Robert Hubert
Robert Hubert was a watchmaker from Rouen
Rouen , in northern France on the River Seine, is the capital of the Haute-Normandie region and the historic capital city of Normandy. Once one of the largest and most prosperous cities of medieval Europe , it was the seat of the Exchequer of Normandy in the Middle Ages...

, France, who was executed
Wrongful execution
Wrongful execution is a miscarriage of justice occurring when an innocent person is put to death by capital punishment, the "death penalty." Cases of wrongful execution are cited as an argument by the opponents of capital punishment....

 following his false confession
False confession
A false confession is an admission of guilt in a crime in which the confessor is not responsible for the crime. False confessions can be induced through coercion or by the mental disorder or incompetency of the accused...

 of starting the Great Fire of London
Great Fire of London
The Great Fire of London was a major conflagration that swept through the central parts of the English city of London, from Sunday, 2 September to Wednesday, 5 September 1666. The fire gutted the medieval City of London inside the old Roman City Wall...


Great Fire of London

Between 2 and 5 September 1666, a major fire broke out in Pudding Lane
Pudding Lane
Pudding Lane is a street in London, formerly the location of Thomas Farriner's bakehouse where the Great Fire of London began in 1666. It is off Eastcheap in the City of London, near London Bridge. The nearest tube station is Monument, a short distance to the west...

 in the City of London
City of London
The City of London is a small area within Greater London, England. It is the historic core of London around which the modern conurbation grew and has held city status since time immemorial. The City’s boundaries have remained almost unchanged since the Middle Ages, and it is now only a tiny part of...

, and proceeded to destroy around 80 percent of the city.


Hubert's confession, at first, was of starting a fire in Westminster
Westminster is an area of central London, within the City of Westminster, England. It lies on the north bank of the River Thames, southwest of the City of London and southwest of Charing Cross...

. However, this story proved unsatisfactory, and his confession changed upon learning that the fire never reached Westminster. Seemingly, having learned that the fire started in Pudding Lane
Pudding Lane
Pudding Lane is a street in London, formerly the location of Thomas Farriner's bakehouse where the Great Fire of London began in 1666. It is off Eastcheap in the City of London, near London Bridge. The nearest tube station is Monument, a short distance to the west...

, in the house of the baker Thomas Farriner (or Farynor), he then claimed to have thrown a crude fire grenade through the open window of the Farriner bakery. He claimed to have acted with accomplices, who stopped the water cocks to sabotage the effort to put out the fire. Hubert's confessed motive was, apparently, that he was a French spy, and an agent of the Pope. He wasn't even in the country but he still confessed to a fire that destroyed four fifths of London.


Hubert's confessions never seemed convincing. His retroactive change of story to fit the facts, though, was not the only reason. Hubert had not even been in London at the time that the fire broke out — he had not even arrived in England until two days after the fire started. That he was not in the country at the time of the outbreak of fire is not in doubt, as testified, years later, by a captain of the Swedish
Sweden , officially the Kingdom of Sweden , is a Nordic country on the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northern Europe. Sweden borders with Norway and Finland and is connected to Denmark by a bridge-tunnel across the Öresund....

 ship the Maid of Stockholm, that he personally had landed Hubert ashore two days after the outbreak of the fire. Having never seen the Farriner bakery, Hubert was also not to know that it had no windows. What is more, he was judged so severely crippled that it would have been impossible for him to throw the claimed grenade.

Hubert's confession is often attributed to a mental simplicity, an inability to understand what it was he was doing; a kind of 'Confessing Sam' tendency. One source claims, though, that the confession was coerced "probably by an extreme form of torture".

As The London Gazette suggests, some put the disaster down to chance:

[...] notwithstanding which suspicion, the manner of the burning all along in a Train, and so blowen forwards in all its way by strong Wings, make us conclude the whole was an effect of an unhappy chance, or to speak better, the heavy hand of God upon us for our sins [...]

Despite the many obvious flaws and impossibilities in Hubert's confession, there was a need for a scapegoat. It was so high, apparently, that even the king was suspected of having instigated it, in order to punish the people of London for the execution of his father
Charles I of England
Charles I was King of England, King of Scotland, and King of Ireland from 27 March 1625 until his execution in 1649. Charles engaged in a struggle for power with the Parliament of England, attempting to obtain royal revenue whilst Parliament sought to curb his Royal prerogative which Charles...

. Somewhat contradictorily, with Britain being at war, nationalism was high, and many nationalities were suspect due to Britain being at war with them at the time - the French, Spanish, Dutch and Irish. Frenchmen were particularly vulnerable, as illustrated by the murder of a Frenchman whose tennis balls were mistaken for 'balls of fire'. Hubert, a foreigner and Frenchman, was a chief suspect, as suggested by the London Gazette:

[...] Strangers, Dutch and French were, during the fire, apprehended, upon suspicion that they contributed mischievously to it, who are all imprisoned, and Informations prepared to make a severe inquisition [...]

Catholics were also chief suspects, and accusations were so formal as to be added to the Monument
Monument to the Great Fire of London
The Monument to the Great Fire of London, more commonly known as The monument, is a 202 ft tall stone Roman Doric column in the City of London, England, near the northern end of London Bridge. It stands at the junction of Monument Street and Panda Bear Hill, 202 ft from where the Great...

 in 1668, which stayed (with brief interruptions) until 1830:

[...] the most dreadful Burning of this City; begun and carried on by the treachery and malice of the Popish faction.

Hubert had convenient attributes. He was tried and sentenced at the Old Bailey
Old Bailey
The Central Criminal Court in England and Wales, commonly known as the Old Bailey from the street in which it stands, is a court building in central London, one of a number of buildings housing the Crown Court...


Despite the contradictoriness of both Hubert's account and of public opinion, the Farriner family, in whose bakery the fire had started, was naturally under pressure — they needed to show that their ovens had been doused properly— and three members of the family were present in the jury. Thomas Farynor stated that, after midnight, he had:

gone through every room and found no fire, but in one chimney, where the room was paved with bricks, which fire I diligently raked up in embers [...] no window or door might let wind disturb them and that it was absolutely set on fire on purpose[...]

Few of the jury at his trial actually believed Hubert guilty. One contemporary account claims that Hubert was "only accused upon his own confession; yet neither the judges nor any present at the trial did believe him guilty, but that he was a poor distracted wretch, weary of his life, and chose to part with it in this way." The jury stated that he did not have "the fear of God before his eyes, but [was] moved and led away by the instigation of the devil".

Hubert was hanged at Tyburn, London
Tyburn, London
Tyburn was a village in the county of Middlesex close to the current location of Marble Arch in present-day London. It took its name from the Tyburn or Teo Bourne 'boundary stream', a tributary of the River Thames which is now completely covered over between its source and its outfall into the...

. As his body was being handed to the Company of Barber-Surgeons for dissection, it was torn apart by a crowd of Londoners.

It was hoped that with Hubert's death, "the talk of plots and conspiracies might die with him". In 1667, after the need for scapegoats had died down, the fire was officially attributed to 'the hand of God, a great wind and a very dry season...'. One source attributes the accident to a spark falling upon a bale of straw in the bakery of the Farriners, and many assume the spark to have come from the oven of the Farynor bakery.
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