29 November, 2020

The Despenser Family of Lincolnshire

To celebrate the publication this week of my book Rise and Fall of a Medieval Family: The Despensers, which tells the dramatic story of the Despenser family from 1261 to 1439, here's a post about a little-known cadet branch of the Despensers in Lincolnshire, about the secret marriage of the heir to this branch of the family, Margery Despenser, to the squire Roger Wentworth, and about the marriage of another Despenser lady to the son of the man who commissioned the Luttrell Psalter.

Hugh Despenser the Elder (b. 1 March 1261) and Isabella Beauchamp (b. c. 1263/65), eldest daughter of the earl of Warwick, had four daughters, Alina, Isabella, Margaret and Elizabeth, and two sons. Their elder son was, of course, the notorious Hugh Despenser the Younger, who was born sometime in the late 1280s, and their younger son was Philip Despenser. Philip was, presumably, named in honour of his father's maternal grandfather Philip, Lord Basset (d. 1271), and was born sometime before 24 June 1294 when Hugh the Elder gave his manors of Alkborough ('Hauctebarg') in northern Lincolnshire and Parlington in Yorkshire, and everything in them, to his second son. Philip was then probably no more than about two years old and perhaps had recently been born, and these two manors belonged to his descendants for generations. [1]

Before 29 June 1308, Philip Despenser married Margaret Goushill of Lincolnshire, who inherited a few manors in that county from her father Ralph (born c. 6 November 1274). [2Margaret's family took their name from the Lincolnshire village of Goxhill, and it was sometimes spelt Gousell, Goushull, Gousle etc. As Philip had been given a manor in Lincolnshire by his father, his marriage to a Lincolnshire heiress made good sense, though there was a stark difference between Philip's marriage and that of his older brother Hugh, their wealthy and influential father's heir, to Edward I's eldest granddaughter. Margaret Goushill was born on 11 or 12 May 1294, and her nineteen-year-old father, whose only child and heir she was, died in August 1294 when she was just three months old. [3] Her mother was Hawise, daughter of Fulk FitzWarin (1251-1315) of Whittington, Shropshire; Hawise outlived her husband Ralph Goushill by half a century, and lived long enough to see at least one and perhaps two of her Despenser great-grandchildren. 

Edward I granted Margaret Goushill's marriage rights to Fulk FitzWarin, her maternal grandfather, in June 1299, and a royal order to hold Margaret's proof of age states that she was born in Whittington, which was Fulk's chief manor. This order was issued on 18 May 1308, shortly after Margaret turned fourteen on 11 or 12 May 1308, but sadly the proof of age itself no longer exists. [4] As she was said to be "of full age" on 18 May 1308, and women came of age at fourteen if married or sixteen or not, Margaret had evidently already married Philip Despenser, and her FitzWarin grandfather, who held the rights to her marriage, must have consented to the match and must have dealt with Hugh Despenser the Elder when arranging it. Edward II ordered the Goushill family's manors in Lincolnshire to be given to the young Despenser/Goushill couple on 29 June 1308 (see note 2 at the foot of this post).

When he married fourteen-year-old Margaret Goushill in c. May 1308, Philip Despenser was himself about fourteen, fifteen or sixteen. I do wish we had more evidence of things like weddings in the early fourteenth century, and where and when exactly the Despenser/Goushill wedding took place. Did Philip's brother Hugh and sister-in-law Eleanor née de Clare attend? And his sisters - Alina, and her husband Edward Burnell; Isabella, who married her second husband Lord Hastings in 1308 or 1309 after she was widowed from Gilbert de Clare of Thomond in November 1307; and the youngest Despenser siblings Margaret and Elizabeth? It's so frustrating when we don't know anything. Almost nothing is known about Philip Despenser as a person either, as he died long before his elder brother's period of power in the 1320s. He was dead by 24 September 1313, aged about nineteen or twenty, when the writ to hold his inquisition post mortem was issued. Philip left an infant son: Philip Despenser II was born on 6 April 1313. [5] Like his wife's father Ralph Goushill in 1294, Philip Despenser I died when his only child was mere months old.

Philip Despenser I's grandfather-in-law Fulk FitzWarin outlived him and didn't die until November 1315, a great-grandfather to the infant Philip Despenser II. The widowed Margaret Despenser née Goushill married her second husband Sir John Ros, a younger son of William, Lord Ros of Helmsley in Yorkshire (d. 1316), before 22 April 1314. [6] They had no children, and John's heir when he died in or shortly before November 1338 was his older brother William, Lord Ros, "aged fifty years and more". [7] John Ros is most famous for being beaten up by Hugh Despenser the Younger, his wife's brother-in-law, at the Lincoln parliament of early 1316. 

Philip Despenser II was thirteen years old when his grandfather Hugh the Elder and uncle Hugh the Younger fell from power in 1326 and were executed. I assume he knew them, but unfortunately we don't have the kind of evidence that would tell us what kind of relationship he had with them and whether he spent much time with his grandfather, who had been made earl of Winchester in 1322. Obviously he was far too young to have played any role in his uncle's despotic regime, and I find it interesting to speculate whether his father Philip Despenser I would have been involved in his elder brother's tyranny, extortions and piracy if he hadn't died so young. 

Philip II married Joan Cobham, daughter of Sir John Cobham, around June 1339. [8] Joan and Philip's first child, Philip Despenser III, was born in Gedney, Lincolnshire on 18 October 1342 ("St Luke's day, 16 Edward III"), and was baptised "at the hour of Vespers". When Philip III proved his age twenty-one years later, four jurors remembered his date of birth because in early August 1342, "there was a great inundation of the sea, which broke the banks of the sea-wall at Gedenay [Gedney]". Philip II, now twenty-nine years old, was at the abbey of Newsham on the day of his son's birth, and received a letter informing him from one William Hode. [9]

In or before June 1344, Margaret Ros née Goushill founded a chantry to celebrate divine service for herself, her mother Hawise, her son Philip Despenser II and her daughter-in-law Joan Cobham when dead, and for the souls of her long-dead father Ralph Goushill and her two late husbands, "Philip son of Hugh le Despenser [the Elder] and John son of William de Roos of Hamelak [Helmsley]". [10] Hawise Goushill née FitzWarin died later that year, and perhaps lived just long enough to see the birth of her namesake great-granddaughter Hawise, second child of Philip Despenser II and Joan Cobham. Hawise Despenser was said to be fourteen years old in mid-February 1359, so was born between February 1344 and February 1345. The third and youngest child of Philip II and Joan was Hugh Despenser, said to be twelve years old in mid-February 1359, so born in or before February 1347. [11] This Hugh may be the "Hugh le Spenser, donsel, of the diocese of Lincoln" who appears on record in April 1357, but otherwise he's obscure and might have died before he reached adulthood. [12]

Philip Despenser II fought in Edward III's Crécy campaign of 1346 with his first cousins Hugh, Gilbert and John Despenser, the three living sons of Hugh Despenser the Younger (Hugh's second son Edward was killed fighting in Brittany in 1342). [13] Philip died on 22 or 23 August 1349 at the age of thirty-six, a few weeks after his mother Margaret Ros née Goushill died on 22 or 29 July 1349 in her mid-fifties. Philip's cousin Hugh 'Huchon' Despenser (b. 1308/09), lord of Glamorgan, also died that year, aged forty, and it may be that all of them were victims of the Black Death. In 1349, the demesne lands of Philip II's manor of Parlington in Yorkshire, which he had inherited from his father and grandfather Hugh the Elder, were "uncultivated for want of tenants and on account of the mortality of men in those parts this year". [14] Joan Despenser née Cobham, widow of Philip II and mother of Philip III, Hawise and Hugh, died before 15 May 1357, and guardians were found for her two younger children in February 1359 (which usefully reveals their ages). [15] Queen Philippa sold Joan the marriage rights of her own seven-year-old son Philip Despenser III in July 1350, and sometime before c. 1364 Philip married a woman named Elizabeth, though sadly her identity and family background are unknown. [16]

Hawise Despenser, only daughter of Philip II and Joan Cobham, and the younger sister of Philip III, married Sir Andrew Luttrell, a Lincolnshire landowner like the Despensers, in September 1363, aged eighteen or nineteen; born in c. 1313, Andrew was about fifty and was the same age as Hawise's father. The wedding took place in a chapel inside Bourne Castle, Lincolnshire, which belonged to the Despensers' cousin Blanche of Lancaster, Lady Wake. [17] Andrew was the son and heir of Sir Geoffrey Luttrell (d. 1345), who commissioned the famous and gorgeous Luttrell Psalter, and Andrew's first wife Beatrice Scrope, with whom he had no children, appears in the Psalter with her father-in-law Geoffrey and mother-in-law Agnes Sutton. Hawise Despenser and Andrew had a son, Andrew Luttrell the younger, probably born in 1364 the year after their wedding. Andrew the elder died in 1390 at the grand old age of about seventy-seven, having appointed "my brother Philip Despenser [III]" as the supervisor of his will. Hawise Despenser, one of the three executors of her husband's will, died in 1414 aged about seventy. She had outlived her son Andrew the younger and her heir was her grandson Geoffrey Luttrell, born on 27 October 1383. [18]

Philip Despenser III, not yet seven years old when his father died in August 1349, proved his age in Spalding, Lincolnshire on 16 November 1363, a few weeks after he presumably attended his sister's wedding to Andrew Luttrell, and received his lands on 1 December. [19] His eldest son and heir Philip Despenser IV was born c. 1365 (he was aged about thirty-six in 1401). Philip III and his wife Elizabeth also had two younger sons, John and Robert Despenser - wonders will never cease! Despenser men who weren't called Hugh or Philip! - and a daughter whom they named Joan after Philip III's mother Joan Cobham, who married Sir James Ros. Philip IV had been knighted by 12 May 1385 when he and Philip III appear as "Philip le Despenser the elder and Philip le Despenser his son, knights". Philip III was also called "Philip le Despenser the elder" in August 1384. [20In April 1383, there are various entries on the Close Roll which show that Philip Despenser III was closely associated with Aline, daughter of the earl of Arundel executed in 1326 and widow of Sir Roger Lestrange of Knockyn (c. 1326-82), regarding the marriage of Aline's daughter Lucy Lestrange and William, eldest son of Robert, Lord Willoughby of Eresby. [21]

Philip Despenser IV married a woman with the same first name as his mother, Elizabeth, though in this case her identity is well-known: she was Elizabeth Tibetot, youngest of the three daughters and co-heirs of Sir Robert Tibetot (d. 1372). Her older sisters Margaret and Millicent married Roger Scrope and Stephen Scrope, and they all received their share of their late father's extensive lands in twelve counties and London in November 1385, having proved their ages. Elizabeth Tibetot, later Despenser, was about two years old when her father's inquisition post mortem was held in May 1372, therefore was born c. 1370; her sister Millicent was born c. 12 April 1368, and Margaret in c. 1366. [22] 

Philip Despenser IV and Elizabeth Tibetot had daughters Margery and Elizabeth, a son inevitably called Philip and apparently a younger son called George, but only Margery survived into adulthood, and was thus the heir of this branch of the Despensers. She was born around 1398 or 1400. [23Her grandfather Philip Despenser III died on 4 August 1401 in his late fifties, and his eldest son and heir, Margery's father Philip IV, was about thirty-six. Philip III mentioned his wife Elizabeth in his will, his three sons Philip, Robert and John, his son-in-law James Ros, and his sister Hawise, Lady Luttrell, who outlived him by thirteen years. [24

Margery Despenser married John, Lord Ros of Helmsley, who was the son and heir of William, Lord Ros (b. c. 1370, d. 1 September 1414), the grandson of the earl of Arundel who died in 1376, and the great-grandson of the first earl of Stafford (d. 1372). John Ros was born c. 1 or 2 October 1396, so was close to Margery's own age. Their marriage was planned as early as 1404 when they were both children, and they received a papal dispensation for consanguinity in September that year (they were "related in the fourth degree of kindred"). [25] John, Lord Ros was killed at the battle of Baugé in France, with Henry V's brother the duke of Clarence, on 22 March 1421. John and Margery had no children, and John's heir was his brother Thomas Ros, who was almost exactly a decade his junior, born at Belvoir Castle on 26 September 1406 and baptised in the church of St Mary, "adorned with cloths of silk and gold, and the font hung with a cloth of gold decorated in red." [26]

Margery Ros née Despenser was pardoned on 25 June 1423, in exchange for an obligation to pay £1,000, for marrying her second husband without royla licence. He was a squire named Roger Wentworth from Yorkshire. [27] As Margery was an heiress of noble birth and Roger was not a knight nor his father's eldest son, it must have been a love-match. Many years later in May 1436, Pope Eugene IV declared that the marriage of "Roger Wentworth, donsel, lord of Parlington in the diocese of York, and Margery, lady of Ros, his wife" was valid and their children legitimate. He stated that the couple had "contracted marriage lawfully per verba de presenti, consummated it and had offspring, but could not have the marriage solemnized before the church after the custom of the country because, being unequal in nobility, they feared that scandals might arise among their kinsmen and friends... they are moved by a scruple of conscience to doubt whether anyone may hesitate as to the validity of the marriage thus contracted." [28] (Parlington, incidentally, was one of the two manors given by Hugh Despenser the Elder to his infant son Philip I, Margery's great-great-grandfather, in 1294.)

Margery and Roger Wentworth's first son, named Philip after his Despenser grandfather, was born c. 1424. Philip Despenser IV died on 20 June 1424, in his late fifties. His wife Elizabeth Tibetot was already dead, and their only surviving child Margery, aged twenty-four or twenty-six, and Roger Wentworth received all their lands. [29] Margery and Roger's elder son Philip Wentworth was beheaded after the battle of Hexham in 1464, where he had fought alongside Thomas, Lord Ros (b. 1427), nephew of his mother's first husband. Philip's son Henry Wentworth, heir to the Lincolnshire Despensers, was born c. 1448, and had a daughter he named Margery after his grandmother, who was born c. 1478. Margery Wentworth, aged about sixteen, married Sir John Seymour of Wolf Hall in 1494; via this marriage, Margery Wentworth née Despenser (b. c. 1398/1400) was the great-great-grandmother of Henry VIII's third queen Jane Seymour. Margery might have lived long enough to see the birth of her namesake great-granddaughter in c. 1478, as she died that year, aged eighty or almost, the last of the Despensers (unless her uncles John and Robert Despenser had descendants). Her younger son and three daughters all had children too.


1) The National Archives E 40/3185.

2) Calendar of Chancery Warrants 1244-1436, p. 275.

3) Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem 1272-91, no. 607; CIPM 1291-1300, no. 209.

4) Calendar of Patent Rolls 1292-1301, p. 422; CIPM 1336-46, no. 692.

5) CIPM 1307-17, no. 472; Calendar of Fine Rolls 1307-19, p. 179.

6) Calendar of Close Rolls 1313-18, p. 50, "John de Ros and Margaret, late the wife of Philip le Despenser, whom John has now married".

7) CIPM 1336-46, no. 182.

8) CCR 1339-41, p. 223.

9) CIPM 1361-5, no. 544.

10) CPR 1343-5, p. 188.

11) Early Lincoln Wills, ed. Gibbons, p. 23.

12) Calendar of Papal Letters 1342-62, p. 588.

13) CPR 1345-8, pp. 495-513.

14) CIPM 1347-52, nos. 216-17.

15) CFR 1356-68, p. 38; CPR 1354-8, p. 568.

16) CPR 1348-50, p. 551; Early Lincoln Wills, 99.

17) Early Lincoln Wills, 56-7. Blanche's mother Maud Chaworth (1282-1322) was the older half-sister of Hugh Despenser the Younger and Philip Despenser I.

18) CIPM 1384-92, nos. 1008-9; CIPM 1392-9, nos. 1062-3; CIPM 1399-1405, no. 68; CIPM 1405-13, no. 158; CIPM 1413-18, nos. 154-6; CIPM 1418-22, nos. 30-2.

19) CIPM 1361-5, no. 544; CCR 1360-4, p. 491.

20) Early Lincoln Wills, 99; CPR 1381-5, pp. 450, 562.

21) CCR 1381-5, pp. 297-8, 300-01.

22) CIPM 1370-3, no. 212; CFR 1369-77, pp. 179-80; CCR 1385-9, pp. 27-8, 107.

23) J. Weever, Antient Funeral Monuments (1631), p. 487; CIPM 1422-27, nos. 307-12.

24) Early Lincoln Wills, 99.

25) CIPM 1413-18, nos. 237-47, 371-89; Calendar of Papal Letters 1398-1404, p. 609.

26) CIPM 1418-22, nos. 836-54; CIPM 1422-7, nos. 232, 307-12; CIPM 1427-32, nos. 139, 530-48.

27) CPR 1422-9, pp. 136, 183.

28) Calendar of Papal Letters 1427-47, p. 601.

29) CIPM 1422-27, nos. 307-12.

11 November, 2020

Thomas of Lancaster's Illegitimate Children, and the Walkington Family

As I pointed out recently, Alice de Lacy, countess of Lincoln, and her husband Thomas of Lancaster, earl of Lancaster and Leicester, were expecting a child in 1307 or 1308, but ultimately had no surviving children. Thomas did, however, have at least two illegitimate sons, John and Thomas of Lancaster.

John of Lancaster was said in 1349, rather fascinatingly, to be "the son of a married man and a spinster related in the third degree of kindred." There is no doubt about his identity: he was addressed as "John de Lancastria, son of the late Thomas, earl of Lancaster, scholar of theology." [1] I've never managed to figure out who his mother, Earl Thomas's second cousin or second cousin once removed, might have been. John gained an M.A. in theology, and by 1355 had joined the household of his cousin, Thomas's nephew Henry of Grosmont (d. 1361), first duke of Lancaster, earl of Leicester, Lincoln and Derby, father-in-law of John of Gaunt from 1359, and the maternal grandfather of King Henry IV. Earl Thomas's brother Henry, earl of Lancaster and Leicester (d. 1345), Duke Henry's father, asked the pope for a dispensation for his kinsman John of Lancaster in 1343 on account of his illegitimacy, and Edward III also acknowledged "John de Lancastria, son of Thomas, earl of Lancaster" as his kinsman in 1350. John, a canon of Uttoxeter, Lincoln and Salisbury, died in or before 1361. [2]

Earl Thomas's other known illegitimate son was Thomas, who originally was a knight and later became a friar, and in 1354 was called "Thomas de Lancastria, knight, son of Thomas, earl of Lancaster". He was knighted by Edward III during the king's French campaign of 1346. [3] It was said in 1354 that Thomas of Lancaster "passed his youth at a university and other places, and afterwards in a war", and took part in an attack on the French town of Sens. Because he had killed and wounded men there, he "wishes to change his life" and to join the Franciscan order. Thomas was "illegitimate, being the son of a married man and a mother of whom it is doubted whether at the time he was begotten she was married or a spinster." [4] I don't know what happened to him after 1354, or whether he had the same mother as his brother John of Lancaster, or when they were born, or which of them was the elder.

As well as Earl Thomas of Lancaster's illegitimate sons, his nephew and nieces acknowledged a family called the Walkingtons as their relatives. Henry of Grosmont made his will in March 1361, and appointed ten executors. [5] One was Blanche, Lady Wake (d. 1380), the eldest of Duke Henry's six sisters, and eight were men, including the bishop of Lincoln and the abbot of Leicester. The other was nostre tres chiere cosyne de Walkynton, "our dearest cousin of Walkington". Several academic historians who should really know better have identified this person as the long-term Lancastrian retainer Sir William Walkington, but there are two big problems with this. 1) William died before 7 February 1357 [6], and 2) it only requires a fairly basic knowledge of French to spot that chiere cosyne is the female form and cannot refer to a man. William Walkington's wife was named Eleanor, and she presumably was the person who was Henry's executor. An indenture of 1361 between Duke Henry's son-in-law John of Gaunt and four of the late duke's ten executors talks of the 'lady de Walkington'. [7] Eleanor Walkington held the Wiltshire manor of West Grimstead in 1339 and 1361 as the widow of John de Grymstede, and she and William were said in 1350 to be both "of the diocese of Lincoln" and "of the diocese of Salisbury". They married without royal licence before 2 July 1338. [8]

In petitions to the pope in 1343 and 1344, two of Duke Henry's sisters, Blanche, Lady Wake, and Maud, dowager countess of Ulster (d. 1377), acknowledged the clerk Master Robert Walkington M.A., a canon of Lincoln, York and Uttoxeter, as their kinsman. Robert had a sister named Agnes, also acknowledged as her relative by Lady Wake, who married Sir John Mauduyt of the diocese of Salisbury. In the early 1330s, Henry, Blanche and Maud's sister Isabella of Lancaster, nun and later prioress of Amesbury (d. 1348/9), sent gifts of a girdle and a silken purse to Sir William Walkington, and Robert Walkington and Agnes Mauduyt were presumably his siblings. Agnes married Sir John Mauduyt before 7 May 1328, probably around 23 February 1328, and her brother Robert Walkington was the feoffee when John granted an Oxfordshire manor to himself and Agnes jointly. [9Robert Walkington was named as a clerk of Henry, earl of Lancaster, father of Duke Henry, Blanche, Isabella and Maud, in 1325 and 1342, and another likely relative was John Walkington, granted forty marks of rent annually in Staffordshire and a manor in Wiltshire by the younger Henry of Lancaster (d. 1361) in 1349. The elder Henry of Lancaster (d. 1345) gave the Gloucestershire manor of Minsterworth to Sir William Walkington for life in March 1328, and the following year William was one of the knights given a safe-conduct to accompany Henry overseas. In 1332, Henry gave Walkington another three manors in Derbyshire. [10] 

The Lancasters held the earldom of Lincoln after Thomas of Lancaster's widow Alice de Lacy died in 1348, and they held the town of Uttoxeter in Staffordshire, as part of the territories that had once belonged to the Ferrers family, earls of Derby, and were given to Edmund of Lancaster in 1269. Earl Thomas of Lancaster's illegitimate son John of Lancaster M.A. (d. c. 1361) was a canon of Lincoln and Uttoxeter, and so was Robert Walkington M.A. Sir Thomas Mauduit (b. October 1287) was executed as an adherent of Thomas of Lancaster in Pontefract in March 1322, and Thomas's son and heir John proved his age in May 1332: he was born in Warminster ('Weremynstre') Wiltshire on 2 February 1310 ("the feast of the Purification, 3 Edward II"). [11] This would seem to be the man who married Agnes Walkington (d. 1369), as Agnes's husband was said to be of the diocese of Salisbury and Warminster is certainly in that diocese. Walkington, incidentally, is a village in Yorkshire, near Beverley.

There are, therefore, numerous points of connection between the Walkington family and the Lancaster family, and several of Earl Henry of Lancaster's children acknowledged the Walkingtons as their kinsfolk. The big question is, though, how were the Walkingtons, people of comparatively humble birth and rank, cousins of the partly royal, hugely wealthy, well-connected and influential Lancasters? One possibility is that the Walkingtons were related to Earl Henry's children via Henry's wife, Maud Chaworth (1282-1322). Maud was the daughter and heir of Patrick Chaworth (d. 1283), himself the younger brother and heir of Payn Chaworth (d. 1279), and the Chaworth brothers were the sons of Hawise of London, who died in or before September 1274. [12] The genealogy of the Chaworths/Londons is rather obscure, and it is certainly possible that Maud Chaworth's children were related to the Walkingtons on her side of the family, even if the precise connection is doomed to remain elusive. Although Maud was an heiress and brought Henry of Lancaster the Welsh lordships of Kidwelly and Carmarthen and lands in five English counties, when their marriage was arranged in 1291 Henry was only his father Edmund's second son, and his older brother Thomas, Edmund's heir, was married to a much greater heiress from a much more prestigious family, Alice de Lacy. Alice's family tree is much better known than Maud's.

Another possibility is perhaps that the Walkingtons were somehow descended from the Lancasters illegitimately. As, however, I've never seen evidence that Earl Thomas or his brother Earl Henry called the Walkingtons their kinsfolk, though Earl Henry certainly showed the family great favour over the years, it seems more likely that they were related to Earl Henry's children on their mother Maud Chaworth's side. According to the family tree in one article [13], Payn and Patrick Chaworth had two sisters: Eva, who married Sir Robert Tybetot, and Anne, about whom no further information seems to be available, and various genealogy websites give them another sister, Emma Chaworth. Or perhaps the Walkingtons were descended from a sibling of Hawise of London.


1) Calendar of Papal Letters 1342-62, pp. 346, 357.

2) Petitions to the Pope 1342-1419, pp. 65, 193, 271, 346, 383; CPL 1342-62, pp. 346, 545, 547.

3) Petitions to the Pope, p. 262; William Arthur Shaw, The Knights of England: A Complete Record from the Earliest Time, vol. 1 (1906), p. 6 of the section called 'Knights Bachelors'; George Wrottesley, Crécy and Calais, from the Original Records in the Public Record Office, pp. 35, 209, 249, 259.

4) Petitions to the Pope, p. 262. Thomas is also mentioned in Calendar of Close Rolls 1346-9, p. 545, and Calendar of Patent Rolls 1345-8, p. 408, 487.

5) Testamenta Vetusta, vol. 1, pp. 64-6; A Collection of All the Wills Now Known to be Extant of the Kings and Queens of England, Princes and Princesses of Wales, and Every Branch of the Blood Royal, pp. 83-7.

6) CPR 1354-58, p. 506.

7) The National Archives DL 27/242.

8) CPR 1338-40, pp. 102, 356; CPR 1361-4, p. 84; Feet of Fines CP 25/1/288/46, no. 592; TNA C 143/248/13; CPL 1342-62, pp. 382, 406; CCR 1377-81, pp. 454-5.

9) Petitions to the Pope, pp. 29, 69, 74, 271; CPL 1342-62, pp. 99, 105, 145, 218, 406, 573; R.B. Pugh, 'Fragment of an Account of Isabel of Lancaster, Nun of Amesbury, 1333-4', in Leo Santifaller, ed., Festschrift zur Feier des zweihundertjährigen Bestandes des Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchivs, Band 1 (1949), p. 492; CPR 1327-30, p. 263; CCR 1327-30, p. 365.

10) TNA DL 25/334/279; CPR 1324-7, p. 167; CPR 1327-30, pp. 258, 442; CPR 1330-34, pp. 321, 367; CPR 1348-50, pp. 282, 366, 469.

11) Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem 1307-17, no. 159; CIPM 1327-36, no. 479; CIPM 1365-69, no. 395; CIPM 1377-84, no. 1018.

12) CIPM 1272-91, nos. 51, 310, 477.

13) M.T.W. Payne and J.E. Payne, 'The Wall Inscriptions of Gloucester Cathedral House and the de Chaworths of Kempsford', Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, 112 (1994), pp. 87-104.

01 November, 2020

Hugh Despenser the Younger's Informants

The surviving correspondence of Hugh Despenser the Younger in the 1320s, when he was at the height of his power, makes clear that he had spies and informants everywhere, and encouraged people to snitch on their neighbours to him. 

A man named Thomas of Bishopstone ('Bysschopeston') lived in the village of Bishopstone on the Sussex coast in the 1320s. One Roger Lumbard, who apparently came from Lombardy in northern Italy, or at least his ancestors did, knew Thomas and was perhaps a neighbour, and told Hugh Despenser the Younger that Thomas had made a passage along a cliff by the sea to enable Edward II's enemies to flee abroad. Furthermore, Lumbard claimed, Thomas was an enemy of the king himself and an adherent of Adam Orleton, bishop of Hereford, with whom Edward and Hugh were feuding at the time, and was smuggling Bishop Adam's letters overseas. A royal order to arrest Thomas of Bishopstone was issued on 1 June 1324, and the unfortunate man was forced to acknowledge a debt of £100 to Hugh Despenser to clear his name and to be able to return to his home. Edward II and Hugh Despenser were in the village of Bishopstone on 31 August 1324, which is hardly likely to be a coincidence, especially as Edward never set foot there at any other time in his reign. Thomas of Bishopstone stated that one Simon Croiser was the man sent to arrest him, which is true; the order of 1 June 1324, recorded on the Patent Roll, was indeed given to Croiser. [1]

Roger Lumbard is the only informant of Hugh Despenser whose name I've been able to discover. This is thanks to his victim Thomas of Bishopstone, who sent a detailed petition to Chancery setting out what had been done to him. The petition was written in Anglo-Norman by clerks though Thomas surely described his ordeal in English, and the angry Thomas called Roger Lumbard a lapin, which from the context appears to mean 'scoundrel' or 'rogue' (in modern French it means 'rabbit'). It's not clear whether Lumbard already worked for Hugh Despenser, or just knew that Hugh encouraged snitching and hoped to receive a reward from him for telling tales about Thomas, whether his allegations were true or not.  

Part of Thomas of Bishopstone's petition.

At Easter 1324, Hugh Despenser sent a letter (which fortuitously still exists in the National Archives) to Sir John Botetourt, a man in his sixties who held the Oxfordshire manor of Iselhampstead with his wife Maud, who had inherited it. Hugh demanded that the manor be handed over to him, and told Botetourt that as he had "received" his son John the younger, a Contrariant of 1321/22 and an adherent of the executed Contrariant Bartholomew, Lord Badlesmere, the king "can hang and draw you" (il vous peut pendre e trayner). John Botetourt, unsurprisingly, did hand over Iselhampstead to Hugh Despenser a few days after receiving this threat, and the manor was in Hugh's possession at the time of his downfall in October/November 1326. This whole affair reveals firstly that Hugh was willing to threaten people with execution unless they gave him their manor(s), and secondly, that someone must have told him that John Botetourt's son had visited him. [2] As with the case of Thomas of Bishopstone just a few weeks later, it seems that Hugh seized on information his spies sent to him as a pretext to seize a manor or two or to demand a large fine; he used people's adherence, real or imagined, to Edward II's enemies to enrich himself at their expense. Another common tactic used by Hugh and his father Hugh the Elder between 1322 and 1326 was to accuse men of having supported Thomas, earl of Lancaster in 1321/22, and to demand a heavy fine or to take one or several of their manors as punishment.

Hugh sent a letter on 5 October 1324 to the French nobleman Henri, Lord Sully, butler of France, who had been in England with Edward II in 1322 and who was briefly captured by Robert Bruce, king of Scotland, at the battle of Byland in October that year. The letter began with Hugh expressing his astonishment that Henri had sent a messenger to England bearing his letters, but had not sent any to Edward II or to Hugh himself (nous nous merveilloms molt qe vous envoiastes un garceon en Engleterre ove auscunes lettres ... et ne envoiastes nulles a mon seignur le roi Dengleterre ne a nous; Hugh often kept the drafts of his own letters and the crossing-out is his scribe's). [3] And how did Hugh know that Lord Sully had sent letters to England even though neither he nor the king received any of them? Obviously, someone informed him. Hugh addressed Sully as his "very faithful friend" (tresfiable ami), which he possibly intended sarcastically, and seemed keen to ensure that Sully was aware that little in England escaped him. Unfortunately, Hugh didn't clarify who did receive Henri Sully's letters, but might have had informants at various ports telling him who sent messengers into England, and perhaps employed spies in the households of other nobles.

Hugh had informants not only in England, but in Scotland too. In a letter to his cousin, ally and perhaps friend Sir Ralph Basset of Drayton (d. 1343) in early October 1324, Hugh stated that he had several "confidants in those parts who have talked to us" regarding a potential meeting between Edward II and representatives of Robert Bruce, king of Scotland, around the octave of St Martin, i.e. c. 18 November. [4] Hugh trusted Ralph Basset, and frequently addressed him as "dearest cousin", "fair cousin" and "beloved cousin". He often told Basset things which he ordered him to keep secret, including this planned meeting between Edward and Scottish envoys, and his letters to him are very illuminating. 

Another man Hugh Despenser confided in was Sir John Sturmy, admiral of Edward II's eastern fleet and someone who often appears in Edward's chamber accounts. Hugh told Sturmy in October 1324 that he had an informant on the Continent with Roger Mortimer of Wigmore and his allies, the other Contrariants who had escaped from England in 1322/23, who was sending him information about the men and their movements. Hugh added that he could not put these things into writing, and understandably but unfortunately for posterity did not identify his informant, whom he called "of their faction" (de leur covigne). This same letter indicates that he knew, two years in advance, that the English exiles intended to land in Norfolk or Suffolk with a large armed force, with the aid of the king of Bohemia and the count of Hainault. [5] Ralph Basset of Drayton, on the Continent, also kept Hugh and Edward II informed of the exiles' movements, and on 6 December 1323 stated that his own spy had told him they were on their way to Germany. Basset stated openly to Edward II that he had instructions - presumably from Hugh Despenser -  to spy on them. [6]

The year 1324, when Hugh Despenser the Younger was directing Edward II's rather brief war against France, the War of Saint-Sardos, and when much of his correspondence survives, would appear to be the year when he reached the zenith of his power and his willingness to commit blackmail and extortion. It was also the year, for example, when he and his father imprisoned Elizabeth Comyn, great-niece of both King Henry III of England and King John Balliol of Scotland, in Surrey until she handed over her most valuable manors. Either in 1323 or 1324, Hugh the Younger imprisoned Sir John Inge, formerly sheriff of Glamorgan and a man who had given him years of faithful service, after he took against Inge for some reason. Hugh's last known letter to Inge, dated c. October 1322, cheerily told him "we are very worried about having some reason for which we might be prepared to harm you in some way", and he did find a reason: he imprisoned John Inge and members of his council in Southwark because of his "rancour towards him" and his "anger towards him". Hugh made Inge and six guarantors promise to pay him a ransom of £300 for Inge's release, and Inge's councillor Thomas Langdon died in Hugh's prison. [7] Various contemporary chroniclers stated that even the great English magnates were frightened of Hugh Despenser the Younger, and it's really not hard to see why.


1) Calendar of Patent Rolls 1321-24, p. 423; The National Archives SC 8/17/841; Calendar of Close Rolls 1323-27, p. 217.

2) TNA SC 1/37/5; Calendar of Fine Rolls 1319-27, p. 423; CFR 1327-27, p. 53; Feet of Fines, CP 25/1/19/74, no. 5.

3) The War of Saint-Sardos (1323-1325): Gascon Correspondence and Diplomatic Documents, ed. Pierre Chaplais, pp. 79-80.

4) War of Saint-Sardos, pp. 75-7.

5) War of Saint-Sardos, pp. 72-3.

6) War of Saint-Sardos, pp. 2, 5.

7) Cartae et Alia Munimenta quae ad Domimium Glamorgancia Pertinent, vol. 3, pp. 1101-4; TNA SC 8/176/8753, SC 8/59/2947; CPR 1330-34, p. 404.

Further Reading

My book about Hugh, Hugh Despenser the Younger and Edward II: Downfall of a King's Favourite, and my article ''We Might be Prepared to Harm You': An Investigation into Some of the Extortions of Hugh Despenser the Younger', Journal of the Mortimer History Society, 2 (2018), pp. 55-69.