19 April, 2009

The Charges Against Hugh Despenser The Younger, November 1326

This is my translation of the charges against Hugh Despenser the Younger at his trial in Hereford on 24 November 1326, which are printed in the original Anglo-Norman in G. A. Holmes' 'Judgement on the Younger Despenser, 1326' (English Historical Review, 70, 1955). Investigating the accuracy of the charges would be a major undertaking, and although some of them are certainly true, some are utterly ludicrous. May McKisack (The Fourteenth Century 1307-1399) calls the charges "an ingenious tissue of fact and fiction," while Roy Martin Haines (in his biography King Edward II) points out that "it is an ingenious document, another piece of propaganda that puts the blame for all the ills of the reign on one man and his father," ignoring - for the time being, at least - Edward II's own manifold failings and that the earl of Lancaster and his followers were in armed rebellion against their king in 1322, and in treasonous correspondence with Robert Bruce to boot. The original text begins Hughe le despenser en parlement nostre seignur le Roi Edward qui ore est tenu a Westmonstre Lan de son regne xvme...

Hugh le Despenser, in the parliament of our lord King Edward who now is, held at Westminster in the fifteenth year of his reign [August 1321], by investigation of the prelates, earls and barons and all the community of the realm, it was found to be well-known that your father and you, Hugh [votre piere et vous hughe], were traitors and enemies of the realm, for which cause, by the assent and the command of our lord the king and all the baronage, your father and you, Hugh, were exiled from the realm never to return, which was done by the assent and permission of our lord the king and all the baronage and all those who were duly summoned to full parliament.

Against which judgement and exile, your father and you, Hugh, returned to the realm and were found at court without authorisation. And you, Hugh, in returning to the realm, feloniously robbed two dromonds of their goods to the value of £60,000 sterling, to the great dishonour of the king and the realm, and to the great peril of the merchants who often visit foreign countries. After this felony done by you, Hugh, you approached our lord the king and made him ride in arms against the peers of the realm and others of his faithful liegemen, to destroy and disinherit them contrary to Magna Carta [la grant chartre] and the Ordinances, and so riding in force and in arms, seizing royal power, you, Hugh, and your father and your adherents feloniously robbed the good men of the realm. With Andrew Harclay and other traitors, your adherents, you had the good earl of Hereford and Sir William Sully [Monsieur William suyllee] and Sir Roger Burghfield feloniously and maliciously murdered. [1]

You took the good earl of Lancaster [le bone Counte de Lancastre], who was the cousin-german of our lord the king and his brothers and uncle of the very noble king of France and his sister my lady the queen of England, and had him falsely imprisoned and robbed, and in his own hall in his castle, by your royal power which you had seized from our lord the king, had him judged by a false record contrary to law and reason and Magna Carta and also without response, and you had him martyred and murdered by hard and piteous death. And this wickedness and tyranny done to such an exalted person could not sate you of spilling the blood of Christians, and also on this same day, to further torment my said lord, before his vanquished eyes*, you had his barons and knights condemned to death by drawing and hanging. By this false record contrary to law and reason, you shamefully had them hanged without mercy: Sir Warin Lisle [Warin del yle], Sir William Tuchet, Sir Thomas Mauduit, Sir Henry Bradbourne, Sir William Cheney, Sir William Fitzwilliam the younger. At York, my lord Clifford, my lord Mowbray, Sir Jocelyn Deyville. At Canterbury, the lord Badlesmere and Sir Bartholomew Ashburnham. At London, Sir Henry Tyes. At Windsor, Sir Francis Aldenham [A Wyndesore monsieur franceys de Aldenham]. At Gloucester, the lord Giffard and Sir Roger Elmbridge. At Bristol, Sir Henry Wilington and Sir Henry Montfort. At Winchelsea, Sir Thomas Culpepper. [2]

[* sez oilz veintz - I'm not quite sure about that bit.]

Many other magnates you had sent to hard prison, to murder them without cause for covetousness of their lands, such as the lord Mortimer and Mortimer the uncle [le seignour le Mortimere et le Mortimere luncle], and the lord Berkeley and Sir Hugh Audley the father and son, and the children of Hereford who were the nephews of our lord the king, and great ladies, wives of these lords, and their children, you kept in prison and orphaned. And after the deaths of their barons, you pursued widowed ladies such as my lady Baret, and as a tyrant you had her beaten by your mercenaries [or rascals, or menials: ribaldes]** and shamefully had her arms and legs broken against the order of chivalry and contrary to law and reason, by which the good lady is forever more driven mad and lost [la bone dame est touz iours afole et perdue]. [3] And many other such people who should have been ladies of great honour, you made follow the court on foot in great poverty, without pity and without mercy, and every day they were held in such great ignominy that God by his mercy sent our good and gracious lady and her son [Isabella and Edward III] and the good men who have come in their company to the land, by which the realm is delivered.

[** that part is often mistranslated as 'making her the butt of his ribaldry']

Hugh, after this destruction of our noble liege lord [Lancaster] and of other men of the realm done falsely, shamefully and treacherously, you, Hugh, and your father and Robert Baldock [4], who between you treacherously embraced royal power, had our lord the king and his people led to Scotland to the enemies, where you, by your treacherous conduct, lost more than 20,000 of his [Edward II's] people who died piteously by your default, to the great dishonour and damage of our lord the king and of all his people, without gaining advantage. After returning, you, Hugh, your father, and Robert Baldock, falsely and treacherously counselled our lord the king to leave my lady the queen in peril of her person in the priory of Tynemouth in Northumberland. You had our lord the king led in flight to Blackhow Moor [la More de Blachou], where his enemies of Scotland [ses enemys descoce] by your treacherous conduct surprised him, to the great dishonour and damage of the king and his people. [5] And in such great misfortune and peril of her person, my lady who was your liege lady, by your treacherous deed might have been lost, to the perpetual dishonour and damage of the king and his realm, if God had not sent her deliverance by sea, thereby rescuing her from danger to her life and saving her honour, in such great grief of heart and body that no good lady of her estate and nobility should have at any time.

Hugh, neither this treason nor cruelty could suffice for you, but by the royal power which you had seized from our lord the king, you destroyed the privileges of Holy Church. The prelates Hereford, Lincoln, Ely, Norwich, you feloniously robbed of their goods inside Holy Church [seinte Eglise], and outside, you carried off their horses and their plate and their baggage, and made them go on foot [les faistes aler a pee]. And their lands and their possessions you seized by force, against law and reason. It did not only suffice for you to make war on the ministers of Holy Church, but also you plundered it, as a false Christian, renegade and traitor against God himself. And because you knew that God made miracles by my good lord [Lancaster] whom you murdered so cruelly against the law without cause, you, Hugh, as a false Christian [come faux cristiene], sent armed men into Holy Church and had the doors of monasteries shut down and closed so that no-one was bold enough to enter the Church and worship God or his saints, for which merit and in defiance of you, God made divine gifts and miracles. [6]

After this wickedness, you falsely and treacherously counselled our lord the king, to the disinheritance of his crown and his heirs, to give to your father, who was false and a traitor, the earldom of Winchester, and the earldom of Carlisle [Cardoile] to Andrew Harclay, who was a notorious traitor and criminal, and to you, Hugh, the land of Canteruaure [?], and other lands which belong to the crown. And also, Hugh, you, your father and Robert Baldock had my lady the queen ousted from her lands, which were given and assigned to her by our lord the king, and set her on her journey [to France in March 1325] meanly, against the dignity of her highness and of her estate. As a false and disloyal traitor, you daily abetted and procured discord between our lord the king and herself, by your complete royal power. And, Hugh, when my lady the queen and her son, by the command and assent of our lord the king, crossed the sea to save the land of Gascony, which was at point of being lost [pur la terre de Gascoigne sauuer que fuist en poynt destre perdue], by your treacherous counsel you sent over the sea a large sum of money to certain evil men, your adherents, to destroy my lady and her son, who was the rightful heir of the kingdom, and to prevent their return to this country, which would have been to their damage and their destruction, if you had succeeded in doing this [i.e., bribing people to murder Isabella and her son].

Hugh, your father and Robert Baldock and the other false traitors, your adherents, travelled around the kingdom by land and by sea, assuming royal power, making great and small people [les grantz et les petitz], by constraint, promise and assure you that they would maintain you in your false quarrels against all people, regardless of the fact that such confederations were false and treacherous and against the bond and estate of the king and his crown. By your royal power you had them put in arduous prison, such as Sir Henry Beaumont [7], who did not want to swear that they would assent to your wickedness. And when you, Hugh, and the other false traitors, your adherents [vous Hughe et les autres fauxes traitours vos aerdantz] knew that my lady and her son were returning to this land, you made our lord the king, by your treacherous counsel, remove himself from them, and led him out of the kingdom in great peril of his person. [8] And to the great dishonour of himself and of his people, you feloniously took the treasure of the realm and the great seal with you.

Hugh, as a traitor you are found, and as such are judged by all the good people of the realm, great and small, rich and poor [graindres et mayndres, riches et poures]. By common assent you are found as a thief and a criminal, and for this you will be hanged. And because you are found a traitor, you will be drawn and quartered, and [the pieces of your body] sent throughout the realm. And because you were exiled by our lord the king and by common assent and returned to the court without authorisation, you will be beheaded. And because you were always disloyal and procured discord between our lord the king and our very honourable lady the queen, and between other people of the realm, you will be disembowelled, and then they will be burnt.

Withdraw, you traitor, tyrant, renegade; go to take your own justice, traitor, evil man, criminal!

[Retrees vous traitour, tyrant, Reneye, si ales vostre iuys prendre, traitour, malueys, et atteynt; malueys or malveis can also be translated as 'coward' or 'weakling' as well as 'evil man' or 'wicked man']

And with that, Despenser was dragged off to his grotesque execution. According to several chroniclers, he was also castrated (or emasculated), though that wasn't officially part of his sentence. Surprisingly enough, his tomb still exists in Tewkesbury Abbey; his remains were finally interred there in December 1330 after Edward III overthrew his mother and Mortimer and gave "the friends of Hugh" permission to bury him.

One of the men watching the proceedings, no doubt with enormous satisfaction, was Roger Mortimer, the next royal favourite, who, having decried Despenser's behaviour, then proceeded to act in much the same way himself over the next four years. The man who read out the above charges against Despenser was Sir William Trussell, who had fled the country after the battle of Boroughbridge and returned with Mortimer and Isabella. A mere two years after Despenser's execution, he and Thomas Wake, who had read out the charges against Hugh Despenser the Elder, joined the earl of Lancaster's rebellion against Isabella and Mortimer. Many of the pair's erstwhile allies fled abroad with Wake and Henry Beaumont, "fearing the cruelty and tyranny of the said earl of March," i.e. Mortimer, who had awarded himself a grandiose earldom - even Despenser never went that far - and "who at that time was more than king in the kingdom." They plotted an invasion of England in the summer of 1330. [9] Mortimer faced many of the same charges as Despenser at his own trial four years almost to the day later. Sometimes, I can't help thinking that none of these people had the sense God gave a sheep.


1) Hereford, Sully and Burghfield were killed at the battle of Boroughbridge on 16 March 1322.
2) This is a mostly complete list of the men executed in March/April 1322, though it omits Stephen Baret and William Fleming. I'll be looking at the executions of 1322 in a future post.
3) Presumably a reference to Joan de Gynes or de Mandeville, wife of Stephen Baret, who was probably executed in 1322. No chronicle, petition or inquisition, or other source, confirms that Despenser had Joan tortured. Her three manors were in Edward II's hands in July 1324: Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous 1308-1348, pp. 200-201.
4) Archdeacon of Middlesex and chancellor of England, a close ally of Despenser.
5) A reference to the battle of Byland on 14 October 1322 and Edward's near-capture by the Scots at Rievaulx Abbey.
6) Miracles were being reported at the site of Lancaster's execution and at his tomb within weeks of his death.
7) Henry Beaumont was imprisoned in the castles of Kenilworth, Warwick and Wallingford in 1326, supposedly because "he would not swear to the king and Sir Hugh Despenser the son to be of their part to live and die." [Le Livere de Reis de Britannie e Le Livere de Reis de Engletere, ed. J. Glover, pp. 354-355; Calendar of Close Rolls 1323-1327, p. 593; Calendar of Fine Rolls 1319-1327, pp. 417-418]
8) A reference to Edward II and Despenser sailing from Chepstow in mid-October 1326, probably in an attempt to reach Ireland.
9) Chronicle of Lanercost 1272-1346, ed. H. Maxwell, pp. 265-266, for the quotations. Isabella and Mortimer's atttempts to raise troops and defend towns in order to repel the invasion are in Calendar of Patent Rolls 1327-1330, pp. 544, 563, 570-572; Cal Close Rolls 1330-1333, pp. 51, 147, 151.


Susan Higginbotham said...

Great to have this all translated! The one about Hugh forcing Edward to fight the Scots is a real head-scratcher, isn't it?

Christy K Robinson said...

Thank you AGAIN, Alianore. You are awesome! Many of the people Hugh persecuted had family surnames I've researched (Mauduit, Clifford, Giffard, Montfort, Beaumont), but these were distant cousins by the 14th century. The one you mention as "Lord Clifford" was (I'm guessing) Roger, 2nd Lord Clifford, the brother of my Idoine Clifford who married Henry Lord Percy. Their father, 1st Lord Clifford, was Robert, and he was killed at Bannockburn.

Kate Plantagenet said...

Thank you for the wonderful translation! I know how long you must have spent deciphering it all. The language is very strong and I can almost see the spit flying from his mouth as the pent up anger bursts forth by the last word...CRIMINAL! Poor Hugh. Those who put him to death (I imagine) loved every gory moment of it.

Kathryn Warner said...

Susan: seems bizarre to put all the blame for that disastrous campaign on Hugh, doesn't it?

Christy: thanks! Yes, it's the Lord Clifford whose father was killed at Bannockburn. Lord Mowbray's son John (1310-1361) married Henry of Lancaster's daughter Joan, and Henry Beaumont's son John (d. 1342) married Henry of Lancaster's daughter Eleanor - so they're maybe your ancestors also.

Kate: when I started the translation, I had the feeling it was going to be my life's work ;), but in the end it didn't take long at all, suprisingly. Yes, it must have been a heck of a dramatic moment when Trussell read out the sentence.

Gabriele Campbell said...

I suppose blaming everything on Hugh was a way out of the fact they couldn't well put Edward to trial himself. A mix of genuine hartred and making him a scapegoat.

Jules Frusher said...

Awesome translation - I know how long it takes from when I did just that small bit about lady Baret. It's great to see you put a different spin and emphasis on certain words too - and I think that your version makes more sense than some others' I have read.

Also, there is nothing about 'dishonouring the queen' or as some historians would have it - raping Isabella for which no evidence exists at all. Here it is as is much more likely - dishonour through taking away her status (lands and money). Good to get that straight...

These charges against Hugh do make me so angry though as although some of them can certainly be leveled against him, most of them are utter rubbish. Roger Mortimer was, from everything I've read, a very ambitious (just as much as Despenser), ruthless man who had a penchant for revenge on those he considered his enemies (eg the de Lacys in Ireland).

These charges and the subsequent sentence served so many purposes that were advantageous to Mortimer, Isabella and the new regime: scapegoat, the stamping of a new authority, inducing fear against rebellion - and revenge against an old enemy.

Anerje said...

Thank you so much for the translation - fascinating reading!

Carla said...

Most impressed - that translation must have taken a lot of time and expertise.

I agree with your summing up :-)

One suggestion - is it possible that "Canteruaure" could refer to Kent? Its old name in the ASC was Cantware.

Kathryn Warner said...

Gabriele: exactly - personal hatred of Hugh on Isa and Mort's part, and a useful scapegoat.

Lady D: Mort's hypocrisy, when he wasn't one iota better than his enemy, is stunning. And accusing a man of rape on no evidence other than vague mutterings of 'dishonour' is pretty nasty.

Thanks, Anerje and Carla! I did wonder if "Canteruaure" meant Kent, but the earldom of Kent was held by Ed's brother, and Hugh preferred to build up his landholdings in South Wales and wasn't very interested in lands in SE England. I'm not sure - it's an odd name.

Jules Frusher said...

Another thought about Canteruaure - considering how bad the scribes were with speling Welsh names - could it be Cantref Mawr - which Edward gave to Hugh in 1317 in lieu of £600 that Ed owed him? I know the spelling's all over the place, but it has a very similar, if mangled sound - and it is in Wales and associated with Hugh's land-holdings.

Jules Frusher said...

Obviously I'm having trouble with speling too lol!

Kathryn Warner said...

Lady D: that makes sense, especially given the way English scribes inevitably mangled Welsh spellings! :)

Hannah Kilpatrick said...

Cantuariens is the usual Latin spelling for Canterbury at this point - would Canterbury make sense? Did he have Edward give him any lands in/around Canterbury? Granted, the petitions to the Archbishop of same that I've been translating from Anglo-Norman all have Cantabirs, but they're from almost a century later, and would have had more time to be influenced by English pronunciation and move away from the Latin.

And I'd agree about veintz being vanquished, defeated.

By the way, I was just trying to remember - when Piers abandoned Edward I's Scottish campaign and scuttled off to France for a little jousting fun, did young Edward go with him? And which source is that from, do you remember?

Kathryn Warner said...

Hi Ceirseach - thanks for the suggestion. I'd expect Canterbury to be spelt as Canterbirs or similar at this time, too, and I don't think Ed gave Hugh any lands there. Gah, 14c scribes and their spelling! :)

My problem with the 'sez oilz veintz' bit was that there was no preposition before it - so I translated it as 'before his vanquished eyes', but I was speculating a bit there.

The source for the men abandoning the Scots campaign is: Fine Rolls 1272-1307, pp. 543-4. Most of the men were pardoned a few months later: Close Rolls 1302-07, pp. 481-2. I'm sure it's mentioned in some chronicles too, but I don't have the refs. Young Ed didn't go with them, and Ed I's writ to seize the men's lands on 18 Oct 1306 accuses them of 'deserting the king and his son in those parts in contempt of the king'. Roger Mortimer was one of the men who went with Piers.

Hannah Kilpatrick said...

Huh. So it scans as "to further torment my said lord his vanquished eyes"? If I were to read a construction like that in Middle English I'd probably take it as "the vanquished eyes of my said lord". Might that work?

And yes, working out place names even in the work of just one 14c scribe is horribly imprecise.:(

And yes, thank you! I couldn't remember quite who it was, but of course, Mortimer. :)

Kathryn Warner said...

Ceirseach: the original says faistes en meisme cele iournee pur mon dit seignour pluys tormenter, ses Barons ses Cheualers sez oilz veintz trayner et pendre: "you had on this same day, to further torment my said lord, his barons and knights, [before?] his vanquished eyes, drawn and hanged." I think! :) The word order strikes me as rather odd - no conjunction between 'his barons' and 'his knights'.

Hannah Kilpatrick said...

I assume any punctuation is editorial, so I suppose you could read it as "ses Barons, ses Cheualers, sez oilz". But that is a weird construction, isn't it - it looks as if "oilz" is grammatically on the same level as "Barons" and "Cheualers", as if his eyes also were to be "traynez". (And now I have a disturbing image of a pair of plucked eyes hanging from the gallows.) I'd venture that the scribe skipped a line or a few words after Cheualers, possibly because the next two lines both started with "sez" (eg "sez baliz, sez otherpeople, devant" / "sez oilz veintz, trayner") and his eye skipped from one line to the next similar one.

Or, you know, they were just so furious with Hugh they forgot about niceties like grammar. :)

Kathryn Warner said...

Actually, the punctuation is original - there's not a single damn full stop in the whole thing (agh!) and very few commas, so I had to decide where to add them, and rather odd capitalisation of random words and non-capitalisation of some names - sometimes 'Hughe' and sometimes 'hughe' for example. Just to make it even more fun. :)

"sez otherpeople" *big grin* That makes a lot of sense about the scribe skipping a line or two, or that grammar was a minor consideration in the rush to condemn Hugh to death. :)

Thea said...

Hi! How are you? Great job on researching all about King Edward II,the people, and the events that are mostly assoicaited with him!

I just wanted to know how "evil" Hugh le Despenser the Younger and the Elder were to Queen Isabella and maybe her family,friends,and associatites. Were there PROBELLY other acts and threats of violence,physical and sexual assalt,abducting,bullying,murder,falsely accussing, and other bad stuff going on just to name few between the Despencers and the people I just mentioned above that historians and scholers did not recorded in history or did the Despencers just mainly threatened people like Isabella with unfair trials and excutions,influenting the king,spieing,takeing control of the gov. and changing the laws,just to name a few?

Because to me the things I just mention first seem ALOT more "scary" and "dangerous" than the things I just mentioned last and in my eyes their are different degees of "evil" but, they are all both "evil" equally and unequally evil in their very own speacial way. Thanks for researching and sharing about ALOT of my famous and infamous ancestors! SORRY that this is VERY LONG! Have a great day! Thanks!

Laura said...

Hello, I would first like to thank you for your fantastic blog and its prodigious research which I find so absorbing.

I'm attempting a novel (yes I know - groan!) but am trying to stick to facts as much as possible. Researching on here is much more fun than fleshing out characters and writing dialogue though!

About the question of whether Despenser raped Isabella, one thing puzzles me. The archaic meaning of "dishonour",according to my trusty dictionary, is "to violate the chastity of, or rape." So the accusation in Hugh's judgement "of often dishonouring the queen and damaging her noble estate" could allude to that. But then the word is used in other contexts too. As the nature of the judgement was retaliatory and Hugh couldn't answer to it anyway, maybe they just threw that one in along with the other fictional parts?

Kathryn Warner said...

Hi Laura, thanks so much for the comment! So glad you like the blog, and wow, that's really great that you're writing a novel! Best of luck, and do let me know how it goes - I'd love to read it one day!

Yes, the word 'dishonour' ('deshonour' in the Anglo-Norman original) is also used in the context of Hugh dishonouring the king by robbing the ships, etc, so I very much doubt that it meant sexual misconduct. I also don't know if the fourteenth-century Anglo-Norman word carried the same possible nuance of violation, as we would understand it (archaically). I've written an entire post about whether Hugh raped Isabella, just in case you haven't yet seen it, and to my mind it's a 21st-century invention of Isabella's two biographers which has no contemporary evidence beyond the possible secondary meaning of 'dishonour'. The 'damaging her noble estate' refers to the confiscation of Isabella's dower lands in September 1324.


James Harris said...

As far as the Canteruaure bit goes, given that the indictment mentions it in the context of robbing the Church, I wonder whether this is a reference to the De Clare inheritance disputes. At one stage in that tangled process, Hugh Despenser seized control of Tonbridge Castle in Kent in the belief that this formed part of the lands rightfully belonging to his wife Eleanor, after the death of her brother Gilbert Earl of Gloucester. This caused something of a stir since it was subsequently discovered that the castle actually belonged to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Of course, if that is what the indictment is referring to, then it conveniently ignores the facts that this appears to have been an honest mistake on Hugh's part, and that he restored Tonbridge to the Archbishop once he discovered it was Church land. Yet another piece of Mortimer "ingenuity" perhaps?