One of the problems and frustrations of this era (and others) is that, to a large extent, women are invisible in the records – even women belonging to the noble classes. If we are lucky, we may get a couple of glimpses but it is usually because a man is involved somewhere – as husband, father or son and in relation to land and/or dowry settlements.
The mother of Hugh Despenser the younger is no exception. We know about her family, the possible decade of her birth, her husband, her children and the date of her death. But we know nothing of the woman herself – there are no glimpses of her character or deeds apart from one small entry in the miscellaneous inquisitions of 1327. But I’ll speak about that later.
Isabella de Beauchamp was born probably in the 1260s, and most likely circa 1266 to William de Beauchamp, the 9th earl of Warwick and Maud Fitzjohn. She had a brother, Guy, later to become the 10th earl of Warwick and one of the men responsible for the execution of Piers Gaveston. On her mother’s side she had a very impressive pedigree – being the great great grandaughter of William Marshal and the great-great-great grandaughter of Richard de Clare (Strongbow). With such esteemed blood and even without being an heiress, Isabella would have been deemed a prestigious catch in marriage.
Marriage to Patrick de Chaworth
Her first husband was Sir Patrick de Chaworth, Lord of Kidwelly and Ogmore. He was a fairly well off landowner, but not in the league of the major magnates and one must assume that there was some strategical reason for Warwick to agree to this alliance, one which has now been lost down the years. Isabella and Patrick had one daughter – his only heir – on 2nd February 1282. Just over a year later, still only in his thirties, Patrick died, leaving behind him a young wife and baby who now became a ward of the King. Isabella’s widow’s dowry wasn’t that much either and we only know for certain that she received the manor of Hartley Mauditt in Hampshire and the livery of the manor of Chedworth in Gloucestershire (although six other manors are mentioned as being given to her until her dowry was agreed).
Marriage to Hugh Despenser (the elder)
In 1286, Isabella married again, this time to the young Hugh le Despenser the elder (who at that time didn’t have the elder tag!). Upon the death of his mother, Aline Basset, in 1281, Hugh became a wealthy landowner. But as he was underage, his marriage was given to the earl of Warwick. A year later Despenser bought back the right to arrange his own marriage for 1600 marks. It is likely that Hugh was a regular visitor to Warwick’s court and that this is probably where he met the widowed Isabella. The marriage took place without the king’s consent and they were fined 2000 marks. It is not known what Warwick thought of the match but evidently he wasn’t too unhappy as he gifted the couple some land.
Hugh and Isabella went on to have six children that we know of: Aline, Hugh (the younger), Isabella, Phillip, Margaret and Elizabeth. I shall write bios of them in future posts, so won’t go into detail here. During her childbearing years, in 1295, Hugh was made Lord Despenser by a writ of Parliament, which meant that Isabella was now Lady Despenser.
Isabella died at some point before May 30th 1306, around the date of her son, Hugh’s, knighting and marriage. There is no record of where she was buried. After her death, her dower lands passed to her daughter by Chaworth, Maud.
The Odiham Park Incident
Now, on to that entry in the Miscellaneous Inquisitions. The complaint was registered on 15th February 1326 and forms one of the many that were lodged against the Despensers after their downfall and death. The complainant was one William de Odyham (Odiham):
The said William held the keepership of Odiham park by grant of King Edward I for 10 years and was removed therefrom by Hugh le Despenser the younger because he levied hue and cry upon Isabel the said Hugh’s mother who was taking 5 bucks in the park without warrant.
Now, if this is a true account then it adds a little more colour to Isabella’s life as it shows she enjoyed hunting and was not adverse to taking something that wasn’t hers (a family trait, it must be said!). It also shows that Hugh must have been fond of his mother to avenge the slight to her honour.
There is always a however when it concerns the Despensers and their activities. I did a little research into William’s claims, and although other records are unfortunately sparse, I have discovered one thing which casts doubt on his petition. William was granted the keepership of Odyham Park by Edward I in 1292:
January 18th 1292 at Westminster
Grant, for life, to William son of Matthew de Odiham, of the custody of the park of Odiham, after the death of Robert le Parker his grandfather, the present keeper, upon the same terms.*
If he kept the job for ten years, as he said, it would have been around 1302 when he was ‘ousted’. In 1302 Hugh the younger was only 15 or thereabouts and is unlikely to have had the sort of influence by which to have someone removed in such a manner. It is far more likely that if anyone was responsible for William losing his job it would have been Hugh the elder who would most definitely have had both the power and the motive. That’s if the incident ever happened in the first place. I also cannot track down the man, John Bronyng, that William said replaced him at Hugh’s behest. The only person I could find of that name was a ship’s captain. There were other keepers of the park during Edward II’s reign, but as far as I can tell, none of them had any connection with the Despensers.
But – in William’s favour – Odiham is neighbouring Hartley Mauditt, Isabella’s manor, so it is more than possible that she would have hunted in the area. Also, the original petition claims that the keepership of the park was given to William for life by the late king. The petition has been dated to 1327, but not tied into any month. Therefore, the late king could refer to either Edward I as I proposed above (before Edward II’s death), or Edward II (after his death). Upon what evidence we have, I still stand by the former, but it does muddy the waters somewhat. Until any other evidence comes to light (that is, if any exists), it will be hard to prove this either way. Just another of the frustrations of researching the early 14th century.
*Patent Rolls, Edward I, Vol 2, p.467