Hugh le Despenser

Despenser, Hugh le (lə dĭspĕnˈsər) [key], d. 1265, chief justiciar of England. He joined the barons in their struggle against Henry III and received various offices, becoming chief justiciar in 1260. He lost this office in 1261 but was restored to it in 1263. He fought in the Barons' War and was killed at Evesham in 1265. His son and grandson, Hugh le Despenser, the elder, 1262–1326, and Hugh le Despenser, the younger, d. 1326, became even more prominent. The elder Despenser took part in Edward I's Scottish campaigns and engaged in negotiations with France. On the accession of Edward II, Despenser alienated the baronial party by his support of Piers Gaveston and, on the latter's death (1312), became the chief adviser to the king. After Edward's defeat by the Scots at Bannockburn in 1314, Hugh withdrew from the court. About 1318 the younger Despenser, who had earlier supported the barons, joined his father and the king, soon gaining more influence with Edward than had the elder Hugh. Both Despensers became involved in a quarrel with the barons, who formed a league against them and brought about their banishment in 1321. In 1322, however, they returned to England, and after the baronial defeat at Boroughbridge they were the real rulers of the kingdom. The elder Despenser was created earl of Winchester in 1322. Their rule was notable for several important administrative reforms and the conclusion of peace with Scotland (1323), but their greed was enormous and they were bitterly hated by the barons. Both Despensers were executed after the invasion of Queen Isabella in 1326.

See J. C. Davies, The Baronial Opposition to Edward II (1918, repr. 1967).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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