24 November, 2017

24 November 1326: Execution of Hugh Despenser the Younger

691 years ago on 24 November 1326, Hugh Despenser the Younger, lord of Glamorgan, was executed in Hereford on the orders of Edward II's queen Isabella of France and her ally Roger Mortimer, lord of Wigmore. It was an atrocious death by hanging, drawing and quartering, and Hugh was also castrated. When it was finally over, Hugh's head was placed on London Bridge (on 4 December) and the four quarters of his body were sent for public display in York, Carlisle, Bristol and Dover. On 15 December 1330 after he had overthrown his mother and Mortimer, Edward III gave permission for Hugh's remains to be collected and buried, and his tomb at Tewkesbury Abbey in Gloucestershire exists to this day. His wife Eleanor was also buried in the abbey in 1337, as were several of their descendants including their eldest son Hugh or Huchon (d. 1349), grandson Edward (d. 1375), great-grandson Thomas, briefly earl of Gloucester (d. 1400), and great-great-granddaughter Isabella, countess of Warwick (d. 1439).

My biography of Hugh will be published in about September/October 2018, by Pen and Sword. Its current working title is Downfall of a King's Favourite: Edward II and Hugh Despenser the Younger. I guarantee there's plenty of stuff about him in it that you've never seen before!

Here's a post about Hugh's execution I wrote eleven years ago today (yowza, time flies!).

And here is my translation of the long list of charges against him at his show trial, from 2009.

My examination of the most devastating charge against Hugh, that he had someone called 'Lady Baret' tortured into insanity (which I very much doubt he did). This is one of the central planks in the popular modern notion that he was basically a psychopath, but there's no evidence for the tale whatsoever beyond the charge against him at his trial, and the list of charges is basically a tissue of fact and fiction, mostly the latter. The unpleasant idea that Hugh raped Queen Isabella is an invention of two writers of the twenty-first century entirely without evidence (see my 2012 post about it here), and even the notion that he had the Welsh lord and rebel Llywelyn Bren hanged, drawn and quartered in Cardiff in 1318 isn't nearly as certain a fact as you might think.

I also wrote here about some of the common modern misconceptions about Hugh Despenser the Younger, including the ever-popular but entirely false idea that Edward II arranged Hugh's marriage to Edward's niece Eleanor de Clare after Hugh became the royal favourite. Hugh and Eleanor married on 26 May 1306 in the presence of her grandfather Edward I, who had arranged it. I stated in that post, wrongly, that Hugh Despenser the Elder did not give his son and daughter-in-law an income of £200 a year as he had promised Edward I. I've since found out that actually he did. Two historians of the twentieth century state that in 1309 Edward II gave Hugh the Younger the former Templar manor of Sutton in Norfolk. I have never been able to find a source for this.


Anerje said...

We're going to be in for a history treat from your books next year. I'll look forward to the part about Llewelyn Bren - Caerphilly Castle has no doubt about it........

Carolyn Grace said...

Always interested in updates about my 20th great-grandfather! Quite the gentleman... A few years ago, BBC History magazine listed Hugh as the 14th century's "Worst Briton". Do you think that, minus these particularly scathing allegations, he would still merit that title?

Kathryn Warner said...

Anerje: I'm sure - they're just going along with what modern historians have said without checking!

Carolyn: he certainly extorted people, had them falsely imprisoned and so on, so maybe, but he certainly wasn't a murderous, torturing psychopath.

sami parkkonen said...

Hugh was a hard nosed noble man who did everything to maximize his power. He also used it as much as he could but then again: what did Roger Mortimer once he was on the same spot? Right.

It is very easy to cast historical persons into present day molds and use psychology as a vehicle to describe them but usually people do this because they do not understand the world and times in the past and/or are just lazy and want to slap stickers around. It is so much easier than try to understand the lives and times of the past.

Was Attila the Hun a psychopath? Depends how you want to look at him. In the Hunnic world he was a brilliant statesman and warlord, superb politician, who managed to play power game with two Roman empires at the same time. To his opponents he certainly was a terrorist on a massive scale, cruel and ruthless man. And yet, he created a realm which reached from the Baltic to the Black Sea and beyond, managed to use Vandals of Africa against western Rome etc. What ever he was as a person, he certainly was no a crazy villain.

And neither was Hugh.

Anonymous said...

IMO, Hugh Despenser is a lot like Roger Morimer -- neither were crazed psycopaths, but I wouldn't nominate either of them for "nice guy of the 14th century" award, either. Curious, though, -- did Edward III ever take Despenser's descendants into his favor the way he did with Roger Mortimer's descendants?


dcarey said...

How was Thomas Berekley's wife Margaret De Mortimer related to Roger Mortimer? Also where can I find complete list of Hugh's and Elanor's children?

Kathryn Warner said...

Margaret Mortimer was Roger Mortimer's eldest daughter.

There's a complete list of Hugh and Eleanor's children in my bio of Hugh, which will be published on 30 October this year.