Happy 700th Anniversary . . .

To Hugh le Despenser the younger and Eleanor de Clare (heroine of my favorite historical novel), married on May 26, 1306. Edward I, Eleanor’s grandfather, paid for the minstrels for the wedding, which took place at the king’s chapel at Westminster. (This information comes from a thesis by Richard Rastall, available online here.) According to Michael Prestwich in “Royal Patronage under Edward I” in Thirteenth Century England I, Edward I also gave Eleanor nearly 29 pounds to buy jewels for the wedding, plus an additional 10 pounds for robes for her maidservants. Thirteen-year-old Eleanor’s wedding dress must have been quite the thing; according to Mary Anne Everett Green in Lives of the Princesses of England, 100 pounds was paid to redeem it from the friar minors of London, who owned it as their prerequisite.

Whether the young couple consummated their marriage on their wedding night is unknown, but their eldest son was born around 1308. Needless to say, the couple, with the usual blatant lack of consideration for future historical novelists shown by medieval folk, named him Hugh.

Despite the abundant evidence for the 1306 wedding (it’s also mentioned in Pierre Langtoft’s chronicle), a distressing number of historians and novelists persist in having the couple’s marriage take place sometime after the Battle of Bannockburn at the instigation of Edward II, presumably on the assumption that since Edward II arranged the marriages of Eleanor’s sisters to his favorites, he had to have arranged Eleanor’s too. It could be worse, however–at least no novelist has had Eleanor succumb to the charms of a dashing Scotsman before settling down to married life with Hugh.

Not yet, anyway.

And in any case, Hugh was a pirate, for a short time at least. Who wants a man in a kilt when you can have a man with an eyepatch?

9 thoughts on “Happy 700th Anniversary . . .”

  1. Now I’m wondering why the friar minors owned Eleanor’s wedding dress, and who redeemed it, and why?

  2. Happy Anniversary to Hugh and Eleanor! I’ve written a post about them, too.

    At least Eleanor is too young to have had a fling with William Wallace, as most of the women in her family apparently did… Mind you, if Wallace could father Edward III, born 1312, when he was executed in 1305, I don’t suppose fathering Hugh the Even Younger in 1308/09 would have been much of a problem for him. 🙂

  3. Susan Higginbotham

    Carla, I’ve wondered the same thing myself. I posted the question to the Later Medieval Britain discussion group a while back, but never got a response. Green mentioned Eleanor’s dress in a footnote in her chapter about Joan of Acre and gave no details other than what I mentioned in my post. My guess is that it was just some sort of straw-man arrangement to get a hundred pounds to the friars, which was surely of more use to them than a wedding dress, though I suppose that the jewels and the fabric in the dress could have been sold if the friars ever found themselves short of cash.

    Alianor, your anniversary post was much more informative than mine! And if William Wallace won’t do, there’s always Robert the Bruce.

  4. Valuable garments were sometimes treated as assets in their own right, because you get items like fur cloaks mentioned in medieval wills. I guess the friars could probably have sold the wedding dress intact to some wealthy bride for more than the value of the fabric and the jewels. Come to think of it, I wonder if there might even have been some sort of celebrity status value in a royal woman’s dress? A bit like the way people today will pay fortunes at auction for dresses worn by Princess Diana or Shirley Bassey.

    It is awfully convenient for a certain type of romance novel that just as one hunky Scotsman disappears from the scene (William Wallace), another appears (Robert Bruce). Though I rather doubt that either wore a kilt 🙂

  5. Only in Scottish romances….
    I should think a kilt is the devil of a difficult garment to cast/sculpt on a statue. Can anyone think of a statue wearing a kilt?

  6. Cheers, Marg! I guessed there’d be (at least) one somewhere but couldn’t bring any to mind.

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