Hubert de Burgh, 1st Earl of Kent

Hubert de Burgh (before 1180 – before 5 May, 1243) was Earl of Kent, Justiciar of England and Ireland, and one of the most influential men in England during the reigns of John and Henry III.


Birth and family

De Burgh came from a minor gentry family about which little is known. He was a brother of William de Burgh, Governor of Limerick. The relationship between Hubert de Burgh and the later de Burghs Earl of Ulster and Lords of Connaught is not clear. They descend from William de Burgh (c. 1160?–1204) but the relationship between Hubert and William has never been clearly verified; it is possible that they were full or half brothers, but may have been cousins.

Early life

He was a minor official in the household of Prince John in 1197, and became John's chamberlain the next year. He continued as John's chamberlain when the latter became king in 1199.

Honours from John

In the early years of John's reign de Burgh was greatly enriched by royal favour, receiving the honour of Corfe in 1199 and three important castles in the Welsh Marches in 1201 (Grosmont Castle, Skenfrith Castle, and Llantilio Castle). He was also high sheriff of Dorset, Somerset, Herefordshire and Berkshire, and castellan of Launceston and Wallingford castles.

The next year de Burgh was appointed Constable of Dover Castle, and also given charge of Falaise, in Normandy. He is cited as having been appointed a Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports by 1215, and although the co-joint position of this office to that of the constableship of Dover Castle was not fully established until after the Baron's War, a rather long period seems to have elasped between the two appointments. (White and Black books of the Cinque Ports Vol XIX 1966)

Captor of Arthur

After John captured his nephew Arthur of Brittany, niece Eleanor and their allies in 1202, de Burgh was made their jailor.

There are several accounts of de Burgh's actions as jailor, including complicity in Arthur's death and an account that the king ordered de Burgh to blind Arthur, but that de Burgh refused. This account was used by Shakespeare in his play King John. The truth of these accounts has not been verified, however.


In any case de Burgh retained the king's trust, and in 1203 was given charge of the great castles at Falaise in Normandy and Chinon, in Touraine. The latter was a key to the defence of the Loire valley. After the fall of Falaise de Burgh held out while the rest of the English possessions fell to the French. Chinon was besieged for a year, and finally fell in June, 1205, Hubert being badly wounded whilte trying to evade capture.

During the year he was trapped in Chinon, and the two following years when he was a prisoner of the French, de Burgh lost most of his estates and posts. The reasons are much debated. After his return to England in 1207, he acquired new and different lands and offices. These included the castles of Lafford and Sleaford, and the shrievalty of Lincolnshire. Probably, however, de Burgh spent most of his time in the English holdings in France, where he was seneschal of Poitou.

French invasion

De Burgh remained loyal to the king during the barons' rebellions at the end of John's reign. The Magna Carta mentions him as one of those who advised the king to sign the charter, and he was one of the twenty-five guarantors of its execution. John named him Chief Justiciar in June 1215.

De Burgh played a prominent role in the defence of England from the invasion of Louis of France, the son of Philippe II who later became Louis VIII. Louis' first objective was to take Dover Castle, which was in de Burgh's charge. The castle withstood a lengthy siege in the summer and fall of 1216, and Louis withdrew. The next summer Louis could not continue without reinforcements from France. De Burgh gathered a small fleet which defeated a larger French force at the Battle of Dover and Battle of Sandwich, and ultimately led to the complete withdrawal of the French from England.

Regent to Henry III

After the death of William Marshal in 1219, de Burgh effectively became regent of England. In this position de Burgh acquired a number of enemies and rivals.

When Henry III came of age in 1227 de Burgh was made lord of Montgomery Castle in the Welsh Marches and Earl of Kent. He remained one of the most influential people at court. On April 27, 1228 he was named Justiciar for life. But in 1232 the plottings of his enemies finally succeeded and he was removed from office and soon was in prison. He escaped from Devizes Castle and joined the rebellion of Richard Marshal, 3rd Earl of Pembroke in 1233. In 1234, Edmund Rich, Archbishop of Canterbury effected a reconciliation. He officially resigned the Justiciarship about May 28, 1234, but had not exercised the power of the office after September 1232 . His judgment was reversed by William Raleigh also known as William de Raley in 1234, which for a time, restored his earlship. He again faced forfeiture in 1239, but retained some standing by granting several castles to the king, including the Trilateral in Wales.


He died in 1243 in Banstead, Surrey, England and was buried at the church of the Black Friars in Holborn.

Marriages and issue

De Burgh married three times:

Before all these marriages he had a marriage contract with Joan, daughter of William de Reviers, 5th Earl of Devon, but that engagement was broken off in 1200.

A 20th century descendant is Chris de Burgh.


  • British History Online: Launceston Parish accessed on September 7, 2007
  • Burke, Eamon "Burke People and Places", Dublin, 1995.
  • Carpenter, D. A. "The Fall of Hubert De Burgh", Journal of British Studies, vol. 19 (1980)
  • Ellis, C. Hubert de Burgh, A Study in Constancy (1952)
  • Johnston, S.H.F. "The Lands of Hubert de Burgh", English Historical Review, vol. 50 (1935)
  • Powicke, F. Maurice and E. B. Fryde Handbook of British Chronology 2nd. ed. London:Royal Historical Society 1961
  • Weiss, Michael "The Castellan: The Early Career of Hubert de Burgh", Viator, vol. 5 (1974)
  • Remfry, P.M., Grosmont Castle and the families of Fitz Osbern, Ballon, Fitz Count, Burgh and Braose (ISBN 1-899376-56-9)

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