De Burgh came from a minor gentry family about which little is known. He was a minor official in the household of Prince John in 1197, and became John's chamberlain the next year. He continued as John's chamberlain when the latter became king in 1199.
In the early years of John's reign de Burgh was greatly enriched by royal favor, receiving the honor of Corfe in 1199 and three important castles in Gwent in 1201 (Grosmont, Skenfrith, and Llantilo). He was also sheriff of Dorset, Somerset, and Herefordshire, and castellan of Laucester and Wallingford castles.
Now comes the part of his early career for which he is best remembered. After John captured his nephew Arthur of Brittany and his allies in 1202, de Burgh was made their jailor. There is a story (used, for example, by Shakespeare in his play King John) that the king ordered de Burgh to blind Arthur, but that de Burgh refused. The truth of this has been much doubted, however.
In any case de Burgh retained the king's trust, and in 1203 was given charge of the great castle at Chinon, in Touraine, a key to the defense of the Loire valley. There de Burgh held out while the rest of the English possessions fell to the French. Chinon was besieged for a year, and finally fell in June of 1205.
During the year he was trapped in Chinon, and the two following years when he was a prisoner of the French, de Burgh lost most of his estates and posts. The reasons are much debated. After his return to England in 1207, he acquired new and different lands and offices. The include the castles of Lafford and Sleaford, and the shrievalty of Lincolnshire. Probably, however, de Burgh spent most of his time in the English holdings in France, where he was seneschal of Poitou.
De Burgh remained loyal to the king during the barons' rebellions at the end of John's reign. The Magna Carta mentions him as one of those who advised the king to sign the charter, and his was one of the 25 guarenteeors of its execution.
De Burgh played a prominent role in the defense of England from the invasion of Louis of France. Louis' first objective was to take Dover Castle, which was in de Burgh's charge. The castle withstood a lengthy siege in the summer and fall of 1216, and Louis withdrew. The next summer Louis could not continue without reinforcements from France. De Burgh gathered a small fleet which defeated a larger French force, and ultimately lead to the complete withdrawal of the French from England.
After the death of William Marshal in 1219 de Burgh effectively became regent of England. In this postion de Burgh acquired a number of enemies and rivals, who were to dog him for the rest of his life.
When Henry III came of age in 1227 de Burgh was made earl of Kent, and he remained one of the most influential people at court. But in 1232 the plottings of his enemies finally succeeded and he was removed from office and soon was in prison. Two years later the archbishop of Canterbury effected a reconciliation.
De Burgh married three times: (1) Beatrice de Warrenne; (2) Isabel of Gloucester, ex-wife of King John of England (~1217); (3) Margaret Dunkeld, daughter of King William I of Scotland (1221). With his third wife he had a daughter Margaret (~1226-1243), called "Megotta." She married Richard de Clare, earl of Gloucester. Before the marriages he had a marriage contract with Joan, daughter of William de Redvers, earl of Devon, but that engagement was broken off in 1200.
He had two sons, John and Hubert. The former inherited de Burgh's estates but not his earldom or other titles.
The relationship between Hubert de Burgh and the later de Burgh earls of Ulster and Connaught is not clear. They may be descended from a brother or cousin of Hubert, but there is no strong evidence for this.