Despenser, Hugh le (d.1265) (DNB00)

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DESPENSER, HUGH le (d. 1265), justiciary of England, was of somewhat uncertain parentage. Dugdale thought he might be grandson of the Hugh le Despenser who occurs as a sheriff and custodian of castles between 1224 and 1237. The future justiciary is first mentioned in 1256, when Harestan Castle in Derbyshire was entrusted to him (Pat. 40 Hen. II, m. 20). In 1257 he accompanied Richard, the newly elected king of the Romans, to Germany (Rymer). Returning to England the following year, he was one of the twelve representatives elected by the barons in the parliament of Oxford (June 1258) to the council of twenty-four (Annals of Burton, p. 447). He was also, by the same 'Provisions of Oxford,' named as one of the twelve commissioners for the barons in parliament ('les duze ke sunt eslu per les baruns a treter a treis parlemenz’) and confirmed in his constableship of the royal castle of Harestan (ib.) In 1260 he acted as a justice itinerant in three counties, and in October (1260) succeeded Hugh Bigod (d. 1266) [q. v.], the original justiciary of the barons, in his office (Matt. Paris). He appears in the Fine Rolls, as justiciary, March and June 1261 (Rot. Fin. ii. 348, 352). On the king regaining power, to some extent, Hugh's father-in-law, Sir Philip Basset [q. v.], a royalist, was appointed justiciary 24 April 1261 (Liber de Ant. Leg. p. 45). But the two appear to have acted concurrently for about a year, when Basset, with the growing strength of the king, obtained sole power. But a reaction in the spring of 1263 led to a fresh submission of the king and the reappointment of Hugh as justiciary 15 July 1263 (Rymer), the Tower being also placed in his charge (Liber, p. 55). He appears on the rolls in that capacity 1 Oct. 1263 (Rot. Fin. ii. 405). On 16 Dec. 1263 he became one of the sureties ex parte baronum for the observance of the Mise of Amiens (Rymer). Heartily joining the baronial party on the outbreak of hostilities, he sallied forth from the Tower, and at the head of a mob of citizens burnt and sacked the residence of the king of the Romans at Isleworth (Liber de Ant. Leg. p. 61), and on the arrival of the barons he was one of their sixteen leaders who signed a convention with the mayor of London (ib. p. 62) before the advance on Lewes. At the battle (13 May 1264) he fought in the foremost ranks, capturing Marmaduke Thwenge and forcing his own father-in-law to surrender to him, sorely wounded (Ann. Worc. p. 452). He was then made governor by the victorious party of six castles, including Oxford, Nottingham, and the Devizes (Pat. 48 Hen. III, m. 7; 49 Hen. III, m. 20). On 13 Sept. (1264) he was named (as ‘nobilis vir Hugo Dispensator’) one of the arbitrators agreed on by the king and barons for arranging terms of peace (Royal Letters, ii. 275), and at once crossed with them to France (Liber, p. 69); in the same month he received a thousand marcs for his support as justiciary (Rymer), and on 14 Dec. (1264) he was summoned (as ‘Hugo le Despenc' Justic' Angliæ’) to Simon de Montfort's parliament (Lords' Reports, iii. 34). In the following year, ‘between Easter and Whitsuntide,’ he was appointed one of the four arbitrators to mediate between the Earls of Leicester and Gloucester (Liber, p. 73). Some difficulty is caused by the occasional adoption by Simon de Montfort, from January 1265 to his death, of the style of justiciary (see the writer's remarks on this point in the Antiquary, ix. 17–19). Undue stress has been laid on this by some writers, as Professor Shirley, Pauli, &c., who assume that it implies the deposition of Hugh. But it is certain that Hugh remained in office, for Simon's proclamation prohibiting the tournament was addressed to him (16 Feb. 1265) as ‘Hugo le Dispenser, Justic' Angliæ’ (Pat. 49 Hen. III, n. 101, printed in Rymer); he witnessed, as justiciary, a grant to the chancellor in March ({[sc|Madox}}, Exchequer, i. 76); was again so designated in the first week in May (ib. ii. 36); tested, as justiciary, a document (unprinted) issued at Hereford on 19 June (Pat. 49 Hen. III, m. 13); and fell at Evesham (4 Aug.) as ‘Hugo le Dispenser, Justitiarius Angliæ’—

Sir Hue le fer, ly Despenser
Tres noble Justice
(Wright, Political Songs, p. 126)—

after being in vain entreated by Simon to seek safety in flight. Moreover, a passage in the ‘Coram Rege Rolls’ (50 Hen. III, rot. xvii.) reveals to us an emissary sent to rouse the county of Essex, in support of Simon, for the campaign of Evesham, ‘cum litteris Hugonis le Despencer, tunc Justiciarii Anglie.’ There can, consequently, be no doubt that Hugh was, when he fell, the last of the justiciaries of England. His widow, Aliva, released the royalist prisoners in her charge and betook herself to her father (Wykes). She afterwards married Roger Bigod [q. v.], earl of Norfolk and marshal of England (Esch. 56 Hen. III, n. 31). By her former husband she was mother of Hugh le Despenser, ‘senior,’ earl of Winchester [q. v.], and grandmother to Hugh le Despenser, ‘junior,’ [q. v.], the ill-fated favourites of Edward II.

[Patent, Fine, and Coram Rege Rolls; Rymer's Fœdera; Madox's Exchequer; Dugdale's Baronage; Annales Monastici (Rolls Ser.); Shirley's Royal Letters (ib.); Wykes's Chronicle (ib.); Liber de Antiquis Legibus (Camd. Soc.); Lords' Reports on the Dignity of a Peer; Wright's Political Songs; Antiquary, vol. ix.]

J. H. R.