Hugh Despenser, 1st Earl of Winchester

Born: March 1, 1261

Died: October 27, 1326

Bristol, England (Age 65)

Despenser Senior in History

It would never have been believed that Hugh Despenser would have risen to the heights that he did in royal service when one considers the fact that his father, another Hugh, was killed at the Battle of Evesham (1265) fighting for the rebel party against King Henry III. Nonetheless, the younger Despenser was given the full inheritances of his mother and father (1281) and was an unswervingly loyal subject to King Edward I. Throughout Edward's reign, Despenser was used as a diplomat, journeying to France, Germany, Rome, Scotland and other countries, and also established himself as a soldier fighting against the Scots. As a result of his loyal service, Despenser was well rewarded with vast lands and important and lucrative posts, which built up his wealth considerably. Despenser's royal favor continued into the reign of Edward II. It was at this point that Despenser's popularity began to plummet as he was one of few lords to support the king's favorite Piers Gaveston, gaining himself the hatred of the nobles, with the Earl of Lancaster leading the party. During the first years of Edward II's reign, Despenser was frequently at court and council, but the capture and execution of Gaveston (1312) and the king's disastrous defeat at the hands of the Scots at Bannockburn (1314) severely weakened the power of the crown, and Despenser was forced to lay low for several years while the magnates (mainly Lancaster) used the king as their own personal puppet.

An agreement for peace between the king and the magnates was reached (1318), and at this point, both Despenser and his son, yet another Hugh, began to regain their power at court, and the elder Despenser once again acted as a diplomat and councilor. It was only a matter of time before the magnates would be up in arms, and by 1321, this was indeed the case. Many of the Despenser lands in the Welsh marches were devastated, and the king was forced to exile his royal favorites and pardon those who had suggested the exile. However, the Despensers were soon back at court anyway, and the king was able to successfully crush the magnates, defeating Lancaster at the Battle of Boroughbridge, after which the earl was executed. Soon after the rebel defeat, the elder Despenser was created Earl of Winchester, and the Despenser's enjoyed the summit of their power. Unfortunately, they were still bitterly despised by the magnates and commons alike, and in 1326, none other than Queen Isabella (with her new lover, Roger Mortimer) returned from a supposed diplomatic mission from France with intentions of deposing the king and eliminating his hated favorites. The Despenser were, of course, one of the primary targets, and the elder Despenser was forced to surrender to the rebels at Bristol. He was tried, convicted, hanged and beheaded, ending the life of a man who had risen to heights that were too high for his own good.

Despenser Senior in Marlowe

Appears in: Edward II

The elder Hugh Despenser appears in Edward II (as his character Spencer Senior) as a loyal supporter of the king. He and his son provide military support against the rebellious magnates and become the king's favorites at court after Gaveston's death. However, both father and son are hated by the lords, and when Isabella and Mortimer conduct their coup of the regime, Spencer senior is captured and promptly executed. Marlowe has the elder Spencer as meeting the king shortly after Gaveston's death. Historically, he was already an established member of the king's council and had known him since his youth.



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