07 February, 2022

The Annulment of Richard, Earl of Arundel and Isabella Despenser's Marriage, 1344

I'm pretty sure I've written here before somewhere about Richard, earl of Arundel (c. 1313-76) annulling his first marriage to Isabella Despenser (c. 1312-after 1356) in late 1344, thereby making their son Edmund Arundel illegitimate. One thing that interests me is that Pope Clement VI's response to Edmund's sending a petition to him protesting at his treatment at the hands of his father states that Edmund was eighteen in late 1344 and twenty in early 1347. If this is correct, it would place his date of birth in or not too long before late 1326, around the time when both of his grandfathers, Edmund, earl of Arundel, and Hugh Despenser the Younger, lord of Glamorgan, were executed on 17 and on 24 November 1326 respectively. According to Richard, earl of Arundel's correspondence with the pope, he was seven and Isabella Despenser was eight when they married in February 1321, and if their and their son's ages are approximately correct, this would mean Richard and Isabella were only at the start of their teens when they became parents. Yowza. Richard complained to the pope that he and Isabella renounced their wedding vows when they reached puberty, but were 'forced by blows to cohabit' (who hit them to make them sleep together was not clarified).

On 5 February 1345 just a few weeks after Clement VI oblingingly annulled Richard Arundel and Isabella Despenser's marriage in early December 1344, Richard married Isabella's first cousin Eleanor of Lancaster, fifth of the six daughters of the royal and enormously wealthy Henry, earl of Lancaster and Leicester, who died later in 1345. Eleanor's first husband John, Lord Beaumont, with whom she had a son named Henry Beaumont (b. in late 1339 or early 1340), was killed jousting in the spring of 1342. Richard and Eleanor had five children between c. 1345/6 and c. 1352/3, and Richard's heir to his earldoms and vast wealth was Richard the younger, eldest of their three sons. Richard the elder and Isabella Despenser's son Edmund Arundel was made illegitimate and inherited nothing from his father. Almost certainly, Eleanor of Lancaster had been in a relationship with Richard Arundel before they married: she was granted a safe-conduct to go on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain in March 1344, two days after her brother Henry of Grosmont, earl of Derby, and Arundel were empowered to travel to Spain and Portugal to negotiate alliances there. This is unlikely to be a coincidence. There is, however, no evidence that I'm aware of that '[w]hile her first husband was still alive, she lived with her future second husband' as claimed on the fmg.ac website. Having an affair with Richard while he was still married to Isabella Despenser, which seems pretty well certain, does not mean that their affair began while John Beaumont was alive.

Richard Arundel and Eleanor of Lancaster deliberately concealed her true identity from the pope until after they were safely married, when it was too late for anyone to do anything much about it. They pretended that Eleanor was called 'Joan Beaumont'. They pretended that she was related to Isabella Despenser via her father, when in fact it was via her mother, Maud Chaworth (1282-1322), who was the older half-sister of Isabella's father Hugh Despenser the Younger (c. 1288-1326). They pretended that they did not know they were third cousins and thus required a papal dispensation for consanguinity, which, given that they were both members of the tiny English comital elite, is all but impossible. They lied to the pope about the date of their wedding, telling him that they married on the last Saturday in Lent when in fact they married eleven days before the start of Lent (as they admitted to him on a later occasion, apparently forgetting their earlier fabrication). They claimed after their wedding that they had 'fear[ed] certain dangers' if they did not marry clandestinely, and referred to Edmund Arundel as Richard's 'illegitimate son' with Isabella Despenser. Only after they were safely married did they openly acknowledge Eleanor's real name and her status as the daughter of Henry, earl of Lancaster, and they correctly stated that Isabella Despenser was related to Eleanor of Lancaster in the second degree of kindred on her father Hugh Despenser the Younger's side and in the third and fourth degrees on her mother Eleanor de Clare's side (the two Eleanors were both descended from King Henry III).

The whole thing leaves a rather nasty taste in my mouth. Poor Edmund Arundel had done nothing wrong, yet was cast off by his father, who in later years nastily referred to him as 'that certain Edmund who claims to be my son'. Horrible man. Isabella's brother Sir Gilbert Despenser, third son of Hugh Despenser the Younger, was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London in December 1344. Although the reason was not given, only his 'certain excesses', the timing perhaps reveals that Gilbert had forcefully made his feelings about the annulment known to his brother-in-law. Isabella's life after the annulment is almost entirely obscure and the date of her death is unknown, which is rather sad given that she was a great-granddaughter of Edward I.

Edmund Arundel married Sybil Montacute, who was, as far as I can tell, the second daughter of William Montacute or Montagu, earl of Salisbury (b. 1301) and Katherine Grandisson (the eldest Montacute daughter appears to have been Elizabeth, who married Edmund's maternal uncle Hugh 'Huchon' Despenser; another daughter was Philippa, who married the younger Roger Mortimer, b. 1328, second earl of March). Salisbury was killed jousting in January 1344, and I wonder if it's not a coincidence that the earl of Arundel only started attempting to annul his marriage to Isabella Despenser later that same year. Salisbury, a powerful earl who was a close friend of Edward III, would certainly have done his utmost to ensure that his daughter's husband wasn't made illegitimate and disinherited. Unfortunately for Edmund Arundel and Sybil Montacute, after her father died, her brother (William Montacute the younger, b. June 1328) was only fifteen and was in no position to stop Richard Arundel and his powerful and wealthy soon-to-be Lancaster in-laws from lying to the pope to get his first marriage annulled. 

Edmund Arundel and Sybil Montacute had three daughters, Philippa, Elizabeth and Katherine, though I'm not sure of the birth order. All three women married and had children. I've previously written a post about their daughter Philippa (d. 13 September 1399) and her children from her first marriage to Sir Richard Sergeaux of Cornwall (d. 30 September 1393), and her subsequent rather brief second marriage to the famous warrior Sir John Cornwall (d. 1443). In or around late 1376, a few months after the death of Earl Richard in January 1376, Edmund Arundel and several of his retainers attacked six manors in Essex that his father had given to his mother Isabella in the mid-1340s for her sustenance after the annulment, and which were now in the hands of his much younger half-brother Richard (b. c. 1346/7). Edmund died in 1381 or early 1382; I've never been able to find even an approximate date of death for his wife Sybil Montacute, even though she was the sister of the earl of Salisbury and the countess of March.


Petitions to the Pope 1342-1419, pp. 75, 81, 99.
Calendar of Papal Letters 1342-1362, pp. 164, 188, 254.
Foedera 1344-61, pp. 8-11, 30-31.
Calendar of Patent Rolls 1343-45, p. 224.
Calendar of Close Rolls 1343-46, p. 483.
CPR 1374-77, pp. 492-3. 
CCR 1374-77, pp. 413, 511, 551.

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