30 November, 2009

Sire Huge Le Despenser, Malefactors And Extortionists: Some Events Of November 1321

This post is a continuation of the one directly below (or here), and takes up the story of Edward II's actions in the autumn of 1321 which led to his campaign against the Contrariants - the Marcher lords who had destroyed the lands of Hugh Despenser and his father and forced them into exile, and their ally the earl of Lancaster, Edward's first cousin and greatest enemy.

Edward captured Leeds Castle in Kent after a short siege and hanged thirteen of the garrison, to punish its owner, his former steward Bartholomew Badlesmere, for joining the Contrariants - and almost certainly to provoke a war against them. The king returned to London in early November 1321, where he soon heard that another castle, Warwick, was being held against him by men described as 'Thomas Blaunfrounte and other malefactors'. This latest situation was probably related to Hugh Despenser the Elder - Edward had committed the custody of the lands and heir of the earl of Warwick who died in 1315, Despenser’s brother-in-law, to him, although he had previously promised Warwick that the executors of his will would have custody. This had been one of the complaints the Marcher lords aimed at the Despensers in August 1321 (and is an example of how Edward could easily go back on his word and thus was not to be trusted - although on the other hand, maybe he felt that a promise made to the man who abducted Piers Gaveston didn't have to be kept). Edward ordered the sheriff of Warwickshire and Sir John Pecche - a vitally important figure in the earl of Kent's conspiracy to free the supposedly dead Edward from Corfe Castle in 1330 - to take back Warwick Castle and arrest the men who held it, promising "the king will speedily come to assist" them if necessary. [1] (Bet that filled Pecche and the sheriff with buckets of confidence.)

By 12 November, Edward had heard that the earl of Lancaster was planning to hold an assembly at Doncaster, and forbade him to do so, also ordering the earl of Hereford, Roger Mortimer, the king's former favourites Roger Damory and Hugh Audley, and around a hundred other men, not to attend. Quite a lot of the men Edward forbade from attending the meeting were in fact his and/or the Despensers' allies, such as his half-brother the earl of Norfolk, his and Hugh Despenser the Younger's brother-in-law Ralph de Monthermer*, the earls of Arundel, Surrey, Atholl and Angus, John Somery, John Pecche, Fulk Fitzwarin, John Cromwell, Andrew Harclay, John St Amand, Ralph Basset, and Ralph Camoys. The Contrariants had counted the latter two men among the Despensers' "false and bad ministers" that August; Camoys and St Amand were also Despenser the Younger's brothers-in-law. [2] The fact that the earl of Lancaster had even invited such men to his assembly, men whose support he had no hope of gaining, is a measure of the weakness of his position; he had hoped that the northern barons, his usual allies or rather his subordinates, would help him, but they refused to defy the king. [3] Lancaster and his Marcher allies, despite Edward's prohibition, did meet on 29 November, though probably at Pontefract rather than Doncaster, and the Sempringham annalist says that "they were sworn together a second time to maintain that which they had commenced." [4] The Anonimalle chronicle says that after the executions at Leeds Castle, the earl of Hereford and other barons saw that Edward was "a man without mercy," and suspected him – correctly, as it turned out – of wanting to destroy them as he had others. [5]

* Monthermer was married firstly to Edward's sister Joan of Acre, who died in 1307, and secondly (in 1318) to Despenser's sister Isabel, widow of Gilbert de Clare, lord of Thomond and John, Lord Hastings.

Lancaster and his allies drew up a petition, the famous 'Doncaster Petition', which said that Hugh Despenser the Younger, amusingly called Sire Huge throughout, had been exiled "for diverse reasonable reasons" with the consent of the king himself and all the magnates in parliament. It accused Edward of placing Despenser under the care of the men of the Cinque Ports and supporting him in his piracy and various other predictable crimes, and included the usual predictable references to Edward's 'evil counsellors'. Sample text of petition: "And also, sire, in the place where the said Sire Huge is maintained by the said ports and other men of great number on the sea and on land and by the said evil counsellors, and also, by your power and the power of the said Sire Huge, ships are robbed on the sea, and the merchants coming towards the parts of England, to the great shame of the realm, and against the state of the crown, and to the great damage of the people" (my translation). They asked Edward to respond to the petition by 20 December. Edward, needless to say, had no intention of doing so, and informed Lancaster, in a letter surprisingly mild by his own usually excessively emotional standards, that imposing a deadline on him on to reform the affairs of his kingdom gave the impression that he was the earl’s subject, not vice versa. [6]

On 25 September and again on 28 November 1321, Edward II ordered Roger Damory and Hugh Audley to deliver Hugh Despenser the Younger's lands in Glamorgan and Gwynllwg into his own hands, as they had been commanded to do by parliament on 16 August. [7] Damory wrote to Edward with the pathetically lame excuse that "the custody of the said lands, etc, were delivered to him by the magnates of the realm and by the men of those parts, who would not permit him to make such delivery thereof, and that if he had done so they would have risen in war, because they understood that the aforesaid Hugh, who was exiled in parliament by the assent of the magnates, was staying in the realm..." Not surprisingly, Edward responded "which answer the king deems altogether insufficient and derisory" (one of my favourite quotations of the era). Audley, for his part, claimed not to have any of Despenser’s lands in his custody as Gwynllwg was part of his wife Margaret de Clare's inheritance (which Despenser had forced him to exchange for some English manors of lesser value), "which answer the king reputes as naught, especially as the said Hugh le Despenser was seised of the castle and lands aforesaid when the aforesaid Hugh Daudele and others begain to prosecute him." [8] It seems likely that Edward was deliberately provoking Damory and Audley in the knowledge that they would refuse to hand over Despenser's lands to him and give him another excuse to act against them and their allies. He seized Damory’s lands and goods in Essex, Suffolk and Hertfordshire, and Bartholomew Badlesmere's lands, goods and chattels everywhere, on 22 November. [9] The king’s former friends were now counted among his deadliest enemies. I find this extremely interesting; for a few years from late 1315 onwards, Edward II fell over himself to do absolutely everything he could for Roger Damory, even arranging his marriage to his niece Elizabeth de Clare, who was far above Damory by birth and rank and one of the richest people in the country to boot. Now that Hugh Despenser had risen in the king's favour, it seems that Roger Damory no longer existed as far as Edward was concerned.

After the meeting with the earl of Lancaster at Pontefract, the Marcher lords returned to the west of England and Wales with a great armed force. [10] They must have realised that Edward would come after them, to avenge himself on the men who had not only attacked his friends but killed, assaulted and robbed his subjects and ousted them from their homes - the Marchers' attacks of May 1321 may have been aimed at the Despensers, but it was the innocent and the poor who suffered most, as numerous petitions and inquisitions attest - held castles against him, and had stolen from him personally, "because they had taken for their own use and wasted the goods of the exiles, which ought rather to have gone to the treasury," as the Vita Edwardi Secundi says. [11] In November and December 1321, the Marchers reverted to their appalling behaviour of a few months earlier, and began extorting money and stealing goods from those who could least afford it. Roger Mortimer, the one who later became Isabella of France's favourite, and his followers seized wheat, grain, livestock and other goods worth more than £140 from villagers in Herefordshire, while Maurice, Lord Berkeley demanded that the inhabitants of Lydney in Gloucestershire send him three pounds to support the rebels, or he would burn the village. Not surprisingly, the unfortunate villagers gave him the money. [12] Henry Lynet, one of Roger Damory’s adherents, attacked a Gloucestershire manor belonging to Peter Montfort because Montfort refused to join the Contrariants, while other men travelled through Gloucestershire seizing goods and chattels from villagers and selling them to raise money. [13] A group of John, Lord Mowbray's adherents stole provisions worth forty pounds from a boat belonging to the merchant John Kygge of Grantham on 25 November 1321; Mowbray had, a few months earlier, stolen livestock, goods and chattels from the villagers of Laughton-en-le-Morthern in Yorkshire, and even robbed the church. [14] Roger Mortimer's uncle Roger Mortimer of Chirk "violently ejected" William la Zouche from his manor of Elmley Lovett and stole goods worth 100 marks from him, because Zouche refused, despite Chirk's threats, to join the rebels. [15]

On 30 November 1321, the day after the meeting at Pontefract, Edward II began to make preparations for a campaign in the west against the Contrariants, despite the winter season - I find it most interesting to compare the alacrity with which he set off against the men who had dared to hurt his beloved Hugh Despenser, even in the dead of winter, to his frequent postponement and cancellation of Scottish campaigns. But then, Edward always did demonstrate energy and ability when his favourites were threatened, even if he couldn't be bothered the rest of the time. He sent out writs to all the sheriffs of England to order knights and squires of their county to muster at Cirencester in Gloucestershire on 13 December "to set out with the king for the correction of the oppressions of his people in diverse counties," and also ordered the sheriffs of Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire to raise all footmen between sixteen and sixty. [16] On 6 and 7 December Edward ordered Oliver Ingham and Robert Lewer to arrest Roger Damory, Hugh Audley, Bartholomew Badlesmere and others, and seize their lands and goods. [17] Isabella of France, supporting her husband, allowed Edward to give custody of her castles at Devizes and Marlborough to Ingham and Lewer. [18] Edward issued a safe-conduct for Hugh Despenser the Younger to return to England on 8 December, "in pursuance of his petition that the judgement of exile and disherison lately passed upon him by certain magnates contains errors and should be annulled." The same safe-conduct was issued to Hugh Despenser the Elder on Christmas Day, and Edward ordered his sheriffs to publicise the safe-conducts and ensure that they were observed. [19]

Edward spent the first few days of December 1321 at Westminster and Isleworth. He sent a letter on the 10th to the treasurer, Walter de Norwich, asking him to "provide sixteen pieces of cloth for the apparelling of ourselves and our dear companion, also furs, against the next feast of Christmas." ('Our dear companion' means Isabella, not Hugh Despenser.) He also ordered more cloth and linen for Isabella and her damsels and "other things of which we stand in need, against the great feast," and paid £115 for the items. [20] He then travelled through Berkshire and Wiltshire to Cirencester, where he arrived on 20 December, a week after he had ordered his army to muster, accompanied by the earls of Kent, Norfolk, Pembroke, Richmond, Surrey, Arundel, Atholl and Angus, and additionally, according to the Vita Edwardi Secundi, "many powerful barons…promised to lend aid to the lord king and to avenge the wrong done to him in so far as in them lay." [21] In the next post, I'll take a look at what happened next!


1) Calendar of Close Rolls 1318-1323, p. 503.
2) Cal Close Rolls 1318-1323, pp. 505-506; Foedera, Conventiones, Litterae et Cujuscunque Acta Publica, vol. II, i, p. 459.
3) J. R. Maddicott, Thomas of Lancaster 1307-1322: A Study in the Reign of Edward II, p. 300.

4) Le livere de reis de Brittanie e Le livere de reis de Engleterre, ed. J. Glover, p. 339.
5) The Anonimalle Chronicle 1307-41, from Brotherton Collection MS 29, ed. W. R. Childs and J. Taylor, p. 104.
6) Maddicott, Thomas of Lancaster, p. 304; G. L. Haskins, ‘The Doncaster Petition of 1321’, English Historical Review, 53 (1938), pp. 483-484.
7) Calendar of Fine Rolls 1319-1327, p. 70.
8) Cal Close Rolls 1318-1323, pp. 402, 408.
9) Cal Fine Rolls 1319-1327, p. 80; Calendar of Patent Rolls 1321-1324, p. 37.

10) Livere de reis, p. 339.
11) Vita Edwardi Secundi Monachi Cuiusdam Malmesberiensis, ed. N. Denholm-Young, p. 116.
12) Scott L. Waugh, ‘The Profits of Violence: the Minor Gentry in the Rebellion of 1321-22 in Gloucestershire and Herefordshire’, Speculum, 52 (1977), pp. 849-850.
13) Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous 1308-1348, pp. 144-145; Waugh, ‘Profits of Violence’, p. 850.
14) The National Archives SC8/6/289, SC 8/7/301.
15) Cal Close Rolls 1318-1323, p. 582; TNA SC 8/234/11682, 11683 and 11684.

16) Cal Close Rolls 1318-1323, p. 508; Cal Pat Rolls 1321-1324, pp. 39, 44.
17) Cal Pat Rolls 1321-1324, p. 40.
18) Cal Pat Rolls 1321-1324, p. 40.
19) Cal Pat Rolls 1321-1324, p. 45.
20) James Orchard Halliwell, ed., Letters of the Kings of England, now first collected from royal archives, and other authentic sources, private as well as public, vol. 1, pp. 23-24.
21) Vita Edwardi Secundi, p. 117.


Jules Frusher said...

Interesting to see this part of Edward's reign so well analysed: he certainly seems to have been playing another game plan to divide and conquer. And once again, the Contrariants are shown in their true light - not as defenders of the realm against corruption but as robber barons looking out for themselves.

Do you happen to know whether Lancaster intended holding a tournament at Doncaster by the way? Tournaments were quite often features of these 'gatherings' and he may have used the allure of one to tempt men loyal to Edward and Hugh to appear.

As for Sire Huge...lol! What can one say? Expect some more strange blog searches ;-)

Susan Higginbotham said...

Great stuff! And what a jerk that Roger Mortimer of Chirk was, to dispossess Zouche of his manor.

Won't even speculate on "Sir Huge"!

N. Gemini Sasson said...

Hmmm, Edward's life make modern soap operas and Hollywood scandals look tame by comparison. So many determined, ambitious and selfish personalities vying for the upper hand.

炒米粉Ken said...
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