04 January, 2018

The Marriage of Eleanor de Clare and Hugh Despenser Took Place in 1306

I recently saw a book published in 2017 which claimed that Edward II arranged the marriage of his eldest niece Eleanor de Clare and Hugh Despenser the Younger after Hugh became his favourite. Frankly, I cannot understand why this annoying notion keeps being perpetuated. Well, actually, I can; it's because Edward II arranged the marriages of Eleanor's two younger sisters Margaret and Elizabeth to three of his 'favourites', Piers Gaveston, Hugh Audley and Roger Damory, in 1307 and 1317, and it therefore seems obvious to writers who fail to do sufficient research that he must have arranged Eleanor and Hugh's marriage too. Obvious, but wrong, and lazy.

Eleanor de Clare and Hugh Despenser the Younger married on 26 May 1306 in the royal chapel of Westminster Palace, in the presence of Eleanor's grandfather Edward I, who had arranged it. This is over a year before Eleanor's uncle succeeded his father as king and a good dozen years before Hugh became Edward II's chamberlain and 'favourite'. This is the evidence for the 1306 date:

- A payment to two harpers called Richard Whiteacre and Richard Leyland who performed at the wedding celebrations and gifts of cash to Eleanor and her attendants on her wedding day, recorded with the exact date of the nuptials by John Drokensford (or Droxford), keeper of Edward I's wardrobe. [TNA E 101/369/11, folio 96v; this document dates to Edward I's thirty-fourth regnal year, November 1305 to November 1306]

- The rhyming chronicle of Pierre or Piers de Langtoft, who wrote that at the time of the mass knighting of Edward of Caernarfon and 266 other men on 22 May 1306 "Sir Hugh son of Hugh, called Despenser,/ Took there the maiden of noble kindred,/ Whom Gilbert de Clare had begotten/ On Joan the countess surnamed of Acres." [Langtoft, vol. 2, p. 369]

- An entry on the Patent Roll dated 14 June 1306, by Edward I: "Grant to Hugh le Despenser, son of Hugh le Despenser, between whom and Eleanor daughter of Gilbert, sometime earl of Gloucester and Hertford, the king's niece [sic], a marriage is contracted, with the king's and the said Hugh's assent, the said Hugh [the Elder] having promised before the king to give them 200/. a year in land, for life, of 2,000/. sterling out of the issues of the escheatry this side Trent." [Calendar of Patent Rolls 1301-7, p. 443]

- Another acknowledgement by Edward I, dated 3 June 1307: "Grant to Hugh le Despenser [the Elder], in recompense of 300/. in part payment of 2,000/. granted to him for the marriage of Hugh his son, of the custody during the minority of John the heir, of the lands late of Philip Paynel, tenant in chief, with knights' fees and dowers, and with the marriage of the heirs." [Calendar of Patent Rolls 1301-7, pp. 526-7, and see also Calendar of Close Rolls 1307-13, p. 5]

- And another, dated 28 June 1307, nine days before Edward I died: "Assignment to Hugh le Despenser [the Elder] of the above 50 marks, wherein William de Valoynes made fine, in part payment of 2000/. granted to Hugh for the marriage of his eldest son." [Calendar of Patent Rolls 1301-7, p. 536]

- There's also Edward II calling his niece Eleanor 'Alianore la Despensere' in March 1309, long before he's supposed to have married her off to Hugh, more than three years before the death of Piers Gaveston and therefore years before Hugh could possibly have become his favourite. [Calendar of Chancery Warrants 1244-1326, p. 283]

There is ample evidence, therefore, that it was Edward I who arranged the marriage of Hugh Despenser the Younger and Eleanor de Clare and attended it, and who promised Hugh Despenser the Elder £2000 for his elder son and heir's marriage. Edward I believed Hugh the Younger to be a worthy husband for his eldest granddaughter, and thought that paying the whopping sum of £2000 to secure this eligible young man for Eleanor was well worth it. So no more nonsense about Edward II arranging the marriage, or Hugh Despenser the Younger being nothing but a humble knight, please.


sami parkkonen said...


One false myth destroyed again. Well done, lady K.

Caroline Newark said...

I tremble in my shoes each time I send a book out there in case I incur Kathryn's wrath. But for those of us novelists who care to get our facts right you are a godsend., as I have said before. Please keep going.

A. J. Sefton said...

I think you hit the nail on the head there: lazy. One bit of information is spread around without being checked properly. I was taught that every bit of information has to be backed by three sources. Obviously that doesn't apply anymore.

Great post by the way.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, everyone! Glad you enjoyed the post!