26 May, 2006

Congratulations to Eleanor de Clare and Hugh le Despenser...

...who married exactly 700 years ago, on 26 May 1306. Minstrels were paid by King Edward I to play at the wedding at Westminster, as seen here:

£37.4.0d to Richard de Whiteacre, Richard de Leyland, harpers, and various other minstrels making their minstrelsy before the king and other nobles on the 25 May, on which day Joan, daughter of the Count of Baar, was married to Earl Warrenne, and on the 26 May, on which day Eleanor, daughter of the Earl of Gloucester, was married to the younger lord Hugo le Despenser in the king’s Chapel at Westminster: London, May.

The reference comes from '34 Ed I: E101.369.11. Keeper’s Book', which can be seen on page 40, here.

The marriage was arranged by Edward I, Eleanor's grandfather, and not her uncle Edward II, as many people think even today. Eleanor's sisters Margaret and Elizabeth were later married to three of Edward's other favourites - Piers Gaveston and Hugh Audley for Margaret, and Roger Damory for Elizabeth, so I suppose it seems logical to assume that Edward II aranged this marriage too. However, I'm sick of reading novels where Hugh and Eleanor don't marry until about 1321, thanks to Edward's infatuation with Hugh and his desire to make him rich and powerful. In fact, Edward seems to have disliked Hugh until at least 1318 and to have been keen to keep the lands Eleanor inherited from her brother out of Hugh's hands for as long as possible.

Marriage to the king's eldest granddaughter was a splendid match for Hugh. Although his maternal grandparents William and Maud Beauchamp were earl and countess of Warwick, and his paternal grandmother Aline Basset was countess of Norfolk, in 1306 Hugh was nothing more than a landless knight, albeit a very well-connected one. The king owed his father 2000 marks (1333 pounds) and the marriage was arranged in lieu of the debt.

Eleanor's mother Joan of Acre was presumably present at the wedding - she had another eleven months to live. I don't know if Hugh's mother Isabel Beauchamp was there - she died just four days later. The future Edward II was probably there too, with his friend Piers Gaveston - later evidence shows that Edward was very fond of his eldest niece, who was only eight and a half years younger than he was. Even when her husband was nothing more than an obscure nobleman who played little role in the first few years of Edward's reign, Eleanor was a favourite at court. Edward II paid many of her expenses early on in his reign, even when she was out of court - a privilege not extended to her two sisters.

Eleanor was thirteen and a half at the time of the wedding (born October 1292) - a perfectly normal age for a girl of her rank to marry then. Hugh's date of birth is unknown, but he was several years older, most likely seventeen, eighteen or nineteen.

The twenty years of their marriage seem to have been reasonably successful; they must have spent a good bit of time together, as they had many children:

Hugh, Lord Despenser, born 1308/09 when Eleanor was fifteen or sixteen. He was besieged at Caerphilly Castle during Isabella and Mortimer's rebellion in 1326, when he was seventeen or eighteen. The Calendar of Patent Rolls records this on February 17, 1327: 'Pardon to all who were in Kaerfilly Castle when it was held against Queen Isabella, except Hugh son of Hugh le Despenser the younger', but the garrison remained loyal to him, and he was pardoned on March 20, though all the lands he had inherited were forfeit to the Crown. He was imprisoned till July 1331, when Edward III released him. After this, he worked hard at restoring his family name and fought bravely in the early years of the Hundred Years War, gaining Edward III's favour. Before April 1341 he married Elizabeth Montacute, daughter of the earl of Salisbury. He died February 1349 at the age of about forty, childless. Hugh and Elizabeth's effigy at Tewkesbury Abbey still exists, and can be seen here and here.

Edward, born before November 1315 when his father bought a reversion of land from John and Idonea Cromwell for him. He duly inherited the land in 1334, and married his second cousin Anne Ferrers in 1335. They had four sons; the eldest, Edward, succeeded his uncle Hugh as Lord Despenser, and the youngest, Henry, born 1341/2, became Bishop of Norwich in 1370. Edward was killed at the Battle of Morlaix in 1342, in his late twenties.

Gilbert, named after Eleanor’s father and brother, born before July 1321 when Edward II granted him (through his mother) lands forfeited by John Mowbray. He married and had a son called John, who pre-deceased him (1361-1375). He died in 1381.

John, date of birth unknown, but probably in the 1320s. A very obscure son about whom little is known. He is mentioned in a document of 1351, and was murdered in London in June 1366. The murderers were afterwards hanged by a group of Londoners.

An unnamed son, born and died 1321. He is mentioned in Edward II's Wardrobe account for that year: 'for the son of Hugh le Despenser junior, one piece of gold and silk tissue'. The context makes clear that the cloth was intended to be laid over a dead body. Probably, the boy died before he could be baptised.

Isabel(la), presumably named after Hugh’s mother Isabel Beauchamp, and born in 1312. She married the earl of Arundel’s son Richard in February 1321, when she was eight and he was seven. They had one son, Edmund, born about 1328, when they were both teenagers. Richard was restored to his executed father’s earldom in late 1330. They divorced in 1344 and Edmund was bastardised, though he later married Sibyl Montacute (another daughter of the earl of Salisbury) and had three daughters. Isabella’s date of death is unknown, but she was still alive in 1356, when she was involved in a court case.

Joan, named after Eleanor’s mother. Probably the second daughter, born about 1316. Betrothed in 1323 to John FitzThomas, son of the earl of Kildare, who died a couple of years later. She became a nun at Shaftesbury a few weeks after her father’s execution in late 1326. Unlike her sisters, the order for her veiling is missing, so it *may* have been voluntary. She died in 1384, probably in her late sixties.

Eleanor, probably the third daughter and born about 1318/20. She was betrothed in 1325 to Laurence Hastings, the future earl of Pembroke, but was forcibly veiled by Queen Isabella in early 1327. (Laurence later married Roger Mortimer’s daughter Agnes.) Eleanor lived at Sempringham Priory until her death, sometime after 1351.

Margaret, named after her aunts Margaret de Clare and Margaret Despenser, the fourth daughter, born sometime between 1319 and 1325. The Calendar of Close Rolls records that a man named Thomas de Houk 'by the late king's [Edward II] orders, kept Margaret, daughter of Hugh le Despenser, the younger, in his house with a nurse and a great household for more than three years at his cost'. She was forcibly veiled by Isabella in early 1327, and died in Watton Priory in 1337.

Elizabeth, named after her mother’s sister, the youngest daughter. She may have been the child born in December 1325 when Eleanor de Clare is known to have given birth, or she may have been Hugh’s posthumous child, born in late 1326 or 1327. She married Maurice Berkeley in 1338; born in 1330, he was the grandson of Roger Mortimer and the eldest son of Thomas Berkeley, Edward II’s jailer. (Oh, to be a fly on the wall at Berkeley family mealtimes.) They had 4 sons and 3 daughters before Maurice died in 1368 of old wounds received at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356. Elizabeth married again to Sir Maurice Wyth, outlived him too, and died in July 1389.

Clearly, a few of their children were conceived after Hugh became the 'favourite' of Eleanor's uncle in the period 1318-1320, a position he held till his execution in 1326.


Carla said...

I wonder if Eleanor minded being swopped for 2000 pounds' worth of debt? Perhaps not, as she would have known from the beginning that her marriage would be arranged, and it was a very substantial sum so it demonstrated her importance and worth. Is there any way of estimating approximately how much that would be in today's money? It sounds like an awful lot. Is it known how Edward I came to owe Hugh's father that amount?

Kathryn Warner said...

Carla, to put that amount into perspective, the minimum income for knighthood was 40 pounds per annum, most 'normal' people probably earned about three or five pounds p.a., and the richest man in England (the earl of Lancaster) had an annual income of about 11,000 pounds after 1311. 2000 marks (a mark was two-thirds of a pound) is a few million in modern money, I expect.

I also wonder how Eleanor felt about it, but as you say, she would have grown up with the knowledge that her marriage would be arranged, so hopefully she didn't mind!

I'm not sure why the king owed the elder Despenser so much money, but it seems to have been quite normal then for the king and his nobles to lend each other huge sums of money - in 1324, the younger Despenser owed Edward II 2243 pounds, and the king owed him 1325 pounds!

Before Eleanor's brother was killed and she and Hugh inherited a third of his lands, their income was about 200 pounds a year. By 1326, it was over 7000 pounds.

Susan Higginbotham said...

Military service might have run up the debt too. When Eleanor & Hugh's eldest son, Hugh, died in 1349, Edward III owed him about 2700 pounds for his war services.

Gabriele Campbell said...

Those many children demonstrate that Hugh obviously had enough fun in Eleanor's bed to sire more than the heir and maybe a second ersatz-son.

That doesn't say he might not have had fun in Edward's bed as well. *naughty grin*

Kathryn Warner said...

Yes, I'd forgotten about military service - that might account for the debt, or a lot of it.

Gabriele: my feelings exactly. *grin*

Carla said...

Many thanks for the perspective - it's even more than I thought it was!

Anonymous said...

Do we know why the youngest daughter was not forcibly veiled like her older unmarried sisters? Maybe she was considered just too young as she was likely an infant at the time? Just curious, not least as it seems she is my ancestor!

Kathryn Warner said...

She was probably either a baby (Eleanor gave birth in Dec 1325, which might have been Elizabeth) or still in utero, born after Hugh's execution.