06 March, 2019

The Children of Hugh Despenser the Younger and Eleanor de Clare

Hugh Despenser the Younger and Eleanor de Clare married at the palace of Westminster on 26 May 1306, in the presence of Eleanor's grandfather Edward I, who had arranged their union and who paid Hugh Despenser the Elder £2,000 for his elder son and heir's marriage. Eleanor de Clare, the king's eldest granddaughter, was born on or around 14 October 1292, so was thirteen years, seven months and twelve days old, or thereabouts, on the day of her wedding. Hugh the Younger's date of birth is not known, but he was several years older than his wife and was born in the late 1280s, and was aged somewhere between sixteen and eighteen in May 1306. He, along with his new wife's twenty-two-year-old uncle Edward of Caernarfon and more than 250 other men, had been knighted four days before his wedding.

There is no way of knowing if Hugh and Eleanor began living together as husband and wife immediately after their wedding or if consummation and cohabitation were delayed until Eleanor was somewhat older; their first child was born in 1308 or the first half of 1309 when Eleanor was fifteen or sixteen and Hugh about nineteen or twenty. Both her mother Joan of Acre, countess of Gloucester, and Joan's father Edward I were still alive until the year after Eleanor's wedding, and perhaps it was Joan who decided whether her eldest daughter was ready for a full marriage or whether the young couple would have to live apart for a year or two.

Hugh and Eleanor had been married for twenty years and six months when Hugh was executed on 24 November 1326, when he was about thirty-seven or thirty-eight. They had at least ten children together; four sons and five daughters who survived infancy plus at least one other son who was either stillborn or died very soon after birth. In addition, Eleanor had another child from her second marriage to William la Zouche, lord of Ashby in Leicestershire, who was also called William la Zouche and was born around 1330 when Eleanor was about thirty-seven or thirty-eight and her husband was at least fifty. The younger William became a monk at Glastonbury Abbey in Somerset and was still alive in 1390, and Eleanor's grandson and heir Edward Despenser (1336-75) acknowledged him as his uncle when granting him an annuity.

The birth order of the Despenser boys is as follows: Hugh, Edward, Gilbert, John. There was also an unnamed boy who died before or soon after birth, who may, though I don't know for sure, have been John's twin. The birth order of the Despenser girls as is follows: Isabella, Joan, Eleanor, Margaret, Elizabeth. Putting the boys and girls together and trying to figure out the overall birth order of Hugh Despenser the Younger and Eleanor de Clare's children is a bit tricky, and what follows is my best guess and might not be 100% accurate.

1) Hugh, lord of Glamorgan, always called Huchon or Huchoun in Edward II's accounts, evidently his family nickname; called Hughelyn or 'little Hugh' by the author of the Anonimalle chronicle; born in 1308 or in the first half of 1309, died 8 February 1349

The first Despenser child, Edward I's eldest great-grandchild and Edward II's eldest great-nephew. Huchon was his mother Eleanor's heir, and in her inquisition post mortem of July 1337 was said to be 28 or 29 years old, hence was born before July 1309 and perhaps in 1308, when Eleanor was fifteen or sixteen. He often appears in his great-uncle Edward II's accounts in the 1320s when he was a teenager, and the king bought him cloth for aketons (padded defensive jerkins) and paid to have his weapons repaired in December 1325. Huchon was besieged at Caerphilly Castle between November 1326 and March 1327, when he was eighteen, and spent the rest of Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer's regime in prison. His mother's first cousin Edward III finally released him in July 1331, and he was knighted sometime before January 1334. All the Despenser lands Huchon would have inherited from his grandfather Hugh Despenser the Elder passed to other people after Hugh the Elder and Younger were executed in 1326, but he did inherit Eleanor de Clare's third of her late brother Gilbert's earldom of Gloucester on her death in 1337, and some years later married the earl of Salisbury's eldest daughter Elizabeth Montacute. She was born c. 1330 and was more than twenty years his junior, but despite her youth was already the widow of Huchon's second cousin Giles Badlesmere (1314-38). Huchon made an excellent career as a soldier, fighting for his cousin Edward III in Scotland and France. It can't have been easy being called 'Hugh Despenser' after 1326, but Huchon did his utmost to restore his family's good name.

Hugh 'Huchon' Despenser had no children - his widow Elizabeth did have children with her third husband Sir Guy Bryan, so Huchon may have been infertile - and his heir was his nephew Edward Despenser the younger, born in 1336. Huchon's effigy, lying next to his wife Elizabeth Montacute, can still be seen in Tewkesbury Abbey in Gloucestershire, and shows him as a handsome man with a short nose and a full mouth. See my post here for more info about Huchon.

2) Edward, possibly born shortly before 21 October 1310 and certainly before 3 October 1313, though not mentioned on record until 23 November 1315; killed in battle 30 September 1342.

Certainly the second Despenser son and probably the second child overall. Edward II paid a messenger on 21 October 1310 for bringing him news of his niece Eleanor, which probably relates to the birth of a child, and in my opinion it is likely that she had recently given birth to Edward Despenser. Eleanor turned eighteen around 14 October 1310, and it seems that she and Hugh the Younger had two sons already. Edward Despenser was certainly born before 3 October 1313 as he inherited lands (from his grandmother Isabella Beauchamp's first cousin Idonea Leyburne) on 3 October 1334 and had to be at least twenty-one then. Edward Despenser was at least thirteen when his father and grandfather were executed in 1326 and may have been sixteen, and therefore was fortunate to avoid imprisonment by the new regime.

Edward Despenser married Anne Ferrers, daughter of William, Lord Ferrers of Groby (1271-1325), on 20 April 1335 at her brother Henry's manor of Groby. Edward and Anne had four sons (and no daughters): Edward the younger, his uncle Huchon's successor as lord of Glamorgan, born on 24 March 1336 eleven months after his parents' wedding, died 11, 12 or 13 November 1375; Hugh, c. 1337/8-1374; Thomas, c. 1339/40-1381; and Henry, appointed bishop of Norwich in 1370, b. 1341 or the beginning of 1342, died 1406. Edward Despenser the elder was killed at the battle of Morlaix in Brittany on 30 September 1342 when his eldest son was six and his youngest just a baby. If, as I suspect, he was born in October 1310, he was not quite thirty-two when he died. His grandson and the Despenser heir, Thomas Despenser (1373-1400), the younger Edward's only surviving son, married Edward III's granddaughter Constance of York and was briefly earl of Gloucester in the late 1390s. Edward Despenser had and has numerous descendants via Thomas and Constance's daughter Isabelle and via Thomas's older sisters Anne Hastings, Elizabeth Arundel and Margaret Ferrers.

3) Isabella, countess of Arundel, born in 1312 or at the beginning of 1313; died at an unknown date after 1356 and probably before 1369.

The eldest daughter and probably the third child overall, named after her grandmother Isabella Beauchamp (d. May 1306), wife of Hugh the Elder and mother of Hugh the Younger. Isabella married Richard, son and heir of Edmund, earl of Arundel and nephew and heir of John de Warenne, earl of Surrey, at the royal manor of Havering-atte-Bower in Essex on 9 February 1321. Richard stated many years later that he was then seven and Isabella Despenser eight. Isabella may have given birth to her only child, Edmund Arundel, as early as 1326, when she was fourteen and her husband Richard perhaps only thirteen (!!), if he was telling the truth about his age at marriage: according to the pope, Edmund Arundel was eighteen in December 1344 and twenty in early 1347. I've written before about the earl of Arundel's annulment of his and Isabella's marriage and his callous treatment of his son Edmund, and see also my book Blood Roses, where I go into it in more detail.

Edmund Arundel, eldest grandchild of Hugh Despenser the Younger and Eleanor de Clare, married the earl of Salisbury's daughter Sybil (whose sister Elizabeth married his uncle Huchon Despenser), and they had three daughters, Philippa, Elizabeth and Katherine, all of whom had children of their own. Isabella Despenser is oddly obscure after the annulment of her marriage; she was still alive in 1356 when she was involved in a legal case (this information was posted on the soc.genealogy.medieval website a few years ago), and apparently was dead by 1369, when the manors her ex-husband gave her for her sustenance in 1344/45 seem to have been back in his hands. As far as I know, she never remarried. Via her son Edmund Arundel and Edmund's daughter Philippa Sergeaux, Isabella Despenser was the great-grandmother of Alice de Vere (1384-1452), countess of Oxford and the great-great-grandmother of John de Vere, earl of Oxford (1408-61), and she has numerous other descendants from her other two Arundel granddaughters as well.

4) Joan, born c. 1314/15?, died 15 November 1384

The second daughter and possibly the fourth child overall, Joan was named after her maternal grandmother Joan of Acre. Pope John XXII issued a dispensation for Joan Despenser to marry John FitzGerald, eldest son and heir of the earl of Kildare, on 1 June 1323. John was born in 1314, but died later in 1323, leaving his younger brother as their father's heir. Joan Despenser ended up as a nun at Shaftesbury Abbey in Dorset. Queen Isabella forcibly veiled Joan's younger sisters Eleanor and Margaret at the beginning of 1327 a few weeks after their father's execution, but the order for Joan's veiling is missing, and it may be that it was her parents who had placed her at Shaftesbury sometime before Hugh the Younger's death. The abbey was founded c. 888 by King Alfred the Great, who made his daughter Aethelgifu the first abbess, and it was a very rich and prestigious house. This also tends to indicate that Hugh and Eleanor chose it for their daughter, rather than it being Queen Isabella who placed her there against her will. Joan's cousin Edward III gave her and her sister Eleanor £20 a year for their maintenance in 1337, and Joan continued to receive this money for the rest of her long life. Her eldest brother Huchon also gave her a generous annual income from two of his manors. Joan Despenser died on 15 November 1384 when she must have been seventy years old or close to it.

5) Gilbert, born c. 1316/18?, first appears on record on 9 July 1322, died 22 April 1382

Certainly the third son and possibly the fifth child overall, though it is not impossible that he was older than his sister Joan. He first appears on record in July 1322 when his great-uncle Edward II gave five manors to his mother Eleanor de Clare, to pass ultimately to Gilbert. Gilbert was knighted sometime between October 1338 and December 1344, and carved out a long and successful career as a household knight of his kinsman Edward III and Edward's grandson and successor Richard II. He fought in Edward III's 1346 Crécy campaign with his eldest brother Huchon and younger brother John, and was one of the knights of the royal household for whom mourning robes were purchased for Queen Philippa's funeral in early 1370. Sir Gilbert Despenser married Ela Calveley of Norfolk and had a son called John Despenser, who was born in 1361 and died in 1375.

Gilbert died on 22 April 1382, probably in his mid-sixties or thereabouts; he was perhaps just about old enough to remember the Despenser War aimed at his father Hugh the Younger in May 1321, and lived long enough to experience the Great Uprising or 'Peasants' Revolt' six decades later. As his only child John died before him, his heir to the lands he held in Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Wiltshire and Surrey was his great-nephew Thomas Despenser (1373-1400), his elder brother Edward's grandson.

6) Eleanor, born c. late 1310s or early 1320s, died shortly before 15 February 1351?

Eleanor was the third Despenser daughter and possibly the sixth child overall, though she may in fact have been younger than her brother John, below; the birth order of the middle Despenser children is very difficult to determine. Eleanor was raised with her mother's much younger first cousins, Edward II's daughters Eleanor of Woodstock (b. June 1318) and Joan of the Tower (b July 1321). This may indicate that Eleanor Despenser was rather younger than Eleanor of Woodstock and rather older than Joan of the Tower. Sometime before July 1325, she was betrothed to Laurence Hastings, future earl of Pembroke, who was born in March 1321; she is unlikely to have been much older than he. Queen Isabella vindictively forced Eleanor Despenser to become a nun at Sempringham Priory in Lincolnshire at the beginning of 1327, when she was no more than about eight or nine and might only have been five or so. Eleanor and her older sister Joan received £20 a year from their kinsman Edward III, and on 15 February 1351 an entry on the Close Roll states that Joan Despenser was now dead. Joan in fact lived until November 1384, as stated in her brother Gilbert's inquisition post mortem, and I believe that the sisters' names were confused and that it was Eleanor who had recently died in February 1351.

7) John, born c. late 1310s or early 1320s; died shortly before 10 June 1366

John first appears on record when his great-uncle Edward II bought a saddle for him on 22 November 1324. As he was old enough to ride then, he cannot have been a baby, and was probably born in the late 1310s or beginning of the 1320s. He was the fourth and youngest surviving son of Hugh the Younger, and was certainly younger than his brother Gilbert.

John Despenser is oddly obscure. He was given an income of £20 a year by Edward III and his eldest brother Huchon gave him lands and rents in Lincolnshire, but there is no inquisition post mortem for him, so either his IPM no longer exists for some reason or, more likely, John did not hold lands from the king in chief. I have never been able to find any evidence whether John married and had children or not. He was knighted sometime before the summer of 1346, when he participated in the Crécy campaign with his older brothers Huchon and Gilbert (Edward Despenser, his other older brother, was dead by then) and several of their first cousins - Philip Despenser, Amaury St Amand and the Camoys brothers. According to the chronicle of John of Reading - thank you to Brad Verity for this reference - John Despenser was murdered in London around 11 June 1366. This statement is unconfirmed, but there is an order on the Fine Roll dated 10 June 1366 to take John's goods in Hampshire into the king's hands because he was dead.

8) Unnamed son, born and died at the end of 1320 or beginning of 1321

Edward II bought cloth to lie over the tomb or coffin of an unnamed son of Hugh the Younger and Eleanor de Clare on about 13 January 1321. The boy is not named in the king's accounts, which probably indicates that he was stillborn or did not live long enough to be baptised. Possibly he was a twin of his brother John, or perhaps of his sister Eleanor. Or possibly John and Eleanor were twins and were older or younger than the little boy born at the end of 1320 or beginning of 1321. Or possibly there were no multiple births and Eleanor de Clare just gave birth really often in the late 1310s and early 1320s. The boy who was stillborn or died very soon after birth might not have been a full-term pregnancy.

9) Margaret, born on or just before 2 August 1323; died 1337

The fourth daughter and ninth (at least) child, Margaret Despenser was born at the royal manor of Cowick on or just before 2 August 1323. She was raised with a large retinue in the home of Sir Thomas Houk or Hook eight miles from Cowick, and when she was just three years old at the start of 1327, Queen Isabella forced her to be veiled as a nun at Watton Priory also in Yorkshire. She died sometime in 1337, barely even in her teens, when her aunt Elizabeth de Burgh, Eleanor's sister, sent wax images and a painting of the four evangelists for her sepulchre. A very sad, short life; little Margaret might never have known her family.

10) Elizabeth, Lady Berkeley, probably born on or soon before 14 December 1325, died 13 July 1389

The fifth daughter and youngest Despenser child. Eleanor de Clare gave birth to a child at the royal manor-house of Sheen who is mentioned in Edward II's accounts on 14 December 1325. Unfortunately, this entry does not give the name or even the sex of the infant. Grrrrrrr! Most probably, it was Elizabeth, though there is a possibility that the child born in December 1325 died young and that Eleanor gave birth to Hugh's posthumous child sometime after his execution on 24 November 1326. Elizabeth Despenser escaped the forced veiling of her older sisters as she was only a year old at the beginning of 1327 (or possibly was still in utero), and spent some time as a child at Wix Priory in Essex and also lived for a while with her namesake aunt Elizabeth de Burgh. Her eldest brother Huchon paid 1,000 marks in 1338 for her to marry Maurice Berkeley, son and heir of Thomas, Lord Berkeley and a grandson of Roger Mortimer of Wigmore. Their eldest son, the younger Thomas, Lord Berkeley, was born on 4 or 5 January 1353. Elizabeth was widowed in June 1368, married a second husband, Sir Maurice Wyth of Somerset, and outlived him too. She died on 13 July 1389, probably aged sixty-three. Her son Lord Berkeley died on the same date in 1417.


In addition to Hugh Despenser the Younger and Eleanor de Clare's ten (or more?) children, Hugh the Younger may have been the father of Nicholas Litlington, abbot of Westminster (c. 1312/15-1386), with a mistress called Joan. Three of Hugh and Eleanor's children - Joan, Gilbert and Elizabeth - lived into the 1380s, and so did Nicholas Litlington. See Lady D's blog for more info about him.


sami parkkonen said...

I am speechless. That is a lot of info. Staggering amount.

Anonymous said...

Great info. Wasn’t Eleanor de Clare held prisoner in the Tower of London twice? Was Elizabeth born there?

Kathryn Warner said...

Thank you! Yes, Eleanor was twice a prisoner. Elizabeth was born at Sheen, assuming she was the child born in December 1325.