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Hubert de Burgh

"Hubert de Burgh" redirects here. For the Irish cricketer, see Hubert de Burgh (cricketer).
Hubert de Burgh
Hubert de Burgh seeking sanctuary in 1234, by Matthew Paris
Chief Justiciar of England
In office
Monarch John
Henry III
Preceded by Peter des Roches
Succeeded by Stephen Segrave
Personal details
Born c. 1160
Died before 5 May 1243
Banstead, Surrey
Nationality English
Spouse(s) (1) Beatrice de Warrenne
(2) Isabel of Gloucester
(3) Princess Margaret of Scotland
Children John
Occupation Earl of Kent

Hubert de Burgh, 1st Earl of Kent (c. 1160 – 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 was the son of Walter de Burgh of Burgh Castle, Norfolk. He was the younger brother of William de Burgh (d. 1206) who accompanied Prince John to Ireland in 1185, and eventually became Lord of Connacht.

Hubert and William's two younger brothers were Geoffrey de Burgh and Thomas de Burgh; Geoffrey became Archdeacon of Norwich (1202) and then bishop of Ely (1225), while Thomas was castellan of Norwich (1215–16).

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.


In his early adulthood Hubert vowed to rescue the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the holy land, so he set off for Jerusalem on the Third Crusade. Hubert is one of the possible de Burghs that received the coat of arms; it is said that Richard I dipped his finger in the blood of a slain Saracen king, put a red cross on the gold shield of de Burgh, and said "for your bravery this will be your crest". It is also said that he uttered the words "a cruce salus" which became the family motto.

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 and Somerset (1200), Berkshire (1202) and Herefordshire (1215), and castellan of Launceston[1] and Wallingford castles.

He was also 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 elapsed between the two appointments.[2]

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 The Life and Death of 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 while 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 (1209–1214). Probably, however, de Burgh spent most of his time in the English holdings in France, where he was seneschal of Poitou.

Barons' revolt

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 sureties of its execution. John named him Chief Justiciar in June 1215.[3] and appointed him High Sheriff of Surrey (1215), High Sheriff of Herefordshire (1215), High Sheriff of Kent (1216–1222), and Governor of Canterbury Castle. Soon afterwards he was appointed Governor of the castles of Hereford, Norwich and Oxford.

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 autumn 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.

He was appointed High Sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk (1216–1225) and High Sheriff of Kent (1223–1226).

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 27 April 1228 he was named Justiciar for life.[4] But in 1232 the plots 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 28 May 1234, but had not exercised the power of the office after September 1232.[5] His judgment was reversed by William Raleigh also known as William de Raley in 1234, which for a time, restored his earlship.[6] He again faced forfeiture in 1239, but retained some standing by granting several castles to the king, including the Trilateral Castles (Skenfrith, White and Grosmont) in Wales.

Trouble with the King

The marriage of Hubert de Burgh's daughter Margaret (or Megotta as she was also known) to Richard of Clare, the young Earl of Gloucester, brought de Burgh into some trouble in 1236, for the earl was as yet a minor and in the king's wardship, and the marriage had been celebrated without the royal license. Hubert, however, protested that the match was not of his making, and promised to pay the king some money, so the matter passed by for the time. Eventually the marriage came to an end, either through annulment or Margaret's death.[7]


He died in 1243 at the age of 82 or 83 in Banstead, Surrey, England and was buried at the church of the Black Friars in Holborn.

Marriages and issue

De Burgh married three times:

  • (1) Beatrice de Warrenne, daughter of William de Warrenne, Lord of Wormegay, and Beatrice de Pierrepont, by whom he had two sons, John and Hubert. John de Burgh married Hawise, daughter of William de Lanvallei. John inherited de Burgh's estates but not his earldom or other titles.
  • (2) Isabel of Gloucester, first wife (marriage annulled) of King John of England (c. 1217), without issue.

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.

Among his descendants was Sir Thomas Burgh of Gainsborough,(c. 1431-1496).

Fictional portrayals

Hubert is a character in the play King John by William Shakespeare. On screen he has been portrayed by Franklyn McLeay in the silent short King John (1899), which recreates John's death scene at the end of the Shakespeare play, by Jonathan Adams in the BBC TV drama series The Devil's Crown (1978), and by John Thaw in the BBC Shakespeare version of The Life and Death of King John (1984).

Family tree

  Walter de Burgh of Burgh Castle, Norfolk.
  |                                    |                                                  |                              |
  |                                    |                                                  |                              |
 William de Burgh, died 1205.    Hubert de Burgh, 1st Earl of Kent, d. 1243.        Geoffrey de Burgh, d. 1228.     Thomas de Burgh
                                         (issue; John and Hubert)



  • 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)
Political offices
Preceded by
Peter des Roches
Chief Justiciar
Succeeded by
Stephen Segrave
Preceded by
The Earl of Surrey
Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports
Succeeded by
Peerage of England
Preceded by
New Creation
Earl of Kent
Succeeded by
Title extinct
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