Lady Despenser's Scribery - Introduction
- This small corner of the web concentrates mainly on the life and times of Hugh Despenser the younger, as well as the reign of Edward II and the fourteenth century in general. It contains snippets of some (though certainly not all) of the research I have done in order to write a novel about him (and hopefully, later, a biography as well). Oh yes, some 21st century stuff sneaks its way in too, from time to time!
Friday, 19 September 2008
Guy de Beauchamp (Bello Campo) – Earl of Warwick 1298-1315
One of the men to have a profound and significant effect on the first half of Edward II’s reign and most probably on Hugh the younger’s life was his uncle Guy, Earl of Warwick and one of the great magnates of the realm. He was born around 1271 – one of William de Beauchamp and Maud Fitzgeoffrey’s many children. However, by the time his father died, in 1298, only he and his sister Isabella were surviving.
How Guy spent his early childhood is not known but it seems that he was brought up in the twin traditions of his family – soldiery and administration. His education was, by the standards of the day, impressive and would have been equal today, perhaps, to doctorate level. The Annales Londonienses described him as ‘bene literatus’ – an accord that was usually only bestowed upon prelates and the like who had been to university. He and his family also built up a vast library containing all kinds of books from religious texts to secular tales and romances. In 1305 he gave 40 of these books to Bordesley Abbey - an astonishing number for the time, and probably worth quite a bit of money.
But he was not just a bookish, cultured man: he was also a warrior of note. His father had latched onto a thirteenth century Anglo-Norman romance entitled Gui de Warwic – about a legendary knight and his adventures. Guy was brought up with this role model to aspire to and aspire he did. He accompanied Edward I both to Flanders and on his Scottish campaigns, being present at the sacking of Berwick and the battle of Dunbar in 1296 (during which year he was also knighted), at the battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297 and at Falkirk in 1298. He acquitted himself well in all of them and was soon one of Edward’s most trusted counsellors – alongside Hugh Despenser the elder.
In 1286 Guy’s widowed sister Isabella met up with the elder Hugh, who must have made an impression on her for they were soon married. Unfortunately it was done without the king’ consent though – for which they were fined the sum of 2000 marks. The union seems to have been a happy one, producing six children, one of which was our Hugh – Hugh the younger. For more details of the children from this relationship see the post on Hugh the younger’s siblings. There is nothing to suggest that at this stage Despenser the elder and Guy did not get along at this stage (although there is nothing to particularly suggest they did either). They were brothers-in-law as well as regulars at court and so must have had some sort of relationship.
Guy was at Edward I’s side when he died at Burgh-by-Sands, Cumberland in 1307 and it has been suggested that he reassured Edward that he would do everything in his power to keep his son and the exiled Piers de Gaveston apart – a promise that would have grave repercussions on his career. Of course, in the end he didn’t get much of a choice in the matter as Edward of Caernarvon recalled his friend immediately. After that, the relationship between Edward II and Warwick began to deteriorate as Warwick made it very clear that he did not approve of either Gavestons’ place at court or the way he treated the nobles around him.
One of the ways in which Gaveston showed complete disrespect to the aristocracy was to give them insulting nicknames (Alianore has done a post on this here). The earls tended to be very proud men, who took their position in society very seriously and so to be reduced to demeaning nicknames was bound not to cause endearment). Guy himself was called ‘the black dog of Arden’ – which is thought to be a reference to him being of a dark complexion. However, in reply (according to the Lanercost Chronicle) he showed a grim sense of irony, saying: ‘If he call me a dog, be sure that I will bite him so soon as I shall perceive my opportunity’. As Gaveston was to later find out, Guy was a man of his word.
In fact Guy was the most consistent of Gaveston’s detractors, refusing all attempts by Edward to buy his acquiescence. He, alone, refused to agree to Gaveston being made Earl of Cornwall and he also seems to have been the main driving force behind the Ordinances (although Lancaster took most of the credit) in which Gaveston’s exile was demanded (again!). When the royal favourite suddenly returned from exile in 1312 without the consent of the council, Guy was incensed. Together with Lancaster and the other earls of the realm, he hunted him down and eventually claimed his surrender at Scarborough Castle where Edward had left him – supposedly in safety while he went south. One of the terms of the surrender was that the Earl of Pembroke was to convey the prisoner to London, after giving an oath that Gaveston would have safe conduct in his custody. However, at Deddington, while de Valence was visiting his wife in a nearby manor, Warwick kidnapped Gaveston and took him to Warwick Castle. There he was given a brief trial before his peers - where the verdict of guilty was never in doubt. Condemned to death, he was taken to nearby Blacklow Hill on Lancaster’s land and there run through with a sword and beheaded on 19th June.
A bereft and vengeful Edward finally pardoned Guy a year later - although privately it seems that he never forgave him and the two were never reconciled. Warwick did not join him on his next Scottish campaign, which ended with the ignoble defeat at Bannockburn, and by 1315 he was dead. As usual, there were rumours that he had been poisoned – but that was usually the case when a noble died from unknown causes – especially when it was known that he had very powerful enemies.
Guy de Beauchamp married twice. His first marriage took place before or in 1297 to Isabella de Clare, one of the daughters disinherited by Gilbert ‘The Red’ when he divorced Alice de Lusignan and married Joan of Acre instead. Isabella seems quite a strange choice for Guy as she was his elder by about 10 years and wasn’t exactly a great heiress. It was little surprise then, that it did not work out. The marriage was childless and by 1302 divorce proceedings were in place. Guy didn’t marry again until 1310; this time the marriage with Alice de Toeni seemed to have a lot more going for it. They produced at least seven children together – including his heir, Thomas – and she brought him manors from her inheritance as well.
But those years in between the marriages were obviously worrying ones for Guy, especially as he did not have an heir. His biggest fear was that his vast landholdings would be divided up. Therefore, in 1306, he appointed his nephew, Philip Despenser as his heir. Although it was common enough for a nephew to be an heir, it does seem odd that Philip, and not Hugh, who was older, was named. Maybe Guy thought that Hugh already had an inheritance coming his way when his father died and so wanted to make sure that Philip had something as well (of course, this was later negated by Guy's later children). As I have speculated in the post about Hugh’s childhood, it is more than likely that both boys were sent to Warwick’s household to serve as pages and squires. It would have been a prestigious place for them to learn their knightly skills.
It also appears that Hugh bore his uncle no ill-will over the inheritance issue for it seems that he was still relatively close to him in the early years of Edward’s reign and may have, at first, supported the actions of the Ordainers. If so, this would have put him in conflict with his father, as well as the king. What is certain is that, apart from the grant of a couple of manors in 1310, Hugh does not seem to have been in favour at court at all. It has even been suggested that Edward’s delay in sorting out the mess from the de Clare inheritance was due to the fact that he didn’t want Hugh having that sort of wealth and power. This then would suggest that Edward, at first, saw Hugh as an adherent of his enemies – and in particular Warwick, who had his beloved Piers murdered – rather than as the son of one of his most loyal servants.
Unfortunately no records exist which would prove this theory one way or the other – but it does make sense. Sadly, Guy de Beauchamp ended what had started as a great and noble career more or less in royal disgrace (despite the pardon) and self-imposed exile. His greatest crime and mistake was, without a doubt, Gaveston’s kidnapping and execution – otherwise his reputation as a man of honour, integrity and wisdom was unblemished. Maybe he felt pushed to extreme measures by a king who wouldn’t listen to reason, or take advice from those who saw what was happening to the realm. Maybe he was encouraged down this road by other earls less moderate than himself – such as Lancaster. Maybe he just snapped.
When he died, his son and heir was only two and so the Warwick estates were taken into the hands of the crown. He had asked that they be kept under the administration of the executors of his will, but Edward did not listen to this one last request either. In fact they were swiftly ‘entrusted’ to Guy’s brother-in-law, Hugh the elder to plunder and exploit as he pleased until Thomas came of age. A sad end for a man who, in a different reign, would have had a much more noble life and reputation.
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
‘The Beauchamp Earls of Warwick, 1298-1369’, part of a thesis by Sebastian Barfield, 1997 accessed at http://users.powernet.co.uk/barfield/cont.htm
King Edward II – Roy Martin Haines