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Clifftop show of strength as warships passed

PUBLISHED: 11:10 07 May 2009 | UPDATED: 16:40 25 August 2010

CENTURIES ago, when invasion or insurrection threatened, the English monarch would appoint a lieutenant to organise the defence of each county.

CENTURIES ago, when invasion or insurrection threatened, the English monarch would appoint a lieutenant to organise the defence of each county.

But in Kent, as elsewhere, these were temporary appointments - for the duration of the threat only. It took the might of the Spanish Armada to make Elizabeth I, and her Privy Council, realise that a more consistent chain of command was necessary.

And so she appointed William Brooke, Lord Cobham, of Cobham Hall, as the frontline county's first permanent Lord Lieutenant.

His deputies performed efficiently. Within 48 hours they brought 4,000 men of Kent's trained - and untrained - bands to make a clifftop show of strength as the Spanish warships passed by.

This was quite a feat in the days before mobile phones and other modern means of communication and travel.

English fireships and storms scattered the Armada and the first news of its downfall was relayed to the Queen by the Kent lieutenancy.

When Cobham died, his son Henry became Lord Lieutenant, but ended up in the Tower for plotting to overthrow James I - not very clever when you are the sovereign's representative in the county.

Edward, Lord Wotton, took over and his surviving letter-book is full of fascinating insights into lieutenancy duties at that time.

It includes references to surveying royal woodland, disarming suspect families and organising the watch against wrong-doers on Shooters Hill.

Over the centuries the lieutenancy continued in its defence role, organising and commanding the militia and other volunteer forces.

But the changing face of warfare eventually made it necessary for all defence forces to come under national control, although today the lieutenancy still has close links with the armed forces and the cadet movement.

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