presumed colleagues, and their superiors, sometimes over the issues to do with contraband and wrecks, as above. There also seems to have been longstanding animosity between Peter Cannon and Sir John Hippisley.

On 23 December 1625 Joshua Downing (who was Surveyor of the Navy)[6] asks ‘if Peter Cannon be removed on his appointment as Serjeant of the Admiralty of the Cinque Ports’.[7]  Also on 26 January 1626 Peter Cannon states that ‘since his coming to Dover he had endeavoured to do the Duke good service [as droit-gatherer], but was not encouraged by Sir John Hippisley, who supported one Peter Dibbs in his stead’.[8] This was somewhat ironic since there are mentions in the State Papers of Hippisley, Cannon and Dibbs all being involved in various activities which could be called privateering and at one-point Cannon complains about Dibbs’ activities.[9]

On 4 November 1628, Alice Ayles, Cannon’s wife, sent the following petition to ‘the Lords Commissioners for the Admiralty. In the absence of her husband in the action at Rochelle, [she] prays that he may be appointed of the four Masters of the Navy’.[10]


[1] Lord High Admiral, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord_High_Admiral_of_the_United_Kingdom#Lord_Admiralsof_England,_1512%E2%80%931638%20)

[2] ‘The Cinque Ports and the Lord Warden’, English Heritage, https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/walmer-castle-and-gardens/history-and-stories/the-cinque-ports-and-the-lord-warden/

[3] ‘Sergeant of the Admiralty, The Cinque Ports, https://cinqueports.org/lord-warden-officials/admiralty-sergeant/

[4] ‘John Hippisley’, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Hippisley_(parliamentarian)

[5] ‘HIPPISLEY (EPSLEY), Sir John (-d.1655), of The Mews, Westminster; Bushey Park, Mdx. and Dover Castle, Kent’, The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010  https://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1604-1629/member/hippisley-sir-john-1655

[6] ‘Surveyor of the Navy’, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surveyor_of_the_Navy

[7] ‘Charles I – volume 12: December 17-31, 1625’, in Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles I, 1625-26, ed. John Bruce (London, 1858), pp. 178-194. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/chas1/1625-6/pp178-194

[8] ‘Charles I – volume 19: January 21-31, 1626’, in Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles I, 1625-26, ed. John Bruce (London, 1858), pp. 229-245. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/chas1/1625-6/pp229-245

[9] ‘Charles I – volume 21: February 11-28, 1626’, in Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles I, 1625-26, ed. John Bruce (London, 1858), pp. 253-268. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/chas1/1625-6/pp253-268

[10] ‘Charles I – volume 120: November 1-16, 1628’, in Calendar of State Papers Domestic: Charles I, 1628-29, ed. John Bruce (London, 1859), pp. 366-384. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/domestic/chas1/1628-9/pp366-384

This report is part of a series on ‘Petitioners in the reign of Charles I and the Civil Wars’, created through a U3A Shared Learning Project on ‘Investigating the Lives of Seventeenth-Century Petitioners’.