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Hubert de Burgh

Born: ?
Died: 1243
Location of death: Banstead, Surrey, England
Cause of death: unspecified

Gender: Male
Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Judge

Nationality: England
Executive summary: Chief Justiciar of England

Chief justiciar of England in the reign of John Lackland and Henry III, entered the royal service in the reign of Richard the Lionheart. He traced his descent from Robert of Mortain, half brother of William the Conqueror and first earl of Cornwall; he married about 1200 the daughter of William de Vernon, earl of Devon; and thus, from the beginning of his career, he stood within the circle of the great ruling families. But he owed his high advancement to exceptional ability as an administrator and a soldier. Already in 1201 he was chamberlain to King John, the sheriff of three shires, the constable of Dover and Windsor castles, the warden of the Cinque Ports and of the Welsh Marches. He served with John in the continental wars which led up to the loss of Normandy. It was to his keeping that the king first entrusted the captive Arthur of Brittany. Coggeshall is our authority for the tale, which William Shakespeare has immortalized, of Hubert's refusal to permit the mutilation of his prisoner; but Hubert's loyalty was not shaken by the crime to which Arthur subsequently fell a victim. In 1204 Hubert distinguished himself by a long and obstinate defense of Chinon, at a time when nearly the whole of Poitou had passed into French hands. In 1213 he was appointed seneschal of Poitou, with a view to the invasion of France which ended disastrously for John in the next year.

Both before and after the issue of the Great Charter Hubert adhered loyally to the king; he was rewarded, in June 1215, with the office of chief justiciar. This office he retained after the death of John and the election of William, the earl marshal, as regent. But, until the expulsion of the French from England, Hubert was entirely engaged with military affairs. He held Dover successfully through the darkest hour of John's fortunes; he brought back Kent to the allegiance of Henry III; he completed the discomfiture of the French and their allies by the naval victory which he gained over Eustace the Monk, the noted privateer and admiral of Louis, in the Straits of Dover (August 1217). The inferiority of the English fleet has been much exaggerated, for the greater part of the French vessels were transports carrying reinforcements and supplies. But Hubert owed his success to the skill with which he manoeuvred for the weather-gage, and his victory was not less brilliant than momentous. It compelled Louis to accept the treaty of Lambeth, under which he renounced his claims to the crown and evacuated England. As the savior of the national cause the justiciar naturally assumed after the death of William Marshal (1219) the leadership of the English loyalists. He was opposed by the legate Pandulph (1218-21), who claimed the guardianship of the kingdom for the Holy See; by the Poitevin Peter des Roches, bishop of Winchester, who was the young king's tutor; by the foreign mercenaries of John, among whom Falkes de Bréauté took the lead; and by the feudal party under the earls of Chester and Albemarle. On Pandulph's departure the pope was induced to promise that no other legate should be appointed in the lifetime of Archbishop Stephen Langton. Other opponents were weakened by the audacious stroke of 1223, when the justiciar suddenly announced the resumption of all the castles, sheriffdoms and other grants which had been made since the king's accession. A plausible excuse was found in the next year for issuing a sentence of confiscation and banishment against Falkes de Bréauté. Finally in 1227, Hubert having proclaimed the king of age, dismissed the bishop of Winchester from his tutorship.

Hubert now stood at the height of his power. His possessions had been enlarged by four successive marriages, particularly by that which he contracted in 1221 with Margaret, the sister of Alexander II of Scotland; in 1227 he received the earldom of Kent, which had been dormant since the disgrace of Odo of Bayeux. But the favor of Henry III was a precarious foundation on which to build. The king chafed against the objections with which his minister opposed wild plans of foreign conquest and inconsiderate concessions to the papacy. They quarrelled violently in 1229, at Portsmouth, when the king was with difficulty prevented from stabbing Hubert, because a sufficient supply of ships was not forthcoming for an expedition to France. In 1231 Henry lent an ear to those who asserted that the justiciar had secretly encouraged armed attacks upon the aliens to whom the pope had given English benefices. Hubert was suddenly disgraced and required to render an account of his long administration. The blow fell suddenly, a few weeks after his appointment as justiciar of Ireland. It was precipitated by one of those fits of passion to which the king was prone; but the influence of Hubert had been for some time waning before that of Peter des Roches and his nephew Peter des Rievaux. Some color was given to their attacks by Hubert's injudicious plea that he held a charter from King John which exempted him from any liability to produce accounts. But the other charges, far less plausible than that of embezzlement, which were heaped upon the head of the fallen favorite, are evidence of an intention to crush him at all costs. He was dragged from the sanctuary at Bury St. Edmunds, in which he had taken refuge, and was kept in strait confinement until Richard of Cornwall, the king's brother, and three other earls offered to be his sureties. Under their protection he remained in honorable detention at Devizes Castle. On the outbreak of Richard Marshal's rebellion (1233), he was carried off by the rebels to the Marshal stronghold of Striguil, in the hope that his name would add popularity to their cause. In 1234 he was admitted, along with the other supporters of the fallen Marshal, to the benefit of a full pardon. He regained his earldom and held it until his death, although he was once in serious danger from the avarice of the king (1239), who was tempted by Hubert's enormous wealth to revive the charge of treason.

In his lifetime Hubert was a popular hero; Matthew Paris relates how, at the time of his disgrace, a common smith refused with an oath to put fetters on the man "who restored England to the English." Hubert's ambition of founding a great family was not realized. His earldom died with him, though he left two sons. In constitutional history he is remembered as the last of the great justiciars. The office, as having become too great for a subject, was now shorn of its most important powers and became politically insignificant.

Wife: Beatrice (two sons)
Son: John
Son: Hubert

    Treason 1232
    Pardoned 1234
    Inmate: Tower of London (1232-34)

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