Henry VIII and the Orwell

In the spring of next year (2019), it will be the 500th Anniversary of Henry VIII gifting the rights of the River Orwell to the Ipswich Corporation. The corporation was made up of merchants and port men that ran the town before a borough council even existed. By being given these rights they had control of the law that governed the river, including the rights of navigation, trade and commerce as well as the rights that sailors had on the river. However, by having these it led to a long running dispute with Harwich that mainly focused on who had jurisdiction over the river and which town controlled the trade that flowed up and down it.  

These rights existed in some way since Ipswich was given a charter by King John in 1200 and were built on by subsequent Acts of Parliament and various charters by different monarchs. The most famous is when they were conferred by Henry VIII and the Lord High Admiral as far down the river as the Orwell Haven, though the exact demarcation area within the estuary is not fully described thus leading to the dispute with Harwich. The actual text of the rights from the patent are shown below;

Part of a Chart of the Orwell Haven,   temp, Henry VIII

Part of a Chart of the Orwell Haven, temp, Henry VIII

Grant, reciting patent 12 March 3 Hen. VIII., confirming a grant of certain liberties by king Edward [IV.], subject to a farm of 60l., and, inter alia, of the jurisdiction of admiral within the town. A place called Pollesheved, frequently inundated, being in dispute, to be included in the liberty of the town as heretofore. Also to have “wrek, fletson, and getson,” and the goods of felons-de-se, and deodands. None but freemen to trade with any stranger in the town. The bailiffs and burgesses to have power to amend the customs or ordinances. Del. Hampton Court, 3 March 10 Hen. VIII
— (Accessed from British History Online) 

Ipswich in 1519 had important connections to the Suffolk wool trade, a famous shrine and was the hometown of Thomas Wolsey. All these factors played a part to the growth of the area and its support by Henry VIII during the early 1500s. 


HistoryAndy Parker