As we have already seen, Hubert de Burgh was a key ally of King John during the Magna Carta crisis. Having risen from the ranks of minor land owner to one of the most senior positions in the land, King’s Justiciar, de Burgh was indispensable to King John. As justiciar, in the Magna Carta, Hubert de Burgh is mentioned as being the one to hold ultimate responsibility in the realm whenever the king was abroad; this was a considerable change to the role of justiciar in former reigns, when he was primarily responsible as president of the exchequer and chief justice. He was, essentially, the most powerful man in the land after the king himself.
After sealing Magna Carta at Runnymede on 15 June 1215, John was soon writing to the pope to have Magna Carta annulled. England was plunged into civil war. The barons invited the French dauphin, Prince Louis, to join them and make a play for the throne. Louis was the son of John’s erstwhile friend Philip II Augustus, King of France, and the husband of his niece Blanche, who was the daughter of his sister Eleanor, Queen of Castile.
Louis and his men had landed on the Isle of Thanet on 14 May 1216. The dauphin advanced through Kent and took Canterbury before moving onto Winchester. Louis was hailed as King of England in London in June of 1216. John seems to have been undecided as to how to act; he sent his oldest son Henry to safety at Devizes Castle in Wiltshire. Dover Castle, under the command of Hubert de Burgh, held out against the French and rebel forces, as did Windsor and Lincoln, under the formidable Nicholaa de la Haye. Despite the death of King John, at Newark on the night of 18/19 October 1216, William Longespée, Earl of Salisbury, John’s illegitimate half-brother, had remained with Louis and it was he who called for Hubert de Burgh to surrender Dover to the French. De Burgh was besieged at Dover Castle, the gateway to England from the Continent, from 22 July 1216 until King John’s death in October of the same year, when the Dauphin Louis abandoned the siege.
Ten days after his father’s death, on 28 October, 9-year-old Henry III was crowned at Gloucester and William Marshal was appointed as the young king’s regent. Hubert de Burgh attended a council of the new king, Henry III, at Bristol on 11 November 1216, when Magna Carta was reissued; he appears as justiciar at the head of the list of lay barons on the witness list. In the spring of 1217, he was back at Dover, having reprovisioned it, and from April he was once again under siege. The Battle of Lincoln , on 20 May 1217 saw the allied French and rebel forces defeated by William Marshal, causing Louis to lift the siege at Dover and retire to London and await reinforcements.
Hubert de Burgh then commanded an English fleet in a naval battle off Sandwich on 24 August 1217, which saw the English ships under defeat the French fleet and capture their flagship. The English naval forces had intercepted the French bringing equipment and supplies to Prince Louis, the dauphin of France;
‘On 24 August, the whole enemy fleet joined battle with the king’s men, not far from the Isle of Thanet. Many of their ships and some of the leaders of the French party were captured, but the rest were able to evade capture by flight; many of the lesser men were killed. Scattered in confusion, the enemy could not regroup.’The Barnwell Annalist
King John’s illegitimate son, Richard of Chilham, is said to have played a significant part in the battle. Richard brought his own ship alongside the French flagship, the most formidable of the enemy’s vessels, commanded by Eustace the Monk. Richard and his men boarded the ship. Roger of Wendover suggests that it was Richard himself who beheaded Eustace the Monk after his capture. Although other sources disagree with this, none deny that Richard’s actions in the battle were significant.
The Battle of Sandwich thus consolidated the Royalist victory over the rebels and their French allies. As a consequence, the English were able to dictate terms to Louis; Louis agreed to a settlement of £10,000 as an inducement to go home. Peace was signed at Kingston Upon Thames on 12 September and the French left England shortly afterwards. Magna Carta was issued a third time, along with a new charter, the Charter of the Forest, issued for the first time.
On the personal front, Hubert de Burgh’s first wife, Beatrice de Warenne, had died sometime before 18 December 1214. De Burgh retained Beatrice’s lands at Wormegay throughout his lifetime and they only passed to her eldest son, William Bardolf, on de Burgh’s death in May 1243. William Bardolf’s inheritance of Portslade and Harthill, both held from the honour of Warenne, serve to demonstrate the continued connections that this junior branch of the family held with the powerful Warenne earls throughout the thirteenth century.
In September 1217, de Burgh married Isabella of Gloucester, King John’s discarded first wife. On 13 October 1217 the sheriffs of nine counties were ordered to relinquish custody of Isabella’s lands to de Burgh. This was Isabella’s third and final marriage – she had previously married to John, before he became king, and Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex, one of the rebel barons; he had died in 1216 whilst still in rebellion against the king. This final marriage for Isabella was, sadly, very short-lived and Isabella was dead within a month, possibly only a few weeks, of her wedding day and almost exactly a year after the death of her first husband, King John.
Isabella died on 14 October 1217, probably at Keynsham Abbey near Bristol, and was buried at the cathedral of Christ Church, Canterbury. Shortly before her death, Isabella made a grant to the monks of Canterbury, of £10 of land in her manor of Petersfield, Hampshire, which was witnessed by Hubert de Burgh and other members of his household.
Two years later, following the death of William Marshal in 1219, Hubert de Burgh took over the reins of government, alongside the young king’s tutor, Peter des Roches, Bishop of Winchester, and the papal legate, Pandulf. This central government, however, was weakened by the fact the castles, manors and sheriffdoms of the realm were held by those who had served King John, and who claimed they could not be removed from their positions until the king reached his majority. These same lords were siphoning off revenue that should have gone to the treasury, further weakening the authority of the crown. It was only when the king reached his majority at the end of 1223 that de Burgh could dismiss many of the sheriffs and castellans. However, this resulted in a bitter power struggle that was to last for the next decade, and would eventually lead to Hubert de Burgh’s political downfall, arrest and imprisonment.
In June 1221, Alexander II, King of Scots, married Henry III’s sister Joan, at York. It was probably at this event, when the Scottish and English royal families came together in celebration, that the future of Alexander’s sister Margaret, a hostage in England since the treaty of Norham in 1209, was finally resolved. Margaret was the eldest daughter of William I the Lion, King of Scots, and a granddaughter of Ada de Warenne; she was therefore a second cousin of de Burgh’s first wife, Beatrice de Warenne.
It was decided that Margaret would be married to Hubert de Burgh. They ceremony took place in London on 3 October 1221, with King Henry himself giving the bride away. Each of his previous marriages had given de Burgh social and political advancement, and valuable familial connections. Marrying Margaret of Scotland was no less an impressive match, but would later be used against him by his enemies, who accused de Burgh of marrying Margaret while the king was still too young to decide if he might want to marry the Scottish princess himself, as his father had proposed. Hubert de Burgh did, after all, have far humbler origins than one would expect for the spouse of a princess. The Scottish preferred to view Hubert de Burgh as the royal justiciar he had become, rather than the member of the minor noble family into which he had been born.
Margaret was at least 26 years of age when she married Hubert de Burgh and may even have been over 30. De Burgh was in his early fifties. Due to Margaret’s high status as a Scottish princess, many of the grants of lands and privileges were made to the couple jointly, rather than solely to Hubert de Burgh. De Burgh was made earl of Kent in 1227, with the title specifically entailed on his children by Margaret, rather than on his children by his first marriage to Beatrice de Warenne. Hubert de Burgh and Margaret, had one child, a girl named Margaret but known as Megotta, who was probably born in the early 1220s. There were rumours that de Burgh was planning to divorce Margaret in 1232, but he fell from royal favour before such a move could be pursued.
Hubert de Burgh was at the height of his power throughout the 1220s. In 1224, he arranged for the marriage of William (II) Marshal, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, to the king’s youngest sister, Eleanor. The bride was no more than 9 years old on her wedding day, whereas Marshal was about 30. The marriage was agreed at the behest of de Burgh,and the papal legate, Pandulf, as a way of guaranteeing Marshal remained firmly in the justiciar’s camp, and to prevent him making a foreign marriage. The match put an end to three years of indecision, as to whether Eleanor should marry a foreign prince or an English magnate. The king settled ten manors, confiscated from a French nobleman and already administered by Marshal, on his sister as her marriage portion.
When it was thought that William Longspée, Earl of Salisbury, was dead following a shipwreck off the Brittany coast, in 1225, Hubert de Burgh sought to take advantage of the earl’s death to further his own family connections. While Salisbury spent months recovering at the island monastery of Ré in France, Hubert de Burgh proposed a marriage between Salisbury’s wife, Ela, and his own nephew, Reimund. Ela, however, would not even consider it, insisting that she knew William was alive and that, even if he were dead, she would never presume to marry below her status, a right provided in Magna Carta. However, as it turned out, William Longespée was, indeed, still alive and he eventually returned to England and his wife, landing in Cornwall and then making his way to Salisbury. From Salisbury he went to Marlborough to complain to the king that Reimund had tried to marry Ela whilst he was still alive. According to the Annals and Antiquities of Lacock Abbey Reimund was present at Longespée’s audience with the king, confessed his wrongdoing and offered to make reparations, thus restoring peace. Unfortunately, Longespée never seems to have recovered fully from his injuries and died at the royal castle at Salisbury shortly after his return home, on 7 March 1226, amid rumours of being poisoned by Hubert de Burgh or his nephew.
William de Warenne, 5th Earl of Warenne and Surrey, was a staunch ally of the justiciar, Hubert de Burgh, who had been married to his cousin Beatrice de Warenne, the daughter and heir of William de Warenne of Wormegay. He had supported de Burgh in 1223–4, when the justiciar’s position was threatened by rivals at court. However, with the king attaining his majority and fully taking up the reins of government in 1227, Hubert de Burgh’s hold on power weakened. The king’s administration was divided by powerful factions and de Burgh fell from favour; he was stripped of his offices and imprisoned. William de Warenne was drawn into the downfall of his former patron, when de Burgh was imprisoned in 1232. Warenne was one of the four earls tasked with keeping de Burgh in custody at Devizes Castle and when de Burgh’s enemies themselves fell in 1234, Warenne was the earl to accept the surrender of de Burgh’s castles at Bramber and Knepp, which had been taken by the former justiciar’s enemies.
With her husband’s downfall, Princess Margaret, Countess of Kent, and her daughter, were deprived of all their belongings. They sought sanctuary at Bury St Edmunds, from where they were forbidden to leave by the king’s own order. Margaret humbled herself before the king when he visited Bury St Edmunds, perhaps softening Henry III somewhat as the king then allowed her to visit her husband so they could discuss their situation. Relations between the king and de Burgh thawed slightly in 1234. In February Margaret was given possession of Hubert de Burgh’s hereditary lands and in May of the same year de Burgh was finally pardoned and the king ‘undertook to do what grace he will.’
Whilst in sanctuary Margaret secretly arranged the marriage of Megotta to Richard de Clare, Earl of Hertford and Gloucester, the son of Isabel Marshal and Gilbert de Clare, who was of similar age to Megotta. The young couple may have known each other as Richard was a ward of Hubert de Burgh until the justiciar’s disgrace in 1232. Hubert de Burgh may not have known of his wife’s activities and the discovery of the arrangement in 1236 reignited tensions between the king and his former justiciar, who was attempting to regain the king’s trust.
The discovery of the marriage was a devastating blow to de Burgh; he had lost the king’s confidence completely and retired from public life. The death of Megotta in 1237 was a further blow but did not ease the tensions with the king. Hubert de Burgh and Margaret were finally pardoned for the marriage in October 1239, de Burgh surrendering his three castles in Upper Gwent and Hadleigh Castle in Essex as part of the agreement. De Burgh did not return to office, despite the pardon, and remained in retirement until his death. He died at his Surrey manor of Banstead in May 1243 and was buried at the Blackfriars in London, a monastery of which he was a benefactor, and where Margaret would be buried when she died in 1259.
Courtesy of Wikipedia except the Magna Carta and the Warenne arms, which are ©Sharon Bennett Connolly.
finerollshenry3.org.uk; Oxforddnb.com; magnacarta800th.com; Church, Stephen, King John: England, Magna Carta and the Making of a Tyrant; Danziger, Danny and John Gillingham, 1215: The Year of Magna Carta; Crouch, David, William Marshal; Matthew Paris, Robert de Reading and others, Flores Historiarum, volume III; Robert Bartlett England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings 1075-1225; Dan Jones The Plantagenets; the Kings who Made England; Maurice Ashley The Life and Times of King John; Roy Strong The Story of Britain; Oxford Companion to British History; Mike Ashley British Kings & Queens; David Williamson Brewer’s British Royalty; Rich Price King John’s Letters Facebook page; Elizabeth Hallam, editor, The Plantagenet Chronicles; Donald Matthew, King Stephen; Medieval Lands Project on the Earls of Surrey, Conisbrough Castle; Farrer, William and Charles Travis Clay, editors, Early Yorkshire Charters, Volume 8: The Honour of Warenne; Rev. John Watson, Memoirs of the Ancient Earls of Warren and Surrey and their Descendants to the Present Time; Morris, Marc King John: Treachery, Tyranny and the Road to Magna Carta; doncasterhistory.co.uk.
Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available from Pen & Sword, Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.
Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:
Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.
Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066. Available now from Amazon, Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.
©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly.