Hugh Despenser Commits ABH

For Hugh Despenser the younger, the parliament of January 1316 was quite eventful – unfortunately for all the wrong reasons. On Sunday 22nd February, during a parliamentary session in Lincoln cathedral, and in front of the king, the prelates, earls and barons there assembled, Hugh attacked and injured one John de Ros:

… striking him with his fist until he drew blood, and inflicted other outrages on him, in contempt of the lord king to the sum of £10,000, and to the harm of his peace, and the terror of the people present…

Violence in a sacred place (on a Sunday!) was bad enough but to commit such an act in front of the anointed ruler of England was extremely bad form, to say the least. Mind you, John de Ros wasn’t exactly an innocent bystander minding his own business either. To discover what led to this fracas, we need to go into a bit of background history.

Sir John de Ros, a younger son of Sir William de Ros of Helmsley in Yorkshire and Maud de Vaux, had married Margaret Goushill sometime before April 1314. Margaret had previously married Hugh’s younger brother, Philip sometime in 1311 and had borne one son (another Philip, what a surprise!). However, Philip (the father) died on 24th September 1313, leaving Margaret a young and rich (she was her father’s heiress) behind. The marriage to Ros was, therefore, carried out only seven months after her previous husband’s death – in what many would have considered to be rather indecent haste. Whatever the relationship between Hugh and his brother, Hugh must have seen this event in a rather negative light as it smacked of a lack of respect for Philip as an individual and the Despenser name generally.

But it wasn’t this that ‘officially’ caused Hugh’s violent display. According to the records Ros had recently arrested Ingelram de Berenger, one of Hugh’s men (although other sources say that Berenger was actually a retainer of his father’s). According to Hugh’s testimony he had gone to Ros to remonstrate with him about the treatment his man but then:

… the aforesaid John, scorning the words of the aforesaid Hugh, heaping outrageous insults on the same Hugh, taunted him with insolent words, and putting his hand to his knife he menaced the same Hugh and made a rush towards the said Hugh as if he wanted to strike him with his knife… The next piece is priceless! According to Hugh, he did not strike Ros, as alleged, but merely “stretched out his hand between himself and the aforementioned John, by which he touched the same John in this way on his face.

This was, of course, in self-defence! In other words, Hugh claimed that Ros had run onto his fist! However, according to Ros, it was Hugh who struck him first (in the face) and he was forced to draw his sword in self-defence because he feared for his life. Obviously the two were separated before things got too out of hand and were hauled off to prison, later to be questioned by Gilbert of Touthby and Geoffrey le Scrope, acting for the king. Both were later released after several men swore to stand surety for them to appear before the king and his council at a later date.

The outcome was that both men were fined £10,000, basically for being in breach of the king’s peace. However, for Hugh this was later overturned at the January parliament in 1320 when he was officially pardoned by Edward and his part of the incident struck through in the official roll for that time. Interestingly, the entry for Ros’s statement is left intact, indicating that he was not pardoned – an example of the later power that Hugh had over Edward.

What really constituted the quarrel between Hugh and Ros will probably never be known, but it does seem odd that one man’s arrest could cause so much animosity. Maybe there was a bit of truth in both accounts (as well as examples of being economical with it). Maybe Hugh, already riled with Ros over the quick marriage to his late brother’s wife, saw the arrest of Berenger as another provocation. Maybe he did just intend to speak to Ros. Maybe Ros did throw in a few insults of his own. Who knows? All that can be certain is that in 1316 Hugh was rather a hothead, who, no doubt, caused endless worries for his father. It was just a hint of what was to come.

The Parliamentary Rolls of Medieval England

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5 Responses to Hugh Despenser Commits ABH

  1. Alianore says:

    Hugh’s defence makes me laugh myself sick – “I just stretched out my hand to defend myself and accidentally punched him in the face several times till I drew blood!” 🙂

    I love the Jan 1316 parliament – also the one where the royal justices told Hugh and Eleanor that Maud’s claim to be pregnant 20 months after her husband’s death was reasonable!

  2. Gabriele C. says:

    Lol, it’s a bit like Caesar just stumbled and happened to fall into our daggers. 🙂

    I love those ‘ the said Hugh, the same Hugh, the aforementioned Hugh’ – that’s what you get for using the same names all over; the poor chroniclers had to make sure it was still the same Hugh. 🙂

  3. “Pardon me, sir. My face got in the way of your fist.”

  4. Lady D. says:

    I know – it’s just so funny! I wonder if le Scrope and Touthby managed to keep a straight face while Hugh (the aforesaid, aforementioned and the same!) told them that, all wide-eyed innocence!

  5. Anonymous says:

    What an odd incident. And Hugh’s defence was hilarious. I was a bit confused over one thing at the beginning though. You say the incident took place at the January parliament, but then that it was on February 22. Was it just called the ‘January parliament,’ and took place in different months?

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