23 January, 2009

The Minor Misdeeds of Hugh Despenser the Younger

I know I keep failing to write the promised post on the Great Famine, but it's definitely coming soon. Definitely. In the meantime, here's a post on everyone's favourite fourteenth-century tyrant.

As well as being a pirate, extortionist and despot who took lands from vulnerable widows, who used the king's favour to make himself the richest and most powerful man in England, and who [insert your favourite Hugh Despenser the Younger crimes here], Despenser committed a series of less infamous and less serious offences...

1) In October 1311, Queen Isabella had to make alternative arrangements for transporting the baggage of Eleanor Despenser, her lady-in-waiting, because "the lord Hugh le Despenser her husband stole away from her her sumpter-horses and other carriage necessary for her at Eltham."

2) When he was constable of Odiham Castle in Hampshire between February 1320 and June 1321, Despenser removed the parker, Wiliam of Odyham, from his position. The reason? Odyham had once raised the hue and cry against Despenser's mother Isabel Beauchamp, the earl of Warwick's sister, for taking five deer from the park without a licence. Isabel Beauchamp died in May 1306. Evidently, Despenser had a long memory. As for Odyham, he had to wait until Edward III's reign to seek restitution.

3) Probably in 1325, Despenser and his allies Robert Baldock (chancellor of England) and Robert Holden (controller of Edward II's wardrobe) imprisoned 31 men at Portchester Castle for 6 or 7 days until they agreed to buy a few dozen tuns of "rotten and putrid" wine. "The men received [the wine] by force and fear against their will, and were forthwith compelled to pay the late king [Edward II] £20 therefor."

4) Edward II seized Despenser's five manors on 9 January 1310, because "he had gone to parts beyond sea contrary to the king's inhibition." On learning a few weeks later that the manors in fact belonged to Despenser the Elder, who had granted the income from them to his son "for his maintenance," he returned them (Despenser held practically no lands until his wife's share of her brother Gloucester's inheritance was given to them in November 1317, and evidently couldn't support his family properly).

5) At the Lincoln parliament of February 1316, Despenser attacked Sir John Ros, a) in the cathedral, b) in front of the king and c) on a Sunday. Oops. Apparently Ros had tried to arrest Ingelram Berenger, one of the household knights of Despenser's father, though Despenser may have been unfavourably disposed towards Ros anyway, as Ros had married Margaret Goushill, widow of Despenser's brother Philip, less than 7 months after Philip's death. Despenser punched Ros in the face repeatedly till he drew blood, and "inflicted other outrages on him in contempt of the lord king," forcing Ros to draw his sword in self-defence. Despenser later claimed, with amusing implausibility, that he had merely stretched out his hand to defend himself and accidentally hit Ros in the face with his fist, after Ros "heap[ed] outrageous insults on the same Hugh [and] taunted him with insolent words," and rushed at him with a knife. Despenser was fined the whopping sum of £10,000, which he never paid.

On the other hand, Despenser had himself been the victim of assault some years before: in late 1311, the Lords Ordainer ordered that Robert Darcy, Edmund Bacon and the other members of Edward II's household who had attacked Despenser be removed from court.

6) Also at the February 1316 parliament, Despenser claimed, not entirely unreasonably, that the dowager countess of Gloucester couldn't possibly be pregnant by her husband, who had died at Bannockburn in June 1314, and therefore, could he and his wife possibly have their share of her late brother's lands? The royal justices Geoffrey le Scrope and Gilbert Touthby told him that although the birth was delayed, "this ought not to prejudice the aforesaid pregnancy," and reprimanded him and his wife Eleanor for failing to apply to Chancery for a writ "to have the belly of the aforesaid countess inspected by knights and discreet matrons." As they had not observed due process, their negligence would redound to their own shame and prejudice.


1) British Library MS Cotton Nero C viii, folio 137d.
2) Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous (Chancery) 1308-1348, no. 988; The National Archives SC 8/160/7986.
3) Calendar of Close Rolls 1327-1330, pp. 143-4, 147-8; Cal Inq Misc 1308-1348, nos. 987, 993; TNA SC 8/169/8443, SC 8/169/8437, SC 8/157/7803, SC 8/293/14641, SC 8/209/10408.
4) Calendar of Fine Rolls 1307-1319, p. 54; Cal Close Rolls 1307-1313, p. 198.
5) Parliament Rolls Of Medieval England (attack on Ros); Annales Londonienses 1195-1330, p. 200 (attack on Despenser).


Brian Wainwright said...

What an amazing guy Hugh Despenser was! You certainly wouldn't want to cross him, and it's easy to understand why he was so hated.

On the other hand it'd be interesting to read a) Hugh's side of these tales and b)what actually happened in reality.

Gabriele Campbell said...

Makes you wonder if there is a crime he didn't manage to commit during his life. ;)

Carla said...

Considering he wasn't rich or powerful until after Eleanor inherited, he seems to have been surprisingly blase about making enemies.

Jules Frusher said...

Thanks for the dedication *blush*, as well as a post dedicated to my favourite historical bad boy!

You've just got the love the arrogant so*, haven't you, just for his sheer cheek at times. Mind you... I'm biased (I think I may have mentioned this before ;-) )

Anerje said...

well, you can't blame Hugh - there's no point in being a royal fav if you can't abuse your position - and Piers had set a good example:) Roger Mortimer must have taken tips from both, I'm sure:)

Susan Higginbotham said...

Ah, but at least he remembered his dear mum.

Hannah Kilpatrick said...

Ah, but he wasn't a royal favourite until the late 13-teens. Perhaps before that he was just abusing his position as royal-favourite-to-be.

Incidentally, I was playing a dynasty/colonisation game called Crusader Kings yesterday, in which you can choose to start the game at three different poitns in history - 1066, 1197 and 1337. Playing king of England in 1337, I found I was Edward III, of course, with Philippa as my wife and young Edward as my son and my mother Isabella alive and so forth. But the problem was - well, Roger Mortimer didn't appear to exist anywhere in the genealogy of the Mortimer family, and the Gaveston clan didn't exist at all.

So I amended the game files until we had Edward II still alive and acting as my diocese bishop, Piers existing and alive and married to Edward, Isabella (whom the game had given shockingly low stats for a woman of her ability, so I fixed them for her) married to Mortimer and functioning as chancellor, Mortimer as Edward III's general.

Oh, and Piers got to be in charge of the treasury, because I thought he'd like that.

And naturally, because the game doesn't expect homosexual marriages and therefore doesn't make them sterile, we had lots of lovely Piers/Edward babies called Piers and Edward and Edmund and Isabella and Philippa and Joan.

And forty years later, the Plantagenet and de Gabaston dynasties dominate western Europe!

History as it should have been!

Anerje said...

ROTFL Ceirseach! re-writing history! and yes, Piers in charge of the treasury - very appropriate:)

Kathryn Warner said...

Brian: Wouldn't it be great to see Hugh's point of view?

Gabriele: hmm, I wonder. ;)

Carla: yes, even when he was insignificant, he seems to have gone out of his way to annoy people.

Lady D: you're welcome!

Anerje: I'm planning another post on Piers fairly soon - sure you'll be glad to hear that. :)

Ceirseach: that's fantastic! Love the thought of Ed and Piers filling England with their descendants. :-)

Anerje said...

yay! thanks Alianore - can't wait!

Anonymous said...

#5 is very amusing. "He ran into my fits you honour......repeatedly".

Great post, he certainly was a magnetic personality. Love him or hate him everything revolved around him.