In England, the office of Lord Lieutenant is military in origin and dates from the reign of Henry VIII when its holder was made responsible for maintaining order in the County, and all military measures necessary for local defence.
In Kent, the office of the Lord Lieutenant, the permanent representative of the Crown in the County, dates from Tudor times.
Documents held at The Centre for Kentish Studies show that the first permanent holder of the office of Lord Lieutenant in our County was Lord Cobham (the 10th Baron Cobham). He was in office in 1558 and was also Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports and Constable of Dover Castle.
From the outset the Lieutenancy played a vitally-important role in organising the defence of the County. When invasion threatened our shores in 1588 it was Lord Cobham’s deputies who reported crucial intelligence to the Government on the progress of the Armada in the Channel.
And the Naval Records Society notes that “Sir Thomas Scott of Scot’s Hall, one of the Deputy Lieutenants of Kent, played a prominent role in the mustering of the Kentish militia against the Armada”.
Later documents in Folkestone and other archives contain detailed plans drawn up by the Lieutenancy to counter a Napoleonic invasion. Every able bodied man was assigned a role, and those considered unable to fight were instructed to turn up with a horse and cart, axe, spade – or whatever useful thing they could bring – and ferry supplies or livestock away from the coast, or help throw up defences!
It was not until 1921 that Lord Lieutenants finally lost the power to call on all able-bodied men of the County to fight in time of need. Nevertheless, duties connected with the Armed Forces of the Crown – and in particular the Volunteer Reserve Forces and Cadets – remain an important part of the Lieutenancy’s role today.
As Lord Lieutenant, The Viscount De L’Isle continues to hold the office of Keeper of the Rolls (formerly Custos Rotulorum) and chairs the County’s Advisory Committee on Justices of the Peace and their appointment, continuing the Lieutenancy’s involvement in its other original important responsibility for the maintenance of order.
Over recent years the Lieutenancy of Kent has been modernised by the outgoing Lord Lieutenant Allan Willett and his team of Deputies, to serve the County and its people effectively in the 21st Century.
And it is now playing its full part in the life of Kent.