11 November, 2018

Rumours of the Killing of Hugh Despenser the Younger, November 1325

Sometime not too long before 8 November 1325, Hugh Despenser the Younger left Edward II in the south-east of England and travelled to 'the parts of Wales' - where in Wales is not stated - with a small-ish retinue. He remained there until 20 November or a little later, and had been reunited with the king and with his heavily pregnant wife Eleanor née de Clare in and around London by 28 November. In early September 1325, Hugh the Younger had persuaded Edward II not to travel to France to pay homage to Charles IV for his French lands but to send his adolescent son Edward of Windsor instead, supposedly on the grounds that Hugh and his father the earl of Winchester's lives would be in danger during the king's absence abroad. Even so, Hugh evidently was not afraid to travel to Wales by himself, without Edward's protection. He and Edward kept in touch by letter, sent via messengers; one of them was the Dominican friar Thomas Dunheved, who with his elder brother Stephen would lead a gang of men who temporarily freed the deposed Edward from Berkeley Castle in the summer of 1327. Another was the king's squire Thomelyn de Haldon.

At the French court, meanwhile, around the end of October 1325, Edward II's queen Isabella of France had felt confident enough to make her loathing of Hugh Despenser the Younger public. She gave Edward an ultimatum, that he must send Hugh away from him or she and their not quite thirteen-year-old son Edward of Windsor (born 13 November 1312) would not return to England. This speech was recorded by the author of the Vita Edwardi Secundi, who also cites a letter sent to Isabella by all the English bishops on Edward II's orders in November or early December 1325. This letter makes it apparent that Isabella had threatened to destroy Hugh Despenser the Younger with the help of her brother Charles IV and other Frenchmen, though her speech or her own letter to this effect does not survive.

The squire Thomelyn de Haldon brought Edward II letters from Hugh the Younger on 8 November, and that was the last time the king heard from Hugh for a little while. An entry in the king's chamber account on 20 November 1325 states (in French): "Item, paid to Will de Haveryng, king's porter, and to John de Carleford and Peres Bernard, ushers of the king's chamber, who were sent hastily from Isleworth to the parts of Wales to ascertain the welfare of my lord Sir Hugh [Despenser] the son, because Jack Pyk told the king that the said Sir Hugh had been killed, when the said Will, John and Peres returned and informed the king that the said Sir Hugh was well and hearty by God's mercy, to each of the three ten marks for their good news, thirty marks."

Jack Pyk was a valet of Edward II's chamber (and also the captain of a ship called the Blome of Westminster), and evidently was passing on news he had heard to the king. It seems, therefore, that rumours that Hugh Despenser the Younger had been killed were current in November 1325. As it happened, he had not and was perfectly well, though the large sum of ten marks the king gave each of the three men who brought him the news that Hugh was fine reveals Edward's huge relief. The day before this payment was made, Edward had sent another man called Syme to Wales to see what was going on, evidently fretting that the other three men had not come back yet, and not sure whether Hugh was dead or not. Given the timing of Isabella's speech to the French court, I do wonder if Edward II and others believed that she, or perhaps Hugh Despenser's nemesis Roger Mortimer of Wigmore, had had Hugh assassinated; there is evidence that Roger did send assassins after Hugh and his father and others some months after his escape from the Tower in August 1323. Hugh Despenser the Younger was unharmed, and if anyone did try to kill him in November 1325 they failed, but this was almost exactly a year before Isabella and Roger Mortimer really did have Hugh killed on 24 November 1326, and not at the hands of a quiet assassin but in the most public and atrociously agonising manner possible.

Source: Edward II's last chamber account, now held in the library of the Society of Antiquaries of London, SAL MS 122.


Anerje said...

Thoroughly enjoyed you book on Hugh Despencer, so well researched and readable. I'm now halfway through Blood Roses and LOVING it!

sami parkkonen said...

To me this also reveals that Edward was well aware about the dangerous political situation and worried the possible ramifications of Isabella's attitude and intentions. He very likely knew about Roger Mortimer too.

If so the tragedy of the fall of Edward becomes even more heartbreaking than what I previously was thinking.