Edward le Despenser was the second son of Hugh le Despenser the younger and Eleanor de Clare. He was born before November 23, 1315, when Edward II issued a license for John de Cromwell and his wife, Idonia, to grant certain lands to Robert Baldock, who was to regrant them with a life estate to Idonia, with remainder interests for Hugh, his father, and Edward.
Edward’s whereabouts following the destruction of his father and grandfather at the hands of Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer are unknown, but he was probably among the children who were imprisoned with Eleanor de Clare in the Tower from November 1326 to February 1328. Though Edward’s exact age is unknown, he was evidently too young to be considered a threat to the regime, unlike his eldest brother, Hugh, who was around 18 in 1326 and who was imprisoned until 1331.
In November 1334, Edward came into the life estates he had been granted in 1315. His lands included Essendine in Rutland. As Jane Austen noted, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife,” and Edward proved the wisdom of this remark by finding a wife just a few months later, for he married Anne Ferrers at Groby on April 20, 1335. Anne was the sister of Henry, Lord Ferrers, who was married to Isabella de Verdon. Isabella was a daughter of Elizabeth de Burgh, Eleanor de Clare’s younger sister.
Edward’s short marriage was a fruitful one, producing four sons, Edward, Hugh, Thomas, and Henry. Edward, the eldest, who ultimately inherited the Despenser estates when his uncle Hugh died without heirs in 1349, was born at Essendine on March 24, 1336.
Like his brothers Hugh and Gilbert, Edward served in Edward III’s military campaigns. In 1338, he had a protection to serve in France with his brother-in-law Henry Ferrers. In 1342, he accompanied his brother Hugh overseas. Hugh’s forces, originally headed for Gascony, were diverted to Brest to assist the forces of the Countess of Montfort, whose side in the Breton civil war Edward III was backing. Hugh’s forces later joined the Earl of Northampton at Morlaix, where the English, badly outnumbered, achieved a victory of sorts over French troops on September 30, 1342. Unfortunately, it was Edward’s last battle: as the chronicler Murimuth notes, he was the highest-ranking English casualty there.
Though Edward was probably only in his late twenties when he died in battle, he nonetheless managed to leave a worthy legacy behind him in the shape of his four sons, two of whom, Edward and Henry, were among the most colorful characters of the late fourteenth century. The younger Edward in his short life (he died at age thirty-nine) acquired a reputation as a model of chivalry; he is the “kneeling knight” depicted at Tewkesbury Abbey. Henry, who entered the Church but never lost his taste for military activity, became known as the “Fighting Bishop of Norwich.” Thomas, who fought at Rheims, died in 1381. Hugh, who died in 1374, was survived by a son, naturally named Hugh. The younger Hugh was governor to the fourteen-year-old Henry V, but died in 1401 before he had been at his post for very long.
Through his eldest son, Edward also can claim among his direct descendants Anne, queen to Richard III.
SourcesChristopher Allmand, Henry V
Calendar of Patent Rolls
Martyn John Lawrence, Power, Ambition and Political Rehabilitation: The Despensers, c.1281–1400
(unpublished dissertation, University of York).
Copyright © 2009 Susan Higginbotham