Unconquered – The Story of Kent and Its Lieutenancy

PUBLISHED: 11:52 29 April 2014 | UPDATED: 11:52 29 April 2014

Defending Kent - and country

Defending Kent - and country


Win a copy of this remarkable book about England’s Frontline County

Jutting out like a defiant jaw between the Channel and the North Sea, Kent has long been first step on the invasion route for would-be invaders from 
the continent. And its strategic position means that it has a more dramatic history than any other British county.

That is why researching the hitherto largely unknown history of the Lieutenancy – the ancient office charged with organising the Frontline County’s defence – has proved a fascinating project for me, a Man of Kent born and bred.

In the 17th century the redoubtable 
Sir Roger Twisden, constitutional 
historian, magistrate and sometime 
Deputy Lieutenant, intended to write 
a history of the Lieutenancy.

He wrote: ‘I have an intention, God inabling me, to say somewhat of the first raising of Lord Lieutenants and Deputy Lieutenants... and for that purpose doe have the sheetes before here clear, but 
that I may not forget what happened in 
my time and that I was an actor in, being now fresh in my memory...’

Sadly, Sir Roger’s attention was 
drawn elsewhere and the journal 
pages that followed remained blank.

Much water has flowed down the Channel since then and the Lieutenancy has been inextricably tied up in the life 
of the county ever since, hence my 
decision to research and write the remarkable story of the office. The result is the first comprehensive story of a county lieutenancy; another first for Kent.

Here as elsewhere, in the days before defence was organised on a national 
basis the Monarch had to rely on trusted noblemen to protect the county from 
both external and internal threats.

From Tudor times these county Lieutenants and their Deputies exercised enormous power, not only organising defence through the trained bands and later the militia but also performing many local government and justice functions that have since largely devolved to other bodies. The Lieutenancy eventually 
lost its military responsibilities but 
has continued to perform a valuable 
role, evolving today into an unpaid, entirely non-political force for good providing a focus for county identity, 
unity and pride and, importantly, promoting service to others.

The story of the Lieutenancy over 
the past five centuries is the story of
Kent and its people – and of the extraordinary part the county has 
played in the nation’s destiny.

It is the story of how – peasant, 
yeoman and nobleman alike – they 
flocked to the colours ready to do their utmost to throw the Spaniards and later Bonaparte’s soldiers back into the sea if they had managed to win control of the Channel and land on the Kentish coast.

It is the story of Kentish soldiers, including the Lord Lieutenant of the 
day, marching through the Channel 
ports to endure the horrors of the First World War. And it is the story of how:

• Kent’s ports sent their little ships 
and pleasure boats to bring back survivors of the Second World War miracle of Dunkirk, to be welcomed with tea and ‘wads’ (buns) by the Lord Lieutenant 
as they returned through the county

• The people reacted to the Battle of 
Britain that was fought in Kentish skies 
by supporting the Lieutenancy’s appeal and donating whatever they could to 
fund a County of Kent Spitfire squadron

• And of how the Land Girls braved 
enemy fire to bring in the harvest – momentous events still commemorated 
by the Lieutenancy today.

But it is also the story of happier times and especially of the royal visits so enjoyed by the people, whether experiencing the excitement of a wartime morale-boosting visit, receiving Maundy money from 
The Queen, welcoming a 21st-century countess to a school for disabled children, or a prince and future king for the enthronement of an archbishop.

Her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenants 
are the representatives of the Crown 
for each county in the United Kingdom.

In Kent they have included many colourful characters: soldiers, statesmen – and rakes – among them.

They include the county’s first permanent Lord Lieutenant, the 
10th Baron Cobham; his unfortunate son 
Henry who ended up in the Tower accused of plotting against the Monarch he was supposed to represent in the county; a French-born soldier; three generations 
of the Sackville family; a Kent cricket captain; a Governor of the Bank of England – and a self-made business tycoon.

All have contributed to the often extraordinary story of this ancient 
office which has played such a significant part in the lives of the people of Kent 
over the past five centuries.

The present Lord Lieutenant is 
Viscount De L’Isle, who heads up a county-wide network of up to 70 
Deputies; between them they perform more than 500 public duties a year.

Today the Lieutenancy’s aspiration 
is to celebrate Kent, its unique history 
and culture, serve its communities – 
and contribute positively to its future.

Where once it raised armies, it 
now encourages legions of volunteers 
to work for the good of the county.

And where once it defended the 
county it now helps to keep alive the wonderful spirit of Kent that has carried 
its people through thick and thin. It is 
a great story about a great county. n

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