Hugh Despenser the elder

Hugh le Despenser (1 March 1261  27 October 1326), sometimes referred to as "the Elder Despenser," was for a time the chief adviser to King Edward II of England.[1]

Hugh le Despencer, 1st Earl of Winchester
Arms of Despencer: Quarterly 1st & 4th: Argent; 2nd & 3rd: Gules, a fret or, over all a bend sable
Born1 March 1261
Died27 October 1326 (aged 65)
Bristol, Gloucestershire
TitleEarl of Winchester
Other namesThe Elder Despenser
Nationality English
Wars and battlesDespenser War
War of Saint-Sardos
Isabella's Campaign
Siege of Bristol 
OfficesAdvisor of Edward II of England
Spouse(s)Isabella de Beauchamp


He was the son of Hugh le Despencer (justiciar), and Aline Basset, only daughter and heiress of Philip Basset. His father was killed at the Battle of Evesham when Hugh was just a boy, but Hugh's patrimony was saved through the influence of his maternal grandfather (who had been loyal to the king).[2] He married Isabella de Beauchamp, daughter of William de Beauchamp, 9th Earl of Warwick and Maud FitzJohn.


He served Edward I on numerous occasions in battle and in diplomacy and was created a baron by writ of summons to Parliament in 1295. His son, Hugh Despenser the Younger, became a favourite of Edward II, in what is rumoured to be a homosexual relationship.[3] Hugh the Elder was loyal to his son and the King, which worried the barons. To that time, his highest office was justice of the forests.[4]

He was one of the few barons to remain loyal to Edward during the controversy regarding Piers Gaveston. Despenser became Edward's loyal servant and chief administrator after Gaveston was executed in 1312, but the jealousy of other barons—and, more importantly, his own corruption and unjust behaviour—led to his being exiled along with his son Hugh Despenser the younger in 1321, when Edmund of Woodstock, Earl of Kent replaced him as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports.

Edward found it difficult to manage without them, and recalled them to England a year later, an action which enraged the queen, Isabella, the more so when Despenser was created Earl of Winchester in 1322. Although with not as bad a reputation as his son's, Despenser the Elder was accused by a significant number of people of widespread criminality during the next few years, often involving false accusations of trespass or theft and the extortion of money or land.


When Isabella, Queen of England, and her lover, Roger Mortimer, led a rebellion against her husband Edward, they captured both Despensers—first the elder, later the younger. Queen Isabella interceded for Hugh the elder, but his enemies, notably Roger Mortimer and Henry, Earl of Lancaster, insisted both father and son should face trial and execution.

The elder Despenser was hung immediately in his armor at Bristol on 27 October 1326. He was then beheaded and his body cut into pieces for the dogs. His head was sent for display to Winchester, which had supported the king.[5] His Winchester title was forfeit, not to be revived until 1472.[6] The younger Despenser was hung, drawn and quartered at Hereford the following month.

Following his death, pardons were issued to thousands of people who had been falsely accused by Despenser.


Hugh and his wife, Isabella, had two sons,

They also had several daughters, including Isabel, second wife of John Hastings, 1st Baron Hastings.


  1. "Despenser, Hugh le (1262-1326)" . Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
  2. Fryde 28
  3. "Abbey body identified as gay lover of Edward II". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 14 December 2013.
  4. Gwilym Dodd, Anthony Musson, The Reign of Edward II: New Perspectives, pp. 214–217.
  5. Rev. John Milner, History of Antiquities of Winchester, p. 213.
  6. Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Winchester, Earls and Marquesses of" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 28 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 703.


Legal offices
Preceded by
The Lord Strange
Justice in Eyre
south of the Trent

Succeeded by
Pain Tiptoft
Preceded by
The Lord Tibetot
Justice in Eyre
south of the Trent

Succeeded by
Robert fitz Pain
Preceded by
Robert fitz Pain
Justice in Eyre
south of the Trent

Succeeded by
The Lord Monthermer
Preceded by
The Earl of Pembroke
Justice in Eyre
south of the Trent

Succeeded by
The Lord Wake of Liddell
Political offices
Preceded by
The Lord Badlesmere
Lord Wardens of the Cinque Ports
Succeeded by
The Earl of Kent
Peerage of England
New creation Earl of Winchester
Preceded by
Hugh le Despencer
Baron le Despencer
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