Despenser, Thomas le (DNB00)

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DESPENSER, THOMAS le, Earl of Gloucester (1373–1400), son of Edward le Despenser [see Hugh le Despenser the younger], by Elizabeth, daughter of Bartholomew, lord Burghersh, was two years old at his father's death in 1375, and was given in wardship to Edmund Langley, earl of Cambridge (duke of York), fifth son of Edward III. He married Constance, daughter of his guardian, and was summoned to parliament in 1396. He belonged to the party of the Earl of Rutland, his brother-in-law, and of the earls of Derby (Henry IV), Kent, Nottingham, and other lords, who in 1397 upheld Richard II against Gloucester, Arundel, and Warwick; he advised the arrest of these lords, and on 21 Aug. joined in the appeal of treason against them. As a reward for his support the king on 29 Sept. created him Earl of Gloucester, an honour to which he had a claim in virtue of his descent from Eleanor, sister and coheiress of Gilbert of Clare, earl of Gloucester, and wife of Hugh le Despenser the younger. He accompanied Richard on his expedition to Ireland in 1399, and led the rear guard of his army. He had an interview with Art MacMurrough, whom the Leinster Irish had accepted as their king, but failed to bring him to terms. The campaign was interrupted by the news of the landing of Henry of Lancaster. Richard left Ireland, taking with him Humphrey, son of the late Duke of Gloucester, who had been imprisoned in that country. He died at Chester, and people said that he had been poisoned by Despenser, a report that may be accounted for by the veneration in which the memory of the duke was held, and the hatred felt for the party that caused his death. When Richard in his interview with Northumberland at Chester offered to resign the crown, he named Despenser as one of those for whose safety he stipulated. Like every one else, however, the earl deserted him, and was one of the commissioners appointed by parliament to pronounce the sentence of deposition. In common with the other appellants of 1397, he was called on to answer lor his conduct in the first parliament of the new reign. He denied that he had had any share in the death of Gloucester. The case was tried, and he was sentenced to be degraded from his earldom. He was set at liberty after a short imprisonment. He joined in the conspiracy of the earls of Rutland, Kent, and Huntingdon, who had been degraded from their rank as earls, and was with their army at Cirencester on Jan. 1400. The conspiracy was betrayed by Rutland. The rebel lords were attacked by the townsmen, who burnt the house in which Despenser lodged. He jumped from a window, helped to set fire to two or three houses in the town, and then fled and escaped to his castle of Cardiff. Hearing that the king had sent to take him, he went on board a ship in the Severn. The captain refused to carry him anywhere save to Bristol; he resisted, was overpowered, and taken before the mayor of the town. The day after his capture the Bristol people, who hated his family, demanded that he should be brought forth. The mayor yielded to their clamour, and Despenser was beheaded at the high cross. He was buried at Tewkesbury. He left a son, Richard, who died under age in 1414, and a daughter, Isabel, heiress to her brother, who married Richard Beauchamp, earl of Worcester. Despenser s widow, Constance, lived with the Duke of Kent as his wife, and in 1405 accused her brother, the Duke of York, of treason.

[Walsingham, ed. Riley, Rolls Ser.; Annales Ricardi II et Henrici IV, ed. Riley, Rolls Ser.; Chronique do la Traison, Eng. Hist. Soc.; Monk of Evesham, ed. Hearne; Adam of Usk, ed. E. M. Thompson; Dugdale's Baronage, i. 396; Stubbs's Const. Hist, ii.; Wylie's England under Henry IV, i.; Bagwell's Ireland under the Tudors, i. 86; Sir H. Nicolas's Historic Peerage, ed. Courthope.]

W. H.