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.


sami parkkonen said...

I tried to check how old boys of the knightly class were when they were first time on the saddle and what I could gather from various sources it depended on their father/trainers and the boy himself. Commonly the real training, combat practices and various weapons etc., began around the age of seven which remarkably similar of the age of eight at which point all the sons of the free men and yeoman classes were supposed to begin their weekly archery practices.

If a boy was ready and/or his father decided, he could be placed on the saddle even younger but I assume not later than at the age of seven when the real training for the knights usually began. That being said. as in all various fields of practical skills of the knight, some became excellent riders and horsemen while some were barely able to stay up. I think it is safe to say that on average the knights were skillful riders and mastered their horses well. A knight was supposed to be part of a cavalry even after Edward III made his men fight mainly on foot. The popularity of the jousts and tournaments is a testimony for the popularity of the horsemanship among the knightly class and the appreciation of a knight who was good with his horse.

Kathryn Warner said...

I would imagine that they learnt to ride, or at least how to sit on a horse, well before they began their military education for earnest. Perhaps even when they were toddlers.

sami parkkonen said...

Most likely so. Ability to ride was one of the key skills required for the military training.