Hubert de Burgh, 1st Earl of Kent

Born: c. 1170

Died: May 1243

Banstead, Surrey, England (Age c. 73)


Hubert de Burgh was born the second son of William de Burgh and his wife Alice. The early years of his life are shrouded in complete mystery. His place of birth can only be speculated upon, but it must be assumed  that, given his family surname, that he was born in Burgh, Norfolk. Hubert’s date of birth cannot be precisely pinpointed with any great accuracy either. Estimates vary from the early 1260s to the mid-1270s. It is believed that Hubert began his career of public service to the Plantagenet dynasty during the reign of Richard I, though even this is debatable and is based upon the words of a single chronicler who has Henry III, years later, briefly mentioning that Hubert had served his uncle.

The obscurity of Hubert’s early years makes one believe that he simply appeared out of nowhere when he was suddenly seen serving as chamberlain to Prince John, the younger brother of King Richard, in 1198. It is not known as to how Hubert was able to come by this prestigious position within the household of a member of the royal family (perhaps through a connection with the powerful Warren family, who lived near Hubert’s family’s own lands), but it seems as if John thought highly of him. When John became King of England in April 1199, Hubert began his meteoric rise in Angevin politics in earnest. During the opening years of the reign, John heaped rewards upon Hubert like none other, endowing him with a number of lucrative offices such as sheriffdoms and custodianships of important castles. In April 1202, Hubert was further rewarded with the important post of warden of the Cinque Ports.

As was inevitable, all of these royal rewards made Hubert a rich and powerful man who was well-known throughout England and certain parts of the continent. However, Hubert would gain true notoriety for his supposed involvement in the death of Duke Arthur of Brittany, King John’s nephew and only significant rival to the English throne. When John defeated Arthur’s army at the Battle of Mirebeau, the young duke was captured and imprisoned in the Norman castle of Falaise, which happened to be in Hubert’s custody. The king, knowing that his throne would be worlds safer with Arthur out of the way, contrived to rid himself of him as quietly as possible. As the story goes, John asks Hubert, as his faithful servant, to blind and castrate the sixteen-year-old in order to eliminate him as a significant threat. Hubert agreed to take on the task but ultimately could not go through with the barbarous act, though he still told the king that the mutilation had taken place, and that Arthur had died of his injuries.

Rumors of Arthur’s “death” quickly spread through the Angevin continental domains and severely damaged John’s standing. Seeing this result, Hubert decided to reveal the truth about Arthur, but the duke had simply disappeared. It is widely believed that Arthur had either died attempting to escape his prison or was murdered by John himself when it was discovered that he was still alive. Whatever the case may be, the failure to produce the young duke helped expedite Philip of France’s conquest of Normandy and Anjou, which was already well under way.

Oddly enough, it does not appear as if Hubert lost any favor with the king for blatantly disobeying his orders; indeed it was quite the opposite. Shortly after Arthur’s disappearance, Hubert was given custody of the important castle of Chinon in Touraine, a former favorite residence of King Henry II, John’s father. As King Philip swiftly engulfed Normandy and Anjou, conquering them by the summer of 1204, Chinon, with Hubert as its castellan, continued to resist the French king well into the following year, being one of the final holdouts in the completion of Philip’s conquest of the ancestral Angevin lands. When Philip finally took the castle in June 1205, Hubert became his prisoner, and would remain so for over a year.

During Hubert’s captivity, John, who had been chased back to England by his French counterpart, redistributed many of the lands and posts that he had endowed his favorite with. This may very well have been the king’s way of punishing Hubert for disobeying him during the Arthur debacle, but it can also have been John’s way of making sure the land and posts were properly administered during their custodian’s period of imprisonment. The latter of the two scenarios seems more likely considering the fact that, when Hubert finally returned to England in the spring of 1207 (most likely after a ransom payment was made on his behalf), John almost immediately began heaping money, lands and offices on him so that he may fully return to his previous position of power.

With the exception of his first marriage in 1209, details of the next five years of Hubert’s life and career are just as obscure as are the years before 1198. Hubert emerged in the summer of 1212 as John’s seneschal in the English-controlled county of Poitou in northern Aquitaine, officially making him the king’s representative in that region. When John himself travelled to the county in an attempt to eventually wrestle Normandy and Anjou from Philip’s grasp, Hubert played a role in the unsuccessful events that followed (which ended in John, once again, being chased back to England by the French). Hubert did not make the journey back to England until the spring of 1215, at which point the Barons’ War had already begun. Unsurprisingly, Hubert was one of the men who remained completely loyal to the king and was at his side at the signing of Magna Carta at Runnymede in June. In a display of gratitude for his faithful service, John provided Hubert with further castles and sheriffdoms and, most significantly of all, the justiciarship of England, arguably the most powerful position in the realm excepting the throne itself.

As is well known to the English historian, John’s forced signing of Magna Carta did little to ease the tensions between king and barons and, within two months, the two sides were again at war. The second part of the Barons’ War began fairly well for John, but this quickly changed when the rebels succeeded in securing the aid of Prince Louis of France (eldest son and heir to Philip Augustus), who landed in England, with the kingdom’s conquest on his mind, in May 1216. There was an immediate swarm of defections from John’s cause upon the French prince’s arrival, but Hubert continued to remain unswervingly loyal to his king, even as Louis took castle after castle in southern England.

Hubert’s primary role in the Barons’ War was the defense of the major stronghold of Dover Castle (where he served as castellan), known as the “key to England” for its strategic location on the Kentish coast. If Louis were to have any chance of conquering England, he would need to secure Dover. Therefore, he began siege operations two months after his arrival. This proved to be a daunting task and, after three months of unsuccessfully bombarding the castle, Louis and Hubert agreed to a temporary truce in October, shortly after the death of King John and the accession of his nine-year-old son, Henry III, to the throne. Supposedly, while on his deathbed, John had provided Hubert with one final reward: the placing of all his lands under royal protection. Unfortunately, there was very little time to celebrate young Henry’s coronation, being that the barons were still in revolt and Prince Louis was still in England. Louis duly resumed the siege of Dover in April 1217, but was forced to abandon it the following month after the royal army’s decisive victory over the baronial forces at the Battle of Lincoln. This devastating defeat prompted the prince to retreat to the rebel stronghold of London to await reinforcements from France.

With the final showdown of the civil war now rapidly approaching, Hubert, now free from defending Dover castle, prepared to do his part in ridding England of her powerful foreign invader for good. Hubert had command of one of the main ships which handily defeated a French fleet led by Eustace the monk at the naval Battle of Sandwich, effectively putting an end to the Barons’ War and Prince Louis’ ambitions of conquering England. With his reinforcements suffering near-complete destruction at the hands of the English navy, Louis had no choice but to sue for peace. In his capacity as justiciar, Hubert aided the Marshal (the primary architect) in the construction of the Treaty of Lambeth, which officially ended the Barons’ War and finally brought peace to England.

The years immediately following the end of the Barons’ War were a time of reconstruction within England, of which Hubert played a surprisingly small part. Despite his exalted position as justiciar, Hubert had three men that stood in his way of achieving the dominant power that he so desired: the aged William Marshal, the regent; Cardinal Gualo, the papal legate; and Bishop Peter des Roches of Winchester, the young king’s tutor. The Marshal, as he is most well-known, was in charge of the day to day governing of the kingdom while Gaulo represented the Pope, the king’s overlord (John had agreed that he would hold England and Ireland as fiefs of Rome in 1213). Des Roches, while a competent and loyal administer, owed much of his elevated status to his constant close proximity to King Henry. These three men forced Hubert to remain out of the limelight and to focus his attentions on other projects, such as the rebuilding of Dover castle.

The death of the Marshal in May 1219 opened up a possible doorway for Hubert to extend his influence, but the regent had resigned power to the papal legate Pandulf (who had replaced Gualo the previous year), much to the chagrin of both Hubert and des Roches. For the next two years, the legate would exercise powers equal to those of a regent (though he did not officially hold the title as the Marshal did). As the months went by, it seems that two distinct factions were forming within the king’s court: Pandulf and des Roches against Hubert and his ally, Archbishop Stephen Langton of Canterbury. In the summer of 1221, Hubert and Langton achieved a major victory over their political enemies when the archbishop was able to convince the Pope to recall Pandulf and to promise never to send another resident legate in his place.

It seems that Pandulf was the final hurdle (at least for the time being) that Hubert needed to clear to become the king’s new right-hand man and, despite the continued opposition from des Roches, the justiciar could now boast of possessing the near-regal power the Marshal and the legate had previously enjoyed. If rising to this position of prominence in the English government was not enough, Hubert would attain further exaltation when he married (as his third wife) Margaret, the sister of King Alexander II of Scotland. Considering the fact that the Scottish princess had previously been betrothed to King Henry himself, it would not be absurd to say that Hubert had, in a way, usurped his young master’s own position (at least symbolically). With the king still being a minor, the case could easily be made that Hubert was now the most powerful man in England.

Inevitably, the immense power that Hubert was granted gained him many enemies at court. Besides des Roches, a majority of the baronage of England loathed the justiciar. As the leading citizens of the kingdom they felt that they, not some obscure, upstart commoner, were the natural councilors of the king. Hubert’s handling of a situation in the summer of 1222 ensured that the citizens of London, England’s major metropolitan area, would go on to hate him just as much. When a friendly rivalry between the men of London and those of the neighboring suburb of Westminster suddenly became heated, causing a substantial riot to break out, Hubert was called in to prevent the situation from getting too far out of hand. As their leader, the Londoners had chosen the charismatic Constantine fitz Athulf. When Hubert arrived, Constantine quickly came forward as the riot’s main instigator. For his honesty, he and two of his nephews were hanged without a proper trial. Hubert and his men then marauded through the city, arresting certain citizens and hacking off the hands or feet of others to set an example that disturbing of the peace was not to be tolerated under his watch. To pour further salt on the city’s wounds, many of the public officials were removed from office and heavy fines were imposed. Hubert’s brutal suppression of the London-Westminster riots would not be easily forgotten for many of those involved.

For the time being though, it would be the boiling tensions between Hubert and des Roches and the barons that would occupy center stage in English politics. The situation was becoming so volatile that Archbishop Langton, always the moderator, appealed to Pope Honorius III to intervene. In response to the archbishop’s appeal, Honorius declared that King Henry, now approaching his fifteenth birthday, was old enough to take control of certain parts of England’s government. A stipulation of the Pope’s declaration was that all men who held custody of royal castles and lands were to return them immediately to the king. Hubert was fully prepared to aid his young master in taking back all the lands that rightfully belonged to him (even though Hubert himself held a number of them). Under the leadership of the powerful Earl Ranulf of Chester, the baronage openly defied the justiciar and the conflict dragged on for months. Finally, by the end of 1223, after much moderation from Archbishop Langton, it was agreed that everyone, including Hubert, would surrender custody of whatever royal lands they were in charge of. While the situation was not ideal for Hubert, he undoubtedly came out on top of both Earl Ranulf and Bishop des Roches, both of whom lost a considerable amount of prestige in the aftermath of the royal castles crisis. Hubert, meanwhile, maintained his position as the king’s closest confidant and therefore was still the most powerful man in England. 

Another man whose standing had lost a great deal due to the royal castles crisis was a Norman knight named Falkes de Breaute. Falkes had been a close ally of Hubert’s ever since the days of the Barons’ War and had worked with the justiciar as recently as the London-Westminster riots (it was Falkes’ men who were directly responsible for most of the acts of savagery that occurred in the suppression of the riots). Over time, Falkes had grown rich and powerful, all do to his favor in the eyes of the king, who showered lucrative offices and grants of lands upon him. For this reason, it is understandable that Falkes was bitter after he lost nearly everything he had when he was forced to give back all the royal lands he held. This bitterness, combined with a string of judgments to his detriment in the royal courts, pushed Falkes to rebellion. By June 1224, he was declared an outlaw. This prompted Falkes’ brother, William, to kidnap a royal justice and hold him hostage at Bedford castle. Hubert and the king promptly laid siege to the well-provisioned castle, a process which took upwards of two months.

When the castle was finally taken, William de Breaute and a number of his accomplices were duly executed. Soon after, Falkes surrendered himself and was exiled to the continent, where he died two years later. The downfall of Falkes de Breaute eliminated yet another powerful rival to Hubert’s authority. Earl Ranulf seems to have remained quiet at this point and, perhaps most significantly, Bishop des Roches departed England to go on crusade to the Holy Land, and would not return until 1231. To show his appreciation for his services at the siege of Bedford, King Henry heaped further rewards upon his faithful justiciar, who could now say that his authority was unchecked by any significant rival. Hubert was indeed at the pinnacle of his career, but was to find out soon enough that his good fortunes were not meant to last forever.

The years 1224 – 31 are widely seen as the period of Hubert de Burgh’s complete dominance over English politics. With all of his significant rivals either dead, suppressed or out of the country, and with the king still fairly young and easily influenced, there was nothing stopping Hubert from running the country in any way that he saw fit. Hubert did not hesitate to make full use of his authority, making major administrative changes within the royal household. When, in 1225, King Henry was prompted to reissue Magna Carta, it was Hubert who was most responsible for re-ratifying the document and, in certain instances, rewording it to the king’s benefit. One would think that when, in January 1227, the king was officially declared of age (and therefore given full sovereign authority over the kingdom) that Hubert’s period of dominance would be approaching its end.

This was not the case by any means. The nineteen-year-old Henry was still very much under his justiciar’s influence, a fact that Hubert was well aware of. Keeping this in mind, Hubert worked to exploit the fact that the king was now able to hand out titles and grants of land without consulting the council. The month following Henry’s coming of age, Hubert was created Earl of Kent. With this creation, and his marriage to a Scottish princess, the justiciar could now say he was officially a member of England’s upper nobility. If an earldom was not enough, Henry continued to shower gifts upon Hubert in the form of money, lands, offices, exemptions from debts, custodies of minor heirs (which gave the justiciar the right to receive the incomes from the lands of said minor until he came of age) and, perhaps most significantly, the granting of the justiciarship for life.

The justiciar’s period of superiority, however, did not consist entirely of enrichment and royal favor for him. Hubert played a major role in two serious foreign follies that damaged his standing with his master and would ultimately be used against him by his enemies in their quest to destroy him. The first of these follies centered around two separate expeditions into Wales to deal with the powerful Welsh prince Llywelyn ap Iorwith, a nominal vassal of the English kings. Hubert had led a successful campaign into Wales in 1223 to keep Llywelyn under control, but was not able to repeat this feat when hostilities once again arose in the summer of 1228.

The Welsh had become nervous when Hubert was granted the castle of Montgomery (in the Welsh marches) for life, but outright panicked when the justiciar began attempting to extend his territory towards the town of Kerry, which was located within Llywelyn’s domains. Some men of Llywelyn’s briefly besieged Montgomery castle before they were chased away by the royal army, led by Hubert and the king. When Hubert then proceeded to build a castle within Kerry, Llywelyn himself sprang into action. Despite the fact that the odds were very much against him, the Welsh prince was able to fend off the English army, force them to retreat in embarrassing fashion and agree to undesirable peace terms, of which the most significant stipulation was that Hubert had to tear down the castle he had begun to build in Kerry. It comes as a surprise that Hubert faced little or no punishment for his rash actions which had ultimately led to the English defeat in 1228. In fact, Henry enriched the justiciar even further by granting him a whole slew of lands in the Welsh marches, as well as the wardship of the young Earl of Hertford and Gloucester (which, again, being that the earl was a minor, allowed Hubert to collect the incomes on his lands until he came of age).

Inevitably, Hubert’s rapid enrichment within Wales again caused worry for Prince Llywelyn. In the summer of 1231, Hubert decided to arrest and execute several Welshmen who happened to be raiding his lands. This was all the drive that Llywelyn needed to renew hostilities and he did so with a vengeance, seizing or completely destroying a majority of the castles that Hubert had accumulated over the previous years. The royal response to Llywelyn’s invasion was rather lackadaisical, so much so that, by the time they were ready to attack the Welsh had already caused so much damage that Hubert and the king were again forced to sue for peace. Llywelyn was allowed to keep all of the lands he had gained while Hubert’s standing within Wales and the marches had been reduced to practically nothing.

Hubert’s second foreign folly was centered around a pointless expedition to France in what was supposed to be an attempt to gain back some of the territory lost by King John in 1204. As Hubert and King Henry were busy besieging William de Breaute at Bedford castle in 1224, King Louis VIII of France (formerly Prince Louis, the very same man who had attempted to conquer England during the Barons’ War) had seized the English-controlled county of Poitou. Henry immediately set plans in motion to travel to the continent and win back his county (as well as possibly Normandy and Anjou), but preparations were painfully slow, with Hubert playing no small part in the delay. Undoubtedly, the justiciar still remembered his own traumatic experience defending Chinon in 1204-05, which ended in his capture by Philip Augustus and subsequent two-year imprisonment, and did not see better results for the English this time around.

By the summer of 1229, Hubert could stall no more and preparations for an expedition to France began in earnest. It was at this point that the first significant quarrel between Hubert and Henry occurred. When the king journeyed to the coast to see how preparations were progressing, he was bitterly disappointed to find that things were moving much slower than they should have been. Without warning, Henry burst into a fit of anger, all of which was aimed towards his justiciar, and even went so far as to pull his sword out on Hubert, before being subdued. Tensions soon subsided but it was clear that a sort of rift was growing between Hubert and his master and that the king was increasingly desirous to be an independent ruler. When the French expedition finally did take place in the spring of 1230, it seemed that it was destined to fail from the very beginning. Landing in Brittany, the English army marched all the way south to the city of Bordeaux (in the English-controlled duchy of Gascony), accomplishing very little along the way. Hubert’s strategy was to distract the king with meaningless entertainment within the cities so as to prevent a pitched battle with the French. Six months later, Henry’s diminished army departed the continent. Normandy, Anjou and Poitou were all still in French hands and the English royal exchequer was practically empty. Once again, Hubert was forced to absorb most of the blame for the failed campaign, despite his continued entreaties for it not to take place.

The failures in Wales and France, however, would be nothing compared to the problem that Hubert was to face back in England in the summer of 1231: the return of Peter des Roches. Bishop Peter had finally returned from crusade with a vengeance and it seems that his attentions were fully focused on completely destroying Hubert. With the justiciar in a weakened state, due in large part to the failed foreign expeditions, and on semi-bad terms with the king, des Roches was in an advantageous position to re-exert his past influence over his young master. With the aid of his trusty henchmen, Peter des Rivaulx, his nephew (or quite possibly son); and Stephen de Segrave, among others, the bishop slowly put his plot of removing Hubert from his high office into motion. It appears that the goal of des Roches and the king was to lull Hubert into a false sense of security before they struck the fatal blow to his reputation. This is made clear by the fact that Hubert was awarded with the office of justiciar of Ireland in June 1232. Henry even went so far as to draw up a pact in which he swore to protect Hubert’s offices and possessions for life. 

The following month, Hubert was suddenly, and without warning, dismissed from the justiciarship and replaced by none other than des Roches’ political ally, Stephen de Segrave. Peter des Rivaulx had already been appointed treasurer of the household and many of Hubert’s own men had been dismissed. Clearly, the writing on the wall did not bode well for Hubert, but no one could have possibly seen just how far the king and the fallen justiciar’s other enemies would go in their attempts to completely eliminate him. Once Hubert was removed from office and completely out of the king’s good graces, the flood gates were opened and accusations against him began to pour forth. The ex-justiciar was accused of all kinds of crimes from larceny, to murder, and even to sorcery. An accusation that Hubert had murdered, via poison, such powerful men as William Marshal, the late regent; the Earl of Salisbury, uncle to the king; Faulkes de Breaute; and Richard Grant, Stephen Langton’s successor as Archbishop of Canterbury, was completely ridiculous, considering the fact that the latter two men were not even in England at the time of their respective deaths.

Seeing that his enemies were out for blood, Hubert took sanctuary at Merton priory and refused, out of fear, to obey the king’s summons to appear at court. A furious King Henry encouraged a large mob to break into the priory and remove Hubert by force, but was ultimately convinced to call them off. This did not stop the king from stripping Hubert of his earldom and a majority of his lands and renewing the summons to court, though giving him a respite for several months. Hubert took this time to travel to Brentwood, where he took shelter in the local chapel. Somehow, the king got it in his mind that Hubert was in the process of starting a rebellion against him and ordered that he be dragged from the chapel. Hubert was indeed taken from the chapel, but was brought back after Henry was reprimanded by the bishops for violating the rights of sanctuary. The king now vowed to starve Hubert out of sanctuary and stationed his army outside the chapel, allowing very little in the way of food and supplies to enter it, until the forty days allowed to those seeking sanctuary had expired.

At the end of the forty days, the king duly had Hubert arrested and imprisoned and forced him to surrender a large treasure hoard, which Hubert had left in the safe keeping of Knights Templar, to the crown. Once Henry received this vast fortune, he was in such a jubilant mood that he decided to return all of Hubert’s lands (excepting those which had been awarded him via royal grant) and to put him in the loose custody of a group of earls, rather than in the royal dungeons. For the next several months, Hubert lived quietly and comfortably. Soon though, it became apparent that the king was not done harassing his former favorite and began encouraging all those who felt they had a legitimate claim to any of Hubert’s lands to press said claim. This resulted in mass losses on Hubert’s part. Henry then proceeded to order Hubert to be put under stricter restraint. Sensing (understandably) that the king was gearing up another round of attacks against him, Hubert, with the aid of two of his faithful attendants, escaped from his prison and once again took sanctuary, this time at the chapel at Devizes. Just as at Brentwood, Henry’s men broke into the church and dragged Hubert out. The result of this act was also the same: the king was forced to deliver Hubert back to sanctuary when threatened by the bishops.

By this point, Hubert’s cause was beginning to attract a great deal of sympathy not only from the commons (who looked at Hubert as a true Englishman trying to prevent foreigners from gaining any real influence at court), but also from the nobility. While it is true that the barons had hated the justiciar when he was in power, it appears that they felt that the king was going too far in his efforts to destroy him. In addition, the government of Bishop des Roches, his nephew and Stephen de Segrave was turning out to be just as bad, if not worse, than the one which Hubert ran. The most powerful of the noblemen to take up Hubert’s cause was Richard Marshal, Earl of Pembroke (son of the late regent). When the king set about trying to starve Hubert out of sanctuary, just as he had attempted to do at Brentwood, Marshal began plotting his rescue.

Marshal’s men snuck Hubert out of the castle and brought him to the castle of Striguil, a Marshal family stronghold, where the fallen justiciar was able to rest peacefully for the next six months. King Henry was, of course, furious. But, a letter from none other than Pope Gregory IX was what finally brought the king around to his senses. Pope Gregory chastised the king for persecuting such a loyal subject as Hubert so harshly and for such an extended period of time. Not wanting to gain the enmity of his overlord, Henry cracked. While Hubert was not to be restored to the justiciarship, or to gain back the dominant influence he had once possessed, he was again restored to all his ancestral and purchased lands, and was reaffirmed as Earl of Kent. By the spring of 1234, des Roches and his allies were promptly dismissed from court and Hubert and Henry were publicly reconciled. For the next two years, Hubert was able to breathe a bit more easily.

Hubert’s quiet retirement was abruptly interrupted in the fall of 1236 when the king discovered that, four years previously, Hubert’s young daughter, Magota, had been secretly married to Richard de Clare, Earl of Gloucester. The underage de Clare, arguably set to come into one of the greatest inheritances in England when he reached the age of majority, had previously been a ward of Hubert’s, but had been surrendered to the crown when the justiciar’s downfall began. A marriage between the young earl and Hubert’s daughter would bring about the possibility that the de Burgh family would remain a force to be reckoned with for generations. This prospect undoubtedly made the king and the barons nervous and Hubert was called to court to explain why the marriage had occurred without his consent. Hubert’s reply was that he himself was left completely in the dark on the subject of the union, being in sanctuary from the king’s wrath at the time. After several months of back-and-forth arguments, it appears that Hubert was ultimately able to convince Henry that he was indeed ignorant of the wedding.

With this conflict apparently solved, it appeared that Hubert and the king were again on cordial terms, or at  least that Hubert remained a loyal subject. Hubert was one of the only men to stand by the king in his support of the marriage between the latter’s sister Joan and Simon de Montfort, a man who would go on to be the primary antagonist in the Second Barons’ War. Henry, however, was not appreciative of the earl’s staunch loyalty and decided to attack him again. In addition to the unauthorized marriage between Magota and Richard de Clare, the king began to bring up many of the old accusations that had been levied against Hubert back in 1232, as well as a whole series of new and absurd charges. This time around, Hubert was accused of losing Poitou to the French; seducing the Scottish princess, who was now his wife, into marrying him; sabotaging the king’s own marriage; and even attempting to assassinate the king.

Henry’s decision to make a further attempt to bring down his Hubert, and with such ridiculous charges at that, remains a mystery which can only be speculated upon. Perhaps the king was angry that he had been ordered to cease his persecution of Hubert and had never quite gotten over his anger in the first place. Whatever the case may be, the accusations against Hubert were so outrageous that his defense attorney (and friend), Lawrence of St. Albans, had little trouble explaining them away before the court. By August 1239, Lawrence had succeeded in clearing Hubert of any wrongdoing. Henry did not make another attempt at destroying his old justiciar. Hubert lived a very quiet existence for the remainder of his life. He died on May 12, 1243. His exact age is not known for sure, but he was, at the very least, approaching the age of seventy.

Assessment and Analysis

When one thinks of some of the major figures of medieval England, Hubert de Burgh is usually not one of the men that first comes to mind. Information about his life is fairly limited and, before 1198, practically nothing is known about him at all. Yet, a proper analysis of the reigns of King John and Henry III cannot be completed without touching upon him to a certain extent. Hubert’s shadowy history can be easily explained by the fact that that particular era of English history is particularly poorly documented, and we are dependent upon a series of chroniclers whose information must be taken with a grain of salt, if it can be trusted at all, for a majority our knowledge of the time (this is, of course, in addition to state papers). The reign of Henry III is particularly blurry to historians and this is made clear by the fact that, to this very day, well over seven hundred years after his death, he still does not have anything that can be called a standard biography. This seems strange considering that he reigned for fifty-six years.

Despite the obscurity of Hubert’s upbringing and general background, it is crystal clear as to what achievements made him such an important figure of the time. During John’s reign, Hubert played an important role as a soldier, administrator and close personal advisor to the king. He fought valiantly for his master in France, particularly at Chinon, and could always be counted upon to take up arms in the name of the king on a moment’s notice and without question. Serving as chamberlain to John assured that he was in constant contact with his master and that they maintained a personal, as well as a professional relationship. This, just as much as his martial service was responsible for his many rewards. In his time, Hubert served as sheriff of a countless numbers of shires; as castellan to a countless number of fortresses; and as custodian to a countless number of lands, all due to royal favor.

While his advancements during John’s reign were highly impressive, Hubert truly established himself as a force to be reckoned with during the Barons’ War. His defense of Dover Castle was crucial. The fortress, appropriately known as the “key to England,” being that it represented the closest distance between England and the continent, held out valiantly against the brutal French onslaught, mostly thanks to Hubert. Hubert’s participation in the Battle of Sandwich was no less significant, being that it was the decisive and final battle within the Barons’ War.

Hubert was kept relatively quiet during the regencies of the Marshal and the papal legate Pandulf but, once they were gone, he was able to assert a dominating presence within the English government. Seemingly having the young King Henry III wrapped around his little finger, Hubert wielded near-sovereign power and was regent of England in all but name. For his services, Hubert became an extremely wealthy man. The number of grants of money, lands, positions and wardships he was given by the king was unprecedented for the time. Unfortunately, for all of his wealth, power and success, Hubert was merely a subject and his fortunes were completely in line with how he was viewed in the king’s eyes.

As long as Hubert had the king’s favor, he was virtually immune to the attempts of Peter des Roches and a majority of the English baronage to remove him from power. When Hubert finally did fall out of favor, his descent was catastrophic. Hubert’s persecution at the hands of Henry III has become notorious and is reminiscent of the treatment that King John, Henry’s father, shoveled out to some of the powerful subjects during his own reign (William Marshal being one of the most prominent examples). One would think that Henry had a touch of sadism within him and actually enjoyed seeing his once loyal subject suffer. In reality though, the king was most likely simply anxious, after fifteen years of taking orders from some form of regent, of ruling on his own. Destroying Hubert was certainly one way of showing that he was doing what he could to prove that he was ready to take on the task of independent kingship. Hubert’s fall from power did indeed mark a turning point in the reign of Henry III. It basically ended the king’s minority reign and set the stage for the collapse of strong royal authority, which would culminate in the Second Barons’ War, led by Simon de Montfort, in the 1250s and 60s.

Whatever the reasons behind Henry’s methods were, in the end Hubert turned out to be one of the lucky ones. He escaped the noose and the axe and was able to die peacefully, at an advanced age, in his own bed, likely surrounded by loved ones. Throughout his long life, Hubert made a name for himself to such a degree that he simply cannot be ignored. For over ten years, he was the driving force behind English government. Very few historians would argue against the fact that he was ambitious and hungry for power. Yet it also cannot be argued that he was fiercely loyal to his master and that he made sure that the kingdom ran smoothly while its king was too young and inexperienced to take the reins of government for himself. The case can easily be made that Hubert was the mightiest non-noble subject of his time. It can also be said that no commoner would hold as much influence as Hubert had until the reign of Henry VIII, when men such as Cardinal Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell rose from obscure, humble origins to ultimately achieve the role of the king’s right-hand man. For all these reasons and more, Hubert de Burgh should not, and will not, be lost within the complex web of history.

Primary Source

Clarence Ellis, Hubert de Burgh: A Study in Constancy

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