10 March, 2019

Hugh Despenser the Younger Goes Jousting Without Permission, 1310

On 31 December 1309, Edward II issued a proclamation stating that he had heard how some Englishmen intended to travel overseas to take part in jousting tournaments, and forbade them to  do so. The warden of the Cinque Ports and the bailiffs of twenty-three ports all along the English coast were ordered not to permit any man "to pass the seas to tourney or do other feats of arms, without the king's special order." Despite this prohibition, the king's nephew-in-law Hugh Despenser the Younger, then about twenty or twenty-one, did leave the kingdom to joust, having managed to evade all the men ordered to watch out for knights going overseas with horses (I don't know what port he sailed from). The annoyed king had heard of Hugh's departure by 9 January 1310, just nine days after his proclamation, when he told "the escheator this side [of the river] Trent to take into the king's hand the lands and goods of Hugh Despenser the son if he find that Hugh has crossed beyond seas contrary to the king's frequent prohibitions." Hugh the Younger seems to have spent more than six months travelling around the continent to joust, as one tournament he definitely participated in, in the town of Mons, took place in July 1310. Hugh and Sir Robert d'Enghien were the only Englishmen present at the Mons tournament, which if nothing else reveals that the vast majority of English knights obeyed Edward II's command not to tourney overseas.

Two months after realising that Hugh the Younger had gone overseas without his permission, Edward II realised that six manors his escheator had seized in the belief that they were Hugh's in fact belonged to his father Hugh Despenser the Elder, who had assigned the revenues from them to his son and daughter-in-law Eleanor de Clare in line with a promise he had made to Eleanor's grandfather Edward I in 1306 to provide the young couple with an income of £200 a year. The half-dozen manors were North Weald Bassett, Wix and Lamarsh in Essex, Oxcroft in Cambridgeshire, and Kersey and Layham in Suffolk, and they had all belonged to Hugh the Elder's maternal grandfather Philip, Lord Basset (d. 1271). This whole situation, Hugh the Younger's defiance of the king's order, is fortunate, as otherwise we wouldn't have much idea which manors Hugh the Elder gave to his son, or rather, which manors' revenues, he gave to his son, in 1306. It's perhaps quite telling that Hugh the Elder only granted the revenues from the manors to his son and didn't give him the manors outright. The total revenues of the six Essex, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire manors might just about have provided Hugh the Younger and Eleanor with £200 a year, a low income in comparison with the people around them (though high by the standards of the majority of the English population in the early fourteenth century), and a far cry from the kind of income Hugh enjoyed in later years as Edward II's beloved; probably more than £7,000 a year. It's also fascinating to note that before Hugh became royal chamberlain in 1318 and worked his way into the king's favour, Edward II couldn't possibly have been less interested in him, and even if he didn't necessarily hate Hugh, he was indifferent towards him and did not trust him in the slightest. 


Calendar of Close Rolls 1307-13
, pp. 198, 237; Calendar of Fine Rolls 1307-19, p. 54; Calendar of Chancery Warrants 1244-1326, p. 308; Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous 1308-48, no. 69; A. de Behault de Dornon, Le Tournoi de Mons de 1310.


Undine said...

"...before Hugh became royal chamberlain in 1318 and worked his way into the king's favour, Edward II couldn't possibly have been less interested in him, and even if he didn't necessarily hate Hugh, he was indifferent towards him and did not trust him in the slightest."

Ah, if he had only maintained that attitude...

Kathryn Warner said...

It's a fascinating 'what might have happened' if Edward II hadn't become infatuated with the astonishingly greedy and ruthless Hugh, of all people.

sami parkkonen said...

Perhaps Hugh was able to capitalize on the fact that later on Edward II had very few friends he felt he could trust and Hugh jr had been around so long. An old friend sort of. But back to this jousting.

Why Edward wanted to deny the sports from the English knights? He did not like the whole tournament thing at all personally but among other young nobles it was the top sport their times. Like MMA and Formula 1 wrapped into one. So was Edward trying to convey the idea that "Listen guys, fishing and thatching are sooo much more fun than this stupidity" or what? On the long run it made no difference. Jousting was popular among the knights all the way up to Henry VIII.

Edwards own son was almost crazy about the sports and participated in many events and organized some spectacular tournaments. He seemed to enjoy so called Melée which was practically a gang fight between fully armored men banging each other with dull weapons. This was later prohibited because it was really dangerous. As if jousting was not.

Kathryn Warner said...

He banned tournaments because large groups of armed men assembled together could be dangerous. A few months before, some of the earls had used a tournament in Dunstable as a cover to discuss their grievances against him. In 1312, Thomas of Lancaster used tournaments as a cover to move armed men north to capture Gaveston. Edward II was far from the only king who banned them - plenty of other medieval kings did too at times of political weakness.