Reviewed: Fixer and Fighter: The Life of Hubert de Burgh Earl of Kent by Brian Harwood

Pen and Sword Books: September 2016

Hubert de Burgh rose from obscure beginnings to become one of the most powerful men in England. He loyally served first King John and then the young Henry III and played a crucial role in saving the Plantagenet dynasty when it was at its most vulnerable.

During King John s disastrous wars in France, Hubert held Chinon castle against the besieging French for a whole year. He remained loyal when the Barons rebelled against John and, when they invited French invaders to intervene, Hubert successfully held Dover Castle for the king against a siege led by the French Prince Louis. After John s death, he held it for the new king, 9-year old Henry, against a renewed siege. In August 1217 he struck the final blow against the French invasion, which still held London, when he defeated a powerful fleet carrying French reinforcements at the naval Battle of Sandwich.

Hubert continued to serve Henry III, making important reforms as Justiciar of England and leading military campaigns against the Welsh Prince Lewellyn. He eventually lost favor due to the machinations of his rivals and narrowly avoided execution but was eventually reconciled with his king and able to die a peaceful death. Incredibly, this is the first full-length biography of this remarkable man.”

This is an excellent, and well-researched book which makes a good argument for the importance of an almost forgotten historical figure. Most people have hardly heard of Hubert de Burgh now (or only in the context of the disappearance of Prince Arthur of Brittany, which he probably had nothing to do with).

Hubert de Burgh, the author argues, played a key role in the defense of England during closing years of the reign of King John, and the opening years of his son’s reign. When Prince Louis of France and his armies practically controlled much of Southern England.
If this is the case, Burgh was as important as the more famous William Marshal in establishing Henry III on the throne, and securing the future of the fledgling Plantagenet dynasty.

Before the tumultuous years of the second decade of the 13th century, however, the author also argues that Hubert de Burgh helped establish the system of royal administration. The ‘co-ordinated management of government records’ of the Chancery, Exchequer and Treasury is attributed to the skills and vision of de Burgh. The records produced by this royal offices are still invaluable for historians today.

The only reason for the lower rating is the writing style. Its just- not great. A combination of high register, with an attempt at a chatty, conversational style using terms like ‘putting his feet up’.
The writing style makes for a slow, plodding read for a book which is only 180 pages long.  Which is a shame, it deserves to be more widely read.

Thanks to Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. This in no way influenced my review, and all opinions expressed herein are my own.

 

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