23 May, 2014

Women of Edward II's Reign: Isabel, Lady Hastings (née Depenser)

A post about Hugh Despenser the Younger's sister Isabel Hastings, following on from a previous post about their elder sister Aline Burnell.  Isabel was the second Despenser daughter, and presumably named after her mother Isabel Beauchamp, daughter of the earl of Warwick (see the Aline post linked above for information about the Despenser parents and background).  She was probably a bit younger than her brother Hugh, and the third Despenser child, born perhaps at the end of the 1280s or early 1290s.

Isabel married three times.  Her first husband was Gilbert de Clare, lord of Thomond, born in Limerick, Ireland on 3 February 1281.  Gilbert's father Thomas (c. 1245 - 29 August 1287) was a younger brother of Gilbert 'the Red' de Clare, earl of Gloucester (1243-1295), and is probably most famous for his role in helping the future Edward I escape from Simon de Montfort's custody in 1265.  Gilbert, the one born in 1281, was the first cousin and namesake of Edward II's nephew Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester (1291-1314), son and heir of Gilbert the Red, and his existence has confused a lot of writers.  Gilbert born in 1281 was in Edward of Caernarfon's household before he acceded to the throne, and evidently was close to the future king: in 1305 he was, with Piers Gaveston, removed from Edward's household on the orders of Edward's father the king, and Edward wrote to his stepmother Queen Marguerite and his sister Elizabeth on 4 August 1305 asking them to intercede with Edward I to have Piers and Gilbert returned to him.  This has often been misunderstood by modern writers to mean Edward's nephew, the Gilbert born in 1291.  Edward wrote to Marguerite and Elizabeth, rather melodramatically, "If we had those two, along with the others whom we have, we would be much unburdened from the anguish we have endured, and still suffer from one day to the next."  [1]

The date of Isabel Despenser and Gilbert de Clare of Thomond's wedding is not recorded, but may well have taken place in 1306, the year Isabel's brother Hugh Despenser the Younger married Gilbert's first cousin Eleanor de Clare, Edward of Caernarfon's niece, in a double Despenser-de Clare marriage alliance.  Gilbert was twenty-five in 1306, Isabel perhaps fifteen or sixteen, and I hope that Edward of Caernarfon attended their wedding, given his affection for Gilbert.  Edward I "of his special grace" allowed Gilbert custody of his lands in Ireland on 18 September 1299, even though he was well underage at the time, only eighteen.  [2]  On 15 July 1302, Gilbert was said to be staying in England for two years, and appointed attorneys to act on his behalf in England; this was repeated on 29 June 1304.  [3]  This may mean that Isabel never saw Ireland, that she and her husband spent their brief married life in England, but I'm really not sure.  It's almost impossible to discover any details about their life together.  On 22 March 1307 Gilbert was one of the men, with his father-in-law Hugh Despenser the Elder, the earls of Lincoln, Warwick and Richmond, the bishops of Worcester and Coventry and Lichfield, and others, who were summoned to London to join Edward of Caernafon on 22 May and travel with him to France to meet Philip IV, a meeting which was cancelled.  [4]  Gilbert, sadly, did not live much longer: he died at the age of twenty-six shortly before 16 November 1307, only four months into Edward II's reign, when the escheators in Ireland and southern England were ordered to "take into the king's hands the lands late of Gilbert son of Thomas de Clare, deceased, tenant in chief."  [5]  Gilbert's heir was his brother Richard, who was to be killed in Ireland in 1318, leaving a young son Thomas, who himself died while still a child in 1321. Gilbert's ultimate heirs therefore were his sisters Maud, Lady Clifford and Margaret, Lady Badlesmere.  His widow Isabel, probably no more than seventeen or eighteen, and childless, received her dower on or before 30 January 1308.  [6]

Isabel married her second husband John, Lord Hastings probably in 1308, and used his name for the rest of her life.  He was many years her senior, born on 6 May 1262, so almost thirty years her senior, in fact, and only fourteen months younger than her father Hugh Despenser the Elder (who was born on 1 March 1261).  With his first wife Isabel de Valence (died 1305), sister of Aymer, earl of Pembroke, John had a son and heir, also John, born on 29 September 1286; a younger son Edmund; and a daughter Elizabeth (his eldest son William, born in 1282, died in 1311).  Isabel Despenser therefore had stepchildren who were a few years older than she herself.  John Hastings had been a Competitor for the throne of Scotland in the early 1290s, and had the third best claim behind John Balliol and Robert Bruce, as the grandson of David of Scotland, earl of Huntingdon's third daughter: Balliol, chosen as king as 1292, was grandson of the eldest daughter, Bruce son of the second.  (The Robert Bruce who became king in 1306 was the grandson of this Robert Bruce, incidentally.)

Isabel Despenser and John Hastings had three children together, Thomas, Hugh and Margaret, born between about 1309 and 1313.  Hugh, the younger son, must have been named after Isabel's father Hugh Despenser the Elder, and became his mother's heir when his elder brother Thomas died without issue in 1331.  Margaret Hastings married Sir Robert Wateville, retainer of Edward II and of Margaret's uncle Hugh Despenser the Younger, at Marlborough on 19 May 1326, in the presence of both the king and Hugh.  (Edward II evidently enjoyed himself, as he gave a pound to Isabel's valet Will Muleward "who was for some time with the king and made him laugh greatly.")  Hugh Hastings married Margery Foliot, co-heir of her brother Sir Richard Foliot, and had three children with her.  Hugh's tomb in the church of Elsing, Norfolk (which he founded), was opened in 1978 and he was found to have been five feet ten inches tall.  [7]  His commemorative brass still exists.

John, Lord Hastings was appointed steward of Gascony by Edward II on 24 October 1309 and held the position until January 1312.  [8]  He was accompanied there by his sons William (died 1311) and John, and by his wife Isabel.  Some or all of her three children may have been born in Gascony.  John Hastings died at the age of fifty shortly before 28 February 1313, on which date the escheator was ordered to take his lands into the king's hands. [9]  Isabel, widowed for a second time, was probably still only in her early twenties, no more than twenty-three or thereabouts.  John's heir was his eldest surviving son John, then twenty-six, who later married the heiress Juliana Leyburne and had a son, Laurence.  John Hastings born in 1286 was the nephew and co-heir (with his cousins Joan and Elizabeth Comyn) of Aymer de Valence, earl of Pembroke, and his son Laurence Hastings, born in 1320, inherited the earldom. There is considerable confusion about the Hastings family, not least in Natalie Fryde's The Tyranny and Fall of Edward II 1321-1326, thanks to the two families of John, Lord Hastings (1262-1313) and the considerable age gap between them.  John born in 1286 (son of Isabel de Valence) was the much older half-brother of Hugh Hastings, born around 1310 or 1312 (son of Isabel Despenser).  Fryde assumes that Isabel Despenser married the younger John and was the mother of Laurence Hastings, and thus that Hugh Despenser the Elder was Laurence's grandfather.  In fact, Isabel was Laurence's step-grandmother, though she was only about thirty years older than him.

Isabel was assigned her Hastings dower on 11 April 1313, in Suffolk, Huntingdonshire, Leicestershire and Staffordshire. [10]  With dower lands from two wealthy, influential noblemen, she was an attractive marriage proposition, and sometime before 20 November 1318, married her third and last husband, Ralph Monthermer.  He was a man also many years her senior, like John Hastings born in or about 1262.  Ralph was an unknown squire of unknown parentage, who may have been illegitimate, who in early 1297 married Edward I's widowed daughter Joan of Acre, countess of Gloucester.  Edward I's reaction to this was to throw Ralph in prison, but ultimately there was little he could do about it, and Ralph had four children with Joan, Edward II's nieces and nephews Mary, countess of Fife, Joan, a nun, and Thomas and Edward.  Joan of Acre died in April 1307, and Ralph lived as a widower for eleven years.  He must have had something very special about him, as he persuaded two noble ladies to marry him secretly; Edward II fined Ralph and Isabel 1000 marks and seized their lands on 20 November 1318 for marrying without his permission, though later respited the fine.  [11]

Edward II put Isabel Hastings in charge of the household of his two daughters Eleanor of Woodstock (born June 1318) and Joan of the Tower (born July 1321) sometime in or before February 1325. [12]  They lived at Marlborough Castle.  It is a common and often-repeated modern myth, invented in the late 1970s, that Edward was thereby 'removing' Queen Isabella's children from her as a way of cruelly punishing her.  This is a decidedly odd way of looking at matters, which I've written a post about.  I suppose that if Edward was deliberately being cruel to Isabella by setting up a household for their daughters, Edward III must have also have been deliberately cruel to Queen Philippa in the summer of 1340 when he set up a household for their younger children under the care of the lady de la Mote, even including the baby John of Gaunt, though oddly enough that never seems to occur to anyone.  Nor does anyone think that Edward I was being cruel to his second queen Marguerite of France when he set up a household for their sons Thomas and Edmund in 1301 even though they were both only babies, or being cruel to his daughter Joan of Acre the same year by sending Joan's son Gilbert to live in Marguerite's household.  Funny, that.  Funny, the way Edward II is judged so differently and so harshly from other kings for doing something entirely normal.

Isabel Hastings seems to have been a trustworthy maternal type, as in December 1327 when Edward II's niece Elizabeth de Burgh (née de Clare) attended his funeral, she left her two young daughters in Isabel's care - and this despite the fact that Isabel's brother Hugh Despenser the Younger had treated Elizabeth appallingly.  I cannot possibly see how Isabel was an inappropriate carer for the king's daughters: she was a highborn noblewoman, daughter, granddaughter and niece of earls, lady of Thomond, Lady Hastings.  She was replaced as the royal daughters' mestresse in February 1326, by Joan Jermy, sister of Edward II's sister-in-law Alice Hailes, countess of Norfolk.  Isabel, however, remained in Edward II's favour: he spent time with her at her daughter Margaret's wedding on 19 May 1326, and dined privately with her on or just before 8 August 1326.  He and Hugh the Younger wrote to her from Otford in Kent in late May 1326, and there are various entries in the chancery rolls in the 1320s of petitions being granted at Isabel's request.

Isabel was widowed for the third time in early April 1325 when Ralph Monthermer died, when she was probably still only in her mid-thirties.  Sadly, though inevitably, her reaction to the downfall and brutal executions of her father Hugh Despenser the Elder, earl of Winchester, and her brother Hugh Despenser the Younger, is unrecorded.  To their credit, Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer left her alone during their regime of 1327, despite their hatred of the Despenser family.  Isabel did acknowledge a debt of just under £300 to the queen in June 1328, but there doesn't seem to have been anything untoward about this.  [13]

Isabel died on 4 or 5 December 1334, in her early or mid-forties, and her lands in numerous counties were taken into the king's hands on 18 December.  [14]  Her heir was her second but only surviving son Hugh, said in her inquisitions in Suffolk and Hampshire to be "aged 24 years and more" (so born in about 1310).  The dower lands she held from her marriage to John, Lord Hastings passed ultimately to his grandson Laurence Hastings, future earl of Pembroke.  Isabel Hastings née Despenser was close to some of the people also close to Edward II: sister of the king's powerful 'favourite' and chamberlain Hugh the Younger, married to the king's former brother-in-law and stepmother to his nieces and nephews, married firstly as a young girl to one of Edward's favourite companions before his accession, wife of one of the men Edward appointed as his steward of Gascony, chosen to look after the king's two daughters.  Edward II seems to have been very fond of Isabel and to have trusted her.


1) Letters of Edward Prince of Wales, 1304-1305, ed. Hilda Johnstone, p. 70.
2) Calendar of Close Rolls 1296-1302, pp. 272, 366; Ibid. 1302-1307, p. 17; Calendar of Fine Rolls 1272-1307, p. 427.
3) Calendar of Patent Rolls 1301-1307, pp. 43, 237.
4) Close Rolls 1302-1307, pp. 530-531.  See Seymour Phillips, Edward II (2010), pp. 116-118.
5) Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem 1307-1327, p. 13; Calendar of Fine Rolls 1307-1319, pp. 8, 10.
6) Fine Rolls 1307-1319, p. 13.
7) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
8) Foedera 1307-1327, p. 95; Close Rolls 1307-13, p. 185; Patent Rolls 1307-13, pp. 196, 273, 280, 305, 330.
9) Fine Rolls 1307-19, pp. 164-165.
10) Cal Inq Post Mortem 1307-1327, p. 232; Close Rolls 1307-13, p. 525.
11) Fine Rolls 1307-19, 380, 388, 394; Patent Rolls 1317-21, 387, 582.
12) Close Rolls 1323-7, p. 260; Patent Rolls 1324-7, pp. 88, 157, 243; SAL MS 122, p. 81.
13) Close Rolls 1327-30, p. 394.
14) Cal Inq Post Mortem 1327-36, p. 447; Fine Rolls 1327-37, pp. 427ff.


sarah c said...

Loved it. I have learned so much about the lives of women by reading your posts. For so often it's what the men did that makes it into the main stream history books.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Sarah! I love writing about women in the fourteenth century. I wish we could know more about their lives, but I do what I can ;-)

Sami Parkkonen said...

Once again - Fantastic!

Anerje said...

Oh my gosh - I've confused the Gilbert de Clares! Thanks for the clarification. For me, the fact that Isabella took no action against Isabel shows her children were not 'cruelly removed' from her at all, and she accepted them being looked after by Lady Hastings, just as other royal had been and continued to be.

Kathryn Warner said...

Thanks, Sami and Anerje! Anerje, that's a great point - there's nothing at all to indicate hostility on Isabella's part to Isabel for looking after her daughters. What absolute silliness, to claim that Isabella's children were 'cruelly removed' from her. The Isabella Exception, as I call it, strikes yet again.

Katarzyna Ogrodnik-Fujcik said...

I wish medieval chroniclers had paid more attention to the women and their opinions. I too would love to leran how Isabel reacted to the news about her father's and brother'sd tragic fate.

Anerje said...

Kathryn - the children may well have been very fond of Isabel, and this may have influenced Isabella's decision to take no action against her. No doubt she cared for them well. Considering Isabella's vengeance extending to Hugh's children, she must have had no concerns with Lady Hastings looking after them for her not to extract revenge.