Isabel le Despenser, Countess of Arundel

Isabel le Despenser (1312–1356) was the eldest daughter of Hugh Despenser the Younger and Eleanor de Clare. She was descended from Edward I of England through her mother, while her father is famous for being the favorite of Edward II of England.

Isabel le Despenser
Countess of Arundel
Spouse(s)Richard FitzAlan, 10th Earl of Arundel
Edmund FitzAlan
FatherHugh le Despenser the Younger
MotherEleanor de Clare


Though he had stood against Edward II in the past, Edmund FitzAlan, 9th Earl of Arundel had loyally supported him since the 1320s. Thus it must have seemed to be politically prudent to Edmund to marry his heir Richard to the eldest daughter of the King's closest friend and adviser Hugh le Despenser. For Hugh's part, a large incentive for him must have been that he could expect his daughter Isabel would one day become Countess of Arundel.[1]

On 9 February 1321 at the royal manor Havering-atte-Bower, Isabel was duly married to Richard FitzAlan, the heir to the earldom of Arundel.[2] Isabel was only eight at the time, while Richard was fifteen (not seven as has been claimed). Their respective ages would come up later when Richard would try to seek an annulment.[1]


Richard and Isabel had one son, Edmund Fitzalan, born in 1327, and in 1331 Isabel's husband became earl of Arundel. However, in December 1344 Richard Fitzalan had their marriage annulled on the grounds that he had never freely consented to marry Isabel and that they both had renounced their vows at puberty but had been "forced by blows to cohabit, so that a son was born".[1] Isabel retired to several manors in Essex that were given to her by her ex-husband. After receiving a papal dispensation, Richard married Isabel's first cousin Eleanor of Lancaster, with whom he had apparently been having an affair.[1]

Richard and Isabel's only child, Edmund Fitzalan, was rendered illegitimate by this annulment and so was unable to inherit his father's earldom. When his father died in 1376 Edmund quarreled with his half-siblings, the children of his father's second marriage, over inheritance rights. Edmund was imprisoned in the Tower of London until he was released in 1377 by request of his brothers-in-law.

Father's execution

After their father was executed for treason in 1326, Isabel and her youngest sister Elizabeth were the only daughters of Hugh the Younger to escape being confined in nunneries, Isabel because she was already married and Elizabeth because of her youth.



  1. Higginbotham, Susan. "Divorce, Medieval Style" Retrieved 15 October 2009. .
  2. Given-Wilson (1991), p. 2.


  • Given-Wilson, C. (January 1991). "Wealth and Credit, Public and Private: The Earls of Arundel 1306-1397". English Historical Review. 106 (418): 26. JSTOR 575362.
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