The Cinque Ports were a confederation that provided naval service to the king in medieval times in return for tax and other privileges. They were not so much a navy as an important source of ships when needed, providing essential maritime expertise to the king when such knowledge was limited.
Their pre-eminence in medieval times came to an end as a result of severe storms which fundamentally changed the nature of the coastline, resulting in the silting up of many of the ports’ harbours. Today only Dover remains a port.
James Dickinson’s talk describes the ports’ great rivalry with Great Yarmouth and the fighting and destruction which resulted. The Portsmen also involved themselves in smuggling and the deliberate wrecking and plundering of ships.
Today the ports retain a ceremonial role and their Lord Warden has frequently been an eminent person such as the Duke of Wellington, Sir Winston Churchill and the Queen Mother.