11 July, 2019

Sempringham Priory, Lincolnshire

Sempringham Priory in Lincolnshire was established in the twelfth century by local monk St Gilbert of Sempringham, founder of the Gilbertine order in 1131. All that remains of it now is the church of St Andrew, standing in a lonely churchyard far from the road.

Sempringham is closely associated with some of the women of Edward II's era. Edward's second cousin Gwenllian ferch Llywelyn, only child of the last native Prince of Wales, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, was sent there as an infant by Edward I after the death of her father in December 1282 when she was just six months old. The Lincolnshire countryside was as far from Wales as you could get, and Edward I had no intention of allowing the children of the Welsh princes to marry and have children; Gwenllian's cousins Llywelyn and Owain ap Dafydd were imprisoned at Bristol Castle, and their sister Gwladys ferch Dafydd was sent to the Gilbertine priory of Sixhills, also in Lincolnshire. Gwenllian lived at Sempringham Priory for her entire life, and died there in June 1337, the month of her fifty-fifth birthday. She is still remembered there: here is the memorial to her, in English and Welsh.

Edward II gave Gwenllian an income of twenty pounds a year, and her name usually appears on record in England as 'Wenthliane' or 'Wenthlian daughter of Thwellin [Llywelyn], late prince of Wales'.

Edward was close to his niece Margaret de Clare for many years, but when her second husband Sir Hugh Audley (later earl of Gloucester) joined the Contrariant rebellion of 1321/22, the king lashed out at her. Audley himself was imprisoned in Nottingham Castle, and in March 1322 Edward ordered Margaret to be incarcerated at Sempringham Priry with a few attendants. She arrived there in early May 1322, perhaps with her infant daughter Margaret Audley in tow (her elder daughter Joan Gaveston seems to have remained at Amesbury Priory in Wiltshire). Edward paid generous expenses of five shillings a day for Margaret for the entire period she lived at Sempringham, but even so, it must have been a highly unpleasant experience. Margaret was finally released on 11 December 1326, after the downfall of her uncle the king and the execution of her powerful brother-in-law Hugh Despenser the Younger. While at Sempringham, Margaret presumably came to know Gwenllian ferch Llywelyn well, and they were second cousins once removed; Gwenllian was, via her mother Eleanor de Montfort, a great-granddaughter of King John, Margaret's great-great-grandfather. Another girl or young woman sent to live at Sempringham in early 1324 was Joan Mortimer, one of the eight daughters of Joan Geneville and Roger Mortimer, lord of Wigmore and later first earl of March, as part of Edward II's revenge for Roger's escape from the Tower of London a few months previously. Joan Mortimer was released on 2 November 1326 after her father's invasion of England, and later married James Audley and had children. She was not forced to become a nun.

On 1 January 1327 a few weeks after Hugh Despenser the Younger's execution, Isabella of France forced two or perhaps three of his daughters to take lifelong vows as nuns. His fourth daughter Margaret Despenser, just three years old (she was born c. 2 August 1323), was sent to Watton Priory in Yorkshire, and Eleanor the third Despenser daughter, somewhere between about five and eight years old, was sent to Sempringham. Possibly the priory was deliberately chosen because Eleanor's aunt Margaret de Clare Audley had until recently been incarcerated there. Eleanor spent many years at Sempringham, and may have died there in early 1351, though this is not certain. She must also have come to know her relative Gwenllian, and Edward III, another relative, granted her and her older sister Joan, nun of Shaftesbury in Dorset, twenty pounds a year.

Sempringham Priory is associated with the Lincolnshire landowner Sir Geoffrey Luttrell (d. 1345), who commissioned the gorgeous Luttrell Psalter, now in the British Library. In 1312, Luttrell attacked Sempringham in the company of Sir Roger Birthorpe and Sir Edmund Coleville (b. 1288): the men broke into the priory, assaulted some of its inhabitants, and stole their goods. On 27 July 1312, Edward II ordered a commission of oyer et terminer 'on complaint by the prior of Semplyngham' that the aforesaid men and their retainers broke the prior's doors and walls, stole his goods and assaulted two canons named Thomas Hougate and John Irnham. A rather later petition relating to this raid talks of the support of 'Sir Hugh Despenser and his sisters, ladies in the said priory', Monseigneur Hughe le Despenser et ses soers dames en la dite priorie, so apparently Hugh Despenser the Elder had at least two sisters who became nuns there, or at least retreated to the priory for a while. [The National Archives SC 8/34/1671; CPR 1307-13, pp. 530, 598] It was this Hugh's young granddaughter Eleanor who was forced to become a nun at Sempringham a few years later.

Sempringham Priory was shut down in 1538 during the Dissolution; for more information about it and about St Gilbert and his order, see the British History online page here.

26 June, 2019

The Palmer Brothers, Shipwrights of London (d. 1335 and 1344)

Edward II knew two brothers, Alan and Martin Palmer, pretty well: both men worked as shipwrights next to the Tower of London, and often appear in Edward's accounts. Here's a post about them.

Alan, the elder brother, and Martin were the sons of one William Palmer; I have no idea when they were born, but would guess 1280s or early 1290s, and I also haven't been able to discover who their mother was or when their father died. As the elder son, Alan Palmer inherited their father's wharf at Petty Wales next to the Tower of London, and Martin also owned a wharf at Petty Wales. They appear in Edward II's accounts either as shypwryghtes, written in English in the middle of the Anglo-Norman of the accounts, or as fesours des niefs, 'makers of ships'. Martin Palmer also appears in the extant Coroners' Rolls of London in July and November 1324, when he was questioned as a possible witness to two murders which took place within the Tower of London.

Alan Palmer was married to a woman named Cecile, who was seriously ill in October 1324. Edward II, who was staying at the Tower at the time, sent her a gift of ten shillings probably to help with the cost of medicines. Cecile died shortly before 27 November 1324, when Edward spent two shillings and six pence on 'offerings for her soul'. He also gave Alan twenty shillings to pay for her funeral and interment. Alan and Cecile had a son named Philip Palmer, who at an unrecorded date before 1326 worked as a valet of the king's chamber. Later, Philip followed in his father's and his uncle's footsteps by becoming a shipwright.

In July 1325, Edward gave Alan and Martin a gift of five shillings each, and bought a ship called the Jonete of Westminster from Martin in or before September 1325. Edward invited both brothers and the six men they had working for them - four journeymen and two apprentices - to Kenilworth Castle in March and April 1326, during his long sojourn there. The eight built a small barge, a flat-bottomed boat and two fishing-boats for the king to use on the artificial lakes surrounding the castle. The king paid the two Palmers six pence a day each, their journeymen five pence each, and their apprentices four pence each. When they returned to London, Edward gave Alan Palmer five shillings to give to his son Philip, former royal valet, to buy himself linen cloth.

Alan Palmer made his will on 22 February 1335, leaving his son Philip his wharf and tenements at Petty Wales. Sometime after losing his first wife Cecile in November 1324, he married his second wife, Emma, who also appears in his will. Alan and Cecile's son Philip the shipwright wrote his will on Sunday, 11 July 1339. His wife was called Agnes, and their children - unnamed - are also mentioned in Philip's will. Martin Palmer, younger brother of Alan and uncle of Philip, outlived his nephew and made his will on 29 September 1344. He mentions his youngest son, John, so apparently had at least three sons though the others are not named, and had two daughters, Cecile - presumably named after his sister-in-law - and Joan. He left an unfinished boat each to his daughters, and his tenements to his son John. Leaving unfinished boats to his daughters implies that the women worked as shipwrights as well, which is rather fascinating. Martin's son John Palmer and his wife Amy both made their wills in 1348, and they had a son named Alan after John's uncle. All the Palmers were buried in the churchyard of All Hallows by the Tower. I lose sight of the family after 1348, unfortunately; it's possible that all of them perished in the terrible epidemic of the Black Death in 1348/49.

17 June, 2019

Edward II's Concern for People's Health

Edward II, while being a disastrous ruler and even more disastrous war leader par extraordinaire, did have some much more appealing character traits. One of them was a concern for and deep interest in the people around him. I've written here before about how the king spent part of the summer of 1326 chatting to his subjects along the River Thames, asking the retired parker of Cold Kennington, for example, about his ongoing repairs to his house and giving him a gift of three shillings to help out. On the same day, Edward talked to Robyn atte Hethe of Walton-on-Thames, and Robyn told him that he was 'suffering from a great illness'. Edward gave him some money to buy medicines.

Edward was staying at the Tower of London in October 1324 when he heard that Cecile Palmer, wife of the shipwright Alan Palmer - who worked near the Tower and whom Edward knew well - was very ill. The king sent Cecile ten shillings for medicines and other expenses. Sadly, she died a few weeks later, and Edward paid twenty shillings for her funeral and spent two shillings and six pence on 'offerings for her soul'. In April 1325, the king was staying in Winchester, and was in his private garden playing a game called palet (not dissimilar to boules) with men named Gaillard and Ernaudyn. His chamber valet Simon 'Syme' Lawe came into the garden and informed the king that his father, Roger Lawe of Byfleet in Surrey, was ill. Edward sent Syme to Roger with a gift of ten shillings.

It seems that some kind of stomach ailment was going around in June 1326, as four of Hugh Despenser the Younger's household staff fell ill that month, and Edward bought them a pomegranate each. Pomegranates have long been considered an aid against digestive and stomach complaints. Edward's chamber valet and fisherman Edmund 'Monde' Fisher also fell seriously ill in June 1326 perhaps with the same ailment, and had to be left behind at the archbishop of Canterbury's manor of Sturry in Kent when the king departed on 12 June. Edward told Monde's son Litel Wille Fisher to stay and look after his father and gave Monde twenty shillings and Wille two shillings for the wages he would miss while away from court. Monde died two days later, and the king gave Litel Wille's messenger who brought him the news a shilling. Litel Wille Fisher had himself been left behind at Kenilworth Castle a few weeks before as he was ill, and received five shillings from Edward. At some point later, he rejoined the court.

John Dene from a village near Canterbury (somewhere between Chartham and Bishopsbourne) was one of Queen Isabella's household servants who came back to England in late 1325 and early 1326, and was re-assigned to work as an usher of Edward II's chamber. In March 1326, John was sent home as he was 'very ill in one side'. Ten weeks later he still hadn't recovered, and when Edward was in the area, he visited John at home and gave him a generous gift of a hundred shillings. Sir Robert Wateville, a retainer of Hugh Despenser the Younger who became Hugh's nephew-in-law on 19 May 1326, also fell ill in July 1326, while the royal court was at Henley-on-Thames, and Edward sent him to London to 'take cures there' with a gift of forty marks. On 21 July, Wateville was still ill, and the king visited him in person at his home on or near Aldgate to check on his condition. Wateville received another gift of forty marks on this occasion. The king's personal physician Pancio da Controne, who later worked for Edward's son Edward III as well, was another man who was ill in 1326 and who received money from the king.

Edward II himself seems to have been remarkably healthy. In August 1325, he claimed to be ill, but almost certainly this was a diplomatic ailment to avoid having to travel to France to pay homage to his brother-in-law Charles IV for the lands he owned in that kingdom, or at least to postpone the decision of whether he should travel or not. I've never found anything in Edward's accounts that would confirm that he was genuinely ill at the time, though, as noted here, there are plenty of references to other people's illnesses and to Edward's willingness to pay the costs of his servants who were unable to work. You wouldn't necessarily expect to encounter sick pay in the fourteenth century, but as well as the payments I've noted in this post, there are a good few references to Edward's paying his servants' full wages while they were ill and to the way he accommodated them at one of his royal manors while they recuperated.

09 June, 2019

My Talk on Hugh Despenser the Younger, and Other Talks

Three weeks ago on Saturday 18 May 2019, I gave a talk about Hugh Despenser the Younger at the annual Mortimer History Society conference in Leominster Priory, Herefordshire. The video is now on Youtube, and you can see it here. It's forty minutes long and covers Hugh's family background, his marriage to Eleanor de Clare, his complete obscurity for the first half of Edward II's reign, his career as powerful royal favourite between 1318 and 1326 including his penchant for extortion, false imprisonment and threats, and his downfall and execution.

Other videos from the conference are also available now on Youtube, though sadly the video of Andrew Spencer's excellent and highly informative talk about Roger Mortimer of Wigmore (d. 1282) and his sons Edmund (d. 1304, father of the Roger Mortimer of Wigmore who became first earl of March in 1328) and Roger Mortimer of Chirk (who died in the Tower of London in 1326) was corrupted, and cannot be viewed.

Ian Mortimer's talk about the genealogy of the early Mortimer family is here.

Here's Paul Dryburgh talking about Roger Mortimer of Wigmore, later the first earl of March (d. 1330), and his role in the first few years of Edward II's reign.

Paul gave another talk, after mine, about Roger Mortimer's later career after 1321, his role in Edward II's downfall, and his and Queen Isabella's regency from 1327 to 1330.

And this is the Mortimer History Society channel on Youtube, where you can see videos of other talks as well.

Many thanks to Jason, Philip, Hugh, Fran and other members of the MHS for inviting me to take part in their excellent conference and for making me feel so welcome! It was a brilliant weekend and a brilliant experience. Hope you enjoy watching the Hugh Despenser talk as much as I enjoyed giving it, and here is the Mortimer History Society website if you'd like to learn more about the organisation and to join and support them. Their next conference, held jointly with the Richard III Society, is taking place in Ludlow on 29 June; more info here. If you're interested in learning more about Hugh Despenser the Younger, I wrote an article about him in the second volume of the Mortimer History Society Journal (see here) and I've published a biography of him, here or here.

31 May, 2019

Book Giveaway: Hugh Despenser the Younger

My biography of Edward II's chamberlain and 'favourite' Hugh Despenser the Younger - pirate, extortionist and Not A Very Nice Person - is now out in paperback. I have two free signed copies to give away! To win a copy, either: leave a comment here with your email address; email me at edwardofcaernarfon(at)yahoo.com; or, if you're on Facebook, you can either send me a PM on my Edward II page, or if we're connected there, a PM via my personal page, also with your email address so I can contact the winners (if we're not connected, it's better to contact me via the Edward page, as otherwise your message might go to my 'other' folder and I might not see it). It doesn't matter where you are in the world, and the competition is open to everyone. So do give it a go and learn more about the baddest of all fourteenth-century bad boys, the man once named as the greatest villain of the fourteenth century by BBC History Magazine! Good luck! The deadline is midnight, British Summer Time, on Friday 14 June.

22 May, 2019

Some of the New Knights of 22 May 1306 (3)

713 years ago, on Sunday, 22 May 1306, Edward of Caernarfon, prince of Wales (Dominus Edwardus Princeps Walliae), was knighted at Westminster, and so were 265 other men, including the young earls of Arundel and Surrey, Piers Gaveston (Petrus de Gavaston), Roger Mortimer of Wigmore (Rogerus de Mortuomari), and Hugh Despenser the Younger (Hugo filius domini Hugonis le Despenser). See also here, here and here. Some of the other new knights of 22 May 1306 were:

Ralph Camoys, a landowner in Sussex and Norfolk, who was allowed to enter into a manor in November 1294 and therefore must have been born in November 1273 at the latest. Ralph was married firstly to Margaret Brewes, and secondly to Hugh Despenser the Elder's youngest child Elizabeth. (I haven't been able to find even approximate dates of death for either woman.) Ralph died in September 1335, leaving his eldest son Thomas from his first marriage as his heir; Thomas died childless in 1372, and Ralph and his second wife Elizabeth Despenser's grandson Thomas the younger inherited the Camoys lands. Thomas Camoys the younger, born c. 1350/51, lived long enough to fight at the battle of Agincourt in October 1415, and was the grandfather, via his daughter Alice, of Edward IV's great friend William, Lord Hastings, born c. 1430.

Both Gilbert de Clare (Gilbertus de Clare), just fifteen in May 1306 and heir to his late father's earldom of Gloucester, and Edward I's eldest grandchild; and his namesake first cousin Gilbert de Clare, lord of Thomond (Gilbertus de Clare filius domini Thomae de Clare), born in Limerick on 3 February 1281. Gilbert of Thomond, a close friend of Edward of Caernarfon, had less than eighteen months left to live.

Thomas Bardolf, who was a landowner in Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Middlesex, Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex, Hertfordshire, Leicestershire and especially in Norfolk, was born in Watton Stone, Hertfordshire on 4 October 1282 and died in late 1329. His wife Agnes was "by birth of the parts of Almain", i.e. Germany or somewhere close to it, and their son and heir John was probably born on 13 January 1312. John Bardolf married Edward II's great-niece Elizabeth Damory, youngest child of Elizabeth de Clare and heir of her father Sir Roger Damory, and their grandson William Bardolf (b. 1369) was killed at the battle of Bramham Moor in 1408.

Warin Bassingbourn, either the man of this name who owned lands in Cambridgeshire and was born c. 1267 and died in 1323, or his son Warin the younger, who was born in or before 1293 (he was 'aged 30 and more' when his father died in 1323) and died in 1348. Warin the son's son, inevitably also called Warin, was born on 11 November 1326, and his mother Avice died soon after his birth.

Alan Plucknett (Alanus Plockenet) was born c. 1276 and died childless shortly before 6 September 1325, leaving his sister Joan de Bohun as his heir to his lands in Somerset, Herefordshire, Dorset, Wiltshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire. Supposedly, Alan flew into such a fury about a message he was sent by Edward II a few years after the mass knighting of 1306 that he made the unfortunate messenger eat the letter and the wax with which it was sealed. His sister Joan's second husband Henry de Bohun, cousin of the earl of Hereford, was the man famously killed by Robert Bruce in person with his axe on the first day of the battle of Bannockburn, 23 June 1314. Joan also died without children and so the Plucknett lands passed to their cousin's son Richard Bere on her death in 1327.

Richard Foliot was born around Christmas 1283 and was the son and heir of Jordan Foliot, who died at the age of about fifty in 1299 barely five weeks after his father Richard died. The younger Richard's (b. 1283) wife Joan de Braose, daughter and co-heir of William de Braose (d. 1326), lord of Gower, was married firstly to James de Bohun, who died shortly before the mass knighting of 22 May 1306, and had a son with him in November 1301 called John de Bohun of Midhurst. Richard Foliot and Joan de Braose had a son also called Richard Foliot, and daughters Margery (b. c. 1312/13) and Margaret (b. c. 1314). Richard the father died in 1317, and his son Richard on 29 May 1325, still underage. This left Margery and Margaret as the Foliot heirs. Margery married Hugh Hastings (b. 1310), a grandson of Hugh Despenser the Elder, and Margaret married Hugh Hastings' first cousin John Camoys, also a grandson of Hugh Despenser the Elder. Margaret and John Camoys had no children and so the Foliot lands passed into this cadet branch of the Hastings family.

William Huntingfield was born around 1280 - he was twenty-two when his father Roger died in late 1302 - and married Joan 'Jonete' Hastings (d. 1307), elder daughter of John, Lord Hastings (1262-1313) and Isabella de Valence (d. 1305). William and Jonete had sons Roger, born around 1 August 1306 and heir to his father's lands in Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex, and John, born in 1307. William died shortly before 24 September 1313, and his son and heir Roger died on 29 December 1328, leaving his posthumous son William as the Huntingfield heir.

John Mowbray was born around 15 August or 31 August sometime between 1284 and 1286; he was either "aged eleven at the feast of the Decollation of St John the Baptist, 25 Edward I", "twelve and more at the feast of the Assumption, 25 Edward I" or "thirteen at the feast of the Decollation of St John the Baptist, 25 Edward I". The Lincolnshire jurors thought he was "eleven at the feast of St Cuthbert last" on 21 December 1297, which probably means 31 August. John inherited lands in Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Leicestershire and Northamptonshire, and was the son of Rohese de Clare, sister of Gilbert 'the Red', earl of Gloucester and of Thomas de Clare, making John Mowbray a first cousin of both Gilbert de Clares knighted with him in May 1306. His father Roger Mowbray died in 1297. John married Aline de Braose, the other daughter and co-heir of William, lord of Gower (above), and their son and heir John was born in Hovingham, Yorkshire on 29 November 1310 when John was twenty-four. He took part in the Contrariant rebellion against Edward II and Hugh Despenser the Younger and was hanged in York on 23 March 1322. His Mowbray descendants became dukes of Norfolk at the end of the fourteenth century.

17 May, 2019

Rohese Burford née Romeyn, Merchant of London (c. 1286-1329)

On 17 May 1317, Edward II paid fifty marks to Rohese or Rose Burford of London - half of what was owed to her - for making an embroidered cope as a present from Queen Isabella to Pope John XXII. [1] What do we know about Rohese Burford? Quite a lot, as it happens.

Rohese was said to be forty years old in 1326, hence was born in or around 1286, so was just slightly younger than Edward II. She was one of the four daughters of Thomas Romeyn and Juliana Hauteyn; her sister Margery was younger, born about 1290, and married Robert Upton before December 1312 and secondly William Weston before June 1326, and their other sisters Alice and Joan became nuns at Holywell Priory in Shoreditch. Rohese's father Thomas Romeyn or Romayn almost certainly was Italian or at the very least was of Italian origin (Romayn = Roman), and was a well-off pepperer, i.e. he worked in the lucrative spice trade. Thomas was sheriff of London in 1290/91, acted as alderman of Cordwainer ward from 1294 until his death, and was mayor in 1309/10. He wrote his will on 21 December 1312 and it was proved on 19 May 1313, so he had died by then. Thomas mentioned all four of his daughters in his will, his wife, and his daughters' aunt 'Dame Cristina de Kent', also a nun of Holywell. [2

Thomas Romeyn's wife Juliana, Rohese's mother, by birth was a Hauteyn, a well-known London family of the era, and died in May 1326. Her heirs to the lands, houses and tenements she owned in London, Kent, Surrey, Sussex and Middlesex were her two secular daughters, Rohese Burford and Margery Weston. [3] Juliana Romeyn was probably the sister of Philip Hauteyn, also a pepperer; Philip wrote his will in 1304 and mentioned his mother Juliana, and another 'Juliana, the wife of Thomas Romeyn' was appointed as one of his executors. [4] The Romayns lived in the parish of St Mary Aldermary on Watling Street, at the junction with Bowe Lane.

At an unknown date sometime before 21 December 1312 when they are mentioned in her father's will, Rohese Romeyn married John Burford, who, like her father, was a pepperer, and came originally from Southampton. They had three children: James, their heir, born around 1320; Joan, who was older than James; and Katherine. Joan Burford married Thomas Betoyne sometime before March 1329, and her younger brother James rose high: he was knighted before 1 June 1340. Rohese's son-in-law Thomas Betoyne, who must have been a relative of Richard Betoyne (d. 1340), elected mayor of London in late 1326, presumably either his son or nephew, was one of the executors of her will. [5] Richard Betoyne's father William or Guillaume (d. 1305) was French, so the Burford/Romeyn-Betoyne union represented a partly Italian woman marrying a partly French man, who lived in London all their lives.

Rohese née Romeyn and John Burford lived on Soper Lane, a London road which has not existed since the Great Fire of 1666, though it was newly laid out afterwards and renamed Queen Street. Their home belonged to her father Thomas Romeyn. One of their servants there was called Joan de Stodleie, who was married to John de Assheford and had children Thomas, Alice and Joan. [6] John Burford was old enough to pays sixty shillings' tax in the lay subsidy of 1292, and was a sheriff of London in 1303/4. [7] He would seem therefore to have been a good few years older than Rohese, who was only about six in 1292. In 1316, John Burford was one of the pepperers of Soper Lane who created an Ordinance of Pepperers. Another was Richard Betoyne, mentioned above, whose son or nephew married the Burfords' elder daughter Joan. [8] John was still alive on 11 December 1320 and probably in August 1321, but dead by 8 October 1322. [9] Given that his and Rohese's son James Burford was born in or about 1320, the little boy cannot have been more than a toddler when he lost his father.

The widowed Rohese was sufficiently wealthy to be able to lend Brother Thomas Larchier, prior of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem, 1,000 marks (£666) in January 1325. [10] Her late husband had lent Edward II the sum of £142, and in the early 1320s Rohese had to petition the king several times asking for the money to be repaid to her as his widow and executor. Evidently a highly capable woman, Rohese ran her late husband's spice business as well as her own wool-exporting business. [11] Rohese Burford née Romeyn wrote her will on Friday, 31 March 1329, and died shortly before 12 April at the age of about forty-three, leaving her nine-year-old son James, later Sir James Burford, as her heir. [12] She bequeathed forty shillings for repairs to be carried out on London Bridge, and requested John Pulteney, then mayor of London, to act as the guardian of her two young unmarried children Katherine and James until they came of age. Sir James' heir was his daughter Margaret. [13]


1) Thomas Stapleton, 'A Brief Summary of the Wardrobe Accounts of the tenth, eleventh and fourteenth years of King Edward the Second', Archaeologia, 26 (1836), p. 322.
2) Calendar of Wills Proved and Enrolled in the Court of Husting, London, Part 1: 1258-1358, ed. R. R. Sharpe (1889), pp. 238-9; Calendar of Patent Rolls 1321-4, pp. 11-12.
3) Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem 1317-27, no. 696; Calendar of Fine Rolls 1319-27, p. 393; Calendar of Close Rolls 1323-7, pp. 582-5.
4) Wills Proved, p. 161.
5) CIPM 1327-36, no. 229; Wills Proved, p. 352; CCR 1339-41, p. 481; CCR 1341-3, pp. 550-51. Richard's son was called Thomas, but when Richard wrote his will in 1340 Thomas was married to an Isabella, so presumably Joan Burford had died. Richard also had a brother called Thomas Betoyne.
6) Wills Proved, pp. 354-5.
7) Two Early London Subsidy Rolls, here: https://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/early-london-subsidy-rolls/pp175-181.
8) Calendar of Letter-Books of London, Letter-Book E, 1312-1337, p. 67.
9) CPR 1317-21, p. 533; CPR 1321-4, pp. 12, 207.
10) CCR 1323-7, p. 336.
11) The National Archives SC 8/178/8894, SC 8/158/7871 and 7872, SC 8/113/5604 and 5605; Calendar of Memoranda Rolls 1326-7, no. 445.
12) CIPM 1327-36, no. 229.
13) https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/surrey/vol4/pp50-64.

09 May, 2019

Elizabeth Comyn and the Despensers

The Scottish noblewoman and heiress Elizabeth Comyn, later Talbot, born 1 November 1299, died 20 November 1372 - see here and here for my previous posts about her - is arguably the most high-profile of the many victims of the two Hugh Despensers' extortion and land grabs between 1322 and 1326. Here's a post about Elizabeth and the actions the Despensers took against her.

Talking of the Despensers, I've had an article about Hugh the Younger published on the History Hit website; see here.

Elizabeth was one of the three co-heirs, with her older sister Joan, countess of Atholl (d. June/July 1326), and their cousin John, Lord Hastings (d. January 1325), of their uncle Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke, after Pembroke died childless on 23 June 1324. Elizabeth married her husband Sir Richard Talbot, a 'very poor' English knight, to quote Edward II, sometime before 9 July 1326. [1] After the downfall of the two Hugh Despensers, Elizabeth and Richard stated that the two Hughs captured her at the manor of Kennington in Surrey, which Edward II gave to Hugh Despenser the Elder on 4 April 1322 though by rights it should have belonged to his own niece Elizabeth de Burgh. [2] Elizabeth Comyn stated that she was captured in c. April 1324, i.e. even before the death of her uncle the earl of Pembroke in June that year. She was held at Woking and then at Pirbright five miles from Woking, two other Surrey manors in the possession of Hugh the Elder, for a year until 20 April 1325, when she finally caved in. Elizabeth gave Goodrich Castle in Herefordshire to Hugh the Younger and her manor of Painswick in Gloucestershire to Hugh the Elder, and also released her manor of Swanscombe in Kent to Edward II himself. This grant to the king was witnessed by the two Hugh Despensers, Hugh the Elder's long-term adherent Sir Ingelram Berenger and Hugh the Younger's cousin Sir Giles Beauchamp (who was a knight of the royal household), and on 5 July 1325 Edward II gave Swanscombe to the two Hughs: "Gift, for good service rendered, to Hugh le Despenser earl of Winchester and Hugh his son of the manor of Swannescomp, co. Kent." [3]

Goodrich Castle was in Hugh the Younger's possession at the time of his downfall in November 1326, and the grants of Goodrich, Painswick and Swanscombe are recorded in Edward II's reign, not afterwards, so this part of Elizabeth's story is definitely true. Elizabeth also claimed that even after the grant of her three manors to the Despensers and the king in April 1325, Hugh and Hugh kept her in captivity for another six months or so, meaning that she was finally released in or about October 1325. [4Edward II's itinerary places him in Pirbright, Surrey on 6 and 9 August 1324, so assuming that Elizabeth was already being held there as she stated later, he must have known that she was there and what was going on. An entry on the Close Roll dated 8 March 1325 states that Elizabeth recognised an impossibly huge debt of £10,000, which in modern terms is something like £20 million, to Hugh Despenser the Elder. [5] This clearly reveals that some decidedly funny business was going on. Edward III, on 27 October 1330 just a few days after he took over control of his own kingdom, pardoned Elizabeth "of diverse recognisances made to the Despensers in the late reign while she was unmarried, on trustworthy evidence that she was compelled to become bound therein by force and duress." [6]

A petition presented by Elizabeth and her husband Richard Talbot at an uncertain date, probably in 1327 or not long afterwards, states that the two Hugh Despensers "came evilly, by their false counsel, [and] procured the king to take Elizabeth and put her in ward and retain her inheritance against the law of the land; and then deliver it to themselves. So they bought her to Purefrithe [Pirbright], and there imprisoned her, and threatened her of her body, and made her to understand that she should never go out of her prison or have her inheritance if she did not make them a recognisance of her right to the manors of Castle Goderiche and Painswick." Another two petitions by Elizabeth and Richard on the same matter also still exist, and one states that Elizabeth "remained thus in prison and, for the fear that she had of her body, she was made to say that she vouchsafed the manor of Swannescombe to the king." One petition says that "she was held to them in £20,000", and her acknowledgement of a debt of £10,000 to Hugh the Elder is certainly recorded in March 1325. [7] Presumably there was another debt of £10,000 to Hugh the Younger, though it's not recorded that I've been able to find. It's, unfortunately, absolutely clear that Edward II was involved in this appalling situation up to his neck, even though the Talbots' petitions held back from criticising him personally and made out that he was a passive victim of the Despensers; they were, after all, presenting their petitions to Edward's son.

On 8 March 1328 in the second year of Edward III's reign, a commission was given to four men to investigate Elizabeth's claims, and they held an inquisition in Guildford, Surrey on Thursday 21 April 1328. The details above about Elizabeth's eighteen-month captivity were stated, and the men who had helped the Despensers to capture Elizabeth were named in the inquisition as Sir Nicholas Sudington, William Staunford and John Haselegh or Hasselegh. [8] It is surely not a coincidence that Hugh the Younger gave Nicholas Sudington a gift of £10 on 26 October 1324, and Sudington or Sudynton or Sodynton in modern spelling is Siddington, a village near Cirencester in Gloucestershire which belonged to Hugh the Elder. [9] Who William Staunford and John Has(s)elegh were, I don't know; they're not Despenser adherents I've ever heard of before. Perhaps they were simply hired muscle.

The findings of the inquisition taken at Guildford in April 1328 were repeated on 12 July 1348 at Richard Talbot's request. [10] This time, the names of a dozen jurors who testified under oath to the 1328 inquisition were given, and the details were repeated: Elizabeth was captured at Kennington and taken to Woking and then Purbright. This exemplification of the inquisition's findings twenty years later adds that "by force and duress, they [the two Hugh Despensers] compelled her against her will and by threats of death" to give them Painswick and Goodrich Castle, on 20 April 1325 at Pirbright. 

A writ sent to the sheriff of Buckinghamshire on 19 February 1331 in response to a petition by David de Strathbogie, earl of Atholl (b. 1309), son and heir of Elizabeth Comyn's older sister Joan, states that the Despensers had deliberately made an unfair division of the Pembroke inheritance in Elizabeth Comyn's favour. Atholl requested that the division of lands be made again, and Elizabeth and Richard Talbot sent in their own petition in 1332 protesting against this. [11] Some of the words of the 1331 writ are missing or unclear, but it seems to state that Hugh the Younger engineered a division in Elizabeth Comyn's favour because he had married Elizabeth. Of course he hadn't, and couldn't possibly have done as he was married to Eleanor de Clare from 26 May 1306 until his execution on 24 November 1326. An inquisition held in Yorkshire also in 1331 as a result of the questions hanging over the Pembroke inheritance states that Elizabeth married Hugh the Younger's eldest son Hugh or 'Huchon' (b. 1308/9). "Memorandum of errors which were made...by Hugh Despenser father and son...by reason that Laurence son and heir of John de Hastyngg married the daughter of the said Hugh the son, and the son of the said Hugh married Elizabeth Comyn." [12Huchon Despenser was almost a decade Elizabeth's junior and didn't marry her either, though perhaps a betrothal was on the cards in 1324/25. The inquisition is also wrong to say that Hugh the Younger's daughter Eleanor married Laurence Hastings; they were betrothed in 1325/26 but the wedding never took place. It does seem that in 1331, a few people believed that Elizabeth Comyn had married into the Despenser family.

On 29 March 1332, Edward III sent a letter to the escheator south of the River Trent. Again, it concerned the division of the Pembroke inheritance and the unfairness the earl of Atholl was complaining about, and repeats that the two Hugh Despensers "had Elizabeth Comyn, another kinswoman and co-heiress of the said Aymer...in their power at their will, and wished to assign the better castles, manors, lands, fees and advowsons to the purparty of Elizabeth." Another petition, incidentally, was sent by John Hastings' executors, and states that John's will was "sinfully altered" and that Hugh Despenser the Younger ransacked John's manors in 1325/26 after John's death, when they and custody of John's son Laurence were in his hands. [13] 

Four years later on 22 March 1336, there is an entry on the Patent Roll relating to one of Elizabeth and Richard Talbot's petitions. It states that "the said Hugh and Hugh, moved with cupidity, caused the said Elizabeth, while she was single, to be taken at Hertfordyngbury [Hertingfordbury], brought to Purifrith [Purbright], co. Surrey, and there imprisoned, until by force and duress" she gave Painswick and Goodrich Castle to the two Hughs. [14] Otherwise, Elizabeth stated that the Despensers had captured her at Kennington, so it's odd that Hertingfordbury in Hertfordshire now appears. Kennington certainly belonged to Hugh the Elder in 1324/25 - by rights it shouldn't have belonged to him, but it did - but Hertingfordbury belonged to the earl of Pembroke and later to Elizabeth herself, though she only received it after Pembroke's death in June 1324. 

So either the Despensers were entirely careless of the possible consequences of kidnapping the earl of Pembroke's niece from one of Pembroke's own manors in April 1324, or Elizabeth was being slightly economical with the truth or mixed up her story somewhat, or someone else got the story mixed up a few years later. Kennington and Hertingfordbury are about thirty miles apart, and it seems an odd error to have made; Elizabeth must have known perfectly well whether she was captured on a manor belonging to one of the Despensers or a manor which belonged to herself or her uncle. It's also rather hard to believe that the Despensers would have captured her as early as April 1324 as she claimed, two months before her uncle the earl of Pembroke died. Pembroke was in good enough health for Edward II to send him to France as an envoy in June 1324, when the earl collapsed and died so suddenly in the arms of an attendant, on his way to Paris, that there was no time even to summon a priest and he died unshriven. The Despensers can't possibly have known in April 1324 that Pembroke was going to die and leave his niece Elizabeth an heiress two months later.

The division of the large Pembroke inheritance among the three heirs was not completed until March 1325 nine months after the earl of Pembroke's death, and Elizabeth's cousin John Hastings never benefited from being one of their uncle's co-heirs as he died in January 1325, leaving his not yet four-year-old son Laurence as his heir. Elizabeth received her share of her late uncle's estate on 21 and 22 March 1325. [15] This was two weeks after she'd acknowledged the staggeringly enormous debt of £10,000 to Hugh the Elder. Her share included Goodrich Castle, Painswick, Swanscombe, and Hertingfordbury. When Elizabeth gave the Despensers Goodrich Castle and Painswick on 20 April 1325, she had been in possession of the manors and the rest of her inheritance for just under a month.

There's no doubt at all that Elizabeth Comyn did give Painswick to Hugh the Elder, Goodrich to Hugh the Younger and Swanscombe to Edward II, who passed it on to the two Hughs. The gift of Swanscombe to the Despensers is recorded on the Charter Roll on 5 July 1325 (above), and Edward II issued a licence for Elizabeth "to enfoeff Hugh le Despenser the younger of the castle and manor of Castel Goderiche in the march of Wales", and the same regarding Hugh the Elder and Painswick, on 6 April 1325 (the Saturday before Easter Sunday). [16] Edward was at Beaulieu Abbey in Hampshire, about sixty miles from Pirbright, at the time, and the two Hugh Despensers may also have been there with him; they were both with the king on 2 April and Hugh the Younger at least was also with him on the 3rd. [17] It seems most unlikely that Elizabeth would have given away three valuable manors without coercion or duress by the men, and Goodrich Castle was worth £41 a year, Painswick £59 a year, and Swanscombe £38 a year. [18] They were her most valuable manors excepting Bampton, which was worth £65 a year. Hertingfordbury was worth £20. As noted above, her story that she'd been held captive for a year before she signed over her manors on 20 April 1325 is rather dubious, though perhaps she was captured shortly after Pembroke's death in June 1324 and she thought that ten months' captivity was actually a year. The confusion of the place of her capture, either Hugh the Elder's manor of Kennington or her uncle Pembroke's (and later her own) manor of Hertingfordbury, also strikes me as an odd mistake. Perhaps it was an error by the royal clerk who wrote that entry on the Patent Roll in 1336, but if it was, where did the error come from? If Elizabeth was captured at Hertingfordbury when it was her own manor, she only received seisin of it on 21 March 1325, a month before she handed some of her other manors over to the Despensers. 

There's also the interesting fact that people in both Buckinghamshire and Yorkshire (i.e. in counties far apart who are unlikely to have influenced each other) in 1331 were of the belief that Elizabeth had married into the Despenser family. It does seem rather odd and unusual that a noblewoman of the early fourteenth century didn't marry until her mid-twenties, so I wonder if if there was some arrangement for Elizabeth to marry Hugh Despenser the Younger's son and heir Huchon, and she had to wait for him to reach maturity - he turned fifteen in 1323 or 1324. Having said that, a marriage between a woman and a boy getting on for ten years her junior would be most unusual, albeit not entirely unheard of (John of Gaunt's daughter Elizabeth of Lancaster, b. February 1363, marrying John Hastings, b. November 1372, is an example I can think of). The man Elizabeth Comyn really did marry in 1325 or 1326, Richard Talbot, was a Lancastrian knight who pragmatically switched sides in and after 1322 and who served in the retinue of Hugh Despenser the Younger. As stated above, Edward II gave Richard a gift of £10 once he heard of his marriage to Elizabeth on 9 July 1326; on 17 July 1326, Hugh the Younger lent Richard another £10. [19] Lent, not gave as Edward did, which is typical of Hugh.

To sum up, there seems little or no doubt that Elizabeth Comyn's story of being coerced or forced or manipulated or threatened into handing over three of her most valuable manors to the Despensers is essentially true. She might not have been held in captivity for as long as she claimed, and it cannot be the case that she was captured a full year before she signed over her manors on 20 April 1325. Unless the statement in 1336 that she was captured at Hertingfordbury was a clerical error and nothing to do with Elizabeth, it would seem that she changed her story, which is perhaps a tad suspicious. I also wonder if Elizabeth had a rather closer association with the Despenser family than she admitted to later, given that people in two counties in 1331 believed that she had married into the family, and in Buckinghamshire it was believed that she had married Hugh the Younger himself. If she was captured at Kennington, Hugh the Elder's manor, the question arises as to why she was there, apparently voluntarily, in the first place. Perhaps this confirms that a marriage was on the cards and that she was living at one of the manors of her future grandfather-in-law. But coercion to acquire other people's manors was a common Despenser tactic between 1322 and 1326, sadly, and it seems that the two Hughs used and abused the royal power they were unlawfully wielding to engineer an unfair division of the Pembroke inheritance, and then grabbed three of Elizabeth's best manors. It's also obvious that the king of England himself was deeply involved in this nefarious scheme to take valuable lands away from one of his own subjects and kinswomen (Elizabeth Comyn was his second cousin of the half blood), and not merely as a passive observer.


1) Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem 1317-27, no. 518; Society of Antiquaries of London MS 122, p. 75.
2) Calendar of Charter Rolls 1300-26, p. 442.
3) The National Archives E 40/4962 and SC 8/160/7956; CChR 1300-26, p. 478.
4) Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous 1308-48, no. 1024.
5) Calendar of Close Rolls 1323-7, p. 357.
6) Calendar of Patent Rolls 1330-4, p. 14.
7) SC 8/163/8132, SC 8/160/7956 and SC 8/310/15484; quoted in English translation in Calendar of Ancient Petitions Relating to Wales, ed. William Rees (1975), pp. 268-9, 274-5, 493-4; the original documents are available to view on the National Archives website.
8) CIM 1308-48, no. 1024.
9) E. B. Fryde, 'The Deposits of Hugh Despenser the Younger with Italian Bankers', Economic History Review, 2nd series, 3 (1951), pp. 360-1; CPR 1317-21, p. 212.
10) CPR 1348-50, p. 122.
11) CIPM 1327-36, no. 391, p. 287; C 49/45/24.
12) CIPM 1327-36, no. 391, p. 292.
13) CCR 1330-3, pp. 455-7; Calendar of Ancient Petitions Relating to Wales, p. 277.
14) CPR 1334-8, pp. 234-5.
15) Calendar of Fine Rolls 1319-27, pp. 338-40; CCR 1323-7, pp. 272-5.
16) CPR 1324-7, p. 116.
17) C 53/111, no. 9; E 101/380/4, fos. 30r-v.
18) CFR 1319-27, p. 338.
19) Fryde, 'Deposits of Hugh', p. 362.

See also my article: ''We Might be Prepared to Harm You': An Investigation into Some of the Extortions of Hugh Despenser the Younger', Journal of the Mortimer History Society, 2 (2018), pp. 58-9; and my book Edward II and Hugh Despenser the Younger: Downfall of a King's Favourite (2018), pp. 103-4.

30 April, 2019

The Despenser Brothers

A post about three of Edward II's great-nephews, Sir Edward Despenser, Sir Gilbert Despenser and Sir John Despenser, the younger sons of Hugh Despenser the Younger and Edward's niece Eleanor de Clare. Edward, Gilbert and John's elder brother was Hugh or 'Huchon', lord of Glamorgan, born in 1308 or early 1309, and heir to their mother.

Most of the dates of birth of Hugh Despenser the Younger's many children are not known for certain, though they can be narrowed down, and the birthdates of his two youngest daughters Margaret and Elizabeth appear in Edward II's accounts (c. 2 August 1323 and c. 2 or 14 December 1325). A fifth son, whose name may have been Philip but this is uncertain, appears in Edward's accounts around 13 January 1321 after his death, and he was either stillborn or died soon after birth. Hugh's third daughter Eleanor was raised with her mother's first cousins, Edward II's daughters Eleanor of Woodstock (b. June 1318) and Joan of the Tower (b. July 1321), and she is likely to have been rather younger than one and rather older than the other. Hugh's eldest daughter Isabella was born in 1312 or the beginning of 1313, and his second daughter Joan was probably about the same age or a little younger than her fiancé John FitzGerald, who was born in 1314 (and died in 1323).

Hugh the Younger's second son Edward - father of Edward the Younger (1336-75), his childless uncle Huchon's successor as lord of Glamorgan - first appears on record on 23 November 1315. He must have been born by September 1313, as he inherited lands from his grandmother Isabella Beauchamp's cousin Idonea Leyburne in September 1334 and had to be at least twenty-one then; there is no mention of his being underage and not yet able to enter his lands. I believe Edward may have been born shortly before 21 October 1310, when Edward II gave a messenger a large sum of money for bringing him news of his niece Eleanor. This would mean that he was conceived overseas, when his father defied Edward II's order and went jousting on the continent, and would mean that he had recently turned sixteen when his father and grandfather were executed in October and November 1326.

Edward married Anne Ferrers at her brother Henry, Lord Ferrers' manor of Groby in Leicestershire in April 1335, and their eldest son Edward the Younger was born eleven months later at Essendine in Rutland, a manor Edward inherited from Idonea. Their middle two sons were Hugh and Thomas, and Henry the youngest, born in 1341 or early 1342, became bishop of Norwich in 1370. Edward the Elder was killed at the battle of Morlaix in the duchy of Brittany at the end of September 1342; if I'm right about his date of birth, he was not quite thirty-two when he died. Of his four sons, only Edward the eldest had descendants; the two grandchildren of his second son Hugh died young and childless, his third son Thomas never married, and his fourth son Henry was a bishop. (It's possible, of course, that Thomas and even Henry had illegitimate children, but I'm not aware of any.) Edward the Younger, however, made up for his brothers by having simply zillions of descendants via his daughters Anne, Elizabeth and Margaret and his son and heir Thomas.

Gilbert Despenser was Hugh the Younger and Eleanor's third son. He first appears on record in July 1322, when Edward II granted some manors confiscated by the Contrariants to Eleanor which the king intended to pass ultimately to Gilbert, but I'm sure he was already a few years old then, and may have been born around 1316/17. He was named after his Clare grandfather and uncle, earls of Gloucester, and the king talked of his 'affection' for the boy when making the grant of lands to him in July 1322. Gilbert was perhaps nine or ten when his father was executed, and was knighted sometime after October 1338 and before December 1344. He took part, with his eldest brother Huchon and younger brother John, in his cousin Edward III's Crécy campaign of 1346. Gilbert married a Norfolk woman named Ela Calveley and they had a son, John Despenser, born in May 1361, who died aged fourteen in August 1375. Gilbert served Edward III, Queen Philippa and Richard II as a household knight for many years, and died in April 1382, aged well over sixty. He was outlived by only two of his many siblings: Joan, nun of Shaftesbury, who died in November 1384, and Elizabeth, dowager Lady Berkeley, who died in July 1389. In his inquisition post mortem, his heir was returned as his brother Edward's grandson Thomas Despenser (1373-1400), later lord of Glamorgan and earl of Gloucester.

John Despenser was Hugh's fourth and youngest surviving son, and first appears on record in November 1324 when his great-uncle Edward II bought a saddle for him; he's called Johan le Despens' fuitz mons' Hugh le Despens' le fuiz, 'John Despenser son of Sir Hugh Despenser the son', in the king's accounts. I can imagine that boys of the noble and knightly class in the fourteenth century learnt to ride when they were pretty darn young, so John wasn't necessarily very old in November 1324, but he wasn't a newborn infant either. The fact that John was old enough to ride in late 1324 is a big reason why his elder brother Gilbert can't recently have been born when he first appears on record in July 1322, unless they were twins. Or perhaps John was the twin of the little Despenser boy who died young at the beginning of 1321. John Despenser is oddly obscure and I can't even find out if he was married and had children, and there's no inquisition post mortem for him, so apparently he didn't hold land of the king in chief. He had already been knighted by the summer of 1346 when he took part in the French campaign of that year, with his brothers Huchon and Gilbert (their other brother Edward was already dead). Other than that, and a reference to Huchon giving John some land and Edward III giving him an annuity from the Exchequer, there's not much on record about John Despenser. One chronicler says he was murdered around 11 June 1366 in London, and indeed there is a reference in the chancery rolls on 10 June 1366 that makes it apparent that John had recently died. The motive for the murder remains unknown.

23 April, 2019

Mortimer History Society Conference; New Books

If you're anywhere in the vicinity of Leominster, Herefordshire this May, the conference of the Mortimer History Society is taking place there on Saturday 18 May. See here for details, and screenshots below. Lots of great papers to look forward to, and I'm giving one about Hugh Despenser the Younger.

My next book is out at the end of July this year, and is called Following in the Footsteps of Edward II: A Historical Guide to the Medieval King. It's a travel guide to locations in the UK associated with Edward, including Caernarfon Castle, Berkeley Castle, and the battlefield of Bannockburn.

And on 15 October, the first biography of Philippa of Hainault for over a century is coming!