November 1317 must have felt like Christmas come early to Hugh Despenser the younger. Not only had he been given his wife’s share of the inheritance of the rich de Clare estate, giving him the large lordship of Glamorgan, but three days later Edward also bestowed upon him the castle and town of Dryslwyn and Cantref Mawr. This was supposedly in lieu of 600 pounds owed to him by Edward for war services.*
Hugh was now lord of a vast amount of lands. Unfortunately, he didn’t feel it was enough. Even before his brother-in-law, Audley, could take seisin of his share of the inheritance – Gwynllwg (or Wenthlok or Wentloog as it is sometimes spelt), Hugh had pre-empted him and had entered the territory and taken the fealty of the men there. The reason why this had been so easy was that Gwynllwg had traditionally been regarded as part of Glamorgan, and its inhabitants did not feel the need to change this arrangement just because some officials in the English court decided it should be so. So the knights and free men of Gwynllwg gladly did homage to Hugh and then subsequently refused to have Audley as their overlord.
Edward was furious (I would imagine that Audley was none too pleased either!) and demanded that Hugh appear before him to explain his actions. Hugh duly turned up and pleaded his cause, stating that he had taken the oaths of fealty under ‘certain conditions’. In this case, despite Hugh’s later reputation, these conditions had nothing to do with extortion or violence but were more likely concerned with the cantref’s previous allegiances. Unfortunately for him, his powers of persuasion were somewhat lacking on this occasion and Edward was less than impressed. Hugh was ordered to give back the land and release the men from their oaths.
Hugh had no choice to obey and certainly by December, Audley had no obstacles to claiming his due. Well, apart from the good men of Gwynllwg of course, who flatly refused to do homage to him, even when ordered to do so by the king. On January 30th 1318, John de Sapy was appointed to ‘take the castle and town of Newport, and manors of Stowe, Rempy, Byueleys (sic), Maghay, and Defreneboth in the county of Wenthlok in the Marches of Wales into the king’s hands and seisin…’. Rather amusingly, even the king’s man failed to bring the rebellious men of Gwynllwg to heel. According to the Patent Rolls in an entry of March 4th 1318 it is noted that: ‘he was unable to do so because “he could find no-one who would answer to him”’.
It seems though that Hugh fully expected to be granted Audley’s lands in the end. In an interesting entry dated May 22nd, Hugh acknowledges a debt to his father for 5000 pounds, to be annulled if he then grants him enfeoffment ‘of his lands in Wenthlok in the Marches of Wales, according to an agreement previously made between them’ (italics are mine). There are so many questions surrounding this entry – why would Hugh want to give his father lands that he would have been better off keeping for himself (presuming he had them in the first place), and why should he make such a promise, risking losing 5000 pounds when Edward had, so far, been less than helpful in aiding Hugh to achieve his rapacious aims? The words ‘premature optimism’ come to mind: Hugh was obviously confident that he would get his own way in the end – which, of course, he did – although not until 1320 when he forced a reluctant Audley to exchange Gwynllwg for some of Hugh’s English estates.
Hugh must have been gritting his teeth quite a bit during 1317/18. Not only was he not allowed to keep Gwynllwg, but he was also having problems getting hold of Dryslwyn too! In this case, it’s (now) former keeper, Thomas Blount refused to hand it over. Like Hugh, he had taken the fealty of the men there, even though he no longer had the right to. And when Hugh’s men had moved to take seisin of the place, it seems that they were repelled and that some of them were even imprisoned. According to the records it wasn’t until November 1318 that Hugh finally got control of the land. This seems to show that, at this point, despite being in the powerful office of Chamberlain (more on that in the next factual post), Hugh still hadn’t gained the affection of the king. If he had, I think that Edward would have moved more decisively and certainly more swiftly to defend his favourite’s interests. As it was it seemed that Hugh still had much work to do in that direction!
The Close Rolls
The Patent Rolls
‘The Despenser War in Glamorgan’, J. Conway Davies in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, Third Series, Vol. 9, (1915)
The Tyranny and Fall of Edward II, Natalie Fryde
The Baronial Opposition to Edward II, J.C. Davies