Lock and Key of the Kingdom

Hubert de Burgh

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Image:  The Arms of Hubert de Burgh.
The Arms of Hubert de Burgh.

Hubert de Burgh (c.1175-1243), a younger son from a family of Norfolk gentry, entered the service of King John in the 1190s. His reputation was made by his obstinate defence of the castle of Chinon in 1205. Appointed seneschal of Poitou in 1212 he held that province against French attack. Recalled to England in he was appointed Justiciar at the height of the Magna Carta crisis and remained in that office, with overall responsibility for the administration of England, until 1232.

He was one of the great Constables of Dover Castle. From his first appointment until he finally vacated the office was a period of thirty years, 1202-1232, but from 1203-1215 four other men filled the office for short periods. During his first period of tenure in 1203 he founded the Maison Dieu in the town.


Hubert played a decisive part in the war against France of 1215-17. He defended Dover Castle against Prince Louis of France, who invaded England to help the barons in their fight against King John. In 1216, the French laid siege to the Castle with a large army and great siege engines that could hurl rocks against the walls. Hubert only had 150 men to defend the castle with. Part of the outer curtain wall of the castle was undermined by the French and collapsed. But Hubert and his heroic defenders were able to plug the breach and fight off the attackers. With the death of King John, and the accession of his infant son Henry III, the French withdrew.


Graphic:  Mediaeval Siege.


The French returned in August 1217 with a fleet of eighty great ships and many smaller vessels. They were met, off the Goodwin Sands, by Hubert with only forty ships at his command. But, unlike the French he understood the difficult Channel currents. He sank some of the French ships, ramming them with the iron tipped bows of his galleys. With his own vessels to windward of the remaining French ships he threw quicklime to burn his enemy and the French commander was captured. This defeat finally ended Louisís hopes of becoming King of England.

From 1219 onwards Hubert was the most influential figure in Henry IIIís minority government. In 1221 he married, as his third wife, Margaret, sister of King Alexander II of Scotland, and four years later was created Earl of Kent. In 1232 his long-time rival for royal favour, Peter des Roches, finally persuaded Henry to dismiss and imprison him. He made a dramatic escape from prison in 1233 and was reconciled to the king next year, but never recovered his former influence. In Dover Hubert de Burgh will be remembered as the heroic defender of Dover Castle and the founder of the Maison Dieu.




Image:  Shakespeare Cliff.transparent